THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 98.25

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

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681 Responses to Open Thread 98.25

  1. Jack Lecter says:

    Can anyone recommend a dating site that’s not-totally-awful for people in the systematizing-contrarian-rationalist cluster?

    I’m aware there’s a pretty severe gender balance of people like us (for whatever reasons), and I’m neither particularly pretty nor particularly rich, so the search may be ultimately futile, but I’d still like to improve my marginal odds of finding a girl I’d be compatible with who’d actually want to be with me.

    EDIT: All the people I love are in North Carolina; moving the Berkley, as tempting as it sometimes is, isn’t really an option.

    • Matt M says:

      I’ve had some mild success on CMB.

      Not in finding “rationalist girls” but in finding ready-to-settle girls who were willing to put up with my rationalism.

      • Nornagest says:

        I assume you mean Coffee Meets Bagel, but it’s entertaining to think of the acronym expanding to Cosmic Microwave Background.

        • John Schilling says:

          Henry Kissinger did say that power was the ultimate aphrodisiac. That being the case, even the corniest pick-up line delivered by the most socially inept nerd should deliver good results when carved into the Cosmic Microwave Background.

          Selective for rationalist nerdgirls with an astrophysics focus, though. If you’re looking for purity in your mate, you’ll want your personal ad coded into the digits of pi.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @John Schilling:

            If you’re looking for purity in your mate

            Kind of the opposite, actually. I’m at a really inconvenient place on the empathizer-systematizer scale: the stuff that interests me tends toward the left side, but I’m nitpicky and systematizing enough to really irritate most people who live there.

            (I do get that you were joking, but I saw an opening.)

      • Jack Lecter says:

        @Matt M: Thanks!

        That’s pretty much what I’m shooting for, tbh.

    • There are universities in North Carolina. My guess is that if you found a way of socializing with people there, preferably subsets more likely to fit your requirements—engineering or economics majors/grad students/junior faculty rather than gender studies ditto—your odds would be better than on a dating site.

      I met my present wife when she was a grad student in geology at VPI. She is rational and seems to have no difficulty putting up with me, and we’ve been happily married for a long time.

      • Jack Lecter says:

        @DavidFriedman: I’m at a university now- I’m an adult student.

        Unfortunately, it’s kind of turned out to be not so much a school as a munitions factory in the culture wars. Maybe I should try hanging out at a different one?

        On the other hand, I haven’t taken a lot of STEM courses yet, so that might be the next thing to look into.

        I think what I want is not so much someone who shares my politics as someone who shares my approach to them; the textbook for the class I’m taking right now tries to teach us about the Patriarchy inherent in our culture by using Cinderella, despite the fact that Cinderella is
        1. An anecdote
        2. A fictional anecdote
        3. A fictional anecdote that’s several centuries old.

        This says nothing about the validity of the political conclusions the book is trying to argue for- Reversed Stupidity Is Not Intelligence– but it sets my teeth on edge, and I think it points to some kind of deep-seated cultural gap between me and the people I’m tending to meet.

        Also, this is off-topic, but I’m currently reading the webbed version of Law’s Order and enjoying it very much. Thought I should say thanks.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          It’s not totally unreasonable to use Cinderella as evidence of something, considering that’s remained popular in competition with a huge number of other stories.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @Nancy: This is a good point; also, the book does suggest it’s using the story as illustration as much as evidence.

            The problem, insofar as there is one, is that the book offers relatively little evidence at all.

            I’m inclined to agree with the author that women are on net disadvantaged by gender roles in our society, and that we should be working to fix this.

            My problem isn’t that I disagree with her politics- at least, I think it isn’t. (I can find some parts to disagree with if I look, but the broad strokes match my prior.) It’s that I get the sense she’s sort of LARPing someone conveying information. The idea that we might be skeptical, even in the generic way college students are supposed to be skeptical, doesn’t seem to have entered her head, so she’s not overly concerned with making arguments or, where she does, citing sources (she uses some statistics in talking about the gender gap, but mostly doesn’t say where she got them from).

            But this general atmosphere is hard to convey quickly and clearly, so I kind of seized on the Cinderella thing. Which, now I look back over it, is actually Sleeping Beauty. I’m not sure it makes a difference, but I apologize from general principle.

          • keranih says:

            And now I’m disappointed, because I think Cinderella (which is a globally noted archetype, not just a Western/Euro one) could reasonably be used to indicate something fundamental/biological to humanity, even if its not actual evidence.

            Sleeping Beauty is not so wide spread, I don’t think.

            women are on net disadvantaged by gender roles in our society, and that we should be working to fix this.

            (That’s two things, you know, not just one thing.)

            I wish this was something you guys could dig into more. What’s the definition of “disadvantaged” that is being used? Are there other definitions? Has “our society” always used the one definition over the others? Is the disadvantage due to the culture, or due to different (biological) factors?

