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

OT89: Omen Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server. Also:

1. The Future of Humanity Institute asks me to advertise that they’re looking to fill two AI safety researcher positions. See their job descriptions for postdoctoral research scientist and research scientist, and see the application process at the link if you’re interested. Deadline is January 10th. FHI is affiliated with Oxford and I can vouch for them as a legitimate organization.

2. Comments of the week: Art Vandelay on how academic anthropology thinks about the rationality of pretechnological societies, tcheasdfjkl on reconciling power-based and cultural-evolution-based models, and CatCube on Bill Clinton’s creepy charisma. Also the subreddit team are highlighting the best comments on the culture war thread there.

3. David Friedman wants me to clarify that the version of his book I linked to earlier is out of date, and there’s a newer draft up online here. Some more of Friedman’s comments on my review of his book here and here.

4. Current Affairs wrote an article riffing off one of my links posts. I don’t think I can pad my response to the length of an entire blog post, but I want to address it here: I stand by my original sarcasm. I said it was silly to be angry at airlines offering a lower-fare standing option, since it’s just adding another choice to your list of choices. CA said I didn’t realize that actually some people are very poor and so couldn’t afford anything but standing room. I do realize that. My whole point was that if you are too poor to afford sitting fare, your only choice used to be “never fly”. Now it is “never fly” or “pay the affordable standing fare”. This is a gain for poor people, and in fact only for poor people (rich people will just sit regardless). This complaint reminds me of those people who put spikes on benches so that homeless people cannot sleep on them. It is true that in a perfect world nobody would have to sleep on benches. But you are not creating that world. You are just making sure homeless people can’t sleep anywhere. Likewise, in a perfect world nobody would have to stand up on flights. But you are not creating that world. You’re just making sure poor people can’t fly at all. If you want to help the poor, give them more money, not fewer options.

5. The Washington DC SSC meetup group is having a Thanksgiving potluck next Sunday. DM the organizer on Reddit or comment here if you need contact information.

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866 Responses to OT89: Omen Thread

  1. Squirrel of Doom says:

    The air fare part reminded me of the brilliant https://blog.jaibot.com/the-copenhagen-interpretation-of-ethics/

    Summary: “The Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics says that when you observe or interact with a problem in any way, you can be blamed for it.”

    It’s entirely possible I read it first here.

    • Seth says:

      It came to my mind, too. That post really is brilliant, and I reference it at every opportunity.

    • Ian Bruene says:

      I never knew I needed this concept…..

    • ajakaja says:

      I also love that model but I don’t think it accurately describes what’s going on here.

      I’m pretty sure that the system of ethics that the public mind applies when evaluating actions is not anything in the category of ‘consequentialism’ (such as utilitarianism), nor is it this Copenhagen…ism; it’s a deontological system that approximately evaluates actions by “what signals are sent by this action, and do those signals align with the publicly acceptable metrics for goodness / fairness / decency / etc”. (And I keep seeing people on this forum analyzing things as good by consequentialist reasonings and then acting sort of baffled about how other critics don’t agree…)

      So selling standing room on airplanes, while by any consequentialist view is *fine* (“you couldn’t fly, now you can in an uncomfortable way, that’s better than nothing, right?”), is deemed wrong because it seems maliciously demeaning, *below the bar for propriety*. It’s a lesser example from the same category as “I’ll give you 1000$ if you eat feces”, which is also something that would strictly benefit some people and not hurt anyone, but signals ‘malicious and greedy disrespect for dignity’, which is unacceptable and so evaluates to ‘evil’.

      Similarly, the outrage for doing a study where you help some homeless people and leave others in an unhelped control group *could* be interpreted Copenhagenistically as “you interacted so you’re blamed / you could have done more”, but, imo, the actual issue is exactly in that quote from the article, and it’s missing the point to keep looking: “The city shouldn’t be making guinea pigs out of its most vulnerable.” is the reason, because we’re judging the behavior of the city by what it signals, and ‘making guinea pigs out of vulnerable people’ is the signal that violates propriety and decency.

      Similarly, in the Uber surge-pricing example, yes, you can get more taxis if you jack up prices to incentivize driving, but … it’s greedy, so it’s bad. (Well, also, there are a bunch of ??s around “you’re probably saying you’re jacking up prices to incentivize driving, but you’re probably also jacking them up more than you need to, because you’re incentivized to do so and we have no way of arguing or even telling how much you’re profiting” — so, without radical transparency, it seems greedy for two reasons.)

      Now I do think that in the face of outrage of the form “you’re doing evil by interacting with a system even tough you’re only helping it”, the proper response is probably ignoring it entirely, because, also, the public will get outraged by anything and you do, after all, have a really good, consequentialist argument for why you shouldn’t stop. But, if you’re trying to analyze these public outrages and you’re pattern-matching against systems of ethics to understand them, you’re going to misinterpret things if you don’t first check against the “actions are evaluated by their signals alone” ethics, cause it’s usually right.

      I also like that the public evaluates things this way, I think, because it’s at this level that actions because normalized, and where the public bar for decency and justice is set, and it’s a good thing that when actions are taken that are ‘strictly helpful but also seem demeaning or greedy’, we strongly signal that they’re not okay. I think I’d prefer a world where all demeaning or greedy actions are entirely blacklisted, to one where they’re allowed if they’re marginally mutually beneficial (*highly* mutually beneficial actions are, of course, liked by everyone, unless they have negative externalities).

      • Jiro says:

        Remember also that signals work because people actually use them.

        In other words, someone willing to do things that are marginally beneficial but signal injustice is probably going to be doing, using the same moral framework, things that aren’t marginally beneficial and are unjust in fact. And it may even be very difficult to tell the two apart.

      • Ketil says:

        Another example might be the PETA paying people’s water bills if they go vegetarian, and reaping the tempest for it. Discussed previously at SSC, but Google buries that post in a truckload of reactions like this:

        https://jezebel.com/peta-assholes-to-detroit-well-pay-your-water-bills-if-1610490630

      • Ketil says:

        I realize I’ve been engaging in this. Maybe not actually blaming people, but when environmentally concerned people are arguing in favor of this or that action to stop climate change, I’ve been – well, on my less socially enlightened days – pointed out the futility of their proposals, and yes: blamed idealists for not being realists. Because it seems to me that when people who actually care about an issue are also adamant in their insistence on actions that are completely without effect on the problem, we don’t really have any hope of doing anything about it.

        (As I have realized that nobody actually has any remotely realistic plan that has any hope of reducing emissions noticeably anyway, I have stopped criticising. I still think climate idealists are only buying social credibility by their reasonably-cost free and ineffective measures – but since there probably aren’t any effective measures anyway, it doesn’t matter much.)

      • SamGamgee says:

        “I think I’d prefer a world where all demeaning or greedy actions are entirely blacklisted, to one where they’re allowed if they’re marginally mutually beneficial (*highly* mutually beneficial actions are, of course, liked by everyone, unless they have negative externalities).”

        So you’d prefer a world where poor people don’t get to fly at all and homeless people can’t sleep on benches because you think signaling virtue is more important than actually helping people? That’s what you seem to be saying.

        • Jiro says:

          If it was possible to *only* allow the marginally beneficial things without normalizing bad behavior, that might be okay, but it’s not possible. Your world with poor people who may be able to fly standing up is inextricably associated with things that are flat out negatives for poor people and other things that create bad incentives for interacting with poor people.

          • SamGamgee says:

            I don’t follow your reasoning. What harm is caused by providing a new option? As far as I can tell, your argument is that it makes some people look bad or mean. I just don’t think that’s a convincing argument against providing that new option.

      • Jiro says:

        Well, also, there are a bunch of ??s around “you’re probably saying you’re jacking up prices to incentivize driving, but you’re probably also jacking them up more than you need to, because you’re incentivized to do so and we have no way of arguing or even telling how much you’re profiting”

        And something else to note: Libertarians sometimes react to cases like this by saying that Uber can’t drive up prices past the market price, because they’d lose money”, but if you take this argument to its logical conclusion, nobody should ever complain about any company’s high price, because it’s always true that the company can’t charge more than the market would bear.

        At a minimum people get screwed during the time it takes for the market to adjust, which can be a long time considering you probably won’t be able to start up a second Uber to compete.

        • John Schilling says:

          But if you take this argument to its logical conclusion, nobody should ever complain about any company’s high price, because it’s always true that the company can’t charge more than the market would bear.

          Yes, and?

          If by “complain” you mean “gripe”, sure, it’s a free country, knock yourself out. If it were a communist country you’d be griping about the empty shelves or long lines instead, to the same lack of effect.

          But if this is the sort of “complain” where you expect someone to do something about it, or even to agree that this is a Wrongness about which Something Ought to be Done, then high prices are another form of Chesterton’s Fence. There’s a reason for them, and you need to understand what the reason is before you can expect sensible people to act on your complaints. Usually, it’s a pretty good reason and you’re going to have to live with the high prices.

          Often it’s a good reason involving government meddling, in which case the libertarians have a point.

          • Jiro says:

            High prices aren’t a form of Chesterton’s fence. High prices are what you get when the system is out of balance. Manufacturers want to raise the price as much as they can, and they can’t get away with doing that because the customers think it’s Wrong and won’t let them.

            In other words, treating high prices as wrong is the mechanism by which market prices are achieved, it doesn’t work against the market.

            (And even that ignores some of the other issues, such as price discrimination).

          • John Schilling says:

            High prices are what you get when the system is out of balance.

            That’s either a tautology or a falsehood. If you define “high”, in pricing terms, as relative to an “in-balance” system, then whee, yes, high prices are what you get when the system is out of balance on the high side. But without a detailed microeconomic investigation, you can’t know whether that’s the case, so you probably oughtn’t be complaining about “high” prices.

            The more common usage and I’m pretty sure the intended and relevant usage when people actually complain about high prices, the “high” is relative to the complainer’s expectations of what a reasonable price should be, which is probably to say the price for that thing when they were a young adult. In which case, it is entirely possible that the “high” price is appropriately “balanced”.

            Manufacturers want to raise the price as much as they can, and they can’t get away with doing that because the customers think it’s Wrong and won’t let them.

            And that was true for manufacturers in the past as it is today, and is thus already factored in to the complainant’s expectation of a reasonable price. If the price is now “high”, it isn’t greed that’s responsible, because greed (constrained by market power) is part of the baseline. Something else changed. Figure out what that was, and see if you still have cause for complaint – and against whom.

          • SamGamgee says:

            I really like how you frame prices as an example of Chesterton’s Fence. It made me go look up Chesterton’s Fence!

          • Manufacturers want to raise the price as much as they can, and they can’t get away with doing that because the customers think it’s Wrong and won’t let them.

            A nice clear statement of the view of economics implicit in a lot of other posts.

            That view might make some sense in a world where all transactions were bilateral monopolies–one buyer, one seller, price determined entirely by bargaining ability. It makes no sense at all in the real world.

            The reason a firm can’t raise prices as high as it wants and still sell its product is either that the buyer can get the product from another seller at a lower price or that the price is more than the product is worth to the buyer.

            You are treating a rare exception as if it were the norm.

          • At tangent to my previous comment. In your world, on what basis do buyers decide what price is wrong?

            Presumably most buyers don’t expect to be able to buy something for less than it takes the seller to make it. But in a world as complicated as ours, buyers almost never have the information to estimate that cost to within an order of magnitude, to know whether growing apples costs ten cents per apple or a dollar.

        • andrewflicker says:

          My job is to set prices. That’s most of what I do, day-in, and day-out. I’ve already automated all of the “easy” pricing decisions- most of the ones I actually make now require a fair bit of statistical analysis, experimentation, competitive research, etc., etc.- this can sometimes take a few days, on particularly challenging strategies.

          Once I make the move, the market has become more efficient- I’m capturing additional profit to my firm while the overall profit rate for this sector has declined, and consumers got a better price. However, there are two problems:

          1. This means there was X+2 days of an “inefficient” market, where X is the number of days it took me to notice or find the gap in the marketplace to eliminate.

          2. Many times my entire set of direct competitors is so moronic on a particular SKU or set of SKUs, that I can capture excess profit by making the market more efficient than it was… but not particularly efficient in general. Sometimes I can skate by on these “excess profit” levels for an entire summer, if I get lucky and Amazon happened to fire it’s relevant category manager at the right time.

          Point being, Jiro’s right- in the long run, the market works, but in the short run a lot of people can get screwed in the time it takes for the market to adjust.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            While I’ve long agreed with what you conclude, I feel as if this doesn’t justify anything other than getting better at price setting. For example, figuring out how to enable you to do your job faster, and/or for less expense.

            Or more charitably (to Jiro’s point), enabling your direct competitors to do so, on the premise that it’s easier to copy your information advantage to them than to derive new information to increase your advantage. (I don’t expect you to share your knowledge with your direct competitors, but I do expect them to have an incentive to find out what you’re doing and emulate it, and I expect “pro-equality” advocates to share that incentive.)

      • Phil Goetz says:

        “it’s a good thing that when actions are taken that are ‘strictly helpful but also seem demeaning or greedy’, we strongly signal that they’re not okay. I think I’d prefer a world where all demeaning or greedy actions are entirely blacklisted, to one where they’re allowed if they’re marginally mutually beneficial”

        … why? You just gave a long list of reasons why this is harmful. “Being mutually beneficial” is well-defined, while “demeaning” is not. And if “demeaning” actually means something, it will be covered under “mutually beneficial” anyway.

    • This reminds me of how I was yelled at by a teacher when I was a kid while outdoors (maybe on a field trip, or during recess, or something) for picking up some piece of litter to look at it more closely, then dropping it again when it proved uninteresting; the underlying morality seemed to be that it was all right to walk past litter on the ground without doing anything about it, but if you actually touched it you then had an obligation to properly dispose of it, not just put it back on the ground where you found it.

      • Jiro says:

        When you pick up the litter, you remove it from the ground. If you put it back down, you’ve done something which has a net zero effect on litter, but which contains a positive and a negative step. This means that by putting the litter back on the ground, you are essentially performing moral offsetting. You’re not supposed to perform moral offsetting; you only get to trade off benefit with harm when a single action causes both the benefit and harm and cannot be split up.

      • quaelegit says:

        Are you sure you got yelled at for putting it down rather than picking it up? If I were supervising a bunch of kids on a field trip I wouldn’t want them from picking up junk on the ground either.

        (And once you have picked it up, object lesson in learning to throw things away properly…)

      • SamGamgee says:

        It’s rather like when police or insurance agents use your honesty against you. You might have been taught by parents or teachers that’s it better to be honest than not, but once you hit the real world you discover that the next most important thing after not screwing up is not admitting that you screwed up.

    • meh says:

      how do readers feel about payday lenders?

      • SamGamgee says:

        I think it’s part of the same phenomenon. People object to high-interest loans to the poor because they assume the alternative is low-interest loans, when in fact the alternative is no loans at all.

        • The Nybbler says:

          But there’s an answer to that one. We point guns at the lenders and tell them they _have_ to make low interest loans to the poor. And if they lose money on that, they can make up for it by boosting rates on the loans to the non-poor. If that’s not enough, the government can simply take over the lending business and print the necessary money. Pretty much every distortion caused by government intervention can be solved by harsher government intervention, and if in the end you end up living in Soviet Russia… well, Soviet Russia has its defenders to this day.

          • SamGamgee says:

            Right I’m very familiar with that kind of objection and it took me a while to get a handle on how to deal with it. The trick is point out that their objection is outside the scope of the original scenario, e.g. as long as we’re not forcing lenders to make loans to the poor on demand, the result of banning high-interest payday loans is going to be depriving the poor of any loans. Sure, we could then force lenders to make those loans, but that was not part of the original deal. Get them to admit that much and then maybe they’ll start applying the same reasoning to other interventions.

        • Guy in TN says:

          the result of banning high-interest payday loans is going to be depriving the poor of any loans.

          Is this backed up by empirical evidence? Runs contrary to anything I know about economics to think that people are going to decline the opportunity to make a profit, just because you’ve taken away the possibility of making even MORE of a profit.

          You are jumping from the correct notion of “price controls cause shortages” to “price controls mean everyone will stop all attempts at economic transactions”.

          • Matt M says:

            Payday lending is not an intensely profitable industry. They don’t charge high interest rates because they’re a bunch of greedy fat cats. They charge high interest rates because they have high default rates and that’s the only way their business is sustainable long-term.

            As for empirical evidence, when the military instituted a ban on payday lending, it corresponded with a proportional increase in the use of overdrafting checking accounts. My commentary on this issue here.

          • Guy in TN says:

            This is quite different from SamGamgee’s original assertion that payday lending would cease to exist. But anyway, it seems like you’d need to do an analysis of the gains the troops received from having their loan rates capped vs. the loss from some having to pay overdraft fees, in order to reach the conclusion that capping rates is bad.

          • Matt M says:

            No you don’t.

            The fact that prior to the ban, the troops preferred payday loans to overdrafting, is evidence itself that payday loans provided greater utility to them than overdrafting does.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The question of “are caps on payday loans good for the troops” is different from the question of “are payday loans better than overdraft fees”. You’ve switched to the second question, one which I don’t disagree with.

            Obviously for the troops who switched from payday loans to overdraft fees, they saw a loss of utility. But unless the switch occurred at a 100% rate, you’ve got to do an analysis of the gains for the troops that stayed with payday loans, before you can say that rate caps cause a net loss in utility.

      • Protagoras says:

        I cannot claim to be an expert on the industry, but as I understand it the reason the field is not actually enormously profitable include considerable marketing costs (and costs of operating everywhere that it’s convenient, essentially in the same category; costs of attracting the customer in the first place, not costs of delivering service to the customer). Offering loans at more reasonable rates is not profitable because it requires spending a lot less on that sort of thing, which means far fewer customers, which makes it harder to afford fixed overhead costs. Insofar as that is true, eliminating the high interest loan options will not entirely eliminate lending to the poor; it will no doubt reduce it, but it will probably also partially push the poor to seek out reputable banks from which it is actually possible for some of them to get reasonable terms, but which they didn’t know about because the banks can’t profit from marketing to them and all the marketing they encounter tries very hard to give them the impression the payday lenders are their only option.

  2. manwhoisthursday says:

    To complement my classical phil bibliography, I thought I’d post my postmodernism bibliography. Because these writers can be so obscure, secondary sources are of real help. Most of the following are sympathetic to PM, but attempt to make it more accessible. Some, however, argue against it. Both are useful.

    Lawrence Cahoone is here because he puts PM in the context of modern philosophy generally. It is not actually all that radical in the context of modern thought. Modernist epistemology is very problematic all around.

    —–

    General Introductions
    Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism
    Christopher Butler, Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction
    James K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? – some religious people are attempting to use postmodernism as a way to “level the playing field” intellectually, so if everything’s irrational why not try God?, still some useful clarifications here

    Poststructuralism
    Catherine Belsey, Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction

    Introduction to Theory
    Peter Barry, Beginning Theory

    Jacques Derrida
    Penelope Deutscher, How to Read Derrida
    Christopher Norris, Jacques Derrida
    Barry Stocker, Routledge Philosophical Guidebook to Derrida and Deconstruction
    Christopher Norris, Deconstruction: Theory and Practice
    John M. Ellis, Against Deconstruction

    Michel Foucault
    Johanna Oksala, How to Read Foucault
    J.G. Merquior, Foucault

    Judith Butler
    Sarah Salih, Judith Butler

    Jean-Francois Lyotard
    Simon Malpas, Jean-Francois Lyotard

    Richard Rorty
    Neil Gascoigne, Richard Rorty
    Alan Malachowski, Richard Rorty
    James Tartaglia, Routledge Philosophy GuideBook to Rorty and the Mirror of Nature

    The Frankfurt School
    Stephen Eric Bronner, Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction
    Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School

    Application to Race and Sex
    Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction
    Annamarie Jagose, Queer Theory: An Introduction

    Analyses of PM’s Impact in Specific Subject Areas
    John M. Ellis, Literature Lost
    Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition (Science)
    Keith Windschuttle, The Killing of History

    General Cultural Polemics, Including Comment on PM
    Roger Scruton, Modern Culture
    Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands

    Modern Philosophy
    Lawrence Cahoone, The Modern Intellectual Tradition (Great Courses audio lectures)

  3. manwhoisthursday says:

    I can offer a free Kindle version of Ed Feser’s new book Five Proofs of the Existence of God to anyone who emails me at manwhoisthursday@yahoo.ca. I can’t promise I will get back to you right away, but I will get back to you.

    My Classical phil bibliography is here.

  4. Guy in TN says:

    Re Standing in airlines:

    A wage floor can, on the whole, transfer more money to the lowest income brackets. In these cases, more money is being transferred to the poor via employers being forced to raise wages to keep their business going, than money being taken away from the poor via increased unemployment.

    If this is so, it follows that a floor of social expectations can be helpful for those at the bottom. In the CA article, he used landlords peeing on tenant’s furniture as one of these fairly hard boundaries of social expectation. While it probably isn’t against the law per se, the social backlash against landlords putting “rights-to-pee” in their contracts prevents them from ever doing so. Would taking away that social floor help the poorest? Could you get a $20 a month deduction from your rent by allowing your landlord to pee on your furniture? Probably. But what would the larger result be? The normalization of a harmful behavior, resulting in less negotiating power against it via threat of public backlash.

    A floor of social expectations, like a minimum wage, hurts those who wish they could be under the floor. But it raises up everyone else. There are many things a corporation can legally do, that they are not doing due to the threat of public backlash. The social pressure is factored in as part of their equation. If you are going to pull out the floor of social expectations by normalizing what is now considered abhorrent, you should, at the very least, investigate whether there are more people who wish they could be under the floor, than there are who enjoy being propped up by it.

    • CthulhuChild says:

      I recently had a conversation with some SMEs on African peacekeeping missions. I expressed surprise that there was not more support for regional stability from the private sector. I would figure that a stable government would be economically useful, so they’d have a strong incentive to help out. Turns out, when a country’s GDP is <$1000, hiring private security so that you can conduct mining operations in a warzone is cost effective when compared to complying with basic human rights/environmental laws/business permit requirements. The fact that the private security comes in the form of a local warlord and furthers civil unrest just means that it's *predictably* cost effective.

      Obviously this is just the market at work, finding a more efficient solution. I am sure the people involved are just happy that they have more options. Especially the warlords.

      This seems to be my fundamental problem with anarchocapitalism/extreme libertarianism. It doesn't acknowledge that once you reach a certain threshold of money/power, you can curbstomp someone forever, with impunity, and are in fact incentivized into doing so.

      • toastengineer says:

        This seems to be my fundamental problem with anarchocapitalism/extreme libertarianism. It doesn’t acknowledge that once you reach a certain threshold of money/power, you can curbstomp someone forever, with impunity, and are in fact incentivized into doing so.

        Libertarians call that thing you fear “government.” Albeit government seems to have a certain ethical stickiness that stops it from immediately plunging in to total depravity without some special impulse, but it has happened, and they all seem to be slowly slipping in that direction.

        • rlms says:

          “they all seem to be slowly slipping in that direction.”
          On what timescale? It seems to me that maximum oppressiveness peaked in the late 20th century (it’s debatable exactly where, Hitler, Stalin and Mao are the obvious candidates) and has been decreasing since. Average oppressiveness is more difficult to pinpoint, but e.g. the British government is certainly doing a lot less stomping now than when it controlled 1/4 of the world.

        • CthulhuChild says:

          Toastengineer, would you describe Somalia as an ideal situation? There is definitely very little in the way of government.

          My concern is that human civilization has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to burn the government to the ground when it becomes intolerable (See: America, France, England, India, Russia, Cuba…). What they replace it with is sometimes worse, but if you believe that individual freedoms are better protected in western society today than they were in western society circa 1200 AD, it seems that our species is pretty good at fighting government oppression. If you simultaneously believe that we are less free now than in 1200, and that decreased private sector power is somehow responsible, I must respectfully disagree with your view of history.

          By contrast, while government makes a convenient enemy to rally against, corporations as a whole appear far more resilient. Governments are static targets, corporations have demonstrated an ability to maintain their power structure (and capital) while re-branding. Empirically, conflict regions throughout the world have proven time and time again that it is easier to deny government control than it is to exclude private sector influence. I suspect that this has to do with government legitimacy being a direct function of their every act and decision, whereas corporate misdeeds are commonly considered distinct from the product/service they supply. IE, Nestle can do what it wants as long as their candy is cheap and tasty.

          And to be clear, I like a lot of libertarian impulses! I just think that humans create government more or less spontaneously, partly because a group-of-humans-with-government will always out compete a disorganized-group-of-humans, and any organizational structure is by definition a type of government. I simply support choosing an organizational structure whose legitimacy is directly tied to popular support, rather than a structure where legitimacy is tied only to command of capital.

          • would you describe Somalia as an ideal situation?

            As best I can tell, Somaliland, northern Somalia, had a stateless system that functioned tolerably well relative to adjacent states, such as Ethiopia. When England and Italy gave up their role in the area, they created Somalia, a centralized democratic state for a society that had never had such a thing. After a few years it became a military dictatorship. The dictator got into a war with Ethiopia, a traditional enemy, lost when the USSR switched sides, and got killed. The system collapsed, and would presumably have gone back to its previous form. Except that …

            The U.S. and U.N. decided that Somalia needed a government and have been trying to impose one on it ever since, mostly with the assistance of the Ethiopian army. In the north, the Somalis established the Republic of Somaliland along something close to traditional lines, and it seems to function tolerably well, but we refuse to recognize it because that would be to concede that Somalia, a country invented by the European powers, doesn’t exist.

            Here is a description of the situation a while back by the late I.M. Lewis, a LSE anthropologist who was the leading expert on Somalia.

            So I agree that the present status of Somalia is not idea, but that is the fault not of the stateless system but of the attempt of outside powers to impose a state on the Somalis by force.

          • CthulhuChild says:

            TLDR: Rightfully called out for citing Somalia as an example of a dysfunctional stateless society without acknowledging the significant effort invested by other states which have made it dysfunctional. Still not sure whether any stateless society can avoid a similar fate during inception. Concerned stateless societies organized around corporations might deliver what we want but still be really terrible.

            DavidFriedman,

            I fully admit, it was somewhat disingenuous of me to imply that statelessness is the cause of the current situation without examining the cause of statelessness. And you are of course correct that forcing the adoption of a foreign political apparatus at gunpoint reliably produces terrible results every time it is tried. I’m less certain that functioning “tolerably well” compared to its neighbors is sufficient grounds to endorse the system, but I’ll cede the point.

            Regardless, I think the genie is out of the bottle and restoring the pre-colonial power equilibrium in regions that currently lack centralized state authority is not likely to happen. Even if every government on earth decided to stop intervening. Moreover, I don’t think there are many (any?) “naturally occurring” stateless societies left, and in the modern (ie: globalist) context a stateless society is extremely vulnerable to external factors (to say nothing of deliberate attack and exploitation). Not to harp on the multinationals too much, but a world with a mix of failed states and strong rule-of-law states seems like an ideal environment for maximizing profit but a terrible environment for maximizing utility.

            And when it comes to anarcho capitalism in general, I admit I might just not get it. It seems that capitalism works because social utility and profitability are usually well correlated, but this isn’t automatically the case. For example, if your bottom line stays the same there is no real difference between giving people what they want and changing their wants to match what you are providing (Release the hypnodrones! Go forth, my autonomous brand ambassadors!). Worse, from a consequential/preference utilitarian perspective, there is little to distinguish these two options.

            States and corporations both appear to be social structures which survive by catering to human desires. The former strives for legitimacy while the latter strives for control of capital. While almost every critique of corporate behavior can thus be applied to government, I think there is some asymmetry in the comparison. Specifically, deliberate attempts to manipulate individual preference by the government tends to create opposition, reducing their legitimacy and generally being counterproductive. IE: propaganda, when recognized as such, draws an immediate negative reaction from most people. When the same behavior is undertaken by actors in the private sector, it’s called marketing, and it is not viewed with the same level of hostility or suspicion. We admire clever marketing, clever propaganda is considered coercive.

            I take both the fulfillment and autonomy of my preferences as terminal values. I can accept that a stateless society might do a great job delivering the former, but I don’t think it has any incentive to defend the latter.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @CthulhuChild, regarding Somalia:

            I fully admit, it was somewhat disingenuous of me to imply that statelessness is the cause of the current situation without examining the cause of statelessness.

            Another error was to call statelessness the current situation without checking whether that was the case. The peak era of relative statelessness was approximately 1991-2004, after which it had a couple “transitional” governments followed by (in 2012) a more-or-less stable actual one.

            Wikipedia’s Politics of Somalia says:

            The country has a bicameral legislature, which consists of the Senate (upper house) and the National Assembly of Somalia (lower house). Together, they make up the Federal Parliament of Somalia.[2] in 2012 The Federal Parliament of Somalia was concurrently inaugurated, ushering in the Federal Government of Somalia, the first permanent central government in the country since the start of the civil war.

          • The peak era of relative statelessness was approximately 1991-2004

            Are you limiting yourself to the period over which a country of Somalia in theory existed? If not, the peak era of statelessness would be pre-1960, probably for many centuries.

          • And when it comes to anarcho capitalism in general, I admit I might just not get it.

            Probably true.

            For example, if your bottom line stays the same there is no real difference between giving people what they want and changing their wants to match what you are providing

            That assumes that “changing their wants” is an easy, reliable and inexpensive thing to do. It’s a great deal easier to take their wants as given and do your best to cater to them.

            Part of what you are missing in your comparison between government and firms is the difference between a private good and a public good. If I make a stupid choice of what product to buy, I get that product and pay the cost, which is a good reason to avoid stupid choices. If I make a stupid choice of what politician or policy to support, the chance of getting that politician or policy goes up by a tiny amount and if it happens I pay a tiny fraction of the cost.

            That’s a very weak reason to avoid stupid choices.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Are you limiting yourself to the period over which a country of Somalia in theory existed?

            Yes – to avoid ambiguity I should have referred to a “recent peak period”.

            I suspect we’re dealing here with a cached argument whose time has passed. Presumably people in this discussion recall the phrase “If you hate government so much why don’t you MOVE TO SOMALIA???” used as an argument in the late 1990s. It’s easy to forget that arguments depend on underlying facts on the ground which can change; in this case they did change, years ago, rendering several versions of that argument moot.

            (Perhaps it could be salvaged with some sort of qualifier, but “Oh yeah??? Well if you hate government so much why don’t you invent a time machine and move to mid-1990s Somalia???” doesn’t have quite the same zing to it…)

          • Presumably people in this discussion recall the phrase “If you hate government so much why don’t you MOVE TO SOMALIA???” used as an argument in the late 1990s.

            What was wrong with that argument wasn’t that the late 1990’s was a bad time for Somalia. There were two more serious problems:

            1. Somalia differed from the U.S. in lots of ways unrelated to the political system. It would have made as much sense to say “If you like government so much, why don’t you move to Ethiopia?”

            2. The particular problems that were making Somalia look bad at the time were not due to Somalia’s statelessness, since they mostly did not exist pre-1960. They were due to the attempt of the U.S. and the U.N. to impose a government on Somalia.

    • A1987dM says:

      Why would I even want to piss on my tenant’s furniture badly enough to forsake $20/month in the first place?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        “Why would I even want to piss on my tenant’s furniture badly enough to forsake $20/month in the first place?”

        That’s rather missing the point– the vast majority of landlords don’t want to, but there are a very few who are very angry and lacking in self-control who might.

        • 10240 says:

          It isn’t missing the point — the main reason the pissing discount feels evil to me is that the landlord does it just to piss off the tenant, and doesn’t gain anything. At that point he could give a discount without pissing (and be just as well off) ­— not helping someone because it would cost you money is normal, not helping someone when it wouldn’t cost you anything is seen as wrong. The other possibility is that he gains an enjoyment from humiliating the tenant; then he is just a despicable person, not because he specifically wronged the tenant, but because he enjoys humiliating people.

        • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

          The pissing discount strikes me as a brilliant case of regulatory workaround.

          In a most cities landlords cannot just evict tenants without months if not years of legal struggle because of the harsh regulatory enviroment they face.

          By adding a pissing clause they say “hey i can’t legally evict you in a reasonable time and despite being reasonable and not wanting to pay the market adjusted cost of this rediculous regulation you can’t legally waive your right to squat in my house for years on end. So what if we just agreed that at the point where we’d like to agree that i can evict you, we instead agree that i can start doing abnoxious things that ensure you won’t want to live here. That way you don’t have to pay for the rediculous legal privledge of squating on my house for years on end and i dont have to worry about you ruining the investment I’ve got my net worth tied up in.”

          Needless to say i 100% support the use of pissing clauses as a work around to the rediculous regulatory enviroment in most cities

          • Guy in TN says:

            Thank you for illustrating why the poor might realistically want to organize a social expectation floor against this behavior.

          • Because the poor prefer a legal environment where they cannot sign binding contracts–in particular, where once they rent an apartment they cannot be evicted even if they don’t pay rent?

            You don’t think that would make it difficult and expensive for poor people to find housing?

          • The Nybbler says:

            You don’t think that would make it difficult and expensive for poor people to find housing?

            In practice, in New York City, it does not. Very poor people find housing easily, because the government bends over backwards to buy their votes and the votes of the compassionate types who feel bad for them. The middle class gets squeezed out; the poor get housing for free or close to it, the not quite as poor get highly subsidized housing, and anyone who makes above a certain threshold is SOL.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @DavidFriedman
            It’s still the same question: Are there more people who wish they could be under the floor, than there are who enjoy being propped up by it? Note that I’m not making an object-level argument either way here, in terms of airlines or rent. This sort of thing has to be investigated on a case-by-case basis. We can’t assume that regulations always hurt people, anymore than assume that they always help.

            But on the object level regarding rent, I’m going to guess that most tenant’s benefit from having eviction capabilities reduced as much as possible. It looks like a classic case of inelasticity. Landlords are always going to want to rent, as long as there is profit to be made from it. Landlords are under market constraints as well, and can’t just raise rent indefinitely in response to rising costs.

          • JulieK says:

            You don’t think that would make it difficult and expensive for poor people to find housing?

            Good point. Go to a forum about real estate investing (e.g. biggerpockets.com) and you’ll see plenty of discussion of how to screen out bad tenants, e.g. by checking credit scores. Maybe landlords would be more willing to rent to these types of tenants if they knew they could evict them if a problem arose.

            Very poor people find housing easily

            All of them or some of them? If a random poor person moves to New York City, can he find free/subsidized housing?

          • It looks like a classic case of inelasticity. Landlords are always going to want to rent, as long as there is profit to be made from it.

            Except in the short run, it is a classic case of elasticity. That’s part of why there are abandoned buildings in some inner city areas. Part of why NY has had a housing shortage ever since they imposed rent control. Part of the reason for gentrification, as landlords find that renting to poor tenants is a mistake and rent to not-poor tenants, after making expensive renovations, instead.

            Are there more people who wish they could be under the floor, than there are who enjoy being propped up by it?

            I don’t understand what that means. Everyone would rather have a better contract at the same price. Nobody would prefer not being able to rent to being able to rent with a contract that permitted evictions.

          • Brad says:

            @JulieK

            All of them or some of them? If a random poor person moves to New York City, can he find free/subsidized housing?

            No. Public housing and section 8 have extremely long waitlists and rent controlled apartments are totally unavailable to new tenants. He could enter the lottery but the odds are very long particularly for the lowest brackets (20% of Area Median Income).

            New York does have a legal guarantee of housing, but that’s in the form of shelter beds.

          • rlms says:

            @DavidFriedman
            Say that regulation causes the cheapest housing to cost p1 and have quality q1. Guy in TN is saying that without regulation, there would be cheaper housing with price p2 < p1 and quality q2 p1 (or equivalently housing of price p1 would end up being of quality q1′ < q1). So people who can't afford housing that costs p1 (i.e. wish they could be under the floor) would benefit from deregulation, but people who currently have housing of cost p1 (who enjoy being propped up by the floor) would lose out.

      • Jiro says:

        Imagine a scenario where the landlord wants to have parties in people’s rooms without cleaning up after himself. It may very well be that in some of those parties people are drunk enough to be pissing on your furniture.

        Alternatively, imagine that the landlord just has weird preferences. There are probably not many landlords who have a terminal preference for the exact activity “pissing on the furniture”, but it’s not hard to think of things a landlord may want to do that are, from the point of view of the renter, as inconvenient as having the furniture pissed on.

      • Yosarian2 says:

        Price differentiation.

        If you charge X for rent for all your apartments, a third will sit empty due to not enough demand at that price. If you charge the lower amount Y, you can rent all your rooms, but there are some people who would otherwise pay X, so you’re leaving some money on the table there. So the trick is, you want to somehow charge poor people Y and rich people X, but all your apartments are the same. So how can you do it?

        Make the lower priced product deliberately inferior in some way. Something humiliating and annoying, bad enough so that people who can afford X still pay X to avoid it, but the poorer customers who can’t pay X will put up with the indignity.

        Best way to maximise profit. Of course you’re intentionally destroying a significant amount of utility and making the world a worse place, but only in ways that are externalities to you, so it makes economic sense.

        • actinide meta says:

          @Luke

          at the point where we’d like to agree that i can evict you, we instead agree that i can start doing… things that ensure you won’t want to live here

          @Yosarian

          Price differentiation.

          Luke wins, I think. There are several problems with your theory. First, it’s unlikely that a single landlord has enough monopoly power to benefit significantly from price discrimination; they have to compete on price with other landlords that aren’t deliberately degrading their product. Second, if a landlord does have such power, it would be cheaper and easier as well as more efficient to differentiate their apartments by avoiding some expenses (repairs, appliances, square footage at construction time, etc) than by pissing in them.

          But if someone were to impose an inefficient limitation on rental contracts, and if the local courts would actually let you get away with such a crude workaround, that would make sense. And even be potentially efficiency increasing, though not first best.

          • Jiro says:

            There are several problems with your theory.

            That’s a good reply for the specific case of landlords pissing in apartments, but not a good reply in general. I can think of situations where businesses manifestly do engage in price discrimination/differentiation, including the airline industry (which started this discussion). Yes, more expensive airline seats cost more for the airline, but not as much more as the difference in price. It’s mainly price discrimination already, and we can expect to see that with standing tickets as well.

          • sinxoveretothex says:

            @Jiro

            Yes, more expensive airline seats cost more for the airline, but not as much more as the difference in price. It’s mainly price discrimination already, and we can expect to see that with standing tickets as well.

            If I understand your argument correctly, your point is that the cheapest seats currently available have an operating cost of say 100$ and are sold at 150$. But, if cheaper options (standing seats) become available, the sale price will go up (without an accompanying rise in costs) for differentiation with the latter.

            That makes sense if you look at a given airline as all the choices there are, but unless you say the whole industry as being able to coordinate to kill new entrants, I think @actinide meta has a point again: if it’s possible to make a profit at a lower price than offered by the current players, a newcomer could come in and capture that market by offering the option at the old price.

          • bean says:

            If I understand your argument correctly, your point is that the cheapest seats currently available have an operating cost of say 100$ and are sold at 150$. But, if cheaper options (standing seats) become available, the sale price will go up (without an accompanying rise in costs) for differentiation with the latter.

            This isn’t quite true. It costs basically the same to run the airplane empty as it does to run it full, and the FAA says you can’t just cancel empty flights. The cheapest seats are almost certainly being sold below the average operating cost, because the marginal cost of filling a seat is so low. The problem is that you have to sell them early, before you know what the demand is going to be later on, when you get more money for them. This is what makes airline revenue management so much fun.

          • actinide meta says:

            @sinxoveretothex basically has it right: airlines won’t generally have enough monopoly power to do what you fear to a great extent, though more seating classes might let them extract a little more consumer surplus at the margin.

            Note that it’s nevertheless plausible that, as you claim, first class pricing has a large price discrimination component, because first class passengers can be presumed to also be willing to pay much more than economy passengers for the exact schedule or airline they prefer, cutting down on the amount of effective competition.

          • Jiro says:

            That makes sense if you look at a given airline as all the choices there are, but unless you say the whole industry as being able to coordinate to kill new entrants, I think @actinide meta has a point again

            Except that first class seats already work this way. The thing you claim would not be practical for airlines to do is being done right now for the classes of seating that already exist.

          • actinide meta says:

            @Jiro

            Airlines can charge an arm and a leg for the last couple of first class seats on a flight, because of the existence of people (including me, sometimes) willing and able to pay an arm and a leg for them rather than accept a less convenient schedule or an extra stop. (And if they don’t sell them at the full fare, I guess they’ll offer them as upgrades, with the anchoring effect of the high price making their miles look more valuable.) The existence of a worse class of seating won’t magically transform current economy flyers into price inelastic customers. Unless almost everyone except you actually turns out to prefer standing at a lower price, there should still be plenty of near-infinite-elasticity comparison shoppers keeping economy prices in line with costs.

    • Another Throw says:

      A wage floor can, on the whole, transfer more money to the lowest income brackets. In these cases, more money is being transferred to the poor via employers being forced to raise wages to keep their business going, than money being taken away from the poor via increased unemployment.

      Is there actually any evidence that this is the case? I’ve always been under the impression that evidence for anything w.r.t. to minimum wage was inconclusive. While a price floor reducing employment rates is a direct consequence of foundational economic theory, this claim of a net increase relies heavily on assumptions about the elasticity in the labor market where there is no a priori reason to believe that these assumptions would be true. Or, even if true at some place and time, that they will hold at other places and times.

      • Watchman says:

        I think a bigger worry is the phrase “transfer more money to the lowest income brackets”, which appears to be a fairly good indicator that whoever is using the phrase is ignoring individuals in favour of a target. I would imagine that a minimum wage managed well (please note, observational evidence does not indicate governments are likely to do this) would indeed achieve this, but this is not exclusive to increased unemployment, and therein lies a problem. If your aim is to do something positive, then making people unemployed, and less likely to be able to find further employment, as you are creatively destroying low-skilled jobs whilst laying off the presumably least skilled people, in return for making other people from the same “income bracket” slightly better off is a rather poor trade off. I’d prefer to find a course of action that made everyone in the relevant “income brackets” better off, even if it involved somewhat less of a transfer of money to that bracket.

        • sinxoveretothex says:

          You hit a very interesting point: the lowest income bracket is, by definition, the income bracket(s) that starts from 0 (or lower if some form of debts are considered [negative] income).

          At that point, the argument becomes semantic: does “transferring more money to the lowest income brackets” mean terminating employees that aren’t profitable at the higher minimum wage and raising the wage floor of those that remain employed (not necessarily at the same company)?

          Or does it mean something along the lines of: define “income bracket” to only include employed people (so that aforementioned terminated employees “fall off the graph” so to speak) and defining “more money” as “more money per person in the category on average” (such that a lower total of workers in the category doesn’t nullify the increased price floor)?

          Without knowing which of these is meant: the latter is convoluted but the former is unlikely to get the answer OP implied (by my reading anyway).

      • benwave says:

        I ended up looking through this case study in New Zealand a while ago in some detail. http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/informationreleases/ris/pdfs/ris-mbie-mwrw-feb17.pdf

        The TLDR relevant to this discussion is, yes there exist levels of minimum wage increase that transfer money in aggregate to minimum wage workers from businesses, even taking into account those whose jobs are predicted to be lost. Of course one can argue about whether this is a good thing or not, depending on how you weigh utilities against one another, and perhaps other factors such as the relevant welfare regimes available. But it does support the central thesis

      • bbartlog says:

        It seems like a fairly straightforward conclusion based on microeconomics. All that is required is that there be employers who currently employ workers at something under the proposed minimum wage, who would be willing to pay more than that wage if it were implemented.

        Normally this surplus (the difference between the employer’s willingness to pay and the minimum that the employee would actually accept) ends up being split roughly symmetrically, but with a minimum wage, it would be quite possible for most of it to go to the employee. Of course this ignores possible adjustments to the employer’s willingness to pay, resulting from overall changes to the business environment that result from the higher minimum wage.
        But considered simply in this light it’s a simple transfer of some portion of the employer’s surplus to supplement the employee’s.

        There are more efficient ways to redistribute money than this, though. We’re basically talking about a rather clumsy tax that is probably mostly progressive, but:

        – it falls primarily on businesses that employ large numbers of low-skilled or relatively unproductive workers. Is there some special reason we want to penalize these businesses while leaving e.g. software companies where no one makes less than $60K per year untouched?
        – within the class of affected employees, it’s regressive. By this I mean that some person whose work is worth more to their employer than they are currently willing to pay may well benefit, but the very worst workers, who are currently only employable below the new minimum wage, end up worse off (unemployed).

        • SamGamgee says:

          You also have to reckon unseen costs. That is, the effect on the currently employed is just one consideration; there is also the effect on potential future employees. Employees that could have been hired at the lower wage will be less attractive hires at the higher wage.

    • Brandon Berg says:

      It’s not the threat of public backlash that stops landlords from insisting on the right to urinate on their tenants’ furniture; it’s the fact that virtually no landlords value this as much as tenants value not having their furniture soaked with urine. If you draw the supply and demand curves for this, they probably don’t intersect at all.

      Could you get a $20 a month deduction from your rent by allowing your landlord to pee on your furniture? Probably.

      Why would you think this? How many landlords do you think are willing to give up $20/month in rent for the right to pee on their tenants’ furniture? How many do you think would want to do it even for free?

      I guess maybe in a rent control situation where the landlord was trying to drive out the tenant, but then the tenant wouldn’t agree, knowing it would cost him in the long run.

      • spurious says:

        I suspect you’re on the money. This is one of those just-imagine scenarios where we can indeed just imagine but in reality This Never Happens.

        Interestingly, Squirrel of Doom’s reference to the Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics is salient here. It would seem that the psychological instinct behind the CIE is designed to prevent us from accepting conditions like couch-peeing (or perhaps a more realistic example, I lower your rent by $100 but once a month I get to have sex with your wife). The moral outrage prevents us from succumbing to these potentially anti-adaptive behaviours, but also leaves us outraged on behalf of others, and overcompensates so that something relatively trivial (say, standing up on a two-hour flight) seems unconscionable. More thought needed on this one.

        • Guy in TN says:

          Couch-peeing is a comical and unrealistic example. But there are certainly of examples of things that are both 1. profitable 2. legal and 3. would face public backlash if ever attempted.

          The Copenhagen thought experiment is assuming that there is no consequences to “doing something”. But in every case where he shows that people are, in his view, irrationally upset, it is because someone is normalizing an action that there was previously a social norm against. Chesterton’s fence comes to mind- did he ever ask why these people were angry, rather than assuming these people were all just irrational?

          • Watchman says:

            I don’t see the social norms being breached in any of those cases. Can you elaborate?

          • Guy in TN says:

            In the Copenhagen article, here are the norms breached in each example. Note that in order to provoke a backlash, the norms don’t have to be shared by the majority of the public, just by a sizeable loud percentage of them:

            1. Being included in a scientific experiment without consent
            2. Possible minimum wage law violation
            3. Price gouging (i.e. the belief that prices should not fluctuate too closely based on demand)
            4. Perpetuating gender pay gap
            5. Controlling what people eat (usually taboo outside of cases like military or medical purposes)

            There are reasons why people have developed social expectations against these things. Every time one of these social expectations is violated, even if it is beneficial for the two parties directly involved, it erodes away the support these expectations provides for the rest of us. If it was two people on an island, it wouldn’t matter. But all of these are taking place in the context of larger society, which adjusts its expectations accordingly in response to eroding social norms.

            For example, the reason we have a hard line against “don’t include people in scientific experiments without their consent” is that so many scientists in the past abused people in absence of this rule. It doesn’t matter if you say your experiment “won’t hurt them at all”, that’s what many of the unethical scientists in the past said as well. Therefore, we have a floor against that sort of thing. Yes, it hurts the scientists who really aren’t doing anything that could hurt their subjects (the people “under the floor”), but it protects the rest of us. We can have reasonable debate about whether this rule gives us a net benefit or a net harm, but this has to be done on a case-by-case basis. The Copenhagen article’s thesis is hampered by overlooking that all of this takes place in the context of a larger society, which is influenced by what on the surface appears to be just a two-party transaction.

          • stucchio says:

            Guy in TN, lets think about your argument for “don’t include people in experiments without their consent”.

            The cases of this which horrify us are mainly things like infecting people with syphilis. Imagine a person infected others with syphilis without their consent, but for entertainment rather than for science. Would this be somehow better?

            The core issue with cases like this isn’t the fact that it’s done to 50% of people at random, it’s that one group suffered from things that were otherwise wrong on the justification of “it’s science”.

            But if rather than doing something otherwise wrong you’re doing something innocuous (e.g. showing a green button or a blue one, or giving money away), it makes no sense to impose the same level of scrutiny.

            Disclaimer: I’ve run hundreds of experiments (none of which involved syphilis) on tens of millions of humans without their knowledge or consent.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I may have been unclear here, I wasn’t arguing in favor of that rule, rather I was trying to explain why it came to exist. After reading Scott’s nightmarish story about trying to conduct an experiment at his workplace, I am sure that we’ve got the bar set way, way, too high for scientists, to the point of paranoia.

            The unreasonable demands for scientific experiments is a social floor that I agree needs to be shattered.

          • Jiro says:

            Imagine a person infected others with syphilis without their consent, but for entertainment rather than for science. Would this be somehow better?

            People behave in funny, and irrational, ways. They will more readily cause harm if it can be justified as for the greater good.

            What restrictions we use have to take this irrational behavior of real people into consideration.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Have a real-world and much milder example. One of my friends had a landlord who thought my friends place was too untidy. (I never saw it and have no opinion about the untidiness level.)

        So the landlord would keep going into the place and building more cabinets.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Forget the pissing on furniture.

        What about landlords renovating the building using construction materials containing asbestos? There is a clear financial incentive here: asbestos is a cheap and excellent material, except for the pesky fact that it causes cancer, but should be landlords be allowed to use it provided that they state it in the contract and make you waive your right to sue them for health damages?

        • Drew says:

          Asbestos seems like an implied warranties kind of thing. The reason to do it is information- and transaction-costs.

          If we imagine we’re in Lawtopia, where everyone has a JD, court-costs are free and there’s infinite time to read EULAs, then no one would sign that contract. So, we don’t need a law.

          In real-California, there’s a “contains chemicals known to cause cancer” on every building in existence. So, the problem is that some poor person will skim the contract and miss the “seriously, asbestos will kill you” language.

          Without (certain) kinds of implied warranties, landlords could abuse the fact that it takes time to evaluate contracts and that it’s hard to take things to court. And they could extract rents by selling useless goods that no one would have bought with full information.

          This argument covers stuff like health regulation at restaurants. I support them because they mean that I don’t need to burn time researching sanitation practices every time I want a sandwich.

          But, the argument doesn’t really cover regulations where someone knows exactly what they’re buying, or where the implications of the disputed clause are fully-understood.

          If someone hires homeless people to hold wifi routers, then the homeless people know exactly what the deal is. They can accept or not. You won’t have any unforeseen regrets when the implications of the decision are fully revealed.

          The same is true with standing-room-only flights and many other examples.

      • Jiro says:

        If you take “pissing on the furniture” as synechdoche for “things which landlords might want to do that are as bad for the tenant as pissing on the furniture”, I can imagine the landlord wanting to do such things. Pointing out that the landlord may not specifically want to piss on the furniture misses the point.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Surely the big problem is that they will do with standing room what they did for Economy class? Supposedly airlines introduced a cheaper, crappier Economy ticket- but actually the crappy one just occupies the cheapest slot that Economy used to occupy, and what we used to think of as a normal Economy ticket now carries extra fees for premium features like the ability to carry on a bag.

      Soon, for the price of today’s Crappy Economy ticket, you can buy a standing room ticket! Or if you want to splurge, spend the extra money for Crappy Economy! Poor people will have the same option they did before (don’t fly), but everyone who can fly will now get to pay more for what they were getting before, unless they want to be as uncomfortable as the airline can get away with.

      • 10240 says:

        That’s unlikely to happen in a competitive market, since an airline which offers a standing ticket for the same price as today’s economy ticket will lose out against an airline which offers a sitting ticket for the same (of minimally higher) price. I don’t know if economy class really did become worse while prices stayed the same, but if it did, I guess it’s because otherwise it would’ve become more expensive due to higher fuel prices.

        • bean says:

          I don’t know if economy class really did become worse while prices stayed the same, but if it did, I guess it’s because otherwise it would’ve become more expensive due to higher fuel prices.

          Bingo. That said, the decline of economy class has been massively over-hyped. It’s been fairly stable since the 90s, although there are some worrying trends going on now, particularly American’s 737-8MAX.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Over the past year or so, United Airlines has rolled out “Basic Economy” – which is Economy Class, except you can’t reschedule or cancel, choose your seat, or carry on a bag. It’s the same seats, but if you now wish to take advantage of the above listed services, you need to pay for Economy Premium.

            Now, interestingly, in Googling this I did just discover that in September, United announced they were rolling back Basic Economy to at least some extent, because their competitors had not done the same thing as quickly as expected. So on the one hand, the competitive argument does seem to apply; on the other hand, several competitors have started doing similar, and so the issue seems less that you can’t do this because of competition, and more than United incorrectly judged how quickly everyone else would begin screwing over their customers.

          • Matt M says:

            Also, based on my recent experiences booking some united flights, if you book through any sort of travel website (expedia, etc.) you’re quoted/given the standard economy fare as a default.

            I only found out about basic economy when I tried to book directly through United once.

          • bean says:

            United and American’s rollout of Basic Economy has been a bit of a dumpster fire. Delta’s been doing it for a couple of years specifically to compete with Spirit and co, on certain routes and without all of the restrictions that the other two brought in. United in particular messed up by applying it even to full-fare economy and making it a $20 buyup across the board. American, IIRC, has often made the buyup bigger, which perversely makes it easier to sell as an anti-Spirit measure instead of a stealth price increase.

            Also, based on my recent experiences booking some united flights, if you book through any sort of travel website (expedia, etc.) you’re quoted/given the standard economy fare as a default.

            Really? For a long time, that was a serious bug. Expedia et al would quote you basic economy without adequate disclosure, and occasionally be flat-out wrong about the terms.

          • Matt M says:

            Hmm, I haven’t actually booked a flight on expedia in a while, so I cannot confirm.

            Chase ultimate rewards definitely doesn’t put you in basic though!

          • bean says:

            Chase ultimate rewards definitely doesn’t put you in basic though!

            Were you on an award ticket through a United transfer, or using the points as cash? Either way, they probably didn’t stick you in basic. (But points as cash isn’t a particularly good deal, even if you’ve got a Sapphire Reserve.)

          • Nornagest says:

            Expedia et al would quote you basic economy without adequate disclosure, and occasionally be flat-out wrong about the terms.

            I stopped using Expedia et al. years ago, because of how consistently they’d advertise discounted fares for me, only for them to “coincidentally” expire in the time between me clicking the link and the page with the final fare loading. It’s totally unsurprising to me that they’d try to sell me basic economy as regular economy.

            I can only conclude that it’s a deliberate feature of their business model, because Kayak, owned by the same company, doesn’t do this. It’s slimy enough behavior that I’d rather not give them any money even through a subsidiary; unfortunately the online travel agency space has been pretty thoroughly oligopolized by now. Sometimes I buy directly from an airline if I’m feeling especially spiteful, but it’s kind of a pain in the ass.

          • bean says:

            Sometimes I buy directly from an airline if I’m feeling especially spiteful, but it’s kind of a pain in the ass.

            Interesting. I typically use Kayak or Google Flights to compare options, then book direct with the relevant airline. Of course, that’s usually Southwest, which doesn’t play the travel search game unless you’re corporate.

            There’s a major fuss over the future of travel distribution right now. Airlines are coming up with all sorts of new products which the existing interfaces, and the Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) don’t support well if at all. New standards are in work, but there’s a bunch of legal problems due to existing agreements, and the usual fighting over who gets what part of the surplus. And changing anything related to airline IT usually causes lots and lots of problems.
            Re OTAs themselves, Spirit’s CEO once said that they were something like 25% of bookings and 100% of problems. So it’s not just basic economy, it’s that Expedia generally does a poor job of explaining what you’re getting into. Probably just not worth it to them for whatever reason.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I ended up booking a Basic Economy ticket on Delta several months back, thanks to Google Flights showing it by default. Once I was in the booking process – and only then – was I offered the option to pay more for a Standard Economy upgrade.

            (I didn’t take the upgrade; I can’t quite remember why, but it was before the public outcry, and on Delta the only real difference is not getting to select your seat. Not being as tall as some, I don’t horribly mind middle seats.)

          • bean says:

            (I didn’t take the upgrade; I can’t quite remember why, but it was before the public outcry, and on Delta the only real difference is not getting to select your seat. Not being as tall as some, I don’t horribly mind middle seats.)

            Delta’s Basic Economy is considerably less punitive than those of United and American. No changes and no seat assignment is about it for the ordinary traveler, which actually is a fare someone might want to buy. You do get a carry-on, IIRC, although you board last. Not sure about elite benefits, but probably not a concern to you.

          • My only experience along these lines is with WoW airlines–a trip to Iceland with my wife. The fare was amazingly low, even allowing for the fact that luggage is extra. The basic inconvenience was that not even drinking water was free. Judging by that experience, the European style very low fare airline is a pretty good deal.

          • bean says:

            @David
            I suspect it’s an attitude thing. You fly WOW and think “What a great example of capitalism” because you’re David Friedman. I fly WOW and think “Well, the total cost of my trip was 10% lower than if I’d booked with Delta and 12% lower than if I’d booked with American, in both cases a greater savings than the frequent flier miles I would have netted, although I’m disappointed that KEF didn’t have lots of pretty planes” because I’m an AvGeek. A normal person books WOW and thinks “How dare they charge for water!” because they just don’t understand what’s going on.

        • j1000000 says:

          IANAEconomist but seems unclear to me that the commercial airline industry is a competitive market. There are huge barriers to entry. Plus, substitution is not always a feasible option for consumers, which seems somewhat significant.

          • 10240 says:

            Cost of entry is only high in the absolute sense (because planes are expensive). If we consider the cost of entry relative to the cost of ongoing operation, I guess it’s pretty low, and almost all of the cost is proportional to volume, rather than fixed. In practice it seems pretty competitive to me, at least on busy routes.

          • bean says:

            Cost of entry is only high in the absolute sense (because planes are expensive).

            Used planes can be pretty cheap. Allegiant in particular has a business model built around buying planes nobody else wants and not flying them very hard. I half-expect some new startup to pop up and start flying the ex-SWA 737-300s. (I am not in favor of this plan. I do not like the 737CLs.)

      • bean says:

        Surely the big problem is that they will do with standing room what they did for Economy class? Supposedly airlines introduced a cheaper, crappier Economy ticket- but actually the crappy one just occupies the cheapest slot that Economy used to occupy, and what we used to think of as a normal Economy ticket now carries extra fees for premium features like the ability to carry on a bag.

        You’re talking about basic economy, which the big three just rolled out. Delta played it reasonably smart, while United and American are rolling theirs back some because of how badly it went for them. Yes, it’s a stealth price increase, but usually only about $20.

        Soon, for the price of today’s Crappy Economy ticket, you can buy a standing room ticket! Or if you want to splurge, spend the extra money for Crappy Economy! Poor people will have the same option they did before (don’t fly), but everyone who can fly will now get to pay more for what they were getting before, unless they want to be as uncomfortable as the airline can get away with.

        Disagree. It’s pretty well-established that densification does result in real price reductions. The standing ticket will be cheaper than you can get today. Current Economy might or might not be more expensive. It’s indisputable that people can make money flying people in current economy, and I suspect that demand for something like current economy is enough to keep prices pretty close to where they are now. After all, airliners are uncomfortable because almost everyone who says that they’d pay more for comfort is lying.

        • The Nybbler says:

          After all, airliners are uncomfortable because almost everyone who says that they’d pay more for comfort is lying.

          Given that all the Economy Plus seats in the last flight I booked were already taken, there’s a lot of truthtellers. I mean, sure they offered me First, but at 150% extra.. I never said I’d pay THAT much more.

          • bean says:

            American tried to market “more legroom throughout coach” a few years back, and it failed miserably. It didn’t drive bookings even at the same price. United’s limited Economy Plus did, and it’s been widely copied over the last 10 years. Perhaps my statement there was a bit strong, but I’m deeply cynical about the median airline customer.

          • Matt M says:

            Given that all the Economy Plus seats in the last flight I booked were already taken

            Aren’t most of these upgrades rather than people who chose to book (and pay more for) economy plus?

        • toastengineer says:

          After all, airliners are uncomfortable because almost everyone who says that they’d pay more for comfort is lying.

          Meanwhile I’m in the bubble window seat of the Megabus for $21, laughing.

          • bean says:

            And it’s going to take you several times as long to get there. Busses could compete better on some routes (intra-Texas, LAX-SFO), but if I’m going from Oklahoma to Washington, I’ll take a plane, thanks. (Yes, I’ve done it both ways. Well, strictly speaking, I’ve done it neither way. But I did STL-GEG both on a bus and a plane. Plane is a lot nicer.)

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve definitely opted for the “luxury bus” trip between major cities in Texas a few times. $90 as opposed to $200-400 for a flight, just as comfortable and nice as first class on a plane, no TSA, etc.

            Dallas to Houston takes about four hours instead of about two (factoring in airport transit time).

        • After all, airliners are uncomfortable because almost everyone who says that they’d pay more for comfort is lying.

          I’m a large person (6’2″, 250 pounds, broad shoulders), so flying in an ordinary airline seat is an acutely uncomfortable experience. Hence, I do it as little as I possibly can. The disappearance of legroom was pretty much the last straw.

          When I plan a trip, the extra time required for ground-level transportation is part of my expected overhead. In effect, that is the premium I am paying to avoid discomfort.

          • johan_larson says:

            You’re an American? How do you travel coast to coast?

          • bean says:

            When I plan a trip, the extra time required for ground-level transportation is part of my expected overhead. In effect, that is the premium I am paying to avoid discomfort.

            But you’d rather do that than buy up to Economy Plus or its equivalent, apparently. Why? Most people who swear that they’d pay a bit more for comfort seem shocked to find out that’s an option.

          • Matt M says:

            Most people who swear that they’d pay a bit more for comfort seem shocked to find out that’s an option.

            Or at least they pretend to be (because the alternative is being caught red-handed lying about one’s own frugality)

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m a large person (6’2″, 250 pounds, broad shoulders), so flying in an ordinary airline seat is an acutely uncomfortable experience. Hence, I do it as little as I possibly can.

            I’m a big guy too (you’ve got some pounds on me, but I’ve got a few inches on you), and as I’ve gotten older and started flying more frequently, I’ve spent a lot of time looking up seat pitch figures. Alaska’s 31″ seats are just adequate for my lanky-ass knees without an upgrade; I’ll usually buy an upgrade on a United flight or equivalent, though, as long as it’s reasonably priced. I did balk at a $140 upgrade on a flight to Vegas a few years ago, but that was only an hour and a half, and most of the Economy Plus equivalents seem to be cheaper these days.

            I kind of miss the days when you could get an exit-row seat for free if you had the know-how to ask, but twenty or forty bucks isn’t that big a deal relative to what I usually spend over a vacation.

          • LHN says:

            My priorities basically run 1) not flying (anything within a certain radius, which has crept up from ~300 miles to 1000 over the last couple of decades, and my willingness to go beyond that for discretionary travel has likewise declined over the period); 2) Southwest; 3) Economy Plus or equivalent on another airline.

            But the existence of classes below that, while it’s beneficial overall, does have a negative effect on people with constrained choices. E.g., people who have to travel for work on the cheapest ticket– the company may be better off not having to spend as much, but the employee gets the worse experience and nothing to show for it.

            Or: the last time I flew, we missed our flight due to circumstances outside both the airlines’ and our control. (Returning cruise ship, port fogged in.) United, to its full credit, managed to get us on a plane later that same day. But unsurprisingly, the flight they booked us on didn’t have the Economy Plus seats we’d originally reserved.

            If seats with more room were all there was, then we certainly might not have flown that day. On the other hand, the flight itself, whenever it took place, would have been much more pleasant.

            (Could I have said “I’ll wait to fly till you have an Economy Plus seat available?” I honestly don’t know. Standing in a crowded cruise ship full of people waiting to use the desk phone to talk to airlines that had four ships full of people to rebook likely wouldn’t have seemed like the best time to attempt a negotiation, even if it had occurred to me.)

          • You’re an American? How do you travel coast to coast?

            Why would I need to travel “coast to coast”?

            But you’d rather do that than buy up to Economy Plus or its equivalent, apparently. Why?

            Is that really such a thing? I’m guessing it’s only available on certain airlines on major routes.

            The last time I looked at buying more room on a plane trip, I was offered first class, which cost enormously more. There was no intermediate step.

            Admittedly, I am so thoroughly alienated by bad experiences flying that I’m not likely to be pricing flights, let alone knowing to use secret code words like “Economy Plus Or Its Equivalent”.

            Moreover, it’s not just the seating space. The last time I took a plane anywhere, after the scheduled time of departure, we spent an hour inside the plane on the ground, followed by five more hours waiting in La Guardia airport, very crowded and noisy, and periodically being told that we’d be leaving shortly!

            Flying is always an ordeal, so I do it as little as possible.

          • bean says:

            Is that really such a thing? I’m guessing it’s only available on certain airlines on major routes.

            It’s very common on the big 3 these days, tending towards ubiquitous. It’s not on every plane yet, but it’s been on all the ones I’ve flown recently. (7 planes on DAL and AAL.)

            Admittedly, I am so thoroughly alienated by bad experiences flying that I’m not likely to be pricing flights, let alone knowing to use secret code words like “Economy Plus Or Its Equivalent”.

            On one hand, I get that. On the other hand, it’s sort of irritating to hear people criticizing airlines for things they’re not doing any more.

            Moreover, it’s not just the seating space. The last time I took a plane anywhere, after the scheduled time of departure, we spent an hour inside the plane on the ground, followed by five more hours waiting in La Guardia airport, very crowded and noisy, and periodically being told that we’d be leaving shortly!

            Mechanical failures happen. Fact of life. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid bad ones, and some airlines are better than others at talking you through it.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Mechanical failures happen. Fact of life.

            I don’t blame the airline for it. And on a cognitive level I know that a lot of my delays are due to being evening flights and I’m experiencing cascaded small delays built up over the day. But when E(delay time) gets high enough, it adversely affects the perceived value-for-money I get from a plane ticket.

            And, no, “get an earlier flight” is not a net-positive solution. If I have to take a day/half-day off work to fly, why am I paying $300something/pop when I could take the same time off and just drive? With an E(delay) of 1hr and needing to show up to the airport 90min early for security, flying saves only like 3-4 hours, for the intra-midwest flights I am usually taking. Which is a good proposition when the calculus results in “now I can fly out after a regular workday”, quite less so if I have to set a day aside to travel. That, along with the airport holiday madness, is why we’re driving for Thanksgiving this year.

          • bean says:

            @Gobbobobble
            What Larry described was clearly major mechanical. I’m with you on short flights. I’m a huge fan of air travel, but I’m driving 8 hours for Thanksgiving because it’s too expensive to fly and I want to have a car available. That said, 8 hours is towards the edge of where I’d drive instead of flying.

          • stucchio says:

            I don’t know about American airlines, but Etihad certainly offers it. I’m 6’6″, 235lb. Completely happy to pay $195 extra each way on my next 22 hour USA -> India trip to get an exit row seat.

            It’s certainly worth $10/hour to me to be comfortable on my flight.

            In fact, it’s even worth about $145 to have certainty about getting this seat. Air India only charges $50 for the upgrade, but you need to take a chance and pay at the airport rather than when reserving the flight.

            If you’re a professional, you can easily afford to pay a moderate amount of money to solve this problem.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          After all, airliners are uncomfortable because almost everyone who says that they’d pay more for comfort is lying.

          (Probably also too strong) Gross generalization from myself as a median airline customer:

          “Lying” is definitely too strong. Learned helplessness is more accurate. For those of us who aren’t aircraft/airport buffs, after the novelty of being up in the air wears off, the experience of flying ranges from harrowing to merely inconvenient. Between delays, security bullshit, lost luggage, delays, tedious boarding/deplaning, lack of transparency, and delays*, there’s just not much to inspire goodwill for the occasional traveler. Sure, flying (mostly) reliably gets you from point A to point B in good time, but it you’re going through a gauntlet to do it. Once you throw in all the various made-up-sounding fees, ludicrously overpriced airport food, passenger stratification, continual reduction in in-flight snacks, and pricing games, it feels more and more like a fleecing gauntlet.

          After a while, the learned helplessness kicks in and all you want is to get through the experience with as much money and little memory retained. All the little fees and booster charges get lumped together and told to fuck off because, no, I’m not going to pay you an extra $60 for a 10% reduction in gauntlet kickings. 1) I’m going to retain what shreds of dignity I can, get your microtransactions money shears away from me. 2) A price I’d consider legitimately worthwhile is unlikely to be a profitable price point for the airline. 3) After years of being screwed by flying, I don’t trust you to follow through. For all I know, it’s probably just some bullshit marketing with the same goddamn legroom as everyone else, but if you don’t pay the shakedown racket you get a reduction. I don’t keep tabs on what aircraft model has what dimensions, I fly maybe 3 times a year. And it’s not like the airlines or middlemen sites can be bothered to be transparent about damn near anything, transparency impedes the fleecing.

          Sure, I could put in the hours to learn about how to play the pricing games or what planes have what, but it just isn’t worth the time investment. My total flight time per year is less than the amount of time it would take to keep up**. So I just hunker down, think of England, and try to keep my bank account as intact as I can, because, to the layman, airlines have roughly the same will-I-actually-get-value-for-my-money credibility as phone games.

          * I know not all of these are the airlines’ fault but airports are part of the same experience, you never encounter one without the other. Airline-airport buck-passing really stinks of “hey, if we both fuck everyone over, we can just blame each other! Everybody who matters wins!”. And did I mention the hour+ delays?

          ** Purely domestic flyer, if and when I ever get around to traveling overseas, the fight time would be worth doing a bit of research or at least throwing some extra money at a nice-sounding upgrade and hoping it works out.

          • bean says:

            “Lying” is definitely too strong. Learned helplessness is more accurate.

            Fair enough. I’ll completely grant that I’m OK with the modern air travel game because I enjoy it enough to get good at it, and criticizing people for being bad at it is unfair. At the same time, I think you’re exaggerating the amount of work required to get at least a decent experience out of it. A lot of it is simply knowing what’s going on, which doesn’t go out of date that fast.
            I also wonder if some of this isn’t the same problem I’ve seen with battleships. Most of the material is written for people with at least some background, mostly because those are the only people who are likely to seek it out. Even the best 10-page summary of ‘what to know before traveling’ is unlikely to be that useful because it won’t circulate too far beyond the realm of the AvGeek. It might be good for the AvGeek’s friends, but that’s only the ones the AvGeek can’t help personally.

          • Matt M says:

            At the same time, I think you’re exaggerating the amount of work required to get at least a decent experience out of it. A lot of it is simply knowing what’s going on, which doesn’t go out of date that fast.

            Even using “you get what you pay for” as a general heuristic will get you 80% of the way there. The amount of people who use budget travel sites and pick THE cheapest available option out of hundreds and then insist on righteously condemning the quality of the experience continues to amaze me.

            Things that are cheap are generally cheap for a reason.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            At the same time, I think you’re exaggerating the amount of work required to get at least a decent experience out of it. A lot of it is simply knowing what’s going on, which doesn’t go out of date that fast.

            This is very likely true, I’ll concede that. It does feel fairly impenetrable from the outside, though, since the main windows into it for the uninitiated is the sea of bullshit that marketers deliberately poison the noosphere with.

            Do you happen to have such a 10-page link handy?

            @Matt M
            While I agree that I don’t have much business criticizing the quality, my whole point is that the system is structured that I quite simply don’t trust the more expensive options to give even a linear value-for-money. Pay 15% more for a 5% better overall experience? Pass.

            I know it’s not really fair to the airlines, but when the actual time on the plane is only up to maybe half the total experience, I’m skeptical that even a bump to first class could double the overall quality.

          • bean says:

            @Matt M

            Even using “you get what you pay for” as a general heuristic will get you 80% of the way there. The amount of people who use budget travel sites and pick THE cheapest available option out of hundreds and then insist on righteously condemning the quality of the experience continues to amaze me.

            100% endorsed. Think about what you want, and how much you’re willing to pay for it. The cheapest item on Expedia is usually terrible. (Spirit or Allegiant.)