            (I would argue that so long as we include “likelihood to be murdered” “lifespan” and “likelihood to pass on genes to the next generation” in “advantages” that women have historically had multiple advantages that men don’t. A definition that excluded these could be formed, but anyone who held that other definition would be challenged (by me) to defend that choice.)

            Then it comes to “we should do something about that.” Well, that gets into *whether* we should change the world, and then *what methods* we should use to change the world, and what are the pros and cons of those choices, and that could be a really interesting debate, with lots of interesting sidebars and rabbit holes.

            So this could be a really cool class. Sorry to hear that it is not that way for you.

          • Matt M says:

            Which, now I look back over it, is actually Sleeping Beauty.

            Maybe show her this comic?

          • rlms says:

            @keranih

            I would argue that so long as we include “likelihood to be murdered”, “lifespan” and “likelihood to pass on genes to the next generation” in “advantages” that women have historically had multiple advantages that men don’t.

            I’m not so sure about lifespan. This claims that the gender gap in life expectancy was around zero in 17th/18th century Europe, and I think it’s plausible that in countries/eras where female infanticide was common the gap would’ve been the opposite way round.

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            Presumably, before modern medicine, loads of women died while giving birth. So this might have offset the greater resilience of the female body and men dying more at their jobs and in wars.

          • rlms says:

            @Aapje
            That’s true, but (according to that blog post) in medieval Europe at least higher levels of violence against men (relative to now) outweighed the effect of women dying in childbirth, so the life expectancy gap was greater than it is now.

        • I’m thinking less of courses than of social groups sorted in various ways. The people in the gaming club are likely to be different from the people who attend a public lecture on some interesting non-ideological topic from the people who go to folk dancing (my wife, who I met at folk dancing, tells me that it’s no longer popular, but there are related things that are). All will be different from the people involved in the SCA or the science fiction society or the outing club.

          Most such groupis have some open events, especially since you are yourself a student. Attending one should give you a feel for the people—not so much their politics as their commitment to rationality, civil conversation, whatever characteristics matter to you.

          True story. When my wife and I were living in New Orleans about thirty years ago we attended a public lecture, on what topic I have forgotten. A woman in the audience asked a question that was both intelligent and wittily put, so after the talk we got talking with her, ended up inviting her to our place for further conversation.

          At some point I think past midnight I discovered that she was the daughter of an economist whose name I was familiar with—and she, after discovering who I was a son of, informed me that her father was the first person to get a doctorate with my father on his committee.

          We became friends and, among other things, introduced her to the Society for Creative Anachronism, one of our hobbies. Some years later, while camping with us at Pennsic, she met the man she later married.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Which university? I grew up in North Carolina, and they’re very different. To me, your description sounds like UNC – Chapel Hill or maybe Duke, and probably less like NC State… but things might’ve changed in the last seven years or so.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @Evan: Guilford. Bought the ‘diversity’ scam. I figured, hey, any meaningful measure of diversity is going to involve trading off social harmony against the fruits of very different people coming together. And social harmony probably isn’t that important at a university, since they’re not exactly plagued by violence (This, er, was a few years ago). And mitigating the tradeoff seems to encourage something like civility- a common system for expressing ideas without constantly tripping over each other’s feet. And people surrounded by those who think differently tend to have to be more reflective about thinking itself, so you’re less likely to get entrenched dogmas.

            Basically, I thought it was going to be more like here.

            My mom works at the UNC school of

        • Deiseach says:

          “Sleeping Beauty” definitely works a lot less well than “Cinderella” would; after all, Cinderella is displaced by her stepmother who is a widow with two daughters of her own. The struggle there is between the natural children and the stepchild for resources, and the father makes very little impact at all – he is either unaware of what is going on with his daughter’s situation, uncaring (it’s in the domestic sphere and nothing to do with him, this is the sphere of his wife, and since Cinders is a daughter and not a son he will not sink so many resources into her) or unable to do anything about it. Even the prince has little to do other than provide the requisite happy ending, the story is really centred on women in the domestic sphere and the family, and the tensions that economic struggle provoke. The wicked stepmother can be presumed to have few resources of her own after being widowed and has two daughters, who will be more of an economic drag than if they were sons. She is trying to divert the resources of her new husband to provide for her daughters in preference to the natural daughter, and there seems to be some work done on step-parenting to back this up (the linked article is somewhat* alarming, despite what it tries to say about there not being wicked stepmothers in real life), and the struggle to attract the prince is, of course, a struggle to achieve a stable, higher status and more bounteous economic station. That the stepdaughters (in the traditional tale) go to the lengths of self-mutilation (cutting off toes and heels to try to fit into the glass slipper) shows how desperate a struggle this is.