            @Gobbobobble

            Do you happen to have such a 10-page link handy?

            That’s sort of what I was trying to do with my effort post series. I’d consider continuing it, but I’m too busy with battleships these days. Other than that, no. Basically, figure out what you’re actually willing to pay for what you want. If you have specific questions, I’m more than happy to answer them.

          • Evan Þ says:

            The amount of people who use budget travel sites and pick THE cheapest available option out of hundreds and then insist on righteously condemning the quality of the experience continues to amaze me.

            For me, it’s Learned Helplessness again. There’s one flight for $300, another for $330, and several more between $500 and $700 on the exact same airlines thanks to the esoteric mysteries of pricing algorithms. I know the $330 flight and the $500 flight are going to be exactly the same, because they’re both Standard Economy on the same airline, so why should I conclude the $330’s going to be better than the $300?

          • Matt M says:

            I know the $330 flight and the $500 flight are going to be exactly the same, because they’re both Standard Economy on the same airline, so why should I conclude the $330’s going to be better than the $300?

            Ah, but I reject your initial premise. The airlines know how much you pay, and they prioritize you accordingly. As we discussed when United beat up that doctor guy, they generally bump people based on who paid the least amount of money for their ticket.

            I fly semi-regularly. I’ve never been bumped from a flight. Why do you suppose that is? Must just be good luck, I guess.

            In a lot of cases, your boarding priority is also based on the price you paid for the ticket.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Matt, I know the airline prices are based on what I’m willing to pay, but I’m not sure what significance that has when I’m selecting flights personally. I’ve never been bumped either, and I don’t usually carry huge bags to put in the overhead bins (and when I am, I’m willing to take the risk of getting a free gatecheck), so I don’t really care about boarding priority or bumping risk. Given that and the inscrutability of getting better seats / better-angled windows / more-timely arrivals / etc, just what should lead me to select one fare over another?

          • Matt M says:

            If you’re generally satisfied with your treatment, nothing I guess.

            But if you’re one of the people whose vision of air travel is some dystopian hellscape filled with liars, crooks, and charlatans straight out of a Dickens novel, I’m probably willing to predict that you currently maximize for price, and that if you didn’t, your experience would be markedly different.

            I used to be a lower-middle class person who rarely traveled and my experience was similar to the complaints I hear here. When I got a well paid white collar job with frequent travel, my entire perception of air travel changed as a result. Even though I’m still booking the same flights in the same class on the same airline. It’s not necessarily easy to measure and it’s not necessarily that every flight attendant can see my customer lifetime value floating above my head when she serves me a drink. But it’s there.

            If you start paying more, you’ll start getting more. Just trust me on this. It’s kinda sorta the fundamental bedrock of capitalism.

          • baconbacon says:

            List of simple travel tips.

            1. Bring a couple of granola bars (or whatever). Enough to get you through both airports if possible, helps avoid all kinds of issues, extra costs, general crappy mood.

            2. Cut your caffeine intake for the travel day way down. Doesn’t work if you are overly sensitive to caffeine changes, but for most people it helps some. Lots of guys seemed to double or triple theirs when traveling (coffee in the morning, starbucks at the airport to kill time, another when they landed feeling kind of groggy. Not a good thing for your digestion or adjusting your sleep schedule.

            3. Recognize what is replaceable in your bag. For $20 a lot of guys could replace their socks, underwear, and undershirts at Target, yet they pack them up and truck them around. If it saves you $50 plus all the time packing and going through checking bags its a pretty easy win.

            4. In fact buy what you need in general. You can’t pack for every contingency anyway, just get the basics down (ie an appropriate coat/shoes for the likely weather).

            5. Buy a nice carry on bag that is comfortable, fits the things you need. It should last 10+ years, so even at 2-3 flights a year its not much to spend $100 on in the long run.

            Hopefully others will add on.

          • I do a fair amount of flying, on South-west when convenient, and I don’t have any of the negative experiences described, aside from TSA, which isn’t the airlines fault. Domestic airlines no longer provide free meals, but I don’t see any good reason why they should–I can either buy a meal, not eat, or a bring a sandwich. I don’t think I have ever had luggage permanently lost, and as best I remember it’s been literally decades since I had luggage temporarily lost (i.e. not arriving on the same plane I did).

            To be fair, my experience may be biased by the fact that I’m short.

          • bean says:

            baconbacon’s suggestions are good. Here’s my suggestions:
            1. Don’t panic. The industry is not out to get you. I go into flying expecting to enjoy it, and I do, even when things go wrong.
            2. Think ahead. Try to get some idea of what you’re up against. Look at your options for a flight, and decide what you’re willing to pay for. Do you want bags? If so, is Spirit still your best option? If I ever do fly Spirit, it will be because I decided it was the best deal after evaluating all of my other options. Bring food, or accept the premium you’re going to pay at the airport. I do both, depending on my mood.

          • Matt M says:

            I do a fair amount of flying, on South-west when convenient, and I don’t have any of the negative experiences described, aside from TSA, which isn’t the airlines fault.

            I understand many people have very principled reasons to reject it, but seriously, paying for pre-check eliminates somewhere between 50-90% of the hassle of TSA.

            Also optimize for small airports whenever you can. Less rush = more relaxed and happy TSA screeners, which goes a long way. The TSA process at IAH and HOU is night and day – it’s the same labor pool of people, just working under very different conditions.

          • SamChevre says:

            My pet peeve with flying is airline-side cancellation policies.

            If I fly home, I fly from Bradley (Hartford CT) to Nashville. Both airports are OK. And the most-typical flight connects at BWI.

            If my flight is delayed, I end up at BWI with no flight to Nashville–and this, according to the airline, “not our problem”. I do not understand why “well, you are on your own until tomorrow–you can sleep in the airport or if you want to pay for a hotel room you can” is a reasonable response when I bought a ticket from Connecticut to Nashville for today, and you managed to screw up the connection.

          • bean says:

            I do not understand why “well, you are on your own until tomorrow–you can sleep in the airport or if you want to pay for a hotel room you can” is a reasonable response when I bought a ticket from Connecticut to Nashville for today, and you managed to screw up the connection.

            We could look at making airlines responsible for weather delays, but it would have to be a regulatory decision. The various foibles of the customers mean that doing it unilaterally is suicide. And it means the price of airfare goes up. There are some things the airline can’t control, and if it’s a mechanical delay, they are on the hook for your hotel room. Or if your flight is 4 hours late, do they have to hold everyone in BWI for a couple hours, making them all late and screwing up their route planning?

          • JayT says:

            MY best piece of advice for making air travel more bearable, is that if you are traveling with a companion, don’t choose the aisle and middle seat or the window and middle seat. Choose the aisle and the window at the back of the plane. If that middle seat ends up taken, the person will always be willing to switch to an aisle or window so that you can sit next to your companion, but in reality rear middle seats are always the last ones to be filled, and at least 2/3rds of the time that I fly it ends up being empty, giving me and my wife all the shoulder space we want, which is my biggest complaint on airplanes.

          • The Nybbler says:

            At least on the flights I get stuck on, the rear row doesn’t recline and due to the curve of the plane the window seat has even less room than normal. I got stuck in that rear window seat for a (full, of course) EWR–>SFO flight, and my back hurt for a couple of weeks after.

          • JayT says:

            When I say back of the plane I mean like the last five to ten rows. I don’t like the very last row either. The one in front of it is fine though, and often the middle seat ends up empty. The only downside is that it takes an extra ten minutes to get off the plane. A small price to pay.

          • Jiro says:

            The amount of people who use budget travel sites and pick THE cheapest available option out of hundreds and then insist on righteously condemning the

            That happens because the airlines want to make everything as opaque as possible, but there’s a limit to how much prices can be made opaque. Airlines have no interest in making it easy to see missed connection rates, compensation for missed connections, rates of luggage loss, etc. but prices can’t be hidden (even though they’re trying as hard as they can by charging separately for bags and such).

    • harland0 says:

      About ten minutes after the first standing ticket is sold, standing seats will become the new normal and getting a seat, even a shitty back-of-the-airplane coach one, will immediately become a luxury item.

      Just look at what happened to checked luggage. The airlines needed that money so badly because fuel cost or something. Now the fuel crisis is long over but paying for checked luggage is a permanent reality now (in America).

      • bean says:

        Just look at what happened to checked luggage. The airlines needed that money so badly because fuel cost or something. Now the fuel crisis is long over but paying for checked luggage is a permanent reality now (in America).

        Why is unbundling a bad thing? It’s obviously bad if you have lots of checked luggage, which is why I flew Southwest in college. But it did hold off a ticket-price hike at the time. And it’s been accepted to the point that JetBlue, which markets itself as friendly, recently introduced it.

        • harland0 says:

          Because it used to be accepted that bringing luggage is part and parcel of traveling? Now it’s not, pay extra or GTFO. The premise that allowed the camel’s nose into the tent was fuel prices, which have long since gone back down. Of course, the new source of revenue will never go away.

          Leave America and charging for luggage sounds bizarre to the people, as it should be. How do you travel with only a carryon?

          • Matt M says:

            How do you travel with only a carryon?

            Almost all business travelers (where airlines make most of their money) do this.

            Why should someone who hauls on a bunch of bulky and heavy things fly for the same price as me if I only carry one small bag? It is not obvious that this should be the case. It DOES cost the airline more to service people with luggage than it does people without, regardless of current fuel prices. Why should that not be reflected in the price the consumer pays?

          • Izaak says:

            I travel almost exclusively with a carryon. It’s not that difficult, unless you’re going on trips longer than a week but without access to laundry machines. Which is ~none of my trips.

          • bean says:

            How do you travel with only a carryon?

            Quite comfortably the last three times I flew, mostly by bringing fewer books. And I didn’t have to stand around waiting at the baggage claim.

            If you want to be mad about something, be mad about what used to be fuel surcharges, which are indefensibly stupid. But I really don’t see why we shouldn’t let the market sort out the proper level of cost for baggage. In the past, I’ve been somewhat cavalier with my checked baggage use, as I usually fly Southwest. It’s something I plan to change, as it’s so much nicer not to have to deal with them. Again, if we demand that they allow us to check luggage for free, they’ll raise ticket prices to compensate. Or JUST FLY SOUTHWEST! Or get an airline credit card. Those usually come with free checked bags. This isn’t a hard problem to solve for anyone who doesn’t insist on always booking whatever’s cheapest on Expedia.

          • Matt M says:

            And I didn’t have to stand around waiting at the baggage claim.

            This is really the biggest part. Checking baggage definitely adds 5-15 minutes to the time it takes you to depart, and a good 10-30 after you arrive. Even when I fly SW I do everything I can to avoid checking a bag.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I used to travel with just a carry-on. Then they came up with the liquids rule, and the “f— you if you’re not in Boarding Group 1” practice. If I have to buy new toothpaste and shampoo on the other end, I’ve already lost all the time. Futzing around with quart bags and tiny little bottles also loses time. And if they check my carry on anyway (and I always end up in Group 4 or 5, even with Economy Plus), I lose again.

            Airline credit cards tend to have exorbitant annual fees.

          • Watchman says:

            Have you encountered the European budget airlines? Or air travel in India or Indonesia outside the premium carriers? Charging for luggage is a norm other than on international long hauls in most places.

            I travel for work a lot, and for short trips (to other European countries in the main) will take only a carryon, because modern technology allows me to carry most of what I need to function in four devices (I am not very efficient). If I need to take more for some reason, then work pays for it as part of the cost of my trip – because it is cheaper for them to pay more occasionally if I am lugging a banner or something with me than to pay more all the time.

          • bean says:

            Airline credit cards tend to have exorbitant annual fees.

            The standard fee that gets you a free first bag is $95/year, except on Alaska, where it’s $75/year. If you fly two round trips a year, it comes pretty close to paying for itself, not to mention priority boarding, and totally discounting mileage earning. (In general, you should be earning on transferable points cards instead of airline cards. I have a Southwest card, but only because the signup bonus was good. My Sapphire Preferred is a better card for spending even with Southwest. If I want, I can transfer the points to them, but I can also send them to United or Singapore or any number of other places.)

            I will agree that the liquid rule is irritating, and it would be great if there was some way to just ship a couple of liquids without a full checked bag.

          • baconbacon says:

            Leave America and charging for luggage sounds bizarre to the people, as it should be. How do you travel with only a carryon?

            I can pack for a 10 day trip with two kids (4 and 2) in two carryons. It helps that the place I am going is populated with 1st cousins to those kids in the same age range, and access to washer/dryer. It is only when packing for an event that requires a nice change of clothes in addition to jeans/t-shirts that a checked bag is mandatory. Most basic level goods are so cheap now that buying an extra pair of jeans etc and just throwing them away at the end of the trip would be about the same cost as paying $50 for a checked bag.

          • Matt M says:

            I will agree that the liquid rule is irritating, and it would be great if there was some way to just ship a couple of liquids without a full checked bag.

            Honestly, I have a gallon sized plastic bag full of my toiletries, shampoo, toothpaste, shaving cream, etc. They’re “travel sized” stuff I bought at Wal-Mart, but they aren’t all in separate bags, they aren’t all in transparent containers, I have more than 3, and some may be more than 3 ounces.

            I take this thing on my (pre-check) carryon ALL THE TIME and have never been forced to throw any of it out. ONCE, they saw it in the machine and I got stopped for a brief inspection, but the TSA lady was basically just like “technically this is in violation but it’s obvious you only have shampoo here, go ahead”

          • bean says:

            @Matt
            I do pretty much the same thing. I’ve never used the quart bag, and I often pack too much. Never had any trouble. My worst experience with the TSA was at Bozeman airport, one of the trial airports for ‘take out all your books and all your food’, and the PreCheck line was closed, so I had to do it too. So long as you aren’t obviously over the limit, it’s fine.
            (There was also the time I accidentally smuggled a full tube of toothpaste through security at the tiny regional airport. Thought about trying it at Dulles on the way back, but chickened out and tossed it.)

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            How do you travel with only a carryon?

            Quite easily. Why do you need more than that?

            And also, remember, there are only two kinds of luggage: carryon, and lost.

          • baconbacon says:

            There was also the time I accidentally smuggled a full tube of toothpaste through security at the tiny regional airport. Thought about trying it at Dulles on the way back, but chickened out and tossed it.

            I have a very low opinion of airport security for these types of things. In 2002/2003 I got pulled out of line after my carry on went through the scanner and the agent demanded to know why I had a knife in my bag. I had no idea what he was talking about, and he pulled out a butter knife from a side pocket that I had put there weeks (and multiple trips) ago (for some reason I now forget). Eventually they let me go after ‘confiscating’ the knife, and I am sitting around waiting for my flight wondering what else I have in there and I find a pocket chainsaw that had been in the bag for a long time. Probably 6 flights a month for 12-18 months easily.

          • JulieK says:

            I can pack for a 10 day trip with two kids (4 and 2) in two carryons.

            How do you do that? I think when I travel with my kids are carryons are full just from the snacks and diapers and toys for the trip. (Of course, this is an international flight with door-to-door travel time of up to 24 hours.)

          • baconbacon says:

            How do you do that? I think when I travel with my kids are carryons are full just from the snacks and diapers and toys for the trip. (Of course, this is an international flight with door-to-door travel time of up to 24 hours.)

            A 24 hour trip would be very different! I doubt I could do that. Most of the trips we take are ~4-6 hours door to door, probably closer to 4 for most. It helps that both of my kids are out of diapers, though even with one in diapers 2-3 diapers and a quarter of a bag of wipes doesn’t take up much room. I found out early that I should just buy diapers when I get there (we do cloth at home but disposable when traveling), it barely costs anything extra, and frees up a bag which is basically an extra hand sometimes. Also limiting screen time helps a lot, as the tablet is way more engrossing when its novel, and a lot of the actual flight is typically the 4 year old watching a movie and the 2 year old walking up and down the aisle with me just looking at people.* Perhaps the important part is that I mostly treat my job as entertaining them on the flight, and getting attention from dad seems to make almost anything fun. Basically for them its the two favorite (small) stuffed animals, two thin books, the kindle and attention.

            *I was very uncomfortable the first time I did this with the older kid when he was 2, feeling like I was in everyone’s way, but then when we got off the flight like 3-4 different passengers said something like “your kid was so good, so quiet, I was worried when I had to sit next to/in front of/behind them”. The two no-nos for air travel seem to be loud and smelly, everyone else mostly agrees (absent arm rest arguments) that is cramped and we will put up with that.

        • benwave says:

          There is actually a real answer for this, and it’s an externality. Prior to this, most people if they brought luggage put it in the checked baggage. Now, everybody it seems is bringing something that stretches the limit of carry on luggage. As a result, overhead storage is always overfull, and loading and unloading the plane of all its passengers takes considerably longer. Yes planes could partially adapt to this by providing more in-cabin storage, but I haven’t seen that happen yet and that still wouldn’t hasten passenger loading.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The “solution” to this seems to be to start charging for carry-ons. Though my guess is the entitled matriarchs and harried families will be given a pass on this when they show up to the gate over their allowance, but people like me will be told to check the bags or security will be called.

          • bean says:

            People can prefer carry-ons for reasons that don’t involve wanting to avoid checked bag fees. I’ve flown American, Delta, and Southwest in the past 6 months. Southwest didn’t have noticeably fewer carry-ons.

            Yes planes could partially adapt to this by providing more in-cabin storage, but I haven’t seen that happen yet and that still wouldn’t hasten passenger loading.

            Boeing introduced a new bin that will hold rollaboards sideways, taking capacity from 4 to 6 per bin, about two years ago. IIRC, Alaska is the most aggressive about refitting with them. Yes, it’s happening, but slowly. Ryanair, has a pretty reasonable fee structure to try to engineer quick turns. Yes, I did just use ‘Ryanair’ and ‘reasonable fee’ in the same sentence. I’ll stand by it, too.

      • John Schilling says:

        standing seats will become the new normal and getting a seat […] will immediately become a luxury item.

        Does labeling an 18×30″ seat “luxury item” instead of “normal” matter, if it still costs the same price it always did?

        That said, I can see three groups of people who might legitimately be harmed by this.

        1. People who would otherwise prefer a $150 seat to a $100 standing ticket but have been taught to Feel Really Bad if they pay their hard-earned money for anything but the cheapest option and especially anything labeled a “luxury”. I’d argue they were hurt by their parents long before the airlines came into it, but the end result is that they are worse off when standing tickets are introduced

        2. People whose jobs require significant travel and whose employers agreed to pay only for “normal” tickets, who would then face transaction or opportunity costs if they have to seek a different employer or renegotiate with the current one, or accept a less valuable employment deal. Again, not clear whose fault this is but they are worse off if standing becomes broadly accepted as “normal”.

        3. People who prefer and recognize that they prefer $150 seats to $100 standing tickets, but can no longer get them for $150 because so many people wound up in groups 1 and 2 that there are diseconomies of scale in still providing economy-class seats at all.

        It’s probably a moot point in this specific case because crash safety and evacuation regulations are probably going to make SRO class impractical to implement on current aircraft. Going forward, we could maybe fight against accepting SRO as “normal” on new designs, but I’d rather fight against “you must always chose / accept the cheapest option!” as being “normal” even for poor people and wage slaves.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Does labeling an 18×30″ seat “luxury item” instead of “normal” matter, if it still costs the same price it always did?

          The worry is that it won’t cost the same price it always did. The cost that used to buy you an economy seat will now buy you standing room, and you’ll need to pay extra to get a seat, in the same way that an economy ticket used to buy you a free checked bag and now doesn’t, and in the way that they are now trying to make you pay extra to choose your seat or use the overhead compartment.

          • Nornagest says:

            in the same way that an economy ticket used to buy you a free checked bag and now doesn’t

            An economy ticket is not a fixed cost. I only have a few data points on this, but I remember that round-trip economy tickets from SFO to Dulles in the mid-Nineties cost 600 dollars (’90s money); I just did a Kayak search to compare, and it seems that the same flight now costs somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 dollars (2017 money). Take inflation into account and that’s somewhere around a 60% drop in price. And fuel’s more expensive now, so that’s not why.

            Yeah, that used to get you a free checked bag and a couple more inches of legroom and a free (if comically bad) in-flight meal. But I’ll bet you could buy two of all of those on most airlines and still come out ahead.

            (Post-9/11 security rules really have been a step down for the overall experience, though.)

        • mobile says:

          4. People who think they are budget conscious but are really more status conscious, who will have a hard time deciding which kind of ticket to buy and will regret whatever choice they make.

    • Murphy says:

      Reposting a slightly edited post from the last time this came up:

      I’m reminded of one of the points in Meditations on Moloch. particularly the bit about rat island.

      People may not be so awful at recognizing races to the bottom and similar traps well in advance. People know very well the pattern where, while you may not be 100% price motivated a lot of the market is and even large sections of the market that wouldn’t choose that option up front will find themselves with it anyway stuffed into package deals made to look better than they really are.

      In theory nothing changes for people who would prefer economy, in practice suddenly they’re considered to be in the “luxury” market segment and prices balloon accordingly because now there’s a tier bellow them.

      In practice everyone who has to travel for their jobs who’s job requires economy class now faces the strong probability that they’ll get stuffed into an even lower tier forevermore.

      Already being at the lowest tier is protective. In situations where your choices get limited by circumstance there’s only so low you can get pushed.

      Now for a slightly more dramatic example:

      Someone is going to throw a hissy fit rather than engage with the point of the bellow hypothetical “how dare you make such a comparison, so I refuse to engage with any part of your post” sort of thing but lets just say it’s high energy ethics.

      In theory I shouldn’t oppose the creation of a lower tier of dentist who’s legally allowed molest me while I’m under anaesthesia. The price could be amazing: rich perverts could be willing to work for a pittance under those rules. The libertarian solution is “just don’t use those dentists” but in reality it lowers the lowest tier. From then on when someone desperately needs emergency dental care to avoid dying from an abscess the refrain from those in charge becomes “Why don’t you just use the rape-dentist if you’re that desperate, you can afford that“.

      If rape-dentists are allowed within the Overton window then the next fuck-the-poor candidate will campaign that in order to save money public funding for dental care for the children of poor people shouldn’t cover anything except the cheapest tier (the rape-dentists)

      The lowest tier matters. People are not irrational to get angry when they see new, “innovative”, even lower tiers being created bellow them because they know damned well they’re going to be pushed into them.

      • baconbacon says:

        This is exactly right. Once you ‘allow’ rape dentists then tons of people will totally be happy to be labeled as such. I mean Mel Gibson is completely the center of Hollywood still, who cares about being called an anti-Semite, there aren’t any laws against being one, so there are no repercussions to being one.

        Once you ‘allow’ this lowest common denominator stuff, what will stop people from being forced into it? Imagine what the world would look like for air travel if your employer could, instead of paying for a plane ticket, cram you onto a smelly bus, with multiple stops that takes literally 10 times longer to get to a place. Or, really, without laws your employer would just make you pay for your own plane ticket always, wouldn’t they? I mean, they clearly have monopsomy power over you in these discussions, there is no recourse other than to have no job at all, so you will just simply take it over and over again.

        • Jiro says:

          Taking 10 times longer to travel because you used a bus instead of a plane is harmful to the employer. Using a standing ticket is harmful only to the passenger. The incentives for the employer to avoid them are not the same.

          Also, while reputation does lead to repercussions against some rape-dentist equivalents such as Mel Gibson, the effect is not uniform. There have been plenty of cases where Hollywood people have said worse things and gotten away with it. Furthermore, seeing a movie by a particular director is not a necessity, so you don’t get the scenario of poor people whose insurance only pays for movies by Mel Gibson.

          • baconbacon says:

            This is just motte and bailey, you being choosy about what nuance to add in to the broad (ridiculous) claim. Employers would ‘benefit’ from forcing employees to pay for their own flights, right? Why don’t they? Why do most people get weekends off when the lowest common denominator for centuries was working not having weekends off? Why not cram guys into a Greyhound with Wifi and demand they work on the way out and back as well?

            The long and the short of it is that your hypothesis only works in one of two scenarios. 1. The employee has no functional bargaining power. 2. The change in cost for the employer opens up a whole new labor segment, increasing job opportunities and economic growth.

          • Jiro says:

            Employers would ‘benefit’ from forcing employees to pay for their own flights, right? Why don’t they?

            This isn’t universal, but one reason the ones who do it do so is because there are tax advantages to it. Such tax advantages are non-libertarian.

            And while there is no Federal law that requires reimbursement for travel expenses, there are laws in some states.

            Why do most people get weekends off when the lowest common denominator for centuries was working not having weekends off?

            Because overtime laws (which are non-libertarian) make it more expensive for employers to hire people for more than 40 hours per week, and if you’re going to limit the number of hours anyway (as an effect of these laws), you may as well have everyone take the same days off.

            Also, Schelling points.

          • baconbacon says:

            Because overtime laws (which are non-libertarian) make it more expensive for employers to hire people for more than 40 hours per week, and if you’re going to limit the number of hours anyway (as an effect of these laws), you may as well have everyone take the same days off.

            Almost all labor laws came in the middle of the shift, not the beginning. Child labor laws get implemented when the middle class becomes large and rich enough that they don’t have to send their kids to the coal mines. Work place saftey was improving well before OHSA, etc, etc.

          • Murphy says:

            @baconbacon

            yes? Your point? you’re presenting those statements as if they’re profound to you somehow.

            Most hunter gatherer societies don’t have any child labor laws either.

            Society reached a level of average prosperity where society could make do without screwing over kids by sending them into coal mines to die. Some people still sent kids into coal mines to die to make a quick buck anyway. Society banned the practice because they reached the point where it crossed over between practical necessity and simple exploitation.

            It’s a fairly common theme.

            And people resist backsliding because there’s always someone willing to come along and say “but if I could send those useless kids down to get black lung and die young I could make a thicker profit this quarter!” at which point they’re soundly rebuffed.

        • Murphy says:

          Re: plane vs bus, they want you there with speed, if they’re cramming you into economy now they’ll be cramming you into ultra-economy if it gets you to the job site just as fast for less money. A bus trip which takes 10x as long with you on the clock isn’t the right comparison.

          But you know that and you’re choosing comparisons which you know don’t share the elements that make a difference because you know actually doing so weakens your position to the point that it’s obvious our position is correct in most cases.

          Never mind that many abusive employers actually do make their employees pay for their own tickets and it comes up on QA sites with people asking whether it’s legal for their employer to require they do things like attend a conference or travel long distance to a client site without compensating them or expecting employees to take on significant debt to pay for tickets while hoping to reclaim the money later from the employer.And there are in fact labor laws specifically about this sort of stuff because so many employers were abusive in exactly that way.

          TL;DR: your sarcasm falls a bit flat due to reality.

          • baconbacon says:

            Never mind that many abusive employers actually do make their employees pay for their own tickets

            If we take your position seriously then we would expect ALL employers to follow this lead once one got away with it. Is it your position that all employers do this? Of it it your position that all employers will be doing this very shortly?

          • Murphy says:

            “If we take your position seriously then we would expect ALL employers to follow this lead”

            No, no we would not. You’re attempting to create a strawman position.

            No more than we would expect ALL people to switch to using the rape-dentists.

            But many of those who can force others to do so without suffering themselves certainly will.

            Not *all* employers make employees pay for their own tickets. But some currently actually do and they do it to the employees with the least power to stop the abuse.

            The crappiest people will tend to screw over people who can’t stop them when they stand to benefit themselves.

          • baconbacon says:

            No, no we would not. You’re attempting to create a strawman position.

            Unless there are two posters named Murphy in this thread, you wrote

            In practice everyone who has to travel for their jobs who’s job requires economy class now faces the strong probability that they’ll get stuffed into an even lower tier forevermore.

            At worst I made a small exaggeration translating “strong probability” to “all”.

          • Murphy says:

            Play a round of Russian roulette and you have a strong probability of dying.

            Unless of course you’re playing with a semiautomatic, then you get to translate it to “all”.

        • John Schilling says:

          I mean Mel Gibson is completely the center of Hollywood still, who cares about being called an anti-Semite, there aren’t any laws against being one, so there are no repercussions to being one.

          Not clear if this was meant to be sarcasm, but Mel Gibson’s career since the 2006 anti-semitism incident is about as far from “the center of Hollywood” as one can get and still occasionally appear in not-quite-direct-to-video movies. Hacksaw Ridge is the only thing he’s done since to any popular or critical acclaim, and that’s AFIK a project he was attached to before the 2006 incident and stuck in development hell for a decade afterwards.

      • bean says:

        In practice everyone who has to travel for their jobs who’s job requires economy class now faces the strong probability that they’ll get stuffed into an even lower tier forevermore.

        I rather hope airlines have learned from recent years not to do that. If they’re at all smart, they’ll introduce this as a ‘super-value’ class fare, and not as economy, precisely to avoid that problem. I’m not sure how corporate travel contracts are dealing with basic economy, but there’s a good case to be made that you shouldn’t have to buy BE fares. (I’m not sure that this will be the case, but I also don’t expect this talk about standing seats to lead anywhere.)

    • Standing in the Shadows says:

      a floor of social expectations can be helpful for those at the bottom

      I’ve seen that as an argument (maybe here?) against legalizing prostitution. As long as it is still technically illegal, when someone needs welfare support for housing, food, etc, people can’t ask “why haven’t you whored yourself to pay for it?”

      As soon as it’s legal, it’s on now on the table as something just this side of mandatory one may have to do before getting food stamps.

      I have to admit, that is the strongest and most persuasive argument to me against legalizing it.

      • Murphy says:

        That one actually did happen in Germany: people on benefits were basically required to accept any job. Some people were offered jobs working in a legal brothel on threat of losing unemployment benefits.

        It hit the papers and there was quite a bit of public outcry and now there’s apparently some system that allows people to reject certain jobs like that.

        • Watchman says:

          You mean they didn’t see that coming? The UK has a fairly poor unemployment benefit system, but it is very clear that you cannot be penalised for failing to take on certain types of work against your religion etc.

        • Don P. says:

          This appears not to be true:

          https://www.snopes.com/media/notnews/brothel.asp

          (Admittedly that’s a 12-year-old debunking, but if anyone has something more recent let us know.)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Snopes’s details are usually great, but never trust the headline true/false.

            Murphy’s description is a little simplified, but the telegraph included all the details, even more than Snopes.

            Added: Here is a more recent article that claims that already in 2004 (ie, before the Telegraph article) the job centers had a policy of not cutting benefits for prostitution offers, although that might not have been clear to the unemployed. But the Telegraph correctly said that the brothel could sue the employment center. This happened in 2009 and the courts rejected the brothels. (More precisely, the brothels sued for not distributing the ad at all, which varies from center to center.)

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Douglas Knight, I’d seen the details from the Snopes article before, but thanks for the further background.

            According to your last link (the Spiegel), it seems the brothels sued over the job center’s official policy of not distributing their ads at all “as long as there is no clear moral position on prostitution in Germany.” I don’t like that position. What other jobs will they quietly blacklist over “no clear moral position” – abortion clinic workers? Petroleum engineers? Pastors?

            Rather, I prefer this agency’s claimed internal policy: ask jobseekers in advance whether they’d be willing to consider “the adult entertainment industry,” and give them brothel ads only if they say yes. And (I’d add, though they didn’t mention this) keep giving them benefits even if they change their mind and say no.

      • Guy in TN says:

        Standing in the Shadows: This is really interesting and one of the best arguments against prostitution that I’ve heard. Seriously, thanks for sharing it.

      • Lillian says:

        That’s an argument against having rules requiring welfare recipients to accept any job they are offered, not an argument against legalizing prostitution. See Germany, they had such a rule, and as soon as some bureaucrat tried to apply it to women who had been offered brothel jobs, public outcry forced a rule change. So your argument is actually pretty weak and unconvincing, seeing as it is not a thing that actually happens. Turns out you can have both legal sex work and strong social norms against forcing people into it.

        • Jiro says:

          There was only public outcry because of the very attitude that the original post claims is irrational and we would be better off without.

          • Lillian says:

            There was public outcry because everyone agrees that forcing people into prostitution is a horrible thing to do. The original post makes no claim that this is irrational. What it claims to be irrational is removing options because you personally think they are too degrading, since this denies people’s agency and ability to make their own decisions.

            The traditional Christian attitude toward prostitution is that it is a necessary evil that must be officially tolerated, and also that women should be strongly discouraged from ever taking up the trade. In fact one of the classic selling points of charity towards poor women is precisely that it keeps them from having to resort to prostitution. Germany shows that even in modern times people are still fully capable of having both legal sex work, and an aversion to requiring or even encouraging women to engage in it.

      • SamGamgee says:

        I’m not sure what this has to do with the legalization of prostitution as it does with the legal requirements for getting welfare. You could legalize prostitution and stipulate that welfare recipients need not seek employment as prostitutes in order to qualify.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Yes, as long as you remember to do that.

          Also, it does raise interesting questions about what other jobs you should be allowed to keep welfare even after you pass up. Petroleum engineer? Abortion clinic worker? Secretary in the Church of Disfavored Denomination?

          • Jiro says:

            Also, it does raise interesting questions about what other jobs you should be allowed to keep welfare even after you pass up.

            You could try all jobs for which many people’s willingness-to-sell price is much greater than the market price. It is necessarily a case by case thing. Being a secretary in a disfavored church may be the only one to which there would be enough such people that this applies.

          • Lillian says:

            Also, it does raise interesting questions about what other jobs you should be allowed to keep welfare even after you pass up.

            All of them. Benefits should be based on whether your actual income can sustain you, not on whether your hypothetical income could do so.

          • The Nybbler says:

            All of them. Benefits should be based on whether your actual income can sustain you, not on whether your hypothetical income could do so.

            “Naa, I don’t feel like working, I’ll just take the dole”.

          • Brad says:

            Let’s put a ton of rigid, brittle, and expensive processes in place to try to prevent anyone from getting away with anything. Let’s parse down to the minutest details our overdeveloped instincts as to who deserves what and try to enact all of it into law. What could possibly go wrong?

          • SamGamgee says:

            Right, but my point is they are separate issues. Welfare requirements are not a good argument against legalizing prostitution imo.

          • John Schilling says:

            “Naa, I don’t feel like working, I’ll just take the dole”.

            If you’ve got a dole, people who don’t feel like working will just be taking the dole and there’s nothing you can do about it. They’ll invent styles of dress and body art calculated to signal “for the love of God do not ever hire this person” and truthfully report all the job applications and interviews that never lead to job offers. They’ll find a doctor or ten doctors to sign off on the paperwork that says they are 100% disabled and can’t work even though there are no body parts missing. They’ll make a full-time job out of learning how to game your system, because if they have to work full time for minimum wage they’ll work full time for minimum wage plus not feeling like a chump plus putting one over on The Man. And they’ll have an industry’s worth of experts advising and assisting them all the way.

            Your local priest or pastor can probably do a pretty good job of figuring out who to help and who to throw out on the street, if you’re willing to leave the job to them. But if you insist on non-discretionary implementation, and you insist on No Lazy Bums Allowed, then you cannot have a dole. If you insist on a bureaucratically-administered dole, it comes with every Lazy Bum your society has to offer attached like barnacles.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m inclined to think that requiring people to apply for jobs as a condition of getting the dole clogs up the job-getting process.

          • actinide meta says:

            I guess if you are really determined to keep “lazy bums” off the dole you eventually wind up with the deepest hand-dug well in the world

          • Lillian says:

            So i was going to say what John Schilling said, only he said it about a hundred times better, so instead i’m just going to stand in awe here for a moment.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            attached like barnacles.

            Worse than barnacles. You are allowed to poison barnacles, and then throw their rotting bodies into the ocean to sink. People look at you funny when you even start to propose adding that to your dole system.

          • The Nybbler says:

            So, can we do the minimum bureaucratic discrimination to make the dole-recipients obviously visible as such? It seems unlikely to me that there is no class of people who would take the dole at zero cost but would not if doing so was obvious.

          • Aapje says:

            We could force them to sew a brightly colored mark on their clothes.

            Note that your idea is bad because there is a strong norm and one that is disproportionately used to judge men, that people should take care of themselves. Your idea seems to be that branding people will discourage people with no real need, but not the rest. I think that the likely result is that a decent number people with a real need will see greater dignity in suicide, going into crime or living below the poverty line.

          • The Nybbler says:

            We could force them to sew a brightly colored mark on their clothes.

            Or we could require them to wear a uniform and a nametag like gas company workers. Not every means of identifying people is tantamount to Nazi Germany.

            Note that your idea is bad because there is a strong norm and one that is disproportionately used to judge men, that people should take care of themselves.

            Yes. And if I’m to be judged by it, I want the people who are living on the dole, which I am paying into, judged by it too.

            Your idea seems to be that branding people will discourage people with no real need, but not the rest.

            Might discourage some of the rest. Won’t discourage all of those with no real need. But without some sort of discouragement, not working and still making a living is much superior than working and making the same living.

          • Lillian says:

            Stigmatizing people who have genuine need just to get at the ones who don’t strikes me as grossly unjust. It’s better to let the guilty go free than allow the innocent to suffer, so i’m willing to accept that some people will go on the dole because they don’t want to work, as long as it allows people who can’t work to lead their lives with some shred of dignity. Also there’s overhead costs to efforts to keep the Lazy Bums out, which are in turn pretty damn ineffective, so you might actually save money by just not bothering.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Stigmatizing people who have genuine need just to get at the ones who don’t strikes me as grossly unjust.

            Why shouldn’t people who are being supported by everyone else be stigmatized? It seems a small price to pay to have your needs satisfied.

          • Lillian says:

            Because i see stigma as a kind of harm, and i am opposed to causing harm upon people except to prevent even greater harm. It has not been established that whatever deterrent effect the stigma may have compensates for the stigma itself, so i am against it.

          • Aapje says:

            @The Nybbler

            We already stigmatize these people far more than is helpful. The data shows that being on welfare makes people sick, most likely because these people feel like rejects.

            If the limiting factor is that these people have no viable opportunities or do not know how to take their opportunities, then their most rational response to our society whipping them is to take pain killers, because they cannot make the whipping stop.

          • @Lillian:

            If I correctly understand the thread, you are objecting to having people who are living on the dole identified as such. Do you see true information as stigma and so objectionable?

            Suppose some people on the dole are slackers, some are really in need. Someone who knows that X is on the dole will conclude that he might be either, thus overestimate the ones who are slackers, underestimate the ones who are not. If he knows much about X he will probably be able to tell, otherwise not.

            That’s not a perfect situation, since information is imperfect. But is reducing the information really an improvement? Now the random observer will judge people on even less information, incorrectly interpreting the poor but hardworking individual, visibly poor by the quality of his clothing, as a slacker/parasite, credit as a hardworking individual the slacker who manages to avoid the obvious symptoms of poverty.

          • Lillian says:

            As i’m sure you remember, food stamps are called food stamps because SNAP benefits used to be issued in the form of actual physical coupons that had to be exchanged at the store for their value in food. They were fairly obvious, and indeed some states resisting switching to Electronic Benefit Tranfer cards because they felt there was value in the stigma that came from that. The EBT cards are basically indistinguishable except on close inspection from someone paying with a debit card. Thus the switch from food stamps to EBTs has decreased the obviousness of being on the dole, but there appears to have been no attendant increase on stigma against poor people in general.

            Also stigma aside, compulsory advertising has inherent costs that will be borne by taxpayers. The badgers will have to be designed, approved, manufactured, and issued; plus some kind of enforcement system will have to be implemented to ensure people wear them. It’s not clear to me that such costs will be outweighed by whatever benefits may come from the requirement.

            In fact it is my position that any effort to bring the power of the state to bear on forcing people to do or not do something, needs to be justified with a real cost-benefit analysis. Enforcement is not free, and it can very easily be more expensive than whatever ill it is attempting to cure. Absent any data, i’m forced to rely on my intuition, and my intuition is that it’s cheapest to simply issue SNAP benefits on the basis of current income, and only worry about cheaters insofar as they might be lying about said income.

        • Matt M says:

          You could legalize prostitution and stipulate that welfare recipients need not seek employment as prostitutes in order to qualify.

          Of course you could, but it’s also not entirely unreasonable to assume our wise, bureaucratic overlords won’t think of this, or bother to clarify it, etc.

          Simple, elegant solutions are not exactly what the U.S. state-run bureaucracy is known for…

        • Guy in TN says:

          Apologies for adding to the pile on. But prostitution is legal in Nevada, and being employed is a requirement for able-bodied adults to receive SNAP benefits.

          • Lillian says:

            Prostitution is legal in Nevada only in the same sense that marijuana is legal in the United States. In fact it’s less true, since legal prostitution accounts for less than 2% of the Nevada market, whereas i would expect legal cannabis to be at least 20% of the US market.

            Source: https://books.google.com/books?id=jYA7FJxisMIC&pg=PA42

          • SamGamgee says:

            OK and? Are you saying that Nevada would require SNAP recipients to seek employment as prostitutes if such jobs are available?

          • Lillian says:

            No, i expect that even if prostitution were fully decriminalized across all 50 states, SNAP benefits would not be contingent on willingness to accept such jobs. What i’m saying is that legal prostitution in Nevada is such a niche part of the market that it’s effectively not available to SNAP recipients, and as such it’s a very poor example. A much better one would be pornography. It’s a large mostly legal industry, but i expect the populace would not accept someone’s SNAP benefits being rescinded because someone they declined to take a job doing porn. There is little reason prostitution would be treated any differently.

          • Matt M says:

            I feel like “gig”-based roles are generally not counted in the “you must apply for jobs to be eligible” conditions anyway.

            Like, everyone in a major city with a drivers license is capable of being an Uber driver. Prostitution and pornography were gig-based before “gig economy” was even a word.

          • SamGamgee says:

            @Lillian:

            My earlier post was in reply to Guy in TN. I forgot that this is the last nesting level of comments!

          • Guy in TN says:

            Are you saying that Nevada would require SNAP recipients to seek employment as prostitutes if such jobs are available?

            Standing in the Shadow’s point about the benefits of banning prostitution would only apply to a system that gives benefits to the unemployed. (I admit I don’t know much about how unemployment benefits work). I do know that the U.S. withholds SNAP from those who can’t find work, so banning prostitution would just cause these prostitutes to lose their SNAP. In this case, a social floor against prostitution would just push more for sympathy/charity for someone who can’t find any other job, rather than doing anything to help their welfare benefits.

    • Worley says:

      An interesting formulation of the problem. I wonder if there’s some way to quantify it, to make a reasonably general model, and apply it to compare the minimum wage with a range of situations where social expectations operate similarly (but tend to be overlooked by economists), and extract or model in some way the general pattern of winners and losers from such situations. Certainly the enduring popularity of social expectations floors relative to the predictions of economics suggests that there’s an important phenomenon that hasn’t been captured by current analyses.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Since even coach can be pretty undignified at times, do you think life would be better if airlines were only allowed to provide first-class seating? What about only provide those really nice cabins super-rich people buy for trans-Atlantic flights? Why is this a different question than the standing room one?

      • bean says:

        Just to add some context, here is a list of the world’s best First Class products, by someone who has actually flown them. Domestic First Class is equivalent to the low end of international business class, to say nothing of high-end business or international first.

      • Murphy says:

        You’re playing the same game as people who shout “why not a $1000000 per hour minimum wage then !!!!!11!1!!!!” when someone suggests that lowering the minimum wage from 4 dollars to 2 dollars might not be good for lots of people.

        People already hate coach, coach is close to the maximum level of shit they’re willing to put up with to get through their day. Many of the people involved do not have much control over the ticket level they get and now they see people trying to create a deeper hole into which they can be crammed.

        • bean says:

          People already hate coach, coach is close to the maximum level of shit they’re willing to put up with to get through their day. Many of the people involved do not have much control over the ticket level they get and now they see people trying to create a deeper hole into which they can be crammed.

          If this is the case, then we have nothing to worry about. Business travelers rarely get the cheapest tickets. Those go to people flying somewhere for leisure. If the leisure travelers won’t book the standing seats with their own money, there won’t be any standing seats for the business travelers to book.

          • Evan Þ says:

            There’s a difference between “business travelers rarely get the cheapest class of ticket” and “business travelers often get the cheapest class of ticket, but they purchase closer to the flight date, so the price’s higher anyway.” Given how often business travelers fly in economy, I think we’re much closer to the second.

          • Matt M says:

            Business travelers are also much more likely to be frequent travelers, and therefore the airline has an incentive to treat them well. To the extent that they can fill the standing section with infrequent, cheap, leisure passengers, the business guys would probably get upgraded to seats (similar to how first and business class work today, but on a larger scale).

          • baconbacon says:

            There’s a difference between “business travelers rarely get the cheapest class of ticket” and “business travelers often get the cheapest class of ticket, but they purchase closer to the flight date, so the price’s higher anyway.” Given how often business travelers fly in economy, I think we’re much closer to the second.

            When I was traveling for business (granted ~15 years ago) it was never expected that I would buy the cheapest ticket possible. I was told where and when to be somewhere, and not to spend over a certain amount without authorization.

      • Guy in TN says:

        It’s not a different question, I agree with that. It’s still a social floor- the question is the optimal place to put it. People who want to be under the floor will be hurt in the trade-off. In your example, I would imagine that the people who would be willing to pay lower prices for standard seating outweigh the number of people who would enjoy luxury being the norm.

        The social floor question mirrors the minimum wage question. In at some level (and under certain conditions), a minimum wage can help more people than it hurts. But at other levels, it hurts more people than it helps. It’s like the people who say “Oh, you support a minimum wage? Why not a $1,000 per hour wage then?” The reason is that there is an optimal level, and that is too high.

        The same thing applies to a social floor. Under certain conditions, there can be benefits to requiring some level of of treatment, but this does not mean than any level of luxury will give you the same benefits.

        • The reason is that there is an optimal level, and that is too high.

          (minimum wage)

          It sounds from the way you have been putting this as though you think the only issue is whether the minimum wage maximizes total income to low skill workers. It isn’t. The increased unemployment is a net loss–nobody gets what the unemployed worker loses. The increased wage to those still employed is a transfer–it comes at the expense of (mostly–I’m oversimplifying a little) the consumers of the goods they are producing. So even if it does, on net, benefit poor people, it does it at a substantial dead weight cost.

          That aside, there is a second cost you may be missing. The usual employment pattern is for skill and wage to rise over time. If the minimum wage means that someone never gets the first job, the cost isn’t just his lost wages in that job, it’s his lost wages in all the future jobs he doesn’t get, which might well be at above minimum wage. Ultimately, the cost may be the production of a permanent welfare class.

          To be fair, I’m again oversimplifying, because each cost should be net of the value to him of the leisure he would give up if he had a job.

          • benwave says:

            These are fair points, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that for any criteria there exists an optimum, and that there exist criteria worth considering that have that optimum above zero?

            Having said that, I know it’s ethically problematic to look at one issue in isolation. The downsides of lowering minimum wage toward zero are downsides best solved by methods other than the minimum wage. I would probably agree with some combination of lower minimum wage, UBIs, and collective bargaining. But I would resist efforts to lower minimum wage without increasing the other two.

          • baconbacon says:

            It is understandable to suggest that there may be a theoretical optimum, it is much less understandable to suggest that organization X is capable of finding and implementing that optimal level, while continually adjusting for changes to that optimum as the economy changes.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I’m thinking we have different values, and therefore different goals. I am far less interested in the total wealth in a society, than in how that wealth is distributed. From my perspective, a dollar in the hand of a worker is valuable, and a dollar in the hand of the wealthy is essentially worthless. So the costs in the form of the wage, which is paid for by the employers, don’t mean that much to me. I’m very much okay with destroying total wealth in order to transfer wealth to the poorest, and achieve a more equitable wealth distribution.

          • CthulhuChild says:

            Guy, I think you may be missing an important aspect of wealth. Money isn’t just something we use to keep score, it is an abstraction of utility, the ability to do/make/build/experience things. Even accepting your premise that a dollar in the hand of the wealthy is worthless, surely you want the workers to have as much utility as they possibly can get?

            When you say you are content to negatively impact a society’s total wealth, you’re not talking abstract numbers. You are talking about the ability of that society to accomplish things: IE, build schools, staff hospitals, experiment with new technology, etc. It is much better to be in the 20th percentile for wealth in America than it is to be in the 80th percentile in Afghanistan. This is despite the fact that the wealthiest American has billions more than a 20th percentile American, a much larger gap than exists between the wealthiest Afghan and an Afghan in the 80th percentile. The gap between the rich and the poor matters much less than what quality of life can be afforded by the “poor”.

            If you believe equality of outcomes is itself a terminal value, your values really are so different from libertarians no conversation is possible. But I don’t think you are seriously in favor of a society where everyone is naked and starving to death, even if that would be extremely egalitarian.

            It seems far more likely that you simply do not believe increasing total societal wealth will do much for the working class, or perhaps that you believe (as I do) that a certain level of wealth inequality lets the very rich exercise naked power without any regard to market forces.

            But I urge you to consider the matter carefully. Haidt’s study of human morality identifies 6 sub-domains: Care vs Harm, Fairness vs Cheating, Loyalty vs Betrayal, Authority vs Subversion, Sacred vs Degradation, and Liberty vs Oppression. Everyone defines these slightly differently, and values them differently. Even if you believe that all rich people get rich by cheating (IE, their possession of wealth is fundamentally unfair), are you willing to torch every other domain to correct it?

          • Guy in TN says:

            CthulhuChild, I hesitated to even add the “equitable wealth distribution” bit at the end, because as you correctly surmised, that is only tangential to my true terminal value, which is utility maximization. In practice, this means I strive to find a way for people being able to flourish in their life, and not have to suffer from unnecessary deprivation. Maybe I’m leaning too hard on the “case vs. harm” factor, but that really seems to be the central part- nothing else matters if you are starving, sick, or dead. This is why the distribution of resources matters so much to me.

            The reason why I don’t think total wealth matters much, is that the increased gains from production have gone almost entirely to the wealthiest few over the past 30 years. Without a better distribution of resources, more production is just spinning our wheels. Our deprivation is caused by poor distributive institutions, and if production has to take a hit to fix those, I’m on board.

          • Salem says:

            The increased wage to those still employed is a transfer–it comes at the expense of (mostly–I’m oversimplifying a little) the consumers of the goods they are producing.

            versus

            [T]he costs in the form of the wage, which is paid for by the employers, don’t mean that much to me.

            It seems to me this is your real disagreement.

            @Guy in TN thinks that higher minimum wages are paid for by employers, because that’s the legal incidence of the wage, and assumes they are mostly rich. @DavidFriedman, because he’s an economist, thinks about the true, economic incidence, and correctly notes that this is mostly paid for by consumers – frequently poor, particularly in the case of goods/services made at minimum wage.

            @Guy in TN – if you could be convinced that, contrary to appearances, higher minimum wages were paid for by customers, not owners, would that sway your feelings?

          • Ketil says:

            The reason why I don’t think total wealth matters much, is that the increased gains from production have gone almost entirely to the wealthiest few over the past 30 years.

            I don’t think this is true at all. What scope are you measuring over? Globally, a smaller proportion of the population is poor than ever before. Although some statistics show that wages have stood still (more or less), people have cheaper toys, longer retirements and educations, and better health care than before. True that in a global economy, more wealth is concentrated in fewer businesses – but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us don’t benefit from economic growth.

            But that’s just my impression of things – how would you propose to measure this?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            @Guy in TN

            I’m weirded out by the workers vs. wealthy division. Some wealthy people work. Some poor people don’t work.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Salem
            If the argument is that gains from minimum wage come at a 100% cost from minimum wage workers themselves, then that is an argument that the minimum wage gives the workers…zero net gain. But still, this means that if anything less than 100% falls on minimum wage workers, then the workers still have a net gain on this metric. Am I understanding your and DavidFriedman’s argument?

            Demonstrating that the raising minimum wage is a net LOSS for minimum wage workers would be a bombshell. I would share that throughout the whole Left community, shout it from the rooftops. Could you show your work for me here?

            @Ketil
            On the narrow question of whether wages increase with increased production in the modern U.S., this graph https://philebersole.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/epi-wages-etc.png sums up my problem with that assertion. The question of whether increased production helps things other than wages is a lot more complicated. Scientific advance plays a much larger role than production in things like cheaper gadgets and longer lifespans. There’s also some serious ecological downsides to ever-increasing production.

            I’m not saying production is irrelevant, but too many people use the threat of a slight decrease in production as a way to scare us from implementing a better distributive policy. I argue that for the average worker, increases in production don’t matter that much, and they might even be making things worse.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            It’s about the percent of income that comes from labor vs. capital ownership. It’s not a perfect dichotomy (but what is?).

            I just looked up some stats:
            For the bottom half of people in the U.S., about 5% of their income comes from capital ownership, and 95% comes from labor.

            For the top 0.01%, about 75% of their income comes from capital ownership, and 25% comes from labor.

            This is why the language of “workers” vs. “owners” is a useful description of our situation.

          • Jiro says:

            I have no desire to maximize utility for the poor. This leads to situations like giving an addict money and having him spend it on drugs instead of food or shelter because by definition, if he prefers to buy the drugs, they give him higher utility than food or shelter.

          • Aapje says:

            @Guy in TN

            I’m not saying production is irrelevant, but too many people use the threat of a slight decrease in production as a way to scare us from implementing a better distributive policy. I argue that for the average worker, increases in production don’t matter that much, and they might even be making things worse.

            Indeed. Furthermore, merely wanting to maximize productivity means ignoring the actual benefits to people. The broken window fallacy famously shows one of the ways in which society can become more productive without people actually being better off.

          • actinide meta says:

            @Guy in TN

            Demonstrating that the raising minimum wage is a net LOSS for minimum wage workers would be a bombshell.

            I can clarify the argument, at least.

            1. Increased wages for those who keep their jobs and move up to the new minimum is a benefit to low skill workers
            2. Increased unemployment is a pure cost to low skill workers, in both lost wages and lost “training”
            3. Increased prices due to the economic incidence of the costs of #1 are a cost to low skill workers (and to others that you don’t care much about)

            Econometrics is apparently divided on whether 1 outweighs 2, with the results of studies seeming to be predictable from the prior political views of the researchers. Theory gives some reason to suspect that 2 alone might outweigh 1. You argue, I think correctly, that 1 outweighs 3 alone, because the incidence of the costs can’t possibly fall 100% on low skilled people. But it’s very plausible that 2 and 3 together significantly outweigh 1, even without taking into account the unequal distribution of these effects.

            And even if not — if it turns out that 1 edges out 2+3 and there is a tiny net benefit to the group you care about — this small benefit comes at a higher cost to the rest of society than, say, a straightforward income transfer.

            For the top 0.01%, about 75% of their income comes from capital ownership, and 25% comes from labor.

            I don’t know where this figure comes from (and obviously 0.01% is a pretty small group), but I would caution you that, since capital gains are taxed at lower rates than ordinary income, people have good reasons to structure things so that the fruits of their labor appear as capital income. For example, if you found a company, raise money entirely from other people, hire other people, build your company into a successful business and then sell it, that income is treated by the tax code as “capital gains” to you even though you started out with no capital to speak of. There are lots of other examples. So I suspect that you underestimate how much of the income of the rich (especially if you are measuring “rich” by income in a specific year) is in an economic rather than tax accounting sense attributable to labor rather than capital. If the tax code changed to tax capital income more than labor income I suspect these figures would change extremely rapidly.

          • actinide meta says:

            @Guy in TN

            Another, less technical argument that might resonate with you: Suppose someone proposed a new wage subsidy program (1) to help low skilled workers. Instead of paying for it out of general tax revenue, the proposal contemplates two new, highly regressive taxes to raise the money: a sales tax falling mostly on low-end retail (3) and a 100% income tax on some particularly low skilled workers (2). Would the left be enthusiastic about this bundle of policies, regardless of the exact numbers? They are roughly economically equivalent to the effects of the minimum wage.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Thanks for the clarification. I would be interested in seeing a study that took into consideration how much minimum wage workers are contributing to source #3. One really can’t answer the narrow question of “does minimum wage hurt minimum wage workers” without investigating that (the top anti-minimum wage articles I could find on google did not investigate this).

            You’ll get no pushback from me that a direct income transfer is preferable, questions of political viability aside.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @actinide meta:

            1. Increased wages for those who keep their jobs and move up to the new minimum is a benefit to low skill workers

            Um, are you sure about that? I’m inclined to doubt it – I think even workers who GET A RAISE due to a higher minimum wage are usually made worse off by the new wage.

            Here’s the argument:

            Employers only want to hire people whose TOTAL COST TO EMPLOY is less than their productivity. The total cost to employ someone is a lot MORE than just the hourly salary. It’s the salary plus any benefits plus training plus supplies plus all other costs related to their work environment.

            When there’s no minimum wage or the minimum wage is low, employers are completely indifferent between lots of salary and low benefits versus lots of benefits and low salary. Given that they have to pick a tradeoff, they’ll likely want to pick whatever balance the EMPLOYEES find most desirable since that makes for happier employees, less turnover, lower management and training costs.

            Now suppose the state comes along and mandates a higher wage. What happens? The employers are forced to pick a different tradeoff. The balance everybody liked the most before is now illegal or money-losing or both; employers are forced to shift that balance – they have to reduce non-wage expenses in order to afford to increase wages. So now workers get a job that pays more but is objectively a crappier work experience. The employee is glad to have more money but sad in every OTHER aspect of the job such that the change is a net-negative in utility and possibly even a net-negative in terms of finances.

            They get a job that ostensibly pays more per HOUR, but they might make less money per WEEK and they certainly have less fun and have less financial security because now the shifts are less flexible and less predictable and they have to pay for their own training or uniform (which used to be free) and they have less slack in terms of setting vacation time or taking time to see the dentist and there are lower staffing levels and less chance of health care coverage or shifting to full-time or getting promoted or getting subsidized schooling or anything else of that sort.

            If a higher wage WEREN’T legally mandated we could reasonably assume it makes workers better off. But a higher wage that IS legally mandated is something different, something which is likely to represent a net worsening for workers – even those who “get a raise”, not just the ones who get fired or fail to be hired.

          • actinide meta says:

            @Glen Raphael

            Yes, I agree with everything you say, though you may need to sprinkle a few “marginal”s around to make it technically correct. Decreased hours can presumably be folded in with my (2) but there’s another, separate cost I didn’t mention where working conditions, intensity, etc probably get worse. And if the labor market is competitive, we expect that these effects alone outweigh (1) – that’s the “theoretical reason” that I mentioned in passing. And I find it convincing. But sophisticated minimum wage supporters typically insist that the labor market is highly monopsonistic and/or that their favorite subset of the conflicting econometric studies empirically disproves this argument and/or that it just proves we need to regulate every aspect of the employment relationship so tightly that there is no other dimension of bargaining possible, so I didn’t pursue it in detail. Probably I should have; thanks for setting the record straight.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Isn’t it a coincidence that the optimal level is always the one we already have? How do you know the optimal level isn’t first class, or standing-only-class? Did you do some kind of economic analysis?

          I’m not opposed to the idea that there’s an optimal level, I’m opposed to the idea that anyone can say “this is the optimal level” to justify whatever the status quo happens to be.

          We imagine a world that steadily declines from first-class-only to coach to standing to getting-stung-by-wasps-class. At each point, the people taking the current average air travel say “obviously this is the optimal level, it would be unduly restrictive to ban our current level, but unduly permissive to add new ones”.

          • Jiro says:

            If you don’t understand a system, be careful meddling with it. In other words, think of it as similar to Chesterton’s fence.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I honestly have no position on the airline question. If it lowers costs in a significant way, I might be for it. If we are just lowering the social expectation floor with minimal benefit, I’m against it. I have no idea what the optimal level for this social floor is.

            My position is more of a meta: “Social expectation floors explain why people get angry at what appears to be a two-party mutually beneficial interaction”, rather than advancing a defense of actually existing social norms.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            @Scott Alexander

            Isn’t it a coincidence that the optimal level is always the one we already have? How do you know the optimal level isn’t first class, or standing-only-class? Did you do some kind of economic analysis?

            I posit that after thinking about the issue a bit, people who are against lowering the current level would think that the optimal level would be either at the current level or somewhere higher than the current standard. However, in our on-going war to keep the forces of Moloch at bay, the battle for maintaining the level at the optimal point was already lost long time ago, and after the current normal has become the normal, there is no hope in raising it back to where it should be. One can only fight for not moving it even farther from the true optimum.

            For another example, consider the air travel security theater. No matter what advances we make in policing and war against terrorism, it does not sound plausible that we will stop being terrorized and the theater will be relaxed at any point of future. Every time a would-be terrorist fails at setting their undergarments on fire with explosive substance disguised as baby formula, the restrictions on bringing baby formula into cabin will only be tightened, never relaxed. The past high-trust environment where the kiddies could go and visit the cockpit and look at the controls and have a chat with the captain is simply lost.

      • tossrock says:

        Isn’t this a multi-polar trap? One airline adds this, all the other airlines add it to stay competitive, prices normalize to more-or-less their old values, except now standing room is 0.95 * $Old_Coach, coach is 1.2 * $Old_Coach, and everyone is worse off than they started? Also cost-disease related, ie for a more-or-less fixed price (“one coach ticket”) you now get worse service? It seems like this is already what happened with “economy plus” style offering, where the new standard is a worse product for ~the same price, and the old standard becomes more expensive.

        As to “why wouldn’t everyone just buy coach / one airline not offer it and win”, air travel has some pretty inelastic demand (I have to go attend a funeral, I have a business meeting in a different country tomorrow, etc), so if a cheaper option appears, a lot of people who could already nominally “afford” air travel might take it out of necessity. I’m not convinced this would open up air travel to a new market of people currently too poor to afford it, but instead would just further degrade the current customers to increase the airlines’ profit margins. Then again, maybe it would make sense for short-haul flights, where demand is more elastic, and people wouldn’t have to spend as long standing.

        • bean says:

          One airline adds this, all the other airlines add it to stay competitive, prices normalize to more-or-less their old values, except now standing room is 0.95 * $Old_Coach, coach is 1.2 * $Old_Coach, and everyone is worse off than they started?

          Why are you assuming that it will be .95 Old Coach? These things take up about 2/3rds of the space of current seats, and I see no reason to assume that the competition which keeps current prices down wouldn’t apply here, too.

          As to “why wouldn’t everyone just buy coach / one airline not offer it and win”, air travel has some pretty inelastic demand (I have to go attend a funeral, I have a business meeting in a different country tomorrow, etc), so if a cheaper option appears, a lot of people who could already nominally “afford” air travel might take it out of necessity.

          Air travel, particularly on the cheap end, has a lot of elastic demand, too. These seats would not start off being offered to businessmen and funeral-goers. They’d go to people going to Florida, who are spending their own money and have the most economic leverage. And who, I predict, wouldn’t buy them.

        • John Schilling says:

          Isn’t this a multi-polar trap? One airline adds this, all the other airlines add it to stay competitive, prices normalize to more-or-less their old values, except now standing room is 0.95 * $Old_Coach, coach is 1.2 * $Old_Coach,

          How is this a trap, of any polarity, when any airline can escape all by itself by selling standing room at 0.90 * $Old_Coach and coach for 1.15 * $Old_Coach, still making a profit (because $Old_Coach was profitable) and capturing as many passengers as its planes can carry from the idiots pricing themselves out of the first page of Expedia listings by insisting on 0.95/1.20? And leasing more planes to accommodate the extra customers for extra profit? Well, until the otherwise soon to be bankrupt competitors leapfrog and leapfrog again until we’re back to 0.75 and 1.0 * $Old_Coach.

      • Lasagna says:

        This has been an interesting discussion – as always, thanks Scott.

        But nobody seems to have addressed a particular point. There seems to be a general assumption here that, should this standing-room only service be offered, it’s only going to be used by (1) the poor, or (2) people choosing to save a few bucks. I see a lot of assumptions that “business” travelers have some sort of minimum personal standards or level of personal power that are going to enable them – us – to avoid being crammed in like sardines.

        I’m going to chuckle a little at that, and then assure you that for many of us frequent fliers in the business world, purchasing the cheapest seats is often a requirement. And if standing flights are significantly less expensive, you can count on seeing a lot of us glumly strapped to our gurneys.

    • AnthonyC says:

      For a more self-interested (for me) reason to oppose erroding the acceptability floor: There’s plenty of business travelers out there who are required to either take the cheapest available fare, or at least provide a business justification for not doing so. For better or worse, “business travelers” is a group more likely to get regulators to prevent standing room flights than “those too poor to fly at present.”

    • cactus head says:

      I just want to voice my appreciation here of everyone taking the pissing landlord thing and running with it.

  5. toBoot says:

    I have a lot of loosely related theories to answer the question:

    Why is American academia so liberal/leftist?

    I’d be curious if folks here have theories that are more cohesive (and hopefully more historically informed) than mine.

    Also, is this unique to American academia?

    • Baeraad says:

      I’d be curious to know if there has ever been an academia, anywhere, that wasn’t liberal, as we understand liberalism. I suppose anything’s possible, but it would look kind of strange.

      What I mean is, the essence of conservatism is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The essence of academia is, “poke and prod at everything and see if something interesting falls out.” What do you get if you mix those two? An academia who pokes and prods very carefully at some select things that they deem to be broken enough to require fixing? I can imagine individual academics doing that, but not an entire establishment – sooner or later, it would either stagnate completely and cease to function as an academia, or it would get increasingly enthusiastic in its poking and prodding until it started looking decidedly liberal.

      Now, I can imagine a non-leftist academia easily enough, but only once the dominating culture became so leftist that poking-and-prodding liberalism ended up to the right of the center.

      • Aapje says:

        @Baeraad

        Conservatism is about not prodding and poking society too hard. I don’t think that conservatives generally object to slamming particles into each other at high speed.

        So your explanation appears to be to be based on a incorrect stereotype.

        • Murphy says:

          http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/10/23/kolmogorov-complicity-and-the-parable-of-lightning/

          The Church didn’t lift a finger against science. It just accidentally created a honeytrap that attracted and destroyed scientifically curious people. And any insistence on a false idea, no matter how harmless and well-intentioned, risks doing the same.

          You don’t get to have the kind of inquisitive people who actually move science forward and only expect them to be happy with “slamming particles into each other” while ignoring some set of possibly-wrong ideas you put a ring around that you’ve decided are sacred.

          If you only try to burn the people who prod and poke society too hard you’ll find your also burning the people who would be poking and prodding at the structure of the universe.

          • The Nybbler says:

            You don’t get to have the kind of inquisitive people who actually move science forward and only expect them to be happy with “slamming particles into each other” while ignoring some set of possibly-wrong ideas you put a ring around that you’ve decided are sacred.

            The current academic environment demonstrates that you do. Either that or that we’re not actually moving science forward, which is also a possibility.

          • Aapje says:

            @Murphy

            In the US, we have overall survey results since 1989, showing a decline from ~20% conservatives to ~10%, while moderates actually declined a little more (from ~40% to less than 30%).

            Your explanation doesn’t explain why a mere 20 years ago, twice as many conservatives could do science. Secondly, if your explanation was correct, one would expect that the moderates, being less conservative, would have a substantially smaller decline than conservatives, not a slightly bigger one.

            Such a pattern is far more indicative of there being something special about left-wing people, rather than conservatives. If there are are three ships at sea where 2 are stationary compared to each other, while the third moves away pretty much equally to those 2, then isn’t the logical conclusion that the 2 ships are not doing anything different, while the third ship is?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        What about a pro-Communist academe in a Communist society? Those aren’t exactly unusual.

      • Matt M says:

        The essence of academia is, “poke and prod at everything and see if something interesting falls out.”

        Maybe it was once but it isn’t now.

        There are plenty of ideas that are completely and totally off-limits to debate and discussion on most college campuses. See: no-platforming anyone to the right of Hillary Clinton.

      • DocKaon says:

        That description of academia is really only true of the post-WWII research university focused academia. Before that academia was about the transmission of culture and knowledge rather than the creation of new knowledge and was probably on balance conservative rather than liberal.

        There’s no reason to expect a professor of classics who is focused purely on teaching a great books curriculum to be particularly liberal. It’s when faculty begin to be judged on the production of new novel insights and criticism does the liberal arts become much more inherently liberal.

        The sciences again had no inherent bias towards liberalism until the conservative movement made the decisions to embrace the Religious Right and a denial based response to environmental concerns. Once that happened, it became a cycle of science focused individuals see conservatism as anti-science and became liberal, conservatives see scientists as liberals and are more willing to attack science as the problem rather than respond to problems sciences points out.

        Basically, in recent decades new trends gave some inherent liberal bias to academia and subsequently tribal polarization on both sides exacerbated it to an extreme point.

      • Watchman says:

        I’d argue that much of current academia is in fact deeply conservative in trying to preserve the current ‘dominant/elite’ culture against ‘populism’ – if you look at the ideas coming out of academia around society and interactions, they are just trying to preserve what has been built on a loose framework of identity politics, social justice and some acceptance of free markets rather than actual attempts to change society – they are defensive reactions attempting to increasingly force compliance with existing ideas. Whether this means academia is not liberal depends on how you define liberal.

        This is probably a norm though: academia for most of history has been about protecting the belief systems that got the academics there, with gradual changes, often from society moving away from the academics rather than of academic views. Note that the socialist domination of universities (never that complete) has always followed and never preceded socialist (or in the US ‘liberal’) success in elections, and is just another reaction to a new dominant paradigm.

      • Two points:

        1: Left/right in the current context isn’t “in favor of change” vs “conservative in the literal sense.” Consider that the global warming issue is mostly left and is about trying to block change–arguably starting with the assumption that change is bad. The whole sustainability rhetoric implicitly assumes a static world, one where you have to do things in a way that lets you keep doing them that way forever.

        On the other hand, the push for concealed carry was from the right, opposed by the left, and was a change in existing institutions. Ditto school vouchers.

        2. I don’t think the “academia=left” generalization holds all that well. The impression I get from reading Mencken is that in the early 20th century university professors were mostly conservative in the literal sense. In the 19th century, weren’t a lot of English dons Tories?

    • Aapje says:

      @toBoot

      We’ve seen a major shift to liberal/leftist and away from moderate & conservative in the last few decades, so theories need to account for the shift.

      I think that one major reason is a cultural difference, where way more people on the left favor having a fun job over being well-paid, having job security, etc. I think that pay and job security in academia have deteriorated over the last decades and that it has disproportionately made moderates & conservatives choose the private sector over academia. I think that something similar explains why journalism has the same bias, because journalism also has become uncertain and with low pay, but journalists seem to enjoy their job a lot.

      Of course, journalists still need people to consume their content, to get paid, so they could only move so far until they left a Fox sized gap. The question is whether the same thing will happen to academia. The barriers to entry may be very high, given that most public universities in the US are state universities.

      • albatross11 says:

        Aren’t there some pretty conservative universities out there now? I’ve heard of Hillsdale and Liberty University and the service academies, but I expect there are others. (Is GMU generally conservative/libertarian, or is that just their econ department?)

        • Aapje says:

          Both are private universities. There are three times as many students enrolled in public colleges than private ones. So this suggests that it’s more viable to run a public college for some reason (perhaps because the state will allow private colleges to run a deficit or treat them more leniently?)

          A non-zero number of conservative universities is not inconsistent with barriers to entry that result in unmet demand.

        • Matt M says:

          I give you Hillsdale and Liberty. I’ll ask for further clarification on the service academies. Are you just assuming that they’re conservative because military?

          And in any case, the reason those TWO very small private schools stand out is specifically because everything else is super left-wing. As Scott has said before, the debate isn’t between liberal and conservative, it’s between “neutral” and conservative.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m asking, not telling. My experience is that the STEM people I know in academia are often quietly rather conservative and almost never take the postmodern/gender studies/etc. type rhetoric as anything but fodder for jokes. But perhaps I have an unusual circle of acquaintance.

      • tomogorman says:

        Another factor in the same vein that I think selects against social conservatives is the high pressure to move wherever there is a job. Social conservatives (especially the front porch variety) would be expected to place more value on staying at least near one’s community, and, therefore be less willing to move across the country if that is the school that offered you a tenure track position – which the current academic market seems to demand.

        • Matt M says:

          Then again, couldn’t you also argue that the mere existence of tenure (guaranteed job for life) would be more appealing to social conservatives who want to “plant roots” and not move around much?

          Shouldn’t a field where the possibility of lifetime employment at one location attract more social conservatives (and risk-averse people in general) than fields where this is absolutely positively never going to happen?

          • dndnrsn says:

            If this is true, the decline of tenure would have played a role. Maybe right-wingers for whatever reason are less likely to want to spend eight or ten or twelve years in higher education in order to get a job that might be precarious, poorly-paying, etc.