          And success for Cinderella depends, literally, on magic and a Fairy Godmother intervening, which is rather depressing when trying to consider how this could work in real life – the lesson there being “you can’t, you will probably succumb to your fate without some extraordinary circumstance”. The world of men (the patriarchy, if we’re arguing that) is so distant from the world of women that Cinderella’s father can be ignorant of how his daughter is being mistreated, or not be someone whom she can have recourse to or depend upon for help, but it is the vital and important goal to which the striving and struggling of the women is aimed, and it is the world where their economic and hence literal survival is derived, decided and awarded.

          * The extent of this effect is striking: if a Krummhörn girl lost her mother early, the likelihood of her dying before the age of 15 more than doubled compared to a girl whose mother did not die. If the father remarried and the stepmother joined the family, mortality doubled again. Thus, the arrival of a stepmother affected the girls in East Frisia as much as the death of their own mother. In Québec, however, the risk of dying young barely changed when the new mother moved in.

          • Fossegrimen says:

            Cinderellas father is dead which I think is a valid reason for not noticing much.

          • Nornagest says:

            The Disney version has a dead father, but the Perrault and Grimm versions don’t. Other versions (there are many) might have a dead father, a passive father, or a father who sides with the wicked stepmother. Some versions lack the stepmother entirely, with her older sisters as the villains. Gender-flipped versions also exist.

            The fairy godmother exists only in the Perrault version and ones derived from it, incidentally. Supernatural plot devices are common (the Grimm version has a magic hazel tree) but some versions are entirely mundane.

          • mdet says:

            What I take to be the patriarchal aspect of Sleeping Beauty (going off the Disney version) is that Beauty is not a character in the sense of an individual in the story who makes choices and takes actions in pursuit of her goals. She’s a MacGuffin, a plot device used to motivate and reward the Prince in fighting the witch / dragon. The Disney movie is framed as if it’s about her, but honestly you could replace her with a chest full of gold and have a broadly similar story.

            I guess I’m looking at it on the meta-level: the message to little boys who want to be like the Prince could be framed as “Be brave, fight a dragon, and a woman will fall in love with you”, while the message to little girls who want to be like the Princess could be “Do literally nothing at all, fall helplessly to a curse, and then a man will come along and save you”.

            Meanwhile Cinderella at least had compelling motivations, clear goals, and took actions to make her goals happen.

          • powerfuller says:

            @mdet

            The funny thing about the Disney Sleeping Beauty is it’s the three good fairies who are the real protagonists. Though obviously the prince is one who wakes her up, the whole story is driven by the fairies, and the conflict is mostly good fairies versus Maleficent, not prince versus Maleficent. He’s pushed or helped along every step of the way.

        • AG says:

          The point about Cinderella being such an ancient anecdote is answered by a) it having versions in just about every non-matriarchal culture, but more importantly b) that modern versions still persist and are popular today. It feels like about half of Asian dramas are built in the Cinderella skeleton.

          But, honestly, it doesn’t take very much to tweak Cinderella into Pride and Prejudice, so as always, the devil is in the execution details.

        • fortaleza84 says:

          Unfortunately most educated women these days have been taught that the Patriarchy is keeping them down and they have very little respect or gratitude for male creativity and risk-taking.

    • Egregious Philbin says:

      It’s not clear to me whether by “dating site” you mean an actual online service, or a physical locale. I think you mean the former.

      In which case there’s https://www.reciprocity.io/, a people-finding app made by rationalists and which attracts rationalists.

      • Jack Lecter says:

        @Egregious: Thanks a lot!

        I checked it out a while ago, and got the impression it only works if you do Facebook, which I currently don’t. Still a neat idea, though.

    • professorgerm says:

      A few years ago (unsure if it’s changed since) I had success with OkCupid. It was tedious for a while, but popular enough to have a decent spectrum of people, and I liked their system of answering questions both in definition and importance (as in, say, I approve of X being legal but it’s not important to me).

      Eventually found a lady where our quirks meshed well!

      • Jack Lecter says:

        @professorgerm: Thanks. (I’ve typed that a bunch of times now, but I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. I have a policy about that.)

        I like the testing system you describe. And if it worked for you, and you read SSC, that’s a pretty good sign too.

        A good spectrum is important- I’m not looking to play the field, so I only have to get lucky once.

        • professorgerm says:

          Much appreciated, and that’s a good policy.

          If you happen to be in the Triangle, that high concentration of universities should provide a wide variety of social groups, but it’s a matter of finding them. I’m not aware of any rationalist groups in the area but I haven’t researched it much; outside of SSC I find that sphere a bit… grating.

          I’ll second the university advice above, as well. My wife and I met on OkCupid but while at the same university. From my experience (again, a few years back now) you’ll find STEM courses to be much less into the culture wars, especially if it’s the sociological stuff that gets to you.