          • baconbacon says:

            Tenure often means having to trade location for security, people who are thinking about putting down roots aren’t often happy to put down roots anywhere in the country, but more in specific places. Also you have to get on a tenure track and make it through.

          • Matt M says:

            Tenure often means having to trade location for security, people who are thinking about putting down roots aren’t often happy to put down roots anywhere in the country, but more in specific places.

            Isn’t the stereotype that young left-wingers only want to live in New York, SF, or Portland?

            Most colleges, particularly the more prestigious ones are in… places that aren’t that. In fact, they’re usually in the middle of nowhere, and consist of small elite blue enclaves surrounded by hundreds of miles of cornfields and red tribe hillbillies.

            Which tribe do we think “wants” to put down roots in Charlottesville, exactly?

          • baconbacon says:

            I think the stereo type is leftists want to live in a big, progressive city like SF, NY or Portland, and conservatives want to live in the town where they grew up (again, stereotype). One is a lot more specific than the other.

            Most colleges, particularly the more prestigious ones are in… places that aren’t that

            Some are, some aren’t, depending on your definition. Princeton is pretty middle of nowhere, but also driveable to NY and Philadelphia. Harvard and MIT are just outside of Boston, Stanford and Berkeley outside of SF. Then there are the Cornell’s etc that are 3+ hour drives from anywhere.

          • John Schilling says:

            Isn’t the stereotype that young left-wingers only want to live in New York, SF, or Portland?

            Perhaps, but tenure is mostly for the middle-aged , and the stereotype of middle-aged left-wingers is that they are quite happy settling down and raising their own (hopefully left-wing) young in most any Small College Town. Bucolic pastoralism a la Thoreau or Muir but with several times Dunbar’s number of well-educated leftists to socialize with and the infrastructure for all the basic leftist and intellectual pursuits. And a safely non-urban environment for the kids.

            “Small College Town”, in this context, can mean anything up to Raleigh or Ann Arbor or Austin. And really, a liberal-arts college will create around it a sufficiently collegial environment for the average leftist no matter where you plonk it down.

        • tomogorman says:

          what John Schilling said, college towns are sufficiently hip enough to draw in lefty people (especially the famous ones they are dreaming of Ann Arbor, Madison, etc.). Place based conservatives want to live in their small town, not just any one – so they are cut out of a reasonable career unless they get even more insanely lucky (when just getting a tenure track job requires you to be relatively lucky)

      • tomogorman says:

        An unrelated spitball factor is just path dependency. Academia became a particularly important place for disproportionately liberals to avoid the Vietnam war. After that disproportionate increase academia was more dominated by left/liberals who altered it more to suit them, which increased the skew, which gave them even more power to alter the institution to fit them, and so on.

      • JulieK says:

        We’ve seen a major shift to liberal/leftist and away from moderate & conservative in the last few decades, so theories need to account for the shift.

        Isn’t it a lot older than that? In the mid-20th century, wasn’t the percentage of socialists among academics a lot higher than in the general population?

        • dndnrsn says:

          There’s been a shift away from economic leftism, for sure. If you went back 50 years, you’d have a far more diverse bunch. Now, the dominant ideology is liberalism, with an increasing representation of people who think they are leftists or radicals, but are really a mashup of bits of leftism with bits of liberalism.

          • baconbacon says:

            I don’t know, its not hard communism anymore, but its “capitalism, but you know with come government controls, like minimum wage (oh we have that, then higher), universal access to medicine (have that? Oh, then more), restrict the banking industry (oh we have that, then more), the liberalism comes in agreeing with policies that they barely support when it comes to activism or voting. Tax code reform, yeah sure, whatever, but after X, Y and Z. Of course we should have more immigration… with caveats, lots and lots of caveats which in sum mean very little additional immigration.

            If today’s economic leftists were in charge it would take 2-3 generations to hit communism/totalitarian socialism. Better, but hardly exciting.

          • dndnrsn says:

            But if the left as a whole were in charge, I don’t think you’d see socialism. If the campus left ONLY, even moreso. The zeitgeist in the latter is increasingly more about thinking that inequality should be more equally distributed, so to speak, rather than going after inequality itself.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            There’s been a shift away from economic leftism, for sure.

            I recall reading a piece that said the same thing I’ve been saying to you (so naturally I enjoyed reading it). Or maybe it was a tweet. Basically, “intersectionality” rules the day. I call that social justice progressivism, but whatever.

            Unfortunately though, the left has largely been eaten by this. This also brings up the question of how you even define political wings at all, but Hillary and Bernie both made fairly large concessions to these movements; I don’t think that’s nothing.

    • harland0 says:

      The White House and the Pauline Kael Syndrome, a short essay. TLDR: In 1973, all six major US class segments were centrist. Over the next 35 years, five of the segments moved slightly to the right, but “Intellectual Upper Class” moved far out to the left.

      They abandoned us, not the other way around.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Left-liberalism’s message to academics: Smart people like you should be running things.
      Conservatism’s message to academics: When we want your advice we’ll ask for it.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I can only speculate as to how it became leftist, but I know for a fact why it stays leftist.

      Leftists higher up on the ladder make it very unpleasant for anyone to the right of Lenin to stay in academia, so a lot of us go into industry at the first opportunity. I’m not just talking about the explicit hiring discrimination against academics who voice conservative views but also the stifling politically correct atmosphere and suspicion cast on anyone not enthusiastic enough about leftist activism.

      Since academic freedom doesn’t apply to conservatives so there’s no reason to accept the lower pay and worse conditions that come with an academic job. It’s better to keep your head down long enough to get your degree and then apply for a real job.

    • John Schilling says:

      One possible issue is that academia has an intrinsic progressive bias in that guild membership since the early 19th century has required a dissertation that “advances the knowledge of the field” or some such – and at least implicitly, the health of one’s academic program requires accepting a whole lot of dissertations submitted by enthusiastic twenty-somethings as having advanced the field. That’s going to select for the belief that progress is not only possible but easy, that anything that looks like a good idea and can withstand modest scrutiny is an improvement. Ditto the “publish or perish” tenure track, another hurdle where you have to make dramatic “improvements” to the field to lock in personal success

      But then we have to explain why academia didn’t go hard leftist until some time into the 20th century. Possible if only partial explanations:

      1. Academia can withstand false progress, things that looked like a good idea long enough to establish a career but turned out to be wrong, so long as they are falsified and accepted as false in no more than a generation or so. Then we got Marxism and communism, which looked like really dramatically good ideas with extremely broad impact but which for political reasons took the better part of a century to conclusively falsify.

      2. The 1960s in general and the Vietnam war in particular made academia into a safe haven for leftists and progressives who faced e.g. being drafted and shot if they tried to make it in the outside world.

      3. The rise of a professional middle class that required a college degree but wasn’t picky about which kind, combined with a government that subsidized college degrees but ditto (starting with the GI bill and then picking up steam with the Great Society), lead to a relative increase in the importance of less rigorous fields of study where clever new ideas were less easily falsified than e.g. the STEM fields.

      4. Chesterton built really good fences in academia, such that while the seeds of a progressive shift were sown in the early 19th century the conservatives who dominated the more prestigious institutions were able to keep Cthulhu at bay for a century or so.

      • when just getting a tenure track job requires you to be relatively lucky

        I think a good many people projecting the academic market of today back on the world of thirty, forty, or fifty years ago, which is the world that is relevant for why the modern academy is leftist. My impression from when I was a graduate student in the late sixties is that, if you were reasonably good, you believed you had a good chance of ending up with a tenure track job and probably tenure. What was much less likely was getting it at Harvard, Chicago, or the equivalent.

      • fortybot says:

        but which for political reasons took the better part of a century to conclusively falsify.

        I don’t think Marxism has been falsified, much less conclusively. We’ve certainly seen failed attempts (and a lot of them), but many were due to external factors (e.g. CIA pushing people out of airplanes or the country getting invaded) or non-economic factors (revolutions seem to lead to dictatorships a lot more often than anything else). I’d say that there are considerable confounding factors which make it less conclusive.

    • Doesntliketocomment says:

      One of the factors that I find missing in these responses is that the American Right has spent much of the last 30 years portraying academics as fops, buffoons and/or boogeymen. In that climate, it would be odd for someone who viewed themselves as a conservative to seek out a career in academics. Likewise, it hasn’t done much to convince academics to ally with conservative causes.

      • Aapje says:

        @Doesntliketocomment

        Yet we don’t just see that conservatives are rapidly disappearing from academia, but moderates are disappearing just as fast. I don’t think it’s fair to blame moderates for what conservatives did/do.

        Of course, there have always been intolerant elements on both sides. However, in the past there have also been strong unifying forces. If those lose out, it’s not just an issue for conservatives & moderates who lose access, but also for the liberals who achieved an monoculture in many academic fields. That monoculture is inevitable going to result in a loss of legitimacy in the eyes of much of society, a political fight over college funding (‘no taxation without representation’), etc.

        Regardless of how much the American Right is to blame, I think it is extremely dumb for the American Left to accept these monocultures, because it will inevitably result in a major backlash.

        • Doesntliketocomment says:

          What is a moderate in politics but someone who hasn’t been forced to commit to one side or another? If the popular narrative is that group A values your occupation and group B despises it, why would you be on the fence between the two? Especially in an environment where the conflict between the two is gathering steam.

  6. CthulhuChild says:

    Small issue with the standing seat thing. I’m a big tall guy, and seats keep shrinking (about 16-20% over the last 2 decades). My wages are flat relative to airfare costs (and shrinking compared to airline profits). My thighbone is now literally larger than the gap between two seats. If there was an option to pay for 20% more legroom at 20% more cost, I’d take it every time. Instead, I can upgrade to first class for 300-400% cost. I should probably mention that I’m military, so most of my flying is not optional (upgrades are at my expense if I want them, which isn’t unreasonable).

    Scott (and others) have expressed support for minimum wage (in the absence of basic income) as a compromise solution to preserve human dignity in the face of economic slavery. I’m not suggesting that my problem is comparable to the plight of the Somali ship-breakers, but I’d really like to avoid dying of a blood-clot, and I’m not looking forward to vertical seating becoming the new normal. If it follows the trend of first class upgrades, the privilege of economy seating will be a 300% price upgrade from bicycle seats. If vertical seating becomes an option, you can bet I’ll either be flying standing up or unemployed inside a few years.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      This. I don’t know why Scott fails to see airline seating as Moloch (or Mammon?) Many people have to fly in the cheapest section or become unemployed. Airlines have already packed people into the economy section to the extent of threatening their lives with deep vein thrombosis. This is not a choice you should want to inflict on new demographics!
      I also wonder about the safety of standing passengers in turbulence or a crash.

      • bean says:

        I also wonder about the safety of standing passengers in turbulence or a crash.

        Which is why no aviation authority has approved them yet. People keep forgetting this. Getting it through the regulators is the most important thing, and that hasn’t even begun. (I used to work on airliner regulatory compliance. It’s not an easy field.) I’m not sanguine about the chances either. There’s stirrings that the current smallest pitches are unsafe, and the FAA is being forced to justify approving them.

        • Standing in the Shadows says:

          There’s stirrings that the current smallest pitches are unsafe

          Has there even been live evacuation drills at the current super economy pitch? If there have, all of the simulated passengers were 5’0″ tall gymnasts and yoga instructors.

          The situation is even worse outside the US. I’ve been on regional carriers inside the PRC, inside India, and inside the EU (yes, really, the EU, what the hell?) where the pitch was at least 2 inches shorter than US super economy, and I had to spend the entire flight twisted at an angle in my seat with my knees halfway up the seat in front of me.

          Fortunately, none of those flights have been longer than 3 hours. When I am traveling outside the US now, I use Seat Advisor to avoid those flights, and the day is going to come when I’m going to have a Full And Frank Conversation Over Topics Of Concern with someone’s expense reimbursement department on the topic, and I’m going to start writing it into my contracts.

          • bean says:

            Has there even been live evacuation drills at the current super economy pitch? If there have, all of the simulated passengers were 5’0″ tall gymnasts and yoga instructors.

            I don’t remember offhand. I’m sure that someone has done a 28″ pitch drill, but it was probably done with the sort of people who volunteer for such things, and running around inside a simulated airliner is less likely to appeal to fat people. The FAA is currently under court order to prove that it’s still safe with typical passengers. Re international flights, I can’t say for sure. I don’t think Ryanair is less than 28″, but I’m not sure. But yes, the standard of comfort in the EU is terrible.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            I’ve always wanted to volunteer for a evacuation drill, but apparently the only major that lets a member of Joe Public volunteer is BA, and I’m not quite willing to fly to London just for that.

            The other airlines apparently use airline employees with a strong bias towards FAs as the simulated passengers in the evacuation drill, which is probably much of the problem right there.

    • A1987dM says:

      If there was an option to pay for 20% more legroom at 20% more cost

      Ryanair (and possibly some other airline I’ve flown with, I can’t remember for sure) does have that.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        If there was an option to pay for 20% more legroom at 20% more cost

        Some airlines I’ve flown offer a “Premium Economy” or “Economy Plus”. Wikipedia summarizes what is usually offered. From what I can see it tends to be just under 20% more legroom, though I can’t find information on the cost.

        • ellevt says:

          When I book on Delta, it usually gives me an option to upgrade to Economy plus for $50

          • CthulhuChild says:

            In Canada, airlines offer exit row seating as an “economy plus” option for a $150 upgrade, and this fee is applied each flight (typical domestic military duty flights are 2-3 connections, if you are going for the lowest cost option, which the military will understandably choose).

    • Bobby Shaftoe says:

      My thighbone is now literally larger than the gap between two seats.

      I can’t figure out a way to ask this question without sounding confrontational. So let me say up front that I’m just genuinely curious about this, and not trying to give you a hard time.

      I’ve heard this complaint before, and based on my experience having legs and sitting in airline seats, it seems physically implausible. I’m of average height and wear pants with a 30″ inseam. When I sit upright (not slouching and with my butt as far back as possible) in an airline chair there is 8″ to 10″ of space between my knees and the seat in front of me.

      How much longer are tall people’s legs? I just checked amazon for two randomly selected but seemingly popular types of Levis, and 36″ is the largest inseam size they sell. I think I’ve maybe seen a 38″ inseam in store, but it is uncommon.

      So lets say the largest inseam I think might commonly exist is 8″ longer than my leg, but that needs to be divided between the thighs and shin. Seems reasonable to approximate that the extra length is evenly divided, so lets say that roughly the longest thigh that is accounted for by pants salesmen is about 4″ longer than mine.

      My experience suggests that this would fit fine. Anyone, including me, can slouch and slide forward so their knees touch, but based on the considerations above and just eyeballing it, it seems to me that most people outside of the NBA could fit just fine if they sit up straight. Can someone explain why this isn’t the case?

      Anecdotally, I’ve seen tall people complaining about this where their complaint is clearly that they can’t slouch, not that dimension of their thigh does not physically fit. I have sympathy for the later, but less for the former.

      • Another Throw says:

        According to Wikipedia:

        Its [the femur’s] length on average is 26.74% of a person’s height,[4] a ratio found in both men and women and most ethnic groups with only restricted variation…

        And according to the census, it looks like 6’6″ is pretty far into the 99th percentile, so anything past 20.85 inches of femur room is mostly a problem for the NBA, as you say. Refactored: Seat pitch for economy seats ranges are around 29 to 32 inches. Budget airlines are more likely to be 29, the big three are 31-32. In order to arrive at the legroom you need to subtract the seat back thickness from the pitch. I haven’t found any numbers for this, but my wild-ass guess is probably 4-6 inches. This gives a range of 2 to 7 inches over femur length for a 6’6″ passenger with an average height-to-femur ratio. I have no idea how the pelvis actually works so have no idea how much over femur length is strictly necessary. It seems conceivable that a confluence of factors can arrive at a passenger not being able to fit: above average femur length, shitty airline with narrow pitch and thick seats, being way, way, way into the 99th percentile for height. There will be a lot of such people in absolute terms, but they are almost certainly a tiny fraction of the population.

        I don’t know, man. There are undoubtedly people that physically can’t fit, but I don’t think that forcing everyone to pay higher air fare to cater to them is particularly useful when most airlines offer reasonably priced upgraded-economy seats.

        My recommendation to CthulhuChild would be to get in good with your travel approval person. Maybe get a doctors note saying you require at least X inches of seat pitch and include it with your request?

      • A1987dM says:

        FWIW I’m 1.87 m (6′ 2″) and I have never felt particularly uncomfortable even on basic Ryanair seats.

      • Alsadius says:

        I’m 6’3″, and I’m right on the border of physically fitting. The last time I flew, I could not figure out a way to have more than half an inch of room between my knee and the seat back in front of me, no matter how upright I sat. I could get a bit more room by spreading my legs out, but that rapidly starts to encroach on the people beside me.

        I’ve looked into premium economy, and it seems like the proportional price increase is usually much higher than the proportional cabin area consumption increase. And frankly, in my current financial state I think I’d rather pocket the money and be miserable for 8 hours than spend an extra few hundred on comfort. But if I could get premium economy for a more proportional price, I’d seriously consider it.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’m 6′ 0″, and fit just fine into most airline seats, even in economy. The only time I’ve been uncomfortable was when I flew Air Canada Rouge, the budget branch of that airline. The seats were so close together my knees touched the back of the seat in front of me.

      • Standing in the Shadows says:

        I’m a hair over 6’3″ (depending now how tired I am), and my legs are somewhat long for my height, to the point where I have to have my suits made bespoke to fit properly.

        In United Economy now, and in Alaska regional Frontier Airlines now, I have to consciously sit up straight and sit “at attention” to not have my knees touching the seatback in front of me. I usually take the magazines out of the pocket in the seatback in front of me, just to get that additional half inch.

      • CthulhuChild says:

        I can’t figure out a way to ask this question without sounding confrontational. So let me say up front that I’m just genuinely curious about this, and not trying to give you a hard time.

        Bobby, honestly, my bad. I have a hyperbolic way of speaking, and I use literally in a way that would make the writers of Parks and Rec cringe.

        To be more clear, I am a little over 6’5″, with an slightly athletic build and longer than normal legs. I take a 36″ inseam (35 inch if the knees are articulated). The dimension that doesn’t fit between seats is a measurement between my kneecap and the back of my buttocks (which has enough muscle/fat to be just a little further out than the base of my spine when sitting).

        In order to fit in an airline seat, I have to either recline the seat (which changes the leg angle and lets me drop my knees), or cross my feet and cant my knees out to the sides (which interferes with my neighbors), or lift my knees up and rest them on the seatback (which I obviously do not do). A small increase in legroom can let me slouch by straightening my knees and tucking my feet (and part of my shins) under the seat in front of me, so those last few inches matter a great deal.

        And I recognize that this is very much a <1% problem. Nevertheless I'm in that 1%. I don't have a good solution that drops costs for everyone without effectively (if not literally) causing me pain.

        • Bobby Shaftoe says:

          No worries! I was concerned that my comment would come across as dismissive of your problem, I wasn’t suggesting that your comment was unreasonable.

          At 6’5″, I have no problem believing that you are up against physical limits fitting into these seats.

      • JayT says:

        The size of your butt makes a big difference. I’m 6’2″ with a 32″ inseam, but I’m also overweight, so even if I am sitting at attention, my knees have maybe an inch of clearance. If the person in front of me reclines, I have less than zero inches of clearance. If I relax at all, I have less than zero clearance.

        I almost always pay for the extra legroom. The only time I forgo it is when the flight is less than a couple hours, or if I’m reasonably certain it won’t be a full flight and I can sit sideways.

    • Brandon Berg says:

      in the face of economic slavery.

      This is not a phrase that strongly implies rational, well-informed consideration of the relevant issues.

      • CthulhuChild says:

        You are correct, it doesn’t really encapsulate everything I mean. I do not have a good two-word phrase that captures the idea of “multi-polar traps that create a system where outcomes for the majority of lower class individuals become much worse while providing incremental benefits to a small minority, a small minority who then have an incentive to employ soft power and obstruct alternative arrangements in order to keep the costs of labour low, such that the entire system reaches equilibrium with a lower net utility to everyone”

        I am pleased to note that the race-to-the-bottom doesn’t really seem to be occurring as critics of the globalist economy would have predicted. There are still many places in the world where surplus human capital is being disposed of at market rates, and however optimistic you might be with respect to capitalism overall, the individual experience of that surplus human capital is pretty damned unpleasant.

        If you can suggest a short phrase that captures all that better than “economic slavery” I would be open to using it.

        • toastengineer says:

          Are there whips involved? Chains? Being crammed into the holds of boats like cargo? Threats of force if you don’t comply? No?

          Then “slavery” is entirely the wrong word to use. It doesn’t drive your point home to use extreme hyperbole like that; it just makes people stop taking you seriously.

          I believe the word you’re looking for is “poverty.”

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            While I am on nearly the complete opposite side of most of these sorts of arguments from him, I do have to admit that whips and chains are eventually part of the scenario.

            If you don’t have any money, and yet continue to insist on sleeping inside someone else’s house or building without permission, and yet continue to insist on taking food and clothes out of shops without paying for them, eventually the batons and handcuffs will make their appearance, and then soon after the the being shoved into a room with bars and with the locks on the outside.

            If it’s not just you that is cold and hungry, but your children too, you will find you can be rather insistent, which just makes the whips and chains have to be all the more heavy.

          • rlms says:

            “It doesn’t drive your point home to use extreme hyperbole like that; it just makes people stop taking you seriously.”
            Cicero would seem to disagree, and he presumably knew more about slavery than you: “vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hired workmen whom we pay for mere manual labour, not for artistic skill; for in their case the very wage they receive is a pledge of their slavery”.

          • CthulhuChild says:

            Mmmm… poverty doesn’t quite work. It does not capture the sense of entrapment, because ultimately we believe poverty to be a temporary (or at least solvable) condition. At one point, I was below the poverty line (IE, I was in poverty) but there was very little actually keeping me there (more accurately: I had all the tools I needed to get out) and it didn’t last long.

            You make a good point about slavery being the wrong word, especially given the racial undertones. Economic Bondage? Post-industrial Serfdom? Corporate Vassalage?

            Perhaps more importantly, do you accept the idea of minimum wage as a crappy-but-better-than-nothing option in the face of whatever-you-want-me-to-call-it? Or do you disagree with the idea and are choosing to focus on the language I used. Should I read your comments as recommendations to help me be taken more seriously, or is the criticism simply more efficient than arguing the point. I am unable to properly assess tone from text and am genuinely curious.

          • toastengineer says:

            Should I read your comments as recommendations to help me be taken more seriously, or is the criticism simply more efficient than arguing the point.

            Lil’ bit of both. I don’t really have the energy to engage this argument but pointing out that your phraseology is going to make people ignore your argument seems like genuinely helpful low-hanging-fruit.

            “Corporate serfdom” might work; still sounds a little edgy but I wouldn’t immediately roll my eyes at it.

            I think your position as a whole is interesting but I really doubt that minimum wage specifically does more good than harm. I’m a full-on anarchocapitalist, so it’s gonna take a lot of dragging to get me anywhere near “markets don’t actually work.”

          • CthulhuChild says:

            My position isn’t that markets fail as utility maximizers, but rather I worry they will settle into a local maxima. And if I am being completely honest, I don’t think even that is a realistic possibility in view of how fast technology is moving. My big concern is that the mere specter corporate serfdom (huzzah! agreement on phrasing!) will be sufficient to drive destructive mass movements. If you tell a few million people who grew up middle class that they are now worth less than 2 bucks an hour, explaining that it’s just a function of efficient markets will probably not prevent the riots.

            I feel this way about a lot of anarchocapitalist thought. Very specifically, I don’t see a way to dismantle the state’s monopoly force that wouldn’t immediately prove Hobbes right. I’m also not super optimistic about the luddite fallacy remaining a fallacy forever. All in all, I have a difficult-to-justify belief that global stability is really important, and not because I’m an idealist. To this end, I like basic income more than I like minimum wage, but I’m also pretty happy about Netflix and cheap videogames, if that makes sense.

        • There are still many places in the world where surplus human capital is being disposed of at market rates, and however optimistic you might be with respect to capitalism overall, the individual experience of that surplus human capital is pretty damned unpleasant.

          I cannot tell from this whether you realize that the percentage of the human population living in extreme poverty has dropped sharply over the past few decades–I think by about a factor of three. That happened, in large part because people in the third world got jobs at what seem to people in the first world like unreasonably low wages.

          You are looking at what may be the fastest increase in human welfare in history, mostly at the low end, and complaining about it.

          • CthulhuChild says:

            I cannot tell from this whether you realize that the percentage of the human population living in extreme poverty has dropped sharply over the past few decades–I think by about a factor of three. That happened, in large part because people in the third world got jobs at what seem to people in the first world like unreasonably low wages.

            You are looking at what may be the fastest increase in human welfare in history, mostly at the low end, and complaining about it.

            I am very much aware of the overall trend, and it has been by and large miraculous. What I would have predicted is a race to the bottom for the low end in both industrialized and developing nations, what we got instead was stagnation in industrialized countries and meteoric growth in developing nations. All to the good!

            But I don’t think this is purely due to the reduction of barriers to trade. Is it irrelevant that this all occurred in the context of developed nations enacting minimum wage and work safety regulations? That’s not a rhetorical question, I seriously am wondering what the global economy would have looked like if we hadn’t.

            More generally, I have two concerns. First, I am not sure if the trend is sustainable (how much does it depend on there being undeveloped countries with low GDP?). Second, describing it as “surplus” human capital is not just a rhetorical trick. I’m not worried about unreasonably low wages, I’m worried about optimally low wages. As in, we could pay them more but there is no incentive to do so because they are completely replaceable at virtually no cost. My concern is that we might reach a stable equilibrium with an enormous underclass, and they will choose to be economically irrational and burn everything to the ground.

            Empirically, we seem to be OK so far, and I don’t have a better plan. I’m just saying we should be careful because this has literally never been done before and we don’t know what happens next.

    • bean says:

      Small issue with the standing seat thing. I’m a big tall guy, and seats keep shrinking (about 16-20% over the last 2 decades).

      You’re saying that typical economy seats in 1997 were 36-37″? It’s not true The article’s headline is rather misleading, but the largest seats in 1995 were only 34″, with 31″ at the lowest on the big 4. 31″ is still standard today.

      My wages are flat relative to airfare costs (and shrinking compared to airline profits).

      Oil’s risen quite fast, which has a lot to do with it. And it’s literally impossible for your wages not to have shrunk relative to airline profits over the past decade, given that they were losing buckets of money then.

      If there was an option to pay for 20% more legroom at 20% more cost, I’d take it every time. Instead, I can upgrade to first class for 300-400% cost.

      Who are you flying that this is the case? UAL, DAL, and AAL all offer economy plus for a lot less than 300-400%. Spirit offers their Big Front Seat for $40/flight, and it’s a domestic first class seat. Even domestic first is closer to 200% these days, as they’ve gotten a lot more aggressive about monitizing it.

      If it follows the trend of first class upgrades, the privilege of economy seating will be a 300% price upgrade from bicycle seats. If vertical seating becomes an option, you can bet I’ll either be flying standing up or unemployed inside a few years.

      It won’t. I’m pretty sure that there’s enough demand for seats to hold it at close to current prices.

      • CthulhuChild says:

        You’re saying that typical economy seats in 1997 were 36-37″? It’s not true The article’s headline is rather misleading, but the largest seats in 1995 were only 34″, with 31″ at the lowest on the big 4. 31″ is still standard today.

        I apologized above for being hyperbolic, and I will do so again. Three decades are required (not 2), and I am doing a comparison of the largest seats in 1985 (36″) with the smallest now.

        Oil’s risen quite fast, which has a lot to do with it. And it’s literally impossible for your wages not to have shrunk relative to airline profits over the past decade, given that they were losing buckets of money then.

        Depends the Airline. The industry as a whole has remained profitable. Your point is well taken though, since the profitability outside north america (where I mostly fly) is irrelevant.

        Who are you flying that this is the case?

        Air Canada and West Jet. For reference, a flight to Ottawa is $611-780, business class is $1267-$2300, first class is not available. I guess business=domestic first? So there may be some options that are “only” 200%, but they aren’t double the leg room (not that I need double the leg room, I just need it to stop shrinking).

        It won’t. I’m pretty sure that there’s enough demand for seats to hold it at close to current prices.

        I really, really hope you are right. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the experience of first/business class upgrade programs. Part of their pricing is their exclusivity, as mentioned their costs are not purely based on the volume you can fit into the plane in economy vs business. More to the point, the airlines would rather fly empty upgrade seats than let them be filled at less than double the cost, otherwise they wouldn’t ask for $600 bucks a flight 5 minutes before boarding.

        I’d actually be really happy if they did micro-hotel style coffins, which seems like it would be about as space efficient as vertical seating.

        • bean says:

          I apologized above for being hyperbolic, and I will do so again. Three decades are required (not 2), and I am doing a comparison of the largest seats in 1985 (36″) with the smallest now.

          Not a huge problem, although 1985 was soon enough after deregulation that densification probably hadn’t set in. We won’t see those seats again.

          Depends the Airline. The industry as a whole has remained profitable. Your point is well taken though, since the profitability outside north america (where I mostly fly) is irrelevant.

          The industry as a whole remained profitable 10 years ago? Doubtful. Maybe the oil-supported ones cooked the books to look that way, but if we’re looking at North America, not a chance. I recall that one of the big 3s net profit for the entire 20th century was under $1 billion. That may actually have been up to 2010, now that I think about it.

          Air Canada and West Jet. For reference, a flight to Ottawa is $611-780, business class is $1267-$2300, first class is not available. I guess business=domestic first? So there may be some options that are “only” 200%, but they aren’t double the leg room (not that I need double the leg room, I just need it to stop shrinking).

          Business is domestic first. Here is a link to the effort post series I did on air travel a couple months ago. I can’t say why the Canadians don’t have Economy Plus. Best guess is that they’re simply a couple of years behind.

          I really, really hope you are right. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the experience of first/business class upgrade programs. Part of their pricing is their exclusivity, as mentioned their costs are not purely based on the volume you can fit into the plane in economy vs business.

          In the US these days, it’s surprisingly close.

          More to the point, the airlines would rather fly empty upgrade seats than let them be filled at less than double the cost, otherwise they wouldn’t ask for $600 bucks a flight 5 minutes before boarding.

          That is not how the US airlines are behaving these days. Delta has gone from 30% paid in first to 70% over the past ~5 years, with a corresponding fall in paid first class (domestic) fares. Your airlines will probably follow in a few years.

          I’d actually be really happy if they did micro-hotel style coffins, which seems like it would be about as space efficient as vertical seating.

          Evacuation would probably kill that off.

          • CthulhuChild says:

            Evacuation would probably kill that off.

            In regulation, evacuation kills off horizontal seating. In crash, horizontal seating kills off you!

            In all seriousness, I really want you to be right. It’s just that flying for me is both mandatory and uncomfortable, and there don’t (at present) seem to be options for me to fix the latter without incurring significant expense. I therefore view the prospect of further reducing the minimum acceptable level of comfort with trepidation. I don’t really have a solution, other than to suggest that I’d like the airline industry should be given freedom to innovate in other domains than seat sizing if they need to cut costs. My vote would be reducing costs in airports/airport security, but I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination.

          • Matt M says:

            Hah, you want more innovation in the parts of the experience that are directly controlled by the government?

            Good luck with that one. Security nonsense is going to get worse, not better.

          • toastengineer says:

            I wonder if you could have the “pod hotels” be designed to eject in blocks of four to six or so from the side of the plane in an emergency. Maybe even put parachutes in them.

          • bean says:

            I wonder if you could have the “pod hotels” be designed to eject in blocks of four to six or so from the side of the plane in an emergency. Maybe even put parachutes in them.

            No. Your median emergency case is the pilot botching the landing and leaving you with a burning and broken plane on the ground. Any mechanism which could get the pods far enough away and that would have survived, say, the Asiana crash at SFO would be too heavy to even be considered.

          • baconbacon says:

            @ bean

            What about the viability of a dual lying/standing system with bunks that are collapsible, and emptied/collapsed before descent, with a rudimentary restraint system for landing?

          • bean says:

            What about the viability of a dual lying/standing system with bunks that are collapsible, and emptied/collapsed before descent, with a rudimentary restraint system for landing?

            Not worth it on most flights. Too much trouble to set up, too heavy, and you still have the liability concerns.

          • baconbacon says:

            Not worth it on most flights. Too much trouble to set up, too heavy, and you still have the liability concerns.

            It would definitely be for long flights mostly. What I was thinking was a bunk set up where the top bunk was retractable and made of fabric, and then the bottom bunk doubled as a bench for 2 people during landing. Just out of curiosity do you know what the standard airline seat weighs?

          • bean says:

            It would definitely be for long flights mostly. What I was thinking was a bunk set up where the top bunk was retractable and made of fabric, and then the bottom bunk doubled as a bench for 2 people during landing.

            There just isn’t enough space for these if you want to retain current passenger density. And there aren’t that many flights long enough for these to be of much use. Also, there’s the liability issue, and if it’s an old-style naval bunk that’s much worse. Not everyone is in the same timezone, either, and with wi-fi working on planes is a thing these days. Bunks like this used to be common in the days of the Connie and the DC-6, but there are lots of things we’re not allowed to do any more.

            Just out of curiosity do you know what the standard airline seat weighs?

            20-25 lbs/passenger.

    • b_jonas says:

      Let me add an opposite anecdote. I am a male of average height for Europe, and so my legs fit in any airplane seat. When I buy a cheap airplane ticket, the airlines offer the choice between the ordinary seats and the somewhat more expensive seats with extra legroom. As long as the current arrangement remains, I didn’t want to sit in the extra legroom seats even if someone payed me the difference. This is because the extra legroom seats are at the emergency exits or the front of the airplane, where I’m not allowed to store my carry-on bag under the seat in front of me. Having my carry-on luggage close to me rather than in the overhead compartment gives me comfort during the trip, even though I know this is mostly irrational, because I never actually have to reach in my bag for anything.

    • baconbacon says:

      My thighbone is now literally larger than the gap between two seats.

      Not trying to be snarky here, wouldn’t vertical seats (as long as there is enough overhead space I guess) be more comfortable then? Leaning against a wall sounds more comfortable than being wedged between two chairs to me.

      • CthulhuChild says:

        You know, you’re not wrong. I usually take an aisle seat so I can get up and walk around every few minutes anyway. What I really want is to be stacked like cord-wood in small coffin beds. I’m Navy: it’d be just like ship, and I’d sleep through every flight. Apparently there are more claustrophobic people than tall people so this will never happen.

        • bean says:

          It’s not claustrophobia. It’s the need to get everyone out in an emergency (actually, in normal operations). Without a lot of practice, you can’t get in and out of the top bunk quickly. I’m young, flexible, and of average height, and still had quite a bit of trouble getting in and out of the top bunks on the Iowa. When the passenger is an overweight 70-year-old with bad joints, they’re just going to kill themselves on a normal flight. And that’s if they’re in the aisle bunk.

          • CthulhuChild says:

            Pfft. Who cares about those old/obese people. I only care about the safety and comfort of my own special interest group.

            (In seriousness, hadn’t considered that, makes a lot of sense though)

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I go to an event where bunk beds are used. The less physically capable people aren’t put in the top bunks.

          • bean says:

            @Nancy
            That works right up until you schedule the plane on a flight to Vegas or Florida. Or anywhere with lots of old people.

    • Matt M says:

      Not sure if true, but when I was in the military, it was rumored that if you were taller than a certain height, you could get some sort of medical waiver such that they’d reimburse you for economy premium.

      The other half of the rumor was that our local travel guy would check this box for anyone if you made it “worth his while”

      • Brad says:

        Per random googling the maximum height for the military is 80 inches, except for the marines where it is 78 inches. Maybe they should lower that to whatever it needs to be so they don’t have to grant any of those medical waivers.

        • CthulhuChild says:

          Canadian military, no height restrictions that I know of (other than indirectly due to medical conditions caused by being that tall, or for very specific trades like fighter pilot).

    • toBoot says:

      You probably already know this, but you can get flight-by-flight permission to purchase an economy-plus (or whatever size is most appropriate) seat on the government’s dime if you’re really squished in there. Lemme know if you want me to point you to the section of the JTR that goes into this in detail – I can’t remember it off the top of my head.

  7. Le Maistre Chat says:

    I’m reading what’s known about the Hittites. There are two ways of Romanizing their male names: with a terminal s as in Greek and Latin, or ending with the vowel. The books don’t explain it, which makes me suspicious that the latter was contrived by Anglophones to avoid talking about “Mursilis” and “Telepinus”.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      I’m curious what your source of information is: have you found a good book on the Hittites? I’d love to read more about them.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The standard reference is Trevor Bryce (Kingdom of the Hittites & Life and Society in the Hittite World, Oxford 1998 & 2002 respectively… this is not a field where new research reaches the mainstream very fast; I own O.R. Gurney’s 1950s survey because it came in a Folio Society set, and that serves fine.)

        Short version: the Hittites did not call themselves that, but rather “Hattites” and “Nesili”. Hatti was eastern Anatolia and had an indigenous language that’s an isolate. Nesili means “(Ka)nesa tongue” and was an Indo-European language belonging to the most divergent branch, called Anatolian. Kanesa was a city-state in Hatti already economically dominant by 2000 BC, when Assyrians had a merchant colony there. After this Colony Period, in the 18th century BC, a Nesili-speaking dynasty unified eastern Anatolia into the Old Kingdom and began pushing into Mesopotamia and Assuwa (western Anatolia, the later Asia Minor).
        King Mursilis I actually fought all the way to Babylon in 1595 BC but was unable to hold it due to dissent back home, so his campaign ended up replacing Hammurabi’s Amorite dynasty with a Kassite dynasty that lasted until the Bronze Age Collapse (400 years). Upon his return to the capital he was assassinated, setting a precedent that led to 160 years of weakness, the Middle Kingdom. A stable succession law was passed in the middle of this by the hilarious-to-Anglophones King Telepinus, but rebuilding the empire still took a lifetime. Also at some point the capital was moved from Kanesa to Hattusa.
        The Hittite New Kingdom subjugated an Assuwa or Arzawa league that may have been led by Troy VI, destroyed the Indo-Aryan speaking (!) Mitanni dynasty of Upper Mesopotamia between itself and Assyria, and expanded south from Classical Cilicia into the Levant to become a rival of the Egyptian New Kingdom.
        Then came the Bronze Age Collapse. The cities of the empire were burned and government shrank to “Neo-Hittite” city-states that used the Anatolian language Luwian rather than the related Hittite/Nesili.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Might it be something to do with the Hittite language? From what I can find, terminal -s is the nominative suffix for animate nouns (instead of grammatical gender, Hittite uses an animate-inanimate noun-class system). For instance, the Wikipedia article on Hittite grammar states that the word for “man” is “antuhsa”, but the nominative form is “antuhsas”.

      So I think the difference in Romanization is whether authors give the stem, or the stem plus the nominative suffix.

      Of course, the lack of grammatical gender in Hittite means that there should be no difference between how male and female names are treated. Possibly it’s just a matter of “Puduhepa” being more “obviously feminine” to an English- (or German-) speaker than “Puduhepas”? I have noticed the terminal -s on the name of at least one Hittite goddess (Lilwanis).

  8. Kevin C. says:

    So, are there any good articles or resources on LW/the “rationalsphere” with regards to overcoming “sunk-cost fallacy”, “optimism bias”, and the other cognitive biases that make humans irrationally persistent, and rationally determine when to give up on something?

    • Ninmesara says:

      Hm… I’d say “just don’t bother”. Sunk-cost fallacy and optimism bias kinda cancel each other, and anecdotally the thing that’s ever brought more grief in life was in a sense the result of deliberately ignoring sunken costs and trying to counter optimism bias.

      I mean, getting better at making decisions is great, but “pearning to deal with fallacies” doesn’t seem like the best way to go about it.

    • Aapje says:

      @Kevin C

      The problem is that there is an immense search space and a lack of transparency about not just the odds, but even which variables impact your odds, which greatly hampers the application of rational decision making.

      Adding to the complexity is that each individual has their own specific capabilities, cost functions and desires. So ultimately it’s about finding a specific fit between the person and society, but due to the lack of transparency, people often just end up trying random advice and see if it works.

  9. Kevin C. says:

    What exactly is a “community center”?

    (I was looking into the possibility of starting a Meetup group — though I’m hesitating now at the cost of doing so — and looking for free/cheap places to meet. When searching this question online, “community centers” is an answer that frequently came up (alongside answers like schools, churches, libraries that I can rule out locally).)

    • tcheasdfjkl says:

      Some places have e.g. Jewish community centers – growing up I had various extracurriculars & attended concerts in one. (I am not sure if all the things I attended there were organized by Jewish people? I kind of think not; I don’t know how one used the facilities)

      I think some cities/towns also have just, like, municipal community centers – a building for community events and such.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        The community centre where I grew up had a large indoor gym, a swimming pool, a bunch of classroom-type rooms that I think were used by summer camps, and also general ‘recreational activities’. My guess is these programs were mostly targeted at young kids and seniors, and maybe kids on school break, but I don’t know. They gym was used for the local community basketball team, and also my parent’s synagogue held their High Holiday services there, since the usual building was too small for the extra crowd that showed up.

        • beleester says:

          “Recreation center” or “rec center” is a term I hear more commonly than “community center,” with the exception of the JCC, but it’s describing pretty much the same thing. Gym, pool, sports equipment, various meeting rooms, probably next to a park.

          So if you can’t find a “community center,” try googling “rec center” and see what comes up.

    • Alsadius says:

      In the small towns where I grew up, there was generally a municipally run “community centre” – they’d have sports facilities like skating rinks, baseball diamonds, swimming pools, etc., along with meeting rooms for public use. In the big city where I live now, there’s still a few similar-looking facilities, but much fewer of them per capita.

    • dodrian says:

      In my town, the local technical college also functions as a community center, renting out space (on the cheap) to local groups.

      Often public libraries will do the same, and sometimes cafes are good places too. In some places it’s the town/city hall.

      • Kevin C. says:

        In my town, the local technical college also functions as a community center, renting out space (on the cheap) to local groups.

        UAA does have meeting rooms, some for free, but they’re only available for students, professors, employees, etc.

    • Standing in the Shadows says:

      Public libraries usually have meeting rooms you can reserve, sometimes for free, sometimes for cheap.

      Also, look at coworking spaces, to get a conference room, projectors, etc. They cost a bit more, but are often really nice.

      Depending on your city and people in your group, you can get space inside corporate campuses. (The Microsoft NERD center in Boston is a particular favorite of mine.)

      If your city has a cafe culture, many cafes have rooms or separable spaces that you can rent.

      If any of you are a member of a religion, you can sometimes use or rent meeting space in a church.

      When the weather is nice, there are public parks. You can reserve those covered tables and grills for cheap, or just show up.

      Also, restaurants and bars often have rooms you can rent. You’ll probably have to guarantee N meals or drinks ordered.

      If there are any business hotels around (if you are in a city, there are), they have meeting rooms for rent.

      • Kevin C. says:

        Public libraries usually have meeting rooms you can reserve, sometimes for free, sometimes for cheap.

        Loussac Library has rooms for rent, but many are unavailable due to the renovations, and the only one for which they list the price on the webpage is the Assembly Chambers (where the Anchorage Assembly, our city council, meets), and that is $110/hr, with 2hr minimum.

        Depending on your city and people in your group, you can get space inside corporate campuses. (The Microsoft NERD center in Boston is a particular favorite of mine.)

        I think BP might have something, but I’m not sure how much it costs.

        If your city has a cafe culture

        It doesn’t.

        If any of you are a member of a religion, you can sometimes use or rent meeting space in a church.

        I’m not religious (and nobody else has joined yet).

        When the weather is nice, there are public parks. You can reserve those covered tables and grills for cheap, or just show up.

        What “covered tables and grills”? We don’t really have those in our city parks (we have a big homeless problem). And as for weather, we’re talking Alaskan winter here for the next 4+ months.

        Also, restaurants and bars often have rooms you can rent.

        How do you find out? Most the ones I eat at don’t; maybe the fancy ones Downtown outside my price range…

        If there are any business hotels around (if you are in a city, there are), they have meeting rooms for rent.

        And the sampling I found online are outside my price range.

        • Standing in the Shadows says:

          When you are down to just one person and hoped for more, the traditional start is someone’s living room. Throw a dinner party.

          And re no cafe culture: And how can you have no Starbucks? I’ve been to Anchorage, you have Starbucks there. That’s enough. Say you will meet at a particular Starbucks that has table space, go there ahead of time, pre-tip the baristas, and encourage anyone who shows up to buy at least one drink.

          • Nornagest says:

            At the risk of sounding like a snob, I’m not sure “Starbucks” and “culture” belong in the same sentence.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            You failed the risk, you are a snob. And in this exact moment, not even usefully snobby.

            Look, I understand. I prefer better coffee myself. But Starbucks solves the problem raised here, and it also solves a larger problem. Starbucks provides a good working solution to the set of problems solved by “do you have a local cafe culture”.

            If there wasn’t a Starbucks in Anchorage, my next suggestion would have been a McDonalds, which in many poorer parts of the US *is* the “local community center where people can gather at a table and have a conversation”.

    • SamChevre says:

      In several places I have lived, a “community center” was the building that used to be the local school prior to school consolidation–so had a lot of rooms (former classrooms) that were suitable for small meetings, and maybe two or three bigger rooms (former library/gym/cafeteria).

  10. OptimalSolver says:

    I’m finding it hard not to strawman the anti-materialist position down to: “OMG, my feelings aren’t calculable you insensitive drone! I’m a human being, yeah?”

    I mean, I’ve read Nagel, and even skimmed through Plantinga, but I still think what’s happening here is a quite literal inability of a certain type of mind to see humans as an assembly of parts. I.e. just as autistic (and sociopathic) people struggle with perceiving a whole human as anything other than a complex system, so other types of mind are incapable of abandoning their holistic view of themselves and other persons.

    The holistic types will never be convinced because this is a matter of very different mental architectures, not strong philosophical arguments, and perhaps this point applies to all other questions in philosophy.

    • manwhoisthursday says:

      I’d suggest reading Edward Feser’s Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner’s Guide, along with some of the essays devoted to Phil of Mind in another of his books, Neo-Scholastic Essays. David Bentley Hart also has some interesting things to say, which you can find via Youtube and Google.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      Weird. I found it pretty easy not to strawman their position that way, merely by looking at what they actually say and the arguments they actually give, and not trying to reformulate them through massively uncharitable paraphrase in the voice of a complete imbecile.

    • It’s not that people think that a functional reduction of feelings or sensory qualities is a wicked thing, it is that they a) have not seen such a reduction — the infamous seeRed()
      and (b) think it is impossible. Materialism in turn tends to split between the promissory kind, which denies (b), and the eliminative kind kind that denies there is even the necessity for (a). At this stage, I think you need to ask yourself whether your belief in the reducibility of feeling is based on detail — an ability to write seeRed() — or a general intuition.

      • MrApophenia says:

        If I am understanding what you are asking, would the ability to read sensory experience out of your brain and put it on a screen prove anything? Because we’re years past that, people at Berkeley have been putting mental imagery onscreen through a brain computer interface since 2011.

        • No, it’s about sensory qualities, as in the Mary thought experiement experiment. Mary can read visual experience of a tomato from someone’s brain scan in a sense, but not in a sense that includes and actual quality of redness.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I don’t understand what you’re saying. I don’t mean this as a rhetorical or argumentative tactic, can you explain what you mean in more detail? If we can read the part of the brain experiencing red, and translate that back into the color red, in what sense are we missing the quality of redness?

          • MrApophenia says:

            Missed my edit window, but I wanted to add a note on the Mary’s Room experiment after reading more of it – I may be hilariously ignorant on this topic, but it seems like that thought experiment doesn’t actually show anything, it just bakes the conclusion you prefer into the premise. The anti-materials say that Mary knows all the physical information in advance, but that she must learn something new when she sees color for the first time; the materialist just says that if she truly knows all the physical information, that includes the physical information representing the activity in the brain when experiencing color, so if she truly knows all physical information related to the topic, she learns nothing new.

            It still just comes down to whether you think this stuff can be represented physically or not.

          • If we can read the part of the brain experiencing red, and translate that back into the color red, in what sense are we missing the quality of redness?

            What does “translate back” mean? Mary can’t do that. in the sense of actually seeing red.
            And if someone else can do it, for instance by looking at a reconstruction of someone else’s visual information on a colour monitor, that just proves that is happening somehow, not that it is happening by pure physics. To exclude the claim that some extra sauce is required to have phenomenal experience, you need to explain how experience occurs, not just prompt it to occur.

            he materialist just says that if she truly knows all the physical information, that includes the physical information representing the activity in the brain when experiencing color, so if she truly knows all physical information related to the topic, she learns nothing new.

            Some materialists have that intuition, some don’t.

            But if Mary is fully able to explain how experience reduces to physics, why don’t we have that explanation?

            It still just comes down to whether you think this stuff can be represented physically or not.

            Not at all. “Red” represents the colour of a tomato, but if you read it in black-on-white , there’s no redness there. It comes down to explanation, not representation.

          • RandomName says:

            I’m with MrApophenia here, I don’t understand the hard problem of consciousness at all.

            And by “don’t understand”, I don’t mean I don’t understand how to solve it, I mean I literally don’t understand the problem itself. The occipital cortex receives a receives a signal from the optic nerve which it uses to construct a visual image based on priors (or something approximating that), I don’t have the feeling of an unresolved question like “But where does subjective experience come in”.

            I’m not saying this as some kind of brag, I’m curious what kind of intuition other people have that I don’t. Or maybe I’m just misunderstanding the problem?

          • RandomName

            You’ve packaged all the difficult stuff inside “constructs a visual image”. I can’t emphasise enough that reductive explanation is about explanation, and is about reduction…all the way down.

          • Protagoras says:

            But if Mary is fully able to explain how experience reduces to physics, why don’t we have that explanation?

            Well, we don’t know nearly as much as Mary does. One obvious possibility thus suggests itself; maybe the reason we don’t have Mary’s explanation has something to do with our knowing a lot less than Mary? Dennett has advocated that as a possibility at times, of course.

          • MrApophenia says:

            What does “translate back” mean? Mary can’t do that. in the sense of actually seeing red.
            And if someone else can do it, for instance by looking at a reconstruction of someone else’s visual information on a colour monitor, that just proves that is happening somehow, not that it is happening by pure physics. To exclude the claim that some extra sauce is required to have phenomenal experience, you need to explain how experience occurs, not just prompt it to occur.

            I’m not talking about the person looking at the monitor, I’m talking about the actual process by which they read the electrical impulses in your brain processing mental imagery, and turn those impulses into a visual image displayed on the screen. That looks an awful lot to me like we’ve just captured the actual mechanical process of the experience and replicated it.

            We’re not just showing an image of a tomato based on a camera – we read the visual experience of tomato out of your head, and put on a monitor.

            It’s very possible I’m missing something obvious here, but none of the explanations so far have made it clear to me what that is.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Well, we don’t know nearly as much as Mary does. One obvious possibility thus suggests itself; maybe the reason we don’t have Mary’s explanation has something to do with our knowing a lot less than Mary? Dennett has advocated that as a possibility at times, of course.

            The problem with that is that it makes naturalism completely unfalsifiable, since you can always meet any objection by shrugging and saying, “Well, maybe we’ll find the answer to your objection one day.”

          • Protagoras says:

            The problem with that is that it makes naturalism completely unfalsifiable, since you can always meet any objection by shrugging and saying, “Well, maybe we’ll find the answer to your objection one day.”

            No, it just means you have to find actual evidence of something non-natural going on, instead of just saying “well, nobody can explain this yet, so it must be magic!”

          • Mark says:

            I don’t understand how people can’t understand this.

            If you didn’t have a monitor, you wouldn’t be able to read what I’m writing.
            If you had some way of reading the output of the computer, and you already had a conception of how a monitor would interpret that data, you could reconstruct what I was trying to say on a piece of paper.

            But the understanding of what those signals mean has to come first.

            Same thing with consciousness. Yes, you can look at some signal in the brain and say “that represents the colour red”, but you have to have some conception of what red is before you can say that.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            No, it just means you have to find actual evidence of something non-natural going on, instead of just saying “well, nobody can explain this yet, so it must be magic!”

            The inability of naturalists to come up with convincing explanations is itself evidence that naturalism is false.

            ETA: And presumably the people giving the “One day we’ll find the answer” defence agree that naturalists have been unable to come up with convincing explanations, or else they’d just give these explanations to defend their position instead of appealing to the possibility of someone finding an explanation in the future.

            magic

            Less of the lazy straw-men, please.

          • Mark says:

            @Mr X
            Hmmmm… if you disagree with naturalism, doesn’t that suggest the supernatural?

            I don’t think it’s wrong to call that “magic”.

          • Protagoras says:

            The inability of naturalists to explain everything is not proof of anything at all, as it is impossible to explain everything. And I apologize for being a bit testy, but as TheAncientGeek’s link indicates, Frank Jackson himself has long since figured out that Mary doesn’t provide evidence against physicalism. I get frustrated when people remain so committed to obviously bad arguments when the refutations have been out there for decades.

            In more detail, Lewis’ “An Argument for the Identity Theory” is in no way undermined by any of the qualia arguments. His “What Experience Teaches” provides a more detailed explanation of how problematic the appeal to qualia as evidence for anything non-physical is (the Lewis arguments are widely credited with bringing Jackson around). Dennett has some further interesting things to say on the subject of why people find physicalist stories unsatisfying, but while I think he makes a decent enough case that it’s because people are deeply confused, it isn’t actually necessary. Rejecting physicalism only seems to help when the people who do it make their positive claims too vague to evaluate; when examined in detail, it becomes clear that the anti-physicalists don’t actually have an alternative to offer.

          • Well, we don’t know nearly as much as Mary does. One obvious possibility thus suggests itself; maybe the reason we don’t have Mary’s explanation has something to do with our knowing a lot less than Mary? Dennett has advocated that as a possibility at times, of course

            That’s an obvious response , but not without problems. A quale such as a sustained middle C or a uniform shade of blue is not subjectively complex…which might as well be summarised as not complex.

            That position still has a duality between objectively complex but communicable brain processes and subjectively simple but ineffable qualia. How does the one get translated into the other?

          • I’m not talking about the person looking at the monitor, I’m talking about the actual process by which they read the electrical impulses in your brain processing mental imagery, and turn those impulses into a visual image displayed on the screen. That looks an awful lot to me like we’ve just captured the actual mechanical process of the experience and replicated it.

            We’re not just showing an image of a tomato based on a camera – we read the visual experience of tomato out of your head, and put on a monitor.

            It’s very possible I’m missing something obvious here, but none of the explanations so far have made it clear to me what that is.

            What’s missing is the very thing that the Mary story is about. Unless you are
            claiming that the monitor has
            its own subjective sensation of red, that is what has gone missing.

          • @Mark

            Is it magic every time a new particle or force is added to physics?

            @Protagoras

            when examined in detail, it becomes clear that the anti-physicalists don’t actually have an alternative to offer

            As someone with a so far unpublished alternative to offer , I was wondering how you intended to exclude the possibility of so far unpublished alternative alternative s….

          • In more detail, Lewis’ “An Argument for the Identity Theory” is in no way undermined by any of the qualia arguments.

            There’s more than one identity theory.The kind no one seems to have is where identity emerges out of reductive explanation without elimination.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The inability of naturalists to explain everything is not proof of anything at all, as it is impossible to explain everything.

            Firstly, we were talking about evidence, not proof, so kindly cut it with the straw-men. Secondly, this is an example of what I meant by making naturalism unfalsifiable, since you can use “Well it’s impossible to explain everything anyway” as a response to literally any problem in your argument. Thirdly, given that the explanation of consciousness is the main point of disagreement between naturalists and non-naturalists, “It’s impossible to explain everything” comes across as a bit of a cop-out. And fourthly, if a decades-long failure to explain consciousness naturalistically doesn’t count as evidence that consciousness doesn’t have a naturalistic explanation, what on earth would?

          • Protagoras says:

            @The Original Mr. X, You have completely failed to address my central point, which is that as far as I can tell what there is actually a decades long history of is non-naturalists offering absolutely nothing, including even a clear explanation of what the problem is supposed to be, never mind how not being naturalist would solve any part of it.

          • Chalmers has offered both an explanation of the problem and a solution.

          • Protagoras says:

            @TheAncientGeek, I concede that Chalmers claims to have done what you say he has done. I have yet to see the evidence that he has actually done it (I couldn’t find it in his big book, certainly).

      • Protagoras says:

        Here is a discussion of why I think your characterization of materialism is inaccurate.

        • You say that phenomenal content closely tracks function. I agree. You don’t provide the gold standard of an argument to the effect that phenomenal content merely is function., namely a seeRed() , a functional breakdown of a phenomenal feel. You also mention modes of presentation. I agree that phenomeal awareness is a mode of presentation. This is technically, but not dramatically, a non-physicalist position, since physics doesn’t imply that there is anything it should feel like to be anything. It also predicts a close coupling between function and feeling. It also predicts qualiaphilic intuitions, such as those expressed in the Mary gedanken.

          • Protagoras says:

            You don’t seem to understand my point. This is how the situation appears to me: I’ve provided what you’ve asked for, and you say that I haven’t because it doesn’t look how you expected it to look. But you don’t provide any evidence that your expectations about how it should look are reliable, and can’t even adequately explain what you expected anyway beyond insisting that it’s not that.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Look at it from the opposite side: what things without brains do you believe currently possess consciousness?

      • “Consciousness requires brains” isn’t proof of materialism.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Not at all, but it gets at some of the intuitions involved. If somebody thinks consciousness is just information processing, well, there are a *lot* of things that do that. I think a lot of materialist explanations have inadvertently reinvented animism.

      • Anon. says:

        This question would be way clearer if we could taboo “consciousness”.

        • James says:

          Unfortunately, that’s the hard part.

        • Mark says:

          How?

          “What things without brains do you think possess ______ ?”

          If you are talking about relations between objects, you can perhaps make a conversation clearer by forcing people to explicitly define their terms – that is clarification by referencing an object as some set of relations between other objects.

          If you are talking about subjective experience itself, that is, the thing that (to all practical intents and purposes) all objects are made up of, you can’t relate it to anything in particular, because it is everything.

          My intuition is that non-conscious information processing exists, because it seems to exist in my mind. (My brain processes information that I am unaware of suggesting that information processing isn’t equivalent to consciousness. Maybe there is some poor separate consciousness somewhere in my brain who has to deal with heartbeats.)

          • If you are talking about subjective experience itself, that is, the thing that (to all practical intents and purposes) all objects are made up of,

            How can you tell? Have you been a rock?

          • dionisos says:

            Interesting points.

            It seems to me that I am, almost by construction, communicating with the part of you which create and have the “internal dialogue”, the part of you which process the language.

            But it seems clear that there are parts of your brain which don’t do that, and I see no clear reason why these parts would be included in the same “stream of consciousness”, in the same united set of experiences.

            In some way, we can consider you are “communicating” with these parts, in the same way you are communicating with me, and that the fact you aren’t conscious of what these parts “live”, isn’t a bigger clue than these parts aren’t conscious, than it is a clue than I am not conscious.

          • Mark says:

            How can you tell? Have you been a rock?

            To all practical intents and purposes.

    • Mark says:

      Isn’t the anti-materialist position that “material” is, on a fundamental level, a meaningless term?

    • Mark says:

      The CTMU:

      While there have been many reductionist programs in science and philosophy, the promised reduction is always to the same thing: a theoretical language. Because this is necessarily true, language is fundamental. The fact that most such theories, e.g. theories of physics, point to the fundamental status of something “objective” and “independent of language”, e.g. matter and/or energy, is quite irrelevant, for the very act of pointing invokes an isomorphism between theory and objective reality…an isomorphism that is subject to the Reality Principle, and which could not exist unless reality shared the linguistic structure of the theory itself.

      • Wow. So it’s impossible to have language that fails to refer?

        • Mark says:

          Perhaps all theories of reality have certain linguistic/logical properties. Theories of unreality would have the same properties. That doesn’t change the fact that all theories of reality would have those properties.

          And if the theory doesn’t have those logical properties, it stops being linguistic, stops being a theory, and just becomes a noise.

          Langan, I believe, states that Kant’s “noumenon” effectively refers to nothing – and is therefore superfluous.

        • What you say doesn’t address the point. If a theory can be wrong, there is s need for a map-territory distinction.

          • Mark says:

            What if we were living on a big map?

            Then, the map I hold in my hand might tell me something about the necessary properties of the map on which we were living, it can be cut by scissors, etc.

            The features on my hand-map might not correspond with the features on the big map, however.

            So, the features of logic might tell us something about the possible properties of reality, though not all of the details.

            Also, if I draw something on my map and call it “NON-MAP LIKE FEATURE” it’s almost a contradiction in terms isn’t it? No matter what I might like to call it, it is in fact a feature on a map. So, one thing we can be certain is that that map doesn’t correspond to the territory.

      • Nick says:

        Reality has a linguistic structure? Since when is Langan a kabbalist?!

  11. OptimalSolver says:

    Posted this last time but it got buried (no pun intended).

    What would be the least traumatic way to introduce resurrected historical humans to the 21st Century?

    Assuming we found some way to resurrect all humans who have ever lived, and that we had the resources to support them all, how could we ease them into modern life with minimal culture shock?

    This should apply for everyone from a Stone Age caveman to Jane Austen

    • RandomName says:

      Maybe semi-isolated reservations, where they can live and work in relative isolation with people from the same time period but occasionally go out and trade/interact with modern people?

    • genocidebunnies says:

      What age do we resurrect them at? Assimilating children and young adults would be vastly different from assimilating people approaching and past the middle age.

    • Rosemary7391 says:

      Regardless of the actual integration procedure, I’d probably pick the person(s) I thought most likely to cope well from a given era, get them up to speed and then let them introduce their friends to this strange new world.

      You have to start where they’re at. I might be tempted to recreate their environment somewhere. Language seems likely to be a big problem; even Jane Austen spoke in a way that many people today simply wouldn’t understand, and I wouldn’t know where to begin talking to a caveman! Maybe try to teach them a modern language; starting with concepts that already exist in their environment and introducing new ones sequentially.

      If you can resurrect anyone, does that mean we have (effectively) infinite time in which to make this transition…?

    • cassander says:

      What fun is taking the least traumatic way?

  12. Said Achmiz says:

    This complaint reminds me of those people who put spikes on benches so that homeless people cannot sleep on them. It is true that in a perfect world nobody would have to sleep on benches. But you are not creating that world. You are just making sure homeless people can’t sleep anywhere.

    Wait… what?!

    Scott, what do you think those bench spikes are for? What do you imagine is the motivation for them? Do you… do you think people who put them in are trying (misguidedly, by your lights) to… help homeless people?!

    Like, the notion that “well then homeless people can’t sleep anywhere!” is a counterargument to putting spikes on benches… or that bench-spike advocates are trying to create a world where homeless people don’t have to sleep on benches… I can’t fathom the confusion that would lead one to believe these things. What gives?

    • skef says:

      I think Scott was comparing the spikes to a potential regulation against a standing option. The idea being that both could be seen as preventing something apparently unfortunate, but at the cost of the remaining options being more unfortunate.

      • RandomName says:

        Right, that’s clearly what scott’s implying, but Said Achmiz’s point is that the spikes are not on the bench to prevent homeless from sleeping on them because it is unfortunate for the homeless. The real motivation is along the lines of “If we don’t spike the benches, homeless people will sleep in in public, and commit crimes/lower property values/make people uncomfortable”. The spikes aren’t there for the homeless people’s benefit, not even in argument. They’re there for the (non-homeless) community’s benefit, by forcing the homeless to go somewhere else.

        I had the same thought while reading, sometimes Scott might be too nice for his own good.

        • baconbacon says:

          The real motivation is along the lines of “If we don’t spike the benches, homeless people will sleep in in public, and commit crimes/lower property values/make people uncomfortable”.

          Situations like these are often more complex, there is usually an interplay that goes something like
          1. visible homeless problem
          2. More funding for shelters
          3. Many homeless still avoid the shelters
          4. Prevent homeless from sleeping in public areas as easily, making it appear as if point 2 has solved the problem.

          Scott’s analogy is imperfect, but it gets the point across that the visual of the people standing on airplanes is what is objected to, not the actual impact on their lives that it has.

          • albatross11 says:

            Also, because the Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics is widespread, most people feel worse walking by a homeless guy sleeping on a bench and not giving him money than they do walking by a bench obviously designed to repel homeless people which by some coincidence has no homeless people on it.

          • baconbacon says:

            Since both are topics in this thread, is the long history (in my experience at least) of terribly uncomfortable, impossible to lay across seats in airports a related phenomenon?

          • Matt M says:

            I always figured that the “impossible to lay on” part was definitely intentional (probably for the best, as people sleeping on the chairs takes up already limited seating space near the gates), but the “uncomfortable as hell” part was probably just general cheapness.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I had an unexpected night-time layover at Miami airport a while back, and the seats were all metal with armrests, so that you couldn’t lie along them. But after some asking around, it turned out they have a conference centre with fold out camp-beds, where they turn the lights out and allow stranded travellers to get some rest, at least until they start kicking you out at 6 in the morning. This fact was not signposted, though, and didn’t even seem to be widely known among the airport staff.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Winter Shaker, interesting!

            I had an unexpected nighttime layover at Detroit airport about six years ago, on my way back to college from spring break. There were about six of us students who decided not to spring for a hotel room. We didn’t think to ask around, and we ended up camping out in the “Religious Reflection Room.” The chairs there had arms, but me and several others of us pushed two open seats together and curled up snugly between them.

        • JulieK says:

          I had the same thought while reading, sometimes Scott might be too nice for his own good.

          Jane Austen might call him “candid.”

    • Chevron says:

      Thanks, I just Ctrl-F’d to make sure someone had pointed this out.

      Putting “spikes” on the standing room airplane option to stop people standing on plane flights is (or reasonably could be) motivated by some desire not to “force” people to stand on planes.

      Putting spikes on benches is motivated by “Get these dirty hobos out of my park.”

  13. too dumb for Rick and Morty says:

    Okay, I count on your expertise, fellow SSC enthusiasts:

    I have decided I am tired of my shitty in-ear headphones and want to treat myself to something better.

    I really like listening to classical music while going on walks and my budget is pretty limited at ~150 dollars BUT if anyone were to tell me that for, say, twice as much I could get something significantly more enjoyable – my instant gratification monkey and I are on good terms and I’d be willing to save up a little.

    Any recommendations?

    (I really have no clue re: musical equipment and atm I’m mostly listening to music either from my phone with said really-meh in-ears or at home from my laptop hooked up to okay-ish speakers.)

    • skef says:

      For walking around, closed rather than open headphones are better, which means in-ear or sealed cans. I don’t know much about the latter.

      For classical music, good fidelity and a flat frequency response are usually preferred. (As opposed to, for example, a bias in the lower frequencies.)

      At that price point, one option I can recommend is the Etymotic HF5/HF3 line (the latter has iPhone controls built-in).

      You can certainly do better — just staying with Etymotic leaves the ER4 variants as options. But I would recommend working your way up the quality latter gradually as the years go by , if and when you get unsatisfied or curious.

    • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

      In my case, I want to listen to podcasts (so I have to hear each word) while I run (so they can’t be too bulky) in the city (so they should block out enough noise that I don’t have to turn up the volume). What ear buds/phones would you recommend in that case?

      • Aapje says:

        Presumable you also don’t want them to block out too little noise, so you still retain situational awareness. I have some in-ear headphones which block out noise like gangbusters (flying with them was a revelation, not hearing the engines was so relaxing), but I would not want to navigate traffic with them.

        These seem like useful reviews, especially since they discuss the noise isolation vs situational awareness trade-off in their reviews.

    • zz says:

      The Wirecutter would recommend Sony MDR-7506. I’ve had them for ~2 years now (on the strength of The Wirecutter’s recommendation, which I trust on Luke Muehlhauser’s recommendation) and am yet to yearn for anything in the $400 bracket, despite being classically trained and correspondingly picky/pretentious. The only downside I’d imagine is there’s quite a bite of cord, although it’s coiled, which you’d have to find somewhere to put on your walks.

      Wirecutter also has recommendations for the best workout headphone.

      • toastengineer says:

        Seconding the MDRs. They last forever too and they’re only $80. I’d get that Asurion accidental damage insurance plan Amazon sells too, my one experience with them was pretty positive.

        I don’t find walking with the long cable troublesome; I just hang it on my neck. It’s handy when you’re listening to music and want something that’s on the other side of the room: just walk over, the cable will stretch!

    • Well... says:

      If you’re going to spend that kind of money on headphones it’s good to also check about warranties and customer support. Headphones have lots of small fragile parts, so you want to make sure you’re not buying something that will break or need replacement parts in a year–unless the manufacturer will send you a new one with minimum hassle.

    • Brad says:

      This is a complete tangent to your question but, is it just me or has audiophila almost completely died in the last decade or two? I remember when it was fairly common for people to spend hundreds or even thousands on stereo equipment and that just doesn’t seem to happen very much anymore.

      Is it because of smartphones? Millennial preferences for experiences over things? Something else?

      • John Schilling says:

        Unintended consequences as reported in bad customer reviews?

      • James says:

        Yeah, I think it’s just because having smartphones (and, previously, ipods and mp3 players) means that people no longer sit at home and listen to things as an activity in itself. The very idea of sitting down to listen to an album seems mildly anachronistic now, let alone owning bulky, expensive, high-end gear on which to do so.

        The impact of this shift on the medium of pop music and the album format itself is left as an exercise for the reader.

        Edit: might also be partly that yuppies have more impressive, high-tech, up-to-date things to signal wealth with nowadays. Spending enough time on audiophile fora makes it clear that there’s a lot of signalling involved in that activity.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Yeah, I think it’s just because having smartphones (and, previously, ipods and mp3 players) means that people no longer sit at home and listen to things as an activity in itself

          I used to sit down to listen to albums when I was younger, but seem to not do so now. I think I may have re-wired my brain to no longer be happy doing so, without also playing a game on my phone, or reading something, such as the SSC open threads.

          But perhaps part of the decline in audiophilia can be attributed to the rise of mp3s, which offer you the bargain: as many songs as you can reasonably wish for on a tiny, convenient storage device, but the quality will be just good enough that you are not noticing obvious distortions, rather than crystal-clear. The acceptability of that trade-off may vary between genres.

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        The prevalence of MP3s—a lossy format that is nearly always stored on devices with relatively low power output—probably has a significant effect. The track itself is (ostensibly) lower quality, and the player can’t run large fancy speakers (or headphones) without an external amplifier. Equals way less opportunities for improved experience via audiophilic gadgetry.

        (I doubt very much I could tell the difference between an MP3 at 320, a FLAC, and vinyl version of the same track played on the same good speakers.)

      • CthulhuChild says:

        Speaking as a millennial audiophile…

        I think it’s 3 factors:

        1) Most people can’t (and never could) tell the difference between different sound quality. A lot of audiophile culture was based on creating a prosumer identity, and there are easier/better recognized ways of doing it now.
        2) What you can buy at the mid-low end of the market blows away what used to be considered audiophile grade.
        3) As others pointed out, MP3s have pushed audiophilia (for music) into portable markets (headphone amps, DACs, earphones). The other end of the market is home theatre, where sound staging matters more than audio perfection (Michael bay explosions sound pretty much the same regardless of what you’re listening on). 7.1 setups are pretty cheap for those who want them, and not an option for most apartment dwellers.

        • Brad says:

          Most of that makes sense. But what would you are the easier/better recognized way of creating a prosumer identity today?

          It looks to me that the same sort of trend happened in a bunch of areas. For example cameras now are by and large either cell phones or serious, heavy, expensive affairs. The entire middle of the market, including high-middle, all but disappeared.

    • CthulhuChild says:

      Oooh!

      Ok, so I really really recommend you check out Shure earbuds. If they fit (and that is a big if, they have a long stem that probes your ear canal like an alien with a human fetish), they are extremely good value for money. There are several models (from the SE126 to the SE825, ranging from under $100 to over $800) so you can pay for what you can hear (I never bought the expensive ones because the $400 ones sounded as good to my ears). Their design and sound isolation gives them a base response that is absolutely incredible for in-ears, and because they are earbuds they will still be useful enough to take to the gym or travel.

      I don’t think you will find better value TBH. The big problem is fit: I have really narrow ear canals and no earbud ever fit me, so these were great because the wire loop behind the top of the ear (to they don’t get tugged out easily) and the bud puts a thin rubber christmas tree into your ear. My wife cannot stand to put them on. That said, even the cheapest model comes with tons of different tips, so there’s probably something that will fit your ear as long as you don’t mind the overall design.

    • Inside a semicircle of displays says:

      If “muting the outside world” is a headphone feature you’re interested in, I’m still amazed by the Bose QuietComfort 35. Sound quality is very nice, battery lasts a day of constant use, and they’re comfortable enough to wear for pretty much an indeterminate amount of time. The Bluetooth connection wasn’t much of a factor in my decision, but as it turns out not inadvertedly yanking cables all the time is rather helpful as well. They’ve recently brought out a Version II which is the exact same device plus a Google assistant button, so if you’re not interested in that, maybe Version I might be discounted where you live.

    • actinide meta says:

      I’m not really an audiophile, but I love the noise cancelling Bose QC35 for listening to music and for comfort in noisy environments.

      However, they don’t support low latency bluetooth so are useless for games etc. Does anyone know of anything comparably good that doesn’t have this limitation?

    • ayegill says:

      I also don’t have much of a clue re: musical equipment, but I’ve been extremely happy with my Soundmagic E10 in-ears. I mostly use them sitting down, so it’s possible they’re not the best for walking around. They have the advantage of being pretty affordable, at around $50.

  14. spurious says:

    There’s a more interesting side to the airline seat question, regards price discrimination.

    Airline fares etc (i.e. tiered prices) are usually set in such a way as to make a consumer pay as much as she is willing to, and not a cent less. Economy (coach) isn’t awful because it has to be: it’s awful to make anyone willing to pay ten times as much for business class (or ten times as much again for first class) pay it. Especially given airlines make most of their margin at premium economy and above.

    So the danger is not so much that the poor are being degraded or not getting the chance to fly at all. The poor, who are not stupid, will generally take the more competitively priced bus. But let’s say economy costs $100 and business $1,000. If I want you to pay $200 for economy, I can start working toward setting the price of standing up at $100. (Or more likely add a ‘non-vertical seat’ option at some additional cost.) The attractiveness to the airline is surely less in the extra cheap ‘seats’, and more about the extra margin on what we’re all anchored on now.

    • bean says:

      Economy (coach) isn’t awful because it has to be: it’s awful to make anyone willing to pay ten times as much for business class (or ten times as much again for first class) pay it.

      Right. Care to explain how economy could be made non-awful at the same price? Here are some facts to consider:
      1. You can’t make the seats bigger/further apart. The operating cost is, to a first approximation, fixed, and has to be spread among all the people on the plane. More people means lower costs.
      2. Weight is very important. Current economy seats are absurdly light. The typical weight of a current slimline economy seat is ~20 lbs, and lots of airlines are ditching IFE because of weight and the proliferation of mobile devices. More weight means more cost.
      3. Southwest exists, and it has no business class to get you to buy up to. Why wouldn’t they make economy as nice as possible to lure people from other airlines?
      4. People buying airline tickets are notorious for only caring about price and schedule. When they say otherwise, they’re usually lying.

      • Matt M says:

        3. Southwest exists, and it has no business class to get you to buy up to. Why wouldn’t they make economy as nice as possible to lure people from other airlines?

        Partially true. They have “business select” which puts you in the front of the line, offers ridiculously flexible cancellation/rebooking policies, earns you a much higher multiplier on your mileage, and gives you a free alcoholic drink of your choice.

        • bean says:

          That’s not the same as business class, though. It’s basically the same as a refundable economy ticket on most airlines. I forget the early-bird check-in fees, but it’s not outrageous. (I like engine noise, so I skip it.) The drink is $5-10, and the miles are very rarely worth the buy-up. I can see people buying business class on other airlines to make travel more pleasant. I can’t see someone buying business select over regular unless they wanted a flexible ticket, because you can get 90% of the benefits with less expenditure of money.

          • Matt M says:

            I get business select on SW because my company allows me to 🙂

            One other Southwest thing, they also allow you, even if you booked an anytime fare, to pay $40 at the gate and get moved to the A boarding group (thus guaranteeing a window/aisle preference near the front of the plane).

            As a non-freakishly-tall person, avoiding a middle seat is worth a lot more than “extra leg room.”

          • bean says:

            I get business select on SW because my company allows me to 🙂

            I’m not saying that it’s useless, or that I wouldn’t take it if it was offered. Just that I don’t see many people buying it for themselves. It’s Southwest bribing you to throw business their way by tying it to the flexibility your employer wants. As opposed to a true business class, which I could see someone spending their own money on because it’s significantly better than normal economy.

            One other Southwest thing, they also allow you, even if you booked an anytime fare, to pay $40 at the gate and get moved to the A boarding group (thus guaranteeing a window/aisle preference near the front of the plane).

            It’s less than that if you buy it online at the start, IIRC. Down to ~$15 or so there. That plus buying a drink has most of the benefits of business select to the consumer who doesn’t want a very flexible ticket. And Southwest’s change policies mean that even that’s not likely to be very important.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m not saying that it’s useless, or that I wouldn’t take it if it was offered. Just that I don’t see many people buying it for themselves.

            On one common SW flight a group of us were on the same flight as Ted Cruz. We were basically A 1-5, he was back in the mid Bs somewhere. Even a guy who was almost President won’t spring for it!

        • The ordinary SW ticket offers a ridiculously good cancellation policy–you get full credit for the ticket price to be used on any future SW flight.

          • quaelegit says:

            My main take-away from this whole conversation is that I’ve been really privileged to live in areas with lots of Southwest service 😛

      • quanta413 says:

        4. People buying airline tickets are notorious for only caring about price and schedule. When they say otherwise, they’re usually lying.

        I am willing to gladly confirm that at least my own behavior is extremely oriented to taking the lowest possible price, and I’ll ignore schedule too if I can. 5 a.m. flights are fine. And driving up to ~12 hours is an acceptable alternative if the trip is going to be a few days long after I arrive.

        And seriously, economy seats are not that uncomfortable for a medium sized person (5′ 9”). The only complaint I have that I wouldn’t also have in most cars is the weird head tilt in the seats which has been the same way for at least 20 years. I don’t know why so many people here are acting like economy is some sort of squalid torture.

        • Matt M says:

          Honestly, I feel like one of the best ways someone can “build their rationality muscle” so to speak is to do an exercise that basically consists of “consider paying more.”

          Basically, make a strong and concerted effort to figure out what your time and comfort is actually worth. Once I did this, it ruled out the 5 AM flights pretty damn quickly. It made “pay more to use a smaller/closer airport” a lot more attractive.

          • bean says:

            Honestly, I feel like one of the best ways someone can “build their rationality muscle” so to speak is to do an exercise that basically consists of “consider paying more.”

            Agreed. I definitely do this when buying airfare, and I have in several cases paid more to avoid certain airports (LAX) or to get a better time slot. That said, I’m not paid as well as you are, so my tradeoffs are a bit different.

          • quanta413 says:

            Basically, make a strong and concerted effort to figure out what your time and comfort is actually worth. Once I did this, it ruled out the 5 AM flights pretty damn quickly. It made “pay more to use a smaller/closer airport” a lot more attractive.

            I agree with your broader point. In my defense, I don’t hate waking up early too much. But the bigger part of it is that I’m usually traveling alone, and I don’t make much money. I can easily imagine that if I had children I wouldn’t take a 5 a.m. flight. Currently I have a lack of money and a surplus of flexibility on day to day schedule so a 5 a.m. flight is acceptable.

            I do however have an irrational paranoia about missing flights, which makes me less willing to cheap out by taking a bus or train for a few hours to a city with a larger airport.

          • bean says:

            I do however have an irrational paranoia about missing flights, which makes me less willing to cheap out by taking a bus or train for a few hours to a city with a larger airport.

            Read up on the Flat Tire Rule. Might give you some peace of mind on doing that.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Read up on the Flat Tire Rule. Might give you some peace of mind on doing that.

            Undocumented rules given out at the agents discretion only work for people who didn’t make CHA their dump stat. For those of us who typically get the minimum guaranteed if not less, such rules may as well not exist.

          • baconbacon says:

            Basically, make a strong and concerted effort to figure out what your time and comfort is actually worth. Once I did this, it ruled out the 5 AM flights pretty damn quickly. It made “pay more to use a smaller/closer airport” a lot more attractive.

            I know that I am odd so I don’t expect this to generalize, but I used to find early morning flights much more preferable. No traffic to and from the airport in many cases, no security lines at the airport and easier time falling asleep on the flight.

        • Standing in the Shadows says:

          How many miles a year do you fly?

          A good exercise is, after each trip, think of something unpleasant about the travel experience, and then honestly ask yourself “how much would I have paid that exact moment for that unpleasant thing to not have happened?” Keep that in mind the next time you book travel.

          I will often pay ~15% additional for a flight in exchange for lowering the “misery cost” of that trip.

          One of the awesome things about HipMunk is that it can formally calculate the misery index of a set of flights, and then sort by misery, and can sort by cost&misery.

          • quanta413 says:

            I don’t fly a lot, but it varies significantly from year to year. I think most years I’ll fly a little less than 10,000 miles (so two round trips across half the U.S. or so). But this year, it was closer to 30,000 miles.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I will often pay ~15% additional for a flight in exchange for lowering the “misery cost” of that trip.

            Sure, but they often enough don’t offer that. I just booked a flight. Sorry, no economy plus available, enjoy riding in steerage. I’ll be in boarding group 4 or 5 (because I always am, because I’m not a frequent flier) which means my carry-on will have to fit under my seat. Premier Access to get in an earlier boarding group would be 25% of the cost of the flight, and I’d still have to check baggage because of the liquid rule. First Class would get me a decent seat, but it more than doubles the cost.

            And that’s without even getting into airport security. Precheck could make that bearable (I’ve gotten it by random selection), but the cost is $85/5 years + one human soul or atheist equivalent.

      • spurious says:

        The idea isn’t to make economy non-awful at the same price. Airlines make their money at the front of the plane: first, business and premium economy. The only reason the plane has economy is because most people won’t fly at all if they have to fork out five large for a ticket.

        In order of your points:

        1. You can easily make the seats farther apart if you charge more. So let’s say you get rid of five seating rows and bring the price up to cover the lost passengers. What happens is, business class passengers decide to move down for reason 4: they, too, are pretty fixated on price and will pay less if the experience is tolerable. Since the airlines make most of their dosh on business class, there’s no incentive to offer a slightly better seat at a slightly higher price. Instead, you get a considerably better seat at a vastly higher price, with the caveat that considerably better is framed against bloody awful, making it look really quite good.

        2. Indeed I know someone who once lost her job designing the Qantas in-flight magazine because the airline wanted to reduce the weight on domestic flights. (I think it’s since been re-instated.) Weight of the seats is of course an issue if you have too many of them, which is what you do have when you’re trying to make sure business class passengers don’t get any ideas about downgrading.

        3. In Australia, most domestic flights have no real equivalent of business class — between Melbourne and Sydney etc you’re just not in the air long enough. But that aside, there’s no doubt more than one way to skin a cat. Southwest just has a different operating model to, say, Cathay Pacific.

        4. That’s exactly the point. I, too, don’t really savour the thought of spending three times as much on a ticket to Europe. But I’m just well off enough that I’ll fly premium economy because economy is so bloody awful. (Premium’s not exactly paradise either on a 26-hour flight.)

        I should say that of course airlines are also trying to cut costs. But the reason they have to cut so many costs is because people are so willing to downgrade. Including off the plane and onto a bus or a train. Or stay home. I fly domestically on business maybe half a dozen times a year. Sometimes I pay, sometimes my clients do; but neither of us are willing to shell out for anything above cattle class — and if economy cost much more, there’s always Skype. They have to make a pretty fair effort to fill those sixteen slightly larger seats at the front of the plane.

        Anecdote: I was flying back from Europe last year on an overbooked flight. First the airline tried to get me to upgrade to business on the next flight (a ten-hour wait that was totally impractical). When that failed, they tried to get me to downgrade to economy in exchange for a large amount of cash. It wasn’t enough.

        • bean says:

          The idea isn’t to make economy non-awful at the same price.

          You said that economy was awful to make you buy up, not because it had to be. I can’t read that as saying anything other than “airlines make economy worse deliberately to try to get buyups, and could stop doing this”. But economy on Southwest isn’t that much better than economy on Delta or American, and Southwest doesn’t have much in the way of premium options. Again, there is nothing to stop Southwest or their equivalent from trying to position itself between business and economy. Nobody seems to be in that market. This suggests it doesn’t exist, at least not enough to make it work. JetBlue tried, but they recently went from 34″ on the A320 to 32.01″ on the A321 (because that way they can still claim to have more legroom than Southwest.)

          Airlines make their money at the front of the plane: first, business and premium economy. The only reason the plane has economy is because most people won’t fly at all if they have to fork out five large for a ticket.

          More or less, depending on the market. But they have to be making some profit on the back of the cabin, or it wouldn’t be there.

          1. You can easily make the seats farther apart if you charge more.

          So? Charging more means that you’re not competitive in economy any more. The whole point is that economy is bad because we prefer cheap tickets to a good flight experience. This is a basic fact of air travel.

          4. That’s exactly the point. I, too, don’t really savour the thought of spending three times as much on a ticket to Europe. But I’m just well off enough that I’ll fly premium economy because economy is so bloody awful. (Premium’s not exactly paradise either on a 26-hour flight.)

          Three times as much? I didn’t think the market on the Kangaroo route was that bad.

          Look. I’m not sure what we’re disagreeing on. Economy in general is bad because not enough people are willing to put in the work to distinguish between offerings, and buy on price and schedule only. American tried ‘more legroom throughout coach’ ~10 years ago, and it was a complete flop. They can’t make it better without charging more. That’s suicide in the market.

          • spurious says:

            You said that economy was awful to make you buy up, not because it had to be. I can’t read that as saying anything other than “airlines make economy worse deliberately to try to get buyups, and could stop doing this”.

            I concede a certain amount of hyperbole. But in defence of the statement, there’s more to ‘awful’ than seat pitch. Much of it is comparative — for example, letting business customers on first, and doing so conspicuously. While other stuff has nothing to do with seating room, like the speed with which a business class passenger can get from the foyer to her seat.

            More or less, depending on the market. But they have to be making some profit on the back of the cabin, or it wouldn’t be there.

            Definitely. If the plane was all business it would be half empty, with no margin on those empty seats.

            So? Charging more means that you’re not competitive in economy any more. The whole point is that economy is bad because we prefer cheap tickets to a good flight experience. This is a basic fact of air travel.

            Interestingly, I did a quick search on American regarding your point about legroom below, and turns out they’ve reversed a decision made earlier this year to cut seat pitch by an inch based on “a lot of feedback from both customers and team members.”

            “It is clear that today, airline customers feel increasingly frustrated by their experiences and less valued when they fly,” American said in a Tuesday letter to employees that communicated the decision. “We can be leaders in helping to turn around that perception, and that includes reviewing decisions that have significant impact on the flying experience.”

            Purely anecdotally, I know quite a few Australian business travellers who won’t fly anything but Qantas domestically on the basis of quality. So there may be theoretical limit to our collective willingness to part with dignity.

          • bean says:

            But in defence of the statement, there’s more to ‘awful’ than seat pitch. Much of it is comparative — for example, letting business customers on first, and doing so conspicuously. While other stuff has nothing to do with seating room, like the speed with which a business class passenger can get from the foyer to her seat.

            So what do we do? Some people value getting on first. Do we refuse to let them pay extra for the privilege? Do we assign who gets on first randomly, because someone does have to get on the plane first? Why shouldn’t the airlines try to win favor with their most profitable customers? There may be some pitching of ‘buy up’, but I disagree with “premium cabins exist to remind you you aren’t there”. Premium cabins exist because some people want them.

            Definitely. If the plane was all business it would be half empty, with no margin on those empty seats.

            Or they’d just fly a smaller plane, and load factors wouldn’t change that much.

            Interestingly, I did a quick search on American regarding your point about legroom below, and turns out they’ve reversed a decision made earlier this year to cut seat pitch by an inch based on “a lot of feedback from both customers and team members.”

            Not exactly. Standard legacy pitch is 31″. They were going to drop it to 30″, with a few rows of 29″. They changed the plan after the outcry, getting rid of one row of Main Cabin Extra (American’s term for the 34″ extra-legroom economy) to go to all-30″ in regular economy. Despite how they spin it, this is no better for most people who are going to be on the plane, and the 737-8MAX will be the worst plane in the fleet in terms of legroom.

          • spurious says:

            So what do we do? Some people value getting on first. Do we refuse to let them pay extra for the privilege? Do we assign who gets on first randomly, because someone does have to get on the plane first? Why shouldn’t the airlines try to win favor with their most profitable customers? There may be some pitching of ‘buy up’, but I disagree with “premium cabins exist to remind you you aren’t there”. Premium cabins exist because some people want them.

            Premium cabins exist because that’s where most airlines on longer flights make their profits. If airlines couldn’t charge more for them, they wouldn’t exist — certainly not in their current form. And airlines know they can’t charge what they need to charge unless there’s a clear and unpleasant difference between premium and the cheap seats.

            I’ve worked with airlines as a consultant in the design of their branding for each of the different classes, and what we now call the customer experience. They’re not mucking around with this stuff. The intangibles
            matter, and they put just as much effort into distinguishing classes as they do making premium travel better. Usually they don’t understand the theoretical underpinnings of what I’m talking about here, but they get it on a gut level.

            Think about that hypothetical flight from Sydney to London. The business traveller is not getting anything any of us would recognise as five-six thousand dollars worth of extra stuff in any other context. She’s getting five-six thousand dollars worth of not being in economy. But she’s not stupid — there are many other ways that six grand could be used. Yes, airline travel in cattle class is by definition not great; but the airlines make no real effort to improve it. Which they could, in the way that any other business would — through innovation — if it was in their interest to do so.

            As a counter example, think of your local large supermarket or department store. They put a huge effort into the so-called customer experience, and it applies to every customer: they don’t separate the store into three classes and mark up (or down) the goods accordingly. You might say that’s impractical, and it is on first look, but if a store could maximise the amount each customer is willing to pay, they’d do it in a heartbeat, as long as the cost of doing so isn’t greater than the marginal difference in price. The reason they haven’t is because other options are available to the well-off: they can send people to do their shopping for them, have it delivered etc. But they themselves have to get on a plane if they want to use it, so the airline is incentivised to get them to part with as much of their bank balance as possible at minimum cost to the airline itself.

            Or they’d just fly a smaller plane, and load factors wouldn’t change that much.

            Remember, though, that as long as the margin is greater that some arbitrary amount (enough that it doesn’t make more sense to accept the costs of getting into a different industry completely), they have an incentive to fly the economy travellers as well — for which they want the economies of optimum plane size. More planes means scheduling issues, maintenance, extra crew etc.

    • John Schilling says:

      it’s awful to make anyone willing to pay ten times as much for business class (or ten times as much again for first class) pay it […] let’s say economy costs $100 and business $1,000

      Let’s not because making up numbers that far at odds from reality when you’ve clearly got a working computer and internet connection close at hand isn’t helpful to discussion.

      From Travelocity, for a Los Angeles to Phoenix round trip on Nov 27-20th, cheapest advertised fare on a major carrier:

      Economy Class $246
      Business Class $NA, not offered on short-haul flights
      First Class $478

      For Los Angeles to New York:

      Economy Class $406
      Business Class $1047
      First Class $1507

      Not even First Class costs ten times Economy, not even when you pay full fare. And all of these prices seem roughly proportional to the floor space and extra service that comes with them (if you want bigger seats without extra services, that’s Premium Economy, somewhere between Economy and Business in price).

      But somehow, we’ve got people who could get the right numbers in two minutes, self-assuredly confident that anything Cattle Class must be Unaffordably Expensive Rich People Class. So why were you so confident of that falsehood?

      • bean says:

        I’d be a bit suspicious of the JFK-LAX numbers, on the grounds that goodness knows what’s going under the heading of ‘business’ and ‘first’. The ‘first’ on LAX-PHX is a typical domestic first, which is probably what ‘business’ is JFK-LAX. But ‘first’ on that route could be anything from more of the same to a suite with a door.

      • spurious says:

        Not even First Class costs ten times Economy, not even when you pay full fare. And all of these prices seem roughly proportional to the floor space and extra service that comes with them (if you want bigger seats without extra services, that’s Premium Economy, somewhere between Economy and Business in price).

        Your overall objection is trivial — any multiple will do for making the point, even one involving a one followed by decimal places — but this paragraph assumes a faculty for aligning objective price and objective value so far undemonstrated by any human mind.

        By the way your examples are a little parochial — I’m not from the US. A quick Google gives me Sydney to Heathrow return: economy: $2,077; business: $7,893; first class: $14,993. Biggish jumps I’d say. And I’m pretty sure the extra six grand between economy and business more than covers the cost of a half dozen cognacs.

        • bean says:

          You’re going to criticize John because the multipliers on a longhaul with international classes are different from the multipliers on a US transcon with the same names? Right. Let’s correct for that. The transcon business is pretty close to your premium economy, while US first is similar to your business. And google flights shows me that Premium Economy on that route is pretty close to 2.5x the price of economy. About the same gap between US economy and business. Transcon first is fairly similar to international business, and what do you know? Both are around 4x economy.

          Your overall objection is trivial — any multiple will do for making the point, even one involving a one followed by decimal places

          I’m really confused as to what you’re trying to prove. Airlines price the way they do in response to market forces. Specifically, people buying economy only care about price and schedule. If people showed a willingness to even book preferentially at the same price on an airline with better economy, then you might have a point. But right now, today, anyone who raises the standard of economy will lose their shirt on it because nobody seems to care. It’s not some nefarious plot on the part of the airlines. It’s the people who buy whatever’s cheapest on Expedia.

          • spurious says:

            Of course it’s not a nefarious plot; any more than when supermarkets put staples at the back of the store. It’s one part of a mix that makes use of several market forces, one of those forces being that even people who can reasonably afford $8,000 a ticket don’t want to pay it.

            And yes, of course frequent flyer miles and all sorts of things come into the total, highly complex, equation. Heck, the airlines buy Dom Pérignon in bulk to save on the cost of catering to first class.

            Price discrimination isn’t some weird fringe theory; it’s retail one-o-one. It’s what happens when a business is trying to maximise margin by offering similar but differentiated services which cost the retailer very little extra. Rather than look for the point where average demand meets supply, we look for the maximum any individual will pay and encourage them to do so. Sometimes this is done by framing the more expensive offer in terms of the less expensive one. The nature of long-distance communal travel is such that these frames pretty much generate themselves: queues, security, baggage, crowds — all these things make it possible for a relatively small extra expense to the airline look like it’s worth thousands of dollars to the customer.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        But somehow, we’ve got people who could get the right numbers in two minutes, self-assuredly confident that anything [other than?] Cattle Class must be Unaffordably Expensive Rich People Class.

        You’ve got more accurate multipliers but a 4-digit plane ticket is Unaffordably Expensive Rich People Class for most people, especially non-singles. Attainable for a splurge on a special vacation but that’s about it.

        • bean says:

          Yes, if you want a close-in premium-cabin ticket, it’s going to be expensive. But when I look at 12/15-12/18, I get $302 for economy, $597 for premium economy (whatever that means in this context) and $921 for business/first. Oddly, going out further doesn’t seem to improve this much. I suspect this is because JFK-LAX is a premium-heavy market.

          Attainable for a splurge on a special vacation but that’s about it.

          And? If it was easy to buy up to a premium cabin, everyone would do it. The point is that it’s not completely out of reach of the typical flyer/American/SSCer just by paying for it. And that’s totally neglecting the fact that almost any premium cabin in the world can be gotten into by carefully playing the points game. Maybe not JFK-LAX, but if you want to fly that Emirates suite the CA article mentioned? It’s currently blocked for awards, but the experts don’t expect that to last. In the current (still amazing) first class, you could fly JFK-DXB-BKK roundtrip for 155,000 JAL miles. If you catch a good sale, the miles in question could be bought for as little as 2c each, or a total bill of $3,100. For a first-class ticket in one of the best products in the sky.
          (Caveats: I think Starwood, whose points you’d buy to transfer to JAL, caps mileage purchases per year, so you can’t just pony up the cash. But I also neglected credit card spend and signup bonuses. Working carefully with those should let you cut the cost significantly.)

  15. johan_larson says:

    THE SECRET: A VIGNETTE

    The girl was on time for her appointment. She walked into my office and sat down in my guest chair. Girl? Woman? She was younger than my daughters, anyway.

    “Thanks you for agreeing to see me.”

    “We don’t hear from your organization often. Your request was, shall we say, intriguing.”

    The slightest of smiles. “We have a problem for you.”

    “We specialize in solving them. How can we be of assistance?”

    “We have a secret that must be kept for a long time, and then revealed to everyone.”

    “What sort of secret?”

    “I am not allowed to disclose that. Not to you. Even I know only a portion of it.”

    “I’m going to need at least a hint or two.”

    “Very well.” She thought briefly. “To speak very metaphorically, we have struck a spark. The spark will grow into a fire. The fire will burn a land bare. And in the bare land, a precious thing will grow.”

    “And of these the secret is … ?”

    “That the spark has been struck, and the fire is coming.”

    “And why does that need to be a secret?”

    She looked away. “Because striking the spark was nearly unconscionable, and if people know the fire is coming they will try to fight it and might conceivably succeed. Then the precious thing would be lost.”

    “How long must the secret be kept?”

    “Until the precious thing appears.”

    “How long?”

    “Three hundred to five hundred years. The interval is uncertain. But there will be clear signs.”

    “And once the precious thing appears, the secret should be revealed?”

    “Yes.”

    “Why?”

    “Because people may misunderstand the significance of the precious thing. They will need to know why it appeared in order to know what to do with it.”

    I shifted in my seat. “How big is the secret?”

    “Excuse me?”

    “Is the secret the size of a deck of cards or the size of a super-tanker?”

    “The secret is an explanation. Typed, it would fit on three or four pages.”

    “Who knows the secret now?”

    “A dozen or so people in my organization. No one outside it.”

    “Can they be trusted?”

    “Yes. We are confident they will not reveal it.” She seemed very certain. “That’s not what we need help with.”

    “Can anyone in my organization learn the secret if we help you?”

    “No. I suppose we can’t conceal that there is a secret, but even you must not learn the details.”

    “So, to summarize, you need help keeping a modest bit of information secret for perhaps five hundred years and then revealing it to everyone. Is that a fair summary?”

    “Fair enough.”

    I sat back and steepled my fingers. “We should be able to help you. It will take some time. You know our prices?”

    She stood up. “Yes. As you know our resources. Thank you for this meeting.” And with that, she walked out.

    • Creutzer says:

      I’m not getting it. Is this about time-dependent encryption?

      • johan_larson says:

        Think of it as a puzzle. If you had to find a way to keep a secret for five hundred years and then reveal it to everyone, how would you do it?

        • Alsadius says:

          Revealing to everyone is trivial in the modern world, which means that the difficult part is keeping it secret, but not extinct, for the intervening years. For that, an organization like the one she’s already part of seems ideal. Why do they need help?

          • Civilis says:

            Perhaps because they don’t want anyone in the organization that does not already know the secret to know it until the time limit is up? Keeping it in house makes it easier to know where the parts of the secret are.

            My solution is as follows: find a way to split the secret up into three parts, such that all three parts are necessary to reconstruct the secret, for example, the message is encoded with a cryptographic key, and then split into two parts, perhaps one part being every other character. The people that currently know the secret should be capable of preparing the secret for distribution.

            The second organization is going to select 30 people, such that no member of the organization or recipient of the secret know more than one of the people selected. Perhaps the second organization, the one charged with preserving the secret, is a large multinational concern with multiple branches around the world. I’m making an assumption that the organization tasked with holding on to the secret is trustworthy at the time the secret is being distributed. Have one packaged secret, a metal box, sent to each of the largest branch offices, with instructions that it should be given with a sum of cash to someone that is to hold on to it for a large period of time, and that the recipients descendants will be well compensated when the time is up.

            The metal box has an inscription in multiple languages, and 400 small boxes, with the inscription reading ‘mark a box every year on the shortest day of the year. When the last box is checked, open the box’.

            Inside the box is a small amount of something that can likely be converted to currency (gold jewelry, for example), another metal box, a brightly colored strip of some long-lasting fabric, and more instructions ‘bring the small box and meet in the middle of the largest population center on Earth at noon on the longest day of the year, and tie the fabric around your arm’. The smaller metal box has the part of the secret and instructions for putting it together.

            This should cover most of the obvious failure modes. It’s not reliant on technology or even the calendar surviving 400 years. If someone opens the box early, they have no idea where any of the other parts are, even the people assigned to giving one of the boxes away. Even if they know there’s a secret, they’d need to find all three pieces to reconstruct it. Yet it’s unlikely that all copies of one of the pieces will be lost in 400 years. If human society collapses significantly, this won’t work, but then again, nothing will.

          • Brad says:

            find a way to split the secret up into three parts, such that all three parts are necessary to reconstruct the secret,

            Shamir’s secret sharing algorithm is designed for just this problem. And very elegant too.

          • johan_larson says:

            with instructions that it should be given with a sum of cash to someone that is to hold on to it for a large period of time, and that the recipients descendants will be well compensated when the time is up.

            Compensated by whom? We are talking about a timespan of hundreds of years. Is the second organization still going to be around to honor its promise? Not a lot of organizations last that long.

            It seems pretty likely that for each box, someone a few generations down the line is going to empty it out and take the valuables but discard the weird riddle and instructions. Perhaps a few of the boxes end up in museums or whatnot.

          • Civilis says:

            Compensated by whom? We are talking about a timespan of hundreds of years. Is the second organization still going to be around to honor its promise? Not a lot of organizations last that long.

            My bet would be that it doesn’t need to be around that long before sunk cost takes over as far as the value of the secret in the box, because the value is inherently tied to unlocking the secret. The people that paid your great-grandfather to hold this had the resources to do so, so obviously there’s some chance they’ll still be around, and if not, the value inherent in what you’re holding is only going to be realized if you get the necessary parts together, and the best chance at that for an individual family is to wait the 400 years.

            You have no idea what you’ve got, but it’s supposedly a piece of a key to a very valuable secret. You have no idea how many copies of each piece there are. You may have no idea how many pieces there are. Since the secret is claimed to be valuable, it has potentially a very high payout if and only if you get all the pieces, and nothing otherwise. The only sure way to get a payout for yourself at all is to hold it for 400 years. Anyone with a chance of getting the payoff sooner has the power to just take the box from you for themselves.

          • John Schilling says:

            and the best chance at that for an individual family is to wait the 400 years.

            What’s the best chance for an individual individual, who cares about himself and maybe his children and grandchildren, but not particularly about his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren? Because, notwithstanding the fun I’m having playing Crusader Kings 2, that’s how most actual people think.

            Somewhere in all those generations, someone is either going to throw the box in a closet and forget about it, or decide to go treasure-hunting. And the more copies of each box are in circulation, the more profitable treasure-hunting is going to be.

        • Jameson Quinn says:

          You also have to be abled to prove it’s 500 years old when you eventually reveal it. That’s hard; it means getting clues (“cryptographic signatures”) into the “historical record blockchain” in a way that’s important enough to be reliably transmitted but subtle enough to avoid premature detection (or at least, to make that premature detection a fringe opinion).

        • beleester says:

          Time capsule? The oldest one ever opened dates back to 1795, which is a little under half your goal. Still, I don’t think there’s a problem with extending it to 500 years, assuming your secret is written on something suitably durable. Most people will respect a sign saying “Don’t open until the year 25XX,” and those who don’t probably don’t have the time or money to dig up whatever shell of concrete and steel you poured around your time capsule. Ideally, you put it under a building with nice architecture that people will want to preserve, but if you can’t swing that, I’d buy some isolated land and build something like the Georgia Guidestones. Something noticeable and durable enough that people will remember it, but isolated enough that it won’t get in anyone’s way.

          This isn’t government-proof, but ideally they don’t ever get wind that the contents of the capsule are something they need to care about. People bury time capsules all the time, you’re probably just some crazy doomsday prepper, not someone who has the secrets of creation.

          EDIT: The absolute coolest way to do this would be to launch your time capsule into space, on an orbit that will take 500 years to complete. Once it’s out there, nobody’s touching it without the resources of a small country. However, this is expensive as hell, and you’ll need a very reliable re-entry vehicle since it has to work with 500-year-old electronics. Redundancies would be a good idea.

          EDIT 2: Just noticed, the story makes the end point uncertain – “Three hundred to five hundred years. The interval is uncertain. But there will be clear signs.” That makes it considerably harder, because you can’t rely on a simple time delay, you need someone who can read the signs and know that the secret needs to be opened at that time. I’m not sure how you could pull that off without a living secret-keeper, which means passing it down through generations.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I would tell Alex Jones. He will tell everyone, in between ranting about interdimensional psychic vampire pedophiles. No one will believe him, but the idea will live on as conspiracy theories, only recognized as true once the “precious thing” appears. Then everyone will pretend like they always knew (i.e., government mind control/MKULTRA/Unabomber, NSA spying on everything you do on the internet, etc).

        • Nornagest says:

          Exactly five hundred years, or just about five hundred years? Because if it’s the latter, I’d work out a decent model of glacier flow, drill a hundred feet or so into a big one with some tourist exposure at a point about five hundred years from being melted out, and drop a message in a bottle (tough enough to withstand the glacial forces) into the bottom. Tie something nice and eye-catching to it, weigh it down with rocks, and backfill the shaft with water. In a few hours it’ll all be frozen and pretty much impossible to recover.

          Alternately, work out a very long-period solar orbit that comes close to intersecting Earth’s on the far end, and launch it into space, with a powerful transmitter set to wake up when it’s receiving enough sunlight. Whoever’s in charge of space 500 years from now probably won’t look much like NASA, but I expect they’d still be interested in a close flyby from a space probe blasting the Macarena on the 13 cm band.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Keeping secrets is relatively easy, so the real question is: how do you ensure that a specific message is somehow revealed to the world 500 years from now ?

      This is a tough problem. In 500 years, neither the girl’s organization, nor the one of the narrator will exist — at least, not in their present forms. Mass communication technology will likely be very different. Even basic human values will be different in some way. So, you are faced with the problem of releasing a message to people who probably no longer care, using technology that no one uses anymore.

      It’s a tough problem, to be sure, but the girl claims that her organization can “strike sparks” that will bear fruit centuries from now — so why not encode her message directly into her spark-thingy ? Or light a second spark with the message in it ? And if she can’t do this, then what’s the point of messing about with secrets in the first place ?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        The only organization that I’m relatively confident will still be around in something resembling its present form 300-500 years from now is the Catholic Church. They could probably do this, but would need a reason that’s in keeping with their values and mission. So another solution is “make it such that the keeping and revelation of this secret is in the interests of the Catholic Church.”

    • Jaskologist says:

      I believe the standard thing in such circumstances is to form a secret society of monks and entrust it to them. They should be able to protect the secret for 499 years, at which point things will get dicey and you’ll need to pull either Nicolas Cage or Bruce Willis out of cryogenic suspension in order to keep the bad guys from getting a hold of it.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Presumably the narrator’s organization is in the business of keeping and revealing secrets? Then stay in that business. Take on prosaic shorter-term contracts, but make it a point of pride that you adhere to weird long-term contracts. Not foolproof, but stands a good chance.

      Unless you can build a precious-thing-recognizing satellite that will deorbit and reenter at the right time, then do that.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      “Very well.” She thought briefly. “To speak very metaphorically, we have struck a spark. The spark will grow into a fire. The fire will burn a land bare. And in the bare land, a precious thing will grow.”

      “And of these the secret is … ?”

      “That the spark has been struck, and the fire is coming.”

      “And why does that need to be a secret?”

      She looked away. “Because striking the spark was nearly unconscionable, and if people know the fire is coming they will try to fight it and might conceivably succeed. Then the precious thing would be lost.”

      Bash her in the head with a coffee mug as she goes to leave and take to a secure location for interrogation and begin putting together a resistance movement. Since we already are at least loosely familiar with her organization, their barbaric “ends justify the means” plot has a reasonable chance of being thwarted.

    • actinide meta says:

      I’ve been trying to resist being nerd sniped by this, because you don’t fully specify your requirements. But I give up; I’ll take a shot.

      Create and endow a dozen diverse organizations optimized for longevity. A nonprofit corporation in the U.S., a trust in Switzerland, a monastic order in India, etc. Charter each of them, and bind them as tightly as possible with local contract law and any other tools you can find, to roughly the following instructions:

      1. Every year, if there are R remaining secret shares, pay $X/R (inflation adjusted) to the R possessors of secret shares, as verified by challenge response protocol or other means.
      2. If someone brings to you a secret share, pay them $2X/R immediately and remove that secret share from the list (decreasing R by 1). This is a terrible deal for the sole possessor of a secret share, but a tempting one for anyone who learns one otherwise. The goal is to make it very hard for a bunch of people to get together and decode the secret without taking a substantial risk that a defector will steal their secret shares and cash them in.
      3. After 500 years and/or if whatever other conditions that OP didn’t specify are met, divide half the remaining endowment among everyone who publishes their secret share, and continue doing whatever else you do with the remaining half (but make no further payments subject to #1).
      4. If the secret is revealed early, or if R<K, give your entire endowment away to charity and dissolve.

      Then create a "K of N" set of secret shares, hand them out to people scattered around the world, and set R=N initially. The secret shares should be materialized in a way that will last, but is easy to fake (except at challenge response authentication time). If it's hard to prove you have a real secret without giving away the secret, it will be harder to coordinate to decode. Rule #4 gives the funding organizations a further incentive to work against such coordination efforts, for example by just joining them with fake, random secret shares.

      The incentives of the holder of a secret share are to keep it secret (so that no one else can collect the $X/R annually or the $2X/R bounty from each funding organization) and collect 12*$X/R each year, until all of the remaining funding organizations have declared that the conditions for release are met. Then of course they should publish and collect their prize. As long as at least K of the N holders succeeds in this for 500 years your goals are met.

      The funding organizations naturally want to survive, and you hope that at least some of them survive and don't manage to shake off the contract you placed on them. Funding organizations that defect will just keep their money, which linearly decreases the incentives for secret holders but won't give away the secret. You might want to tweak rule #3 economically to try to make each funding organization relatively indifferent to whether rule #3 is invoked, so that they are more likely to make a good faith judgement.

      All of this assumes that your funding resources are large compared to peoples' desire to learn the secret. Anyone willing to outbid the future expected value of the $X*12*K/R annual payments can buy the secret. But of course they are buying a pig in a poke, and it doesn't sound like the secret has a large private value.

      How am I doing? I’m not sure I got the funders’ incentives exactly right.

  16. 10240 says:

    Re: airfares
    My guess is that people who object to standing tickets (and similar things) are not those who actually can’t afford sitting tickets. It’s those of us who can afford sitting tickets, but would find it hard to justify to ourselves spending $50 to avoid a few hours of inconvenience. If standing tickets are not available, we can buy sitting tickets guilt-free. Standing tickets would put us in a dilemma between short term and long term interests — people who can only afford standing tickets don’t face a dilemma, and neither do those who are wealthy enough that a sitting ticket is the obvious choice. This realization hit me when he got to the point of the luxurious 1970 cabin: if we had infinite money, we’d prefer the luxury, but most of us are glad that affordable economy tickets are available, rather than only first class tickets we couldn’t afford.

    • johan_larson says:

      I suppose there could be some people who end up worse off because of more choices. Suppose you need to fly on some route, and buy the bottom-of-the-barrel $50 tickets. The airline’s break even point is $75 per seat, and they would prefer to get $100 per seat, but they offer a few $50 tickets rather than have those seats empty.

      Now things change so the airline is allowed to offer standing seats, which means they have more seats to sell. The price for the bottom-of-the-barrel seats is now $40 but the cheapest sitting seat is $70, since the sitting seats are no longer aimed at the very price conscious. This means you, who used to fly sitting for $50, no longer have that option. You either have to pay more for what you used to get for $50, or you have accept worse service. It’s worse service for less, true, but still worse. In this scenario, you are arguably worse off than you were before the introduction of standing seats.

      • bean says:

        Yes, but the people who previously couldn’t afford to fly that route are better off.

      • Jameson Quinn says:

        Furthermore, there is the risk that you’ll choose wrong.

        I once took a bus from Mexico City to San Diego (to avoid the CO2 emissions of flying, and to see the countryside). I needed chiropractic work after that (and I’d picked up an earworm that occasionally haunts me to this day). It turns out that the chiropractic work resolved the problem, and I got it cheaply from a “huesero” in Mexico City, after I’d returned, so I don’t actually regret having taken the bus; but I’ll certainly never do it again.

        That experience makes it easy for me to imagine myself as a 35-year-old buying the standing-only tickets only to realize that I wasn’t a 20-year-old anymore and my body actually seriously couldn’t take that treatment. (Or, if you wish, substitute 55 and 35 for those ages, or 75 and 65, depending on how reliable your body is.) Since we’re all older than we once were, that generalizes to a situation where the availability of the cheap tickets leads to people in general making negative-expected-value decisions to cheap out, and society as a whole suffering even though the median cheap-ticket-buyer is better off.

        • Matt M says:

          What do you mean “that kind of treatment?”

          Like 35 year olds never have to stand up for two hours? I pretty regularly fly HOU/DAL. About an hour or so. You could probably convince me to take standing room for the right price there (although I make good money and place a bit of a premium on comfort, so its not likely in my current circumstances)

          • albatross11 says:

            The question is, are we better off when the law forbids someone offering us an option that might be worse for some of us? I’m sure there are many real-world cases where the answer is yes, but I also suspect that if we try to ban very many such usually-bad-for-you options, we quickly end up making things worse (taking away valuable options we think are bad for you). And when you add in the nature of government (moral panics, capture by existing interests), it seems quite likely that the banning of options will often not be done so much with the intention of helping people by taking away harmful options as with the intention of propping up existing businesses or winning some unrelated cultural/political battle.

            I wonder about the relationship between homelessness and regulations requiring minimal standards for housing, maximum numbers of people per house/bathroom, etc. If we had more flophouses, would we have fewer guys sleeping under bridges?

          • engleberg says:

            I’m fifty-two and I hate standing, but if they offered butt-rest options on the walls for some standees I might take that. Like church choirs have- not a real seat, just a nub to lean your buttock on. Or they could go full eighteenth-century sailor’s gin-mill and have hooks descending from the ceiling to hold your collar. Cheap gin would help.

          • bean says:

            @engleberg
            It’s a saddle-seat, not just you standing on your own.

          • actinide meta says:

            @albatross11

            I wonder about the relationship between homelessness and regulations

            More than half of the kids in the 4,500-student district [in Silicon Valley] are homeless

            It’s not as though policy keeps home prices high by accident.

          • John Schilling says:

            Should people count as “homeless” if they have an RV – a thing specifically designed for human habitation and with all the features of a cheap apartment – and a fixed parking place? Does it matter if the parking place is “fixed” by law, by custom, or by the threat of hundreds of activists coming out to protest if the city thinks of making them move?

            What about mobile homes, or houseboats? It seems that there’s a line, or at least a fuzzy border, that needs to be drawn here, and we should maybe think some more about which side of that border these people are really on?

    • bean says:

      This realization hit me when he got to the point of the luxurious 1970 cabin: if we had infinite money, we’d prefer the luxury, but most of us are glad that affordable economy tickets are available, rather than only first class tickets we couldn’t afford.

      That wasn’t an actual cabin. That was a Boeing concept, and airline manufacturer concepts are notorious for having bells and whistles that nobody ever fits to the actual airplane. And it’s from right before the oil crisis, when people were coming up with all sorts of wacky things to do with widebodies. It’s for the lower lobe of the 747, and nothing passenger-carrying ever went there, AFAIK. There were similar concepts when the A380 released, and they were similarly vaporware.

    • Yes, exactly. This is what I said in my last comment. I feel annoyed by low cost airlines because I can afford the more expensive ticket but I would rather not specifically know that I just spent $50 on an hour or two of convenience. I would much rather have that just happen without noticing, which can only happen if I am not offered the option.

  17. jddt says:

    Something was bothering me about the predictive perception stuff. I think I’ve worked out what it is.

    It seems like the idea is to take a model that is designed to be able to fit anything (Bayesian neural network type thing) and there are theorems that it can fit any behaviour as long as it is sufficiently complicated; fit it to human behaviour, and then feel that the model must be describing the underlying mechanisms that run the brain.

    But the model itself is known to be amazing at curve fitting to anything.

    To put it another way, I could fit the model to lightning storms; or weather patterns; and when it matches (or I can wave my hands and say “well, with enough nodes this model would fit perfectly”) I conclude that lightning storms must have an underlying mechanism resembling a Bayesian nerual net. But this is clearly nonsense. It may even be compelling nonsense — but nonsense none-the-less.

    • Izaak says:

      The reason Neural Networks in general are a compelling argument for how the brain works is that they are explicitly trying to ape the way brains work. If someone says “This is my model for how the brain works”, and 50 years later that model is the basis for the most accurate computerized image recognition and best board game playing AI, then that’s a compelling piece of evidence for that theory.

      • Controls Freak says:

        The reason Neural Networks in general are a compelling argument for how the brain works is that they are explicitly trying to ape the way brains work.

        They were explicitly trying to ape the way brains worked… according to CS folks back in the 40’s-60’s. This was also near the time when progress in neuroscience was just kicking off. These paths very quickly diverged. We know a lot more today about how neurons/synapses actually work, and it’s very unlike the tools used by the ANNs/CNNs that are popular in machine learning.

        Every once in a while, people in the ML community make ‘bio-plausibility’ arguments for the NN technique de jour. If there are any neuroscientists in the room, these guys get roasted. It doesn’t take long for most of them to back off on these claims.

    • beleester says:

      Our brains are also known to be amazing at modeling pretty much anything, so I don’t think this is a knock-down argument. What are the odds that there are two algorithms that are both really good at modeling anything under the sun, which don’t share any common characteristics?

      One way to test if you’re just blindly pattern-matching or if you’re on to something important would be to see if you can come up with a simpler model that does the same thing. For instance, if you can model a windstorm with a zillion general-purpose neurons, but you can get results just as good with a couple of equations that describe wind speed and air pressure, then the equations are a better description of reality.

      • actinide meta says:

        What are the odds that there are two algorithms that are both really good at modeling anything under the sun, which don’t share any common characteristics?

        I’m afraid this is already known to be true, except in the useless sense that any two algorithms can be said to “share common characteristics”. Neural networks are not the only machine learning architecture.

  18. JulieK says:

    Do non-creationist Christians believe that humans have souls (and other beings don’t)?

    • Nick says:

      What do you mean by non-creationist? Non–young earth creationists sure can and usually do (see Catholicism, Orthodoxy, mainline Protestantism), but if a Christian doesn’t think God created the universe at all, I have no idea what they might or might not believe.

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m going to assume that by using the term “non-creationist Christians” you want to specify “Christians who are not Young Earth/Biblical literalist Seven Literal Days of 24 Literal Hours Each Creationists” (which is my big problem with the way that term is used in those Science Vs Religion surveys, as it forces you if you’re a believer to pick the ‘yup, the earth is only six thousand years old’ option or the ‘ha ha belief in a god and not the Glorious Truth of Science?’ option, neither of which is fully satisfactory and will give a bad result for the poll data).

      So, the question as I am taking it to be is “Do Christians who accept some form of theistic evolution as their exceptional case and otherwise have no quibbles about geology and the likes think humans have souls and other beings don’t?”

      Humans – yes. Other beings – if you mean terrestrial animals, no. If you mean “aliens from other planets” – that depends.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Wait, I’m confused — do Christians (of the type you describe) believe that humans have been evolved, but all other animals have been created ex nihilo ? This sounds odd…

        • SamChevre says:

          Other way round (and this describes me). Everything, including humans, evolved–but at some point, a specific pair of proto-humans became human, and divine intervention was involved in that transformation.

          The difference is specifically in having a human soul–AKA “human-ness”. Animals have animal souls (at least, per Aquinas)–and think of soul as “the essence of the kind-of-thing it is”, and that makes sense.

          Remember, soul is confusing–Greek philosophy often has “soul” meaning specifically human faculties (logic and language), while Aquinas means something closer to “essential nature.” “Perfect God and Perfect Man, of a reasonable Soul and human Flesh subsisting” basically means “entirely God and entirely human, body and soul.”

          • JulieK says:

            Do you believe all humans now alive are descended from that proto-human pair?

          • Randy M says:

            Why is that hard to believe? All humans are descended from whichever ancestor last had the mutation for any feature universally present in humans and lacking in the previous species–erect posture, or hairless bellies, or larger cranial capacity, say. Right?

            Unless these traits came from independent mutation, but that always being the case seems also unlikely.

            Moreover, evolutionary theory would predict, not just all humans, but all mammals would have descended from one mating carrying the mutation for milk production or fur. Again, unless these complicated mutations arose multiple times independently but only in mammals.

          • John Schilling says:

            Do you believe all humans now alive are descended from that proto-human pair?

            That is not a uniquely religious belief. Nor unjustified, nor unique to a specific proto-human pair. Go back 20,000 years, pick any mated pair of humans, and if they have any surviving descendants at all they are probably the ancestors of all living humans. Even if one or both of them slept around.

            It’s a bit harder to fit Ussher’s 4004 BC creation date into this model. You might be able to find someone (or more than one) in 4004 BC from whom all living humans are now descended, but then you’d be in the sticky theological position of arguing that God ensouled some beast-man somewhere in Eurasia but that e.g. the Native Americans remained soulless beasts until Columbus’s crew showed up and started fooling around with the native women and that many of the people actually named in first-contact reports were such beast-men (or at least p-zombies).

            So the YEC crowd is probably out of luck, but the more sensible creationists can claim that God zapped one specific pair of h. sapiens with a soul and that only their descendants are “human”, without much fear of falsification from the scientific side or of unfortunate ethical implications w/re anyone not safely lost in the mists of prehistory.

          • veeloxtrox says:

            @JulieK

            In addition to Randy’s science based answer. The theologically based answer is that all humans* are considered to have inherited the original sin from Adam, this doesn’t work if we do not all trace our linage back to Adam (this also is also why most Christians Adam and Eve were two people and not a group of people).

            *The star is because Jesus did not inherit sin from Adam because he had no earthly father and thus was not tainted by sin.

          • SamChevre says:

            I agree with the responses above, with one exception. Catholics believe Mary was without original sin, which I accept as a teaching of the church. I also like it because it makes clear that original sin is not about sex.

            One thing to note–this was a key point in my conversion to Catholicism. Both nature and revelation are revelations of God: if rightly understood, they will agree. So if “all humans descended from one pair of proto-humans” were demonstrably implausible from what we can know of nature, I would rethink it. Presently, it makes sense of both the natural record and what the Scriptures say: if it stopped making sense of one of the two, I would be sure I was misunderstanding something.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I would like to believe that Adam and Eve were the LCA of Hss and Neanderthals, but they could have been way more recent than that and for all practical purposes it’s irrelevant.

          • Anon. says:

            Was the divine intervention pre- or post- Neanderthal divergence?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Anon: if Neanderthals were rational, then pre-divergence.
            That’s like minimum 10x as long ago as the Y-chromosomal Adam lived.

        • Deiseach says:

          No, sorry if I confused you: everything has been created ex nihilo. Evolution is accepted as working on animals and since humans are animals, on us as well. Where the Church peels off is “humans are not distinctly special from animals, humans do not have souls, no god need apply”, that’s the “theistic” part of theistic evolution. And the question of “two humans as our first parents/symbolic language meaning first true humans/polygenism” is one that is actively discussed in theology.

          From a Catholic viewpoint, speculation on those lines has been shut down by the 1950 encyclical of Pope Pius XII, Humani generis, so the official teaching is “two original parents as first true humans (but physical bodies evolved to that state before ensoulment)”.

          • Bugmaster says:

            OIC, so every animal evolved, including humans (presumably, from divinely created ancestors); but then, at some point, humans were given souls. This makes humans different from animals, and unique among all of the creation. This makes sense — well, as much sense as theism can make to me, anyway 🙂

  19. bean says:

    Reminder:
    Page 1 of the low-cost airline PR handbook reads as follows:
    “A good way to get free press is to talk about charging for something nobody in their right mind would, like the bathrooms, or putting something absurd on your planes, like standing seats. Michael O’Leary of Ryanair has done this very well.”
    Also, the standing seats do not have regulatory approval, which is vitally important.
    I’ll save my more specific criticisms for later.

    • johan_larson says:

      “The toilets are still free. But the toilet paper will be $1 per square.”

    • bean says:

      Right. Detailed snark at CA time:

      What is the most reprehensible innovation human beings have yet produced? The atom bomb seems the leading contender

      You mean the device that kept the Cold War from going hot? The reason we haven’t had a global war since 1945? (Large rant cut because it’s not the point I’m trying to make here.)

      “There are people out there right now researching whether you can fly standing up. We’re very interested in anything that makes travel less expensive.”

      Right. In other words “We’re cheap, fly with us!”. I follow airlines pretty closely, and hadn’t heard of VivaColumbia before this. Their strategy is working.

      Most of us, if we could, would choose to fly in the 1970s Boeing Tiger Cabin rather than strapped to a vertical board

      That’s a concept cabin for the belly of the 747. It never flew, and is a result of the time before the 1973 oil crisis and the days when widebodies were new and nobody knew what to do with them. So CA is comparing a cabin that never flew with a cabin that can’t fly because it hasn’t been approved by the regulators.
      The regulators are the most important people here. I used to work in airline regulatory affairs, writing up safety documentation. I was told that it’s easier to put a medical device in a person than a new part on an airliner. I’m not sure that it’s true, but it’s not too far off. These things would get tested within an inch of their lives before they’d be allowed to be put on planes. Yes, that includes things like crash safety. People who raise that as a potential problem should not be taken seriously.

      But because we’re not billionaires, we’re not going to fly in the Emirates fully-enclosed Mercedes Benz-designed luxury suite.

      I’m a bit of a miles and points geek, and you can get into almost any first-class cabin in the world with some well-chosen credit-card spend. It may only be once every couple of years, but it’s possible. Modern business class is really, really nice, and cheaper than ever. If you pay attention and are flexible, it’s usually possible to cross the Atlantic in a flat bed for $1000 or so roundtrip. Billionaires don’t fly Emirates, either. They fly private.

      And as airlines steadily decrease legroom,

      I’ll grant you that AAL’s decisions there are stupid and annoying, and United looks poised to follow. In the universe where we ignore the existence of Southwest, this is a serious problem.

      making flying ever more uncomfortable so that the industry makes tens of billions of dollars in profit, we’ll put up with it because upgrading is outrageously expensive and our wages have stagnated.

      Despite what the airline executives will tell you, I’m far from convinced that their current profitability is here to stay long-term. Oil prices are low, and the economy is good, so planes are full. Let’s say there’s another terrorist attack. Oil prices rocket, the economy slumps. Good-bye profit. (I’m aware that Warren Buffet disagrees with me on this, but I’ll stick to my guns.)
      The real problem is the idiot who invented capacity discipline. But I think that’s starting to crack, too. Hello fare wars!

      In a world where everybody could choose between the Tiger Cabin and the Standing Seat, without either choice leaving them materially deprived, extra choices would be unobjectionable good.

      That requires us to be so rich that we can afford to throw around factors of 10 in airliner floorspace without it changing the cost. I’m not sure what world you’re living in, but this does not seem likely.

      TLDR: Nathan J Robinson does not understand the airline industry.

  20. Well... says:

    Are there any email providers that operate under the same ethos as DuckDuckGo? (Meaning they don’t track you, etc.)

    • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

      It’d be cool if they didn’t even store your emails, except in encrypted form. In other words, only the recipient and I would see the unencrypted emails.

      • Iain says:

        This is a fundamentally hard problem. To a first approximation, anybody who claims to have solved it is probably wrong. Here’s an article from a prominent cryptographer explaining where Lavabit went wrong. Here’s a deeper explanation of why any solution that does exist will not have a webmail client.

        If you really want to communicate sensitive messages, Signal (a messaging program) seems to be the unanimous choice of the crypto people I follow.

        • albatross11 says:

          +1

          Signal seems to be well-thought-out and implemented.

          If you can get everyone with whom you communicate to put an application on their phone/pad/computer, then you can get encrypted email. GPG does this, albeit with a user experience like ordering food in a foreign country where you don’t know the local language. But this isn’t actually so hard in crypto terms.

          This is in fact what you’re doing when you use Signal–you and your friends have downloaded the same application, which handles the key management in some basically sensible way, so the message is encrypted on your computer, sent encrypted over the network, and only decrypted on your friend’s computer. Nobody in between ever sees anything but random-looking bits, and there’s nobody who can be coerced or bribed or convinced or infiltrated to decrypt your messages.

          The harder part is not leaking information about who’s talking to whom. (AKA the metadata) There are ways to do that, but I don’t know of any systems that are practical and available now that do a good job of it. Maybe people are still running remailer networks?

        • actinide meta says:

          To a first approximation, anybody who claims to have solved it is probably wrong.

          Challenge accepted! I love being probably wrong.

          Desiderata:
          1. Web interface
          2. End-to-end encryption
          3. Full text search
          4. Acceptable key management
          5. Secure against active attacks (nasty code injection) by the web server

          This is in increasing order of difficulty, so let’s start at the bottom. The html for the web app will be nothing but a script, embedded or loaded from a CDN using subresource integrity. You can save the page locally, protecting you against future active attacks and in principle giving you an opportunity to audit the entire source code of the script. Communications with the webmail backend will be through an untrusted client running in an iframe, so that they work even when the page itself is being loaded from somewhere other than the origin server.

          Obviously saving web pages locally is a bit of a tacky compromise with desideratum #1, but I think it’s the best we can do until browsers implement integrity in a URI scheme or application cache (which would be pretty easy, if there were a lot of demand). And you can smoothly degrade to having just desiderata 1-4 by just using the web app directly. (This is not worthless for security: most governments probably can’t legally compel a provider to do active attacks, and active attacks are detectable so they can’t generally be used for dragnet surveillance. And securing static web servers and their TLS keys against attackers should be easier than securing an entire mail infrastructure.)

          Next, key management. By preference, we’ll use the WebCrypto API. I haven’t audited it, but it looks like it’s intended to address tptacek’s complaint about the lack of a keystore (and random numbers, and timing attacks). If for some reason that’s hopeless, we could still have a chance: combine a random blob from our untrustworthy server with a high entropy passphrase stored in your password manager, and stir with a proper KDF, using pure javascript. (And there are *some* constructions that don’t rely on random numbers…)

          Full text search: The webmail provider provides a raw storage API to the client. The client incrementally generates a full text search index (using a Javascript port of something like Lucene), encrypts it using its local keys, and stores it to the webmail provider as binary blobs. When doing a search, it reads (and decrypts) just the byte ranges it needs from these opaque objects. The selective reads might permit the provider to do some weak traffic analysis on searches, but this seems like a small issue compared to all the other communications metadata that’s available to a provider. The truly paranoid could cache the entire encrypted search index in their localStorage, so the provider wouldn’t see anything except full downloads and writes of new index files.

          End-to-end encryption: Something like OpenPGP, using the local keys, should be more or less end-to-end secure. Again, use the Web Crypto API for random numbers and some protection against side channel attacks. The webmail provider can encrypt incoming unencrypted mail with your public key before storing it, because why not?

          Bonus: End-to-end encrypted e-mail should be forbidden from containing HTML references to external images etc. Unencrypted mail should have all such references resolved (and converted to attachments) by the webmail provider before encrypting. Even e-mails to totally invalid addresses should have all references resolved. This prevents senders of e-mail from obtaining any information about whether their mail is delivered or read.

          Now tear it apart!

          (p.s. I think protonmail might qualify as an answer to @Well’s original question, though it doesn’t attempt 3-5 above if you use webmail)

          (p.p.s. My first attempt at posting this got eaten by akismet? Apologies if it somehow appears more than once.)

          • albatross11 says:

            I have a public key (say, an RSA key). My email is encrypted to me under that RSA key.

            If you’re providing me a web front end, then it looks to me like the only way for the rest of this situation to work is:

            a. I enter a passphrase into a webform over a TLS connection.

            b. Your machine uses my passphrase to decrypt my private key.

            c. Your machine uses my private key to decrypt my emails[1].

            d. Your server shows me the email text over TLS.

            At this point, your server is the attack point. If you are compelled by law (as with Lavabit) or threatened or bribed or infiltrated, then your server records my private key when it’s decrypted hands it over to the feds/the mafia/that Saudi prince I pissed off/the FSB .

            If I can assume that there’s a completely uncoerceable and trustworthy server that will safeguard my email, then yeah, secure email is easy. We can just use Gmail, for that matter.

            [1] Really, each encrypted email has a randomly-generated AES key which is encrypted under my RSA key, so there are a couple steps there.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s pretty easy to store stuff encrypted. The procedure looks something like this:

            – You are given a front-end. You enter a password. The password gets used along with some other stuff to generate a symmetric key and a credential, which can’t be derived from each other. The symmetric key stays with you. The credential gets sent to the server where it’s used to authenticate you.

            – You put stuff into the front-end. The front-end uses the symmetric key to turn that stuff into an encrypted blob. The blob gets sent to the server, where it’s stored. You log off.

            – Later, you log back on and repeat the credentialing process. You pull down the blob and use your symmetric key to decrypt it. You now have useful data.

            – Later still, the Saudi prince you pissed off bribes a disgruntled tech for access to the server where your user data is stored. He gains access to a hash of your credentials and to your encrypted user data, but he can’t do anything with it, because the keys to it never left your machine.

            The disadvantage of this procedure is that you’re completely hosed if you ever lose your password, so it’s not common in the wild, where passwords get lost or replaced all the time. It also takes capabilities that, while technically feasible for a Web client (you can do everything here in JS), are not traditionally used at that layer, and the layer’s not optimized for them.

          • Brad says:

            The problem with that the Saudi prince can change the software so that the next time you log in the javascript takes the symmetric key from localstorage and sends it to the server. And it can be set up so that only you get this new compromised software so you can’t rely on other’s auditing the source for you.

            That’s a vulnerability that is far worse in the web app scenario than it is in the open source mail client scenario (though it still exists there, especially if you don’t verify downloads).

          • actinide meta says:

            @albatross11

            The solution I give above doesn’t follow your abcd process at all. Your private key never leaves your local computer, where it is stored by your browser’s keystore and/or encrypted with a passphrase which never crosses the network. In general, you can’t criticize a proposed solution by proposing a different solution and then proving that the different solution doesn’t work.

            @Nornagest

            you’re completely hosed if you ever lose your password

            This is true. In my solution I delegate this problem to your brower’s keystore, or failing that your password manager. The state of the art solutions are (a) paper backups or (b) hardware security modules (see Apple’s account recovery system which is a pretty thoughtful balancing of these concerns).

            It also takes capabilities that, while technically feasible for a Web client (you can do everything here in JS), are not traditionally used at that layer, and the layer’s not optimized for them.

            It’s actually a little worse than that. See the article by tptacek in the post I’m replying to. It’s a little out of date (because of the web crypto API), but the problem with the server being able to inject code you don’t want is still very serious. That’s what I’m addressing with my “download the web page” solution

            @Brad

            My proposal crudely addresses this problem (active attacks) by letting you download the web page once (via Save As… in your web browser) and audit and use that version. I also think that active attacks would be mitigated if everyone connects to the service via Tor, so that the server can’t target specific users before they have logged in, and there are several third parties on the lookout for any changes to the code.

            I would love to see a feature of web browsers, analogous to certificate transparency, that would make it easier and more secure to distribute open source web apps where every released version is clearly visible to the public. Maybe IPFS will take us in that direction?

          • Brad says:

            @actinide meta
            I saw that. I was responding to the point Nornagest made.

            It terms of your proposal, my biggest question would be what advantage this model has over a traditional email client. The big advantage to a web app is the ability to go to any computer and just start using it without installing anything. But in this case that advantage doesn’t apply.

          • BBA says:

            The advantage is, nobody uses a traditional email client anymore. (Except for me, but I’m nobody.)

          • beleester says:

            Yeah, if you have to download the web page only once to maintain security, and you need a browser extension to handle crypto work, then you aren’t really writing a web app, you’re writing a native app that happens to use Javascript.

          • actinide meta says:

            I’m not sure what you mean by a browser extension. The Web Crypto API is standardized and apparently available in pretty much all current browsers. When tptacek wrote his article, it was a different story.

            Obviously the downloading thing is gross, but it really helps you if you are planning to audit the code. How much of your software have you personally audited the current version of? Most people would just live with my desiderata 1-4, as they do with their native software, especially if we could get a standardized “version transparency” feature to make targeted attacks obvious.

            If browsers gained native support for IPFS URLs, that would be a more secure and elegant solution!

    • James says:

      Maybe Zoho? Their main thing is paid email accounts for businesses with their own domain, and they offer single-user email addresses for free, I think primarily as a loss leader. I don’t think they even run ads, let alone personalised/tracked ones.

      • Well... says:

        Looks like that works, thanks.

        • James says:

          One caveat is that in that case the continuity of your email address at that domain is at the mercy of them continuing to offer that service. This is pretty much guaranteed for the foreseeable future for a behemoth like gmail, but for a little startup like Zoho, it’s uncertain; they could easily either fold or stop offering free accounts. Given how much we tend to rely on our email addresses staying consistent, this may be a problem.

          One solution is to get your own domain and set up an email address there, hosted by a third party like Zoho. Again, Zoho offer this for free for a handful of email addresses (maybe <= 5?), and you can still access your email through their web interface like before. The difference is that if they choose to close your free account or make you pay for it, you can take your account to another provider without having to change your email address.

    • helaku says:

      Posteo.de (requires annual payment for full options)
      Autistici.org (supported by donates which is kinda trustworthy)
      However they definitely store your emails. You can download emails via an email client; I don’t know if they keep copies of those email though (probably yes).

    • Well... says:

      Thanks everyone for the responses so far.

      What I’m primarily concerned about isn’t my emails being stored by the company providing the service, but rather having my emails mined for data–to what degree it’s anonymized and how it’s used I don’t care so much, mainly that it isn’t mined in the first place.

      • helaku says:

        It’s hard to be completely sure whether they mine for data from your emails — I think the only solution for you in this case is to set up your own mail server or to encrypt all your communications. Because there is no guarantee that the other side’s email provider does not mine for data.

        The second provider mentioned in my comment states this, for example: we do not keep sensitive information about them (ie logs, IPs, IDs, ecc.) nor we do any sort of commercial data mining.. And they are kinda strict on that, as far as I can tell. Even when I communicated with them regarding some technical issues, all communications were encrypted with their public key.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’ve heard that Protonmail, CERN’s email service, is pretty good.

      That said, I wouldn’t recommend using it if you’re planning on building a time machine. At least not unless you have an IBN 5100.

    • pontifex says:

      Are there any email providers that operate under the same ethos as DuckDuckGo? (Meaning they don’t track you, etc.)

      If you’re trying to avoid having your data mined by a giant internet company like Google, Yahoo!, or Microsoft, you can pay for email service from a smaller provider. Fastmail is a very good one.

      Keep in mind, though, that a huge number of people do use the surveillance email systems, and your emails will be tracked by them regardless. For example, every time you email a gmail user, or a gmail user emails you, Google gets a copy of that email. Despite this, I think it’s still worth Ungoogling yourself as much as you can. But it’s not a panacea.

      Another thing to keep in mind about email is that it’s never, ever, a secure communications channel. You should never say anything in an email that you wouldn’t be comfortable shouting to your co-workers, or explaining to a judge. This is especially true for corporate emails. If a company gets sued, the plaintiff can force the company to literally print out all its emails for the prosecutor to comb over for evidence. (This is part of the “discovery” process.)

      And if you think you can secure your email against state actors– think again. Trying to match wits with the NSA is already a fool’s errand, but with an insecure protocol like SMTP it’s doubly so. If you really want to do something nefarious, first of all don’t do it, and second of all, use almost any other channel of communication but email.

  21. Winter Shaker says:

    Relevant to those with an interest in drug policy, and those into libertarian-vs-regulation arguments: my corner of the world has just been given the judicial green light to go ahead and implement a minimum-price-per-unit alcohol policy. As I understand it, it is not a tax; you just cannot legally sell alcoholic drinks for less than 50p per 10 milliliters of pure alcohol, and you pay the normal rate of tax on it at that higher price.

    Likely to have a negligible effect on the price of high-end craft beers and wines, a more noticeable effect on spirits, and a substantial effect on the price of the sort of cheap, industrially-produced ciders and lagers which, in the refreshingly honest words of a local off-licence worker in the city I used to live in, are intended primarily for ‘people who have problems’.

    As a supporter of harm reduction in drug policy, I am cautiously optimistic that this can help to reduce some of the worst excesses of alcoholism, but am interested in what the commentariat here thinks.

    • johnjohn says:

      Huh. I’m surprised I’ve never heard of anything like that before.
      It actually sounds like a fairly good way to handle it.

      An interesting effect it might have is to put a lower bound on quality, when the cheapest swill is priced the same as less cheap swill I’d imagine the former would go out of business

      • BBA says:

        There’s something similar in the US for tobacco – I sometimes see stores advertise that cigarettes are sold at the “state minimum.” This is related to but distinct from the per-unit sin tax on cigarettes.

    • James says:

      the sort of cheap, industrially-produced ciders and lagers which, in the refreshingly honest words of a local off-licence worker in the city I used to live in, are intended primarily for ‘people who have problems’.

      Hey, watch what you’re saying, pal! Buckie’s a tonic wine, I’ll have ye know!

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Hey, I was enjoying a swig or two of buckfast at a party just last weekend. Also some salmiakki liqueur (and the combination of both is worth experiencing).

        Edited to add: Buckfast is not actually that cheap (and because of its high caffeine content and extreme sugary-appeal-to-youngsters, is kind of its own thing) … I looked it up, and actually, at least according to this analysis, Buckfast is too expensive to be affected by the change.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Harumph. It’s bad enough being poor without being told that even drowning one’s sorrows in alcohol is for the better-off.

    • psmith says:

      Clandestine home production of alcoholic beverages is a fine old Highland tradition (“The Gordon Women,” The Sheikh and the Dustbin, Fraser 1988) and I look forward to its return.

    • SamChevre says:

      This seems to me to be a bar protection measure: that’s a low-end price in a bar, but it is wildly high relative to liquor costs in a store.

      Translating into American, I get a price of $0.66 per UK drink (10 ml ethanol), which is a minimum price of $20 for a bottle (750 ml) of standard 80-proof liquor–$45 for a handle (1.75 L).

      For comparison, I can buy decent blended Scotch (JW Red, Teachers) or mid-tier bourbon (Four Roses, EW 1783) or British Gin (Tanqueray, Beefeaters, Bombay) for $30 a handle: I can buy acceptable gin (Seagrams) or basic Bourbon (Evan Williams) for $20 a handle.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        I’ve seen it claimed that the UK’s traditional drinking culture where it was consumed in pubs rather than taken away for home consumption had something of a protective effect, and that once supermarket alcohol sales became normalised, alcohol problems became worse. In which case, a policy that nudges people back towards pub sales away from supermarket sales wouldn’t be so obviously terrible.

        But as a snobbish craft ale drinker, and also a non-snobbish lowest-common-denominator pub food eater, my usual haunt will tend to be a Wetherspoons, where I can get a pint of Camra-approved beer for not significantly more than I’d pay for an equivalent-sized bottle in the supermarket anyway. Tangentially, there is actually a weird phenomenon where, in a lot of places, you actually pay more for a pint of generic merely-tolerable Anheuser–Busch InBev product than a tastier brew from a smaller craft brewery; that’s another story, where I’m not really sure what’s going on.

        • SamChevre says:

          I’m fascinated by the differences in alcohol prices between different places.

          Here, I can get a 6-pack of 12-oz (~330 ml) bottles of most craft beer for $9.00–so $1.50 for a single 330 ml bottle. (This would be right at minimum price for a 6.5% beer; I could easily buy cheap beer for half that). One decent beer in a bar would cost at least $5, probably $6–and I’d leave a dollar tip. So here, a beer in a bar is 4x as much as a beer in a supermarket. What would the comparison be between Wetherspoons and a supermarket?