          Personally, the ecologists were frustrating, but that’s because they thought they were superior to the other biologists in the department, not because they fought the culture war.

      • Anaxagoras says:

        I also had success on OKCupid last year, and found someone not in the rationalist community, but highly intellectual (definitely in the systematizing way) and personally compatible.

        I definitely recommend reading the PutANumberOnIt articles about OKC, and their data blog (though grumble grumble there’s some statistical errors in them). There’s a lot of obviously-incompatible people even among those with the highest match score, but I don’t think the system in nonsense.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        A few years ago (unsure if it’s changed since)

        It has. OkCupid changed their matching algorithm, enough to make it useless (in my experience).

        • Anaxagoras says:

          How so? There does seem to be a 10% penalty for being out age range or distance range, but otherwise it seems to be working as it has before, and in a way similar to how Jacob described in his article. That said, I can no longer find it documented on the OKCupid website, so perhaps there’s more fundamental changes…

    • Trenton Gibbons says:

      I think speed dating is a really great way to meet people. You meet about 20 people in an hour and really get a feel for if something might work. It’s also a ton of fun.

      • Jack Lecter says:

        @Trenton: I should look into that- I was aware it was a thing, but hadn’t seriously given it much thought. Might also help with my social anxiety- you can’t screw up too badly if you’re only going to be talking to the person for five minutes, after all.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      If you’re talking about meeting women face to face in NC, find out where the Catholic students at the local university hang out. I think high IQ Catholics will be your best bet for finding young people attracted to rationality who arent penis-bearers.

      • Jack Lecter says:

        @Le Maistre: I’m not particularly religious myself, but I’m theistic in an odd, abstract sort of way.

        The Catholics on here certainly don’t want for critical thinking, but I’ve never been sure how typical they are.

        I wouldn’t have thought of this on my own, though, and it’s probably worth considering. Thanks!

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          We on SSC are not typical of Catholics, but a university group will select, like this place, for high IQ and contrarian tendencies.

          • Deiseach says:

            We on SSC are not typical of Catholics

            Probably a good thing? 🙂

            Which that being said, happy Maundy Thursday to everyone heading into Holy Week! (And to those that ain’t, enjoy the chocolate Easter eggs on the Easter Bunny day!)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            And a happy Holy Week to you as well!

    • Urstoff says:

      Consider dating non-rationalist (normal?) people, too. It’s possible to have a very satisfying relationship with someone different from you in many ways.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Yeah, I think this and Matt M have some decent advice. Mrs. ADBG is not rationalist and not “like us.” She just tolerates my nerdiness and gives me space to post on SSC.

        She also plays D&D with us on occasion.

        • Urstoff says:

          Yep; I don’t consider myself “rationalist”, although I’m definitely intellectual, and my wife, although smart, is not intellectual in that way. To me, openness, kindness, and willingness to communicate are more important than sharing all interests (we do, of course, share some interests).

          • professorgerm says:

            Thirded, especially on communication.

            I’m not particularly good at verbal communication, but having someone willing to go a little past halfway and ensure we’re communicating in a way that works for us both has been awesome.

      • quanta413 says:

        This 100x. They don’t have to be super different either. I’ve mostly dated pretty nerdy women (my fiancee is a huge star trek fan), but that’s a lot broader type than “systematizing-contrarian-rationalist cluster”.

        Intelligence, reliability, and the right mixture of emotional stability and availability (how much you want of each of the last two depending on your own emotional tendencies) are more important than sharing really specific thought patterns.

    • Halikaarn says:

      I think maybe the platform matters less than what you’re presenting on it? Just accept that dating is different (and harder) for People Like Us. I met my (very analytical and rational) girlfriend on Tinder. My profile didn’t hide my nerdiness or interests, but (according to her) it also showed a taste of me as a human.

      Sorry to hear about the ‘munitions factory’ aspect. STEM classes will probably be better, but in my experience, any kind of student orgs will not, even if nominally focused on interesting things (power attracts the wannabe-powerful, and CW partisanship is how you do that). The exception might be outdoorsy/sports oriented stuff. Does your university have running/cycling/boating/hiking clubs?

  2. bean says:

    So You Want to Build a Battleship returns to Naval Gazing with Part 1 on design. Part 2 will not follow immediately, as it’s going to cover some of the finer interactions between systems, instead of the general design process.

  3. markk116 says:

    I’ve been reading a bunch of the big five personality traits lately, and it’s got me wondering to what degree they’re changeable, and what ways would be most effective at changing them. For instance, I’ve read that experimenting with LSD or other hallucinogens permanently increase openness. Maybe directed habit formation could influence the degree to which one is conscientious? Any ideas about neuroticism, extraversion and agreeableness? Either direction is fine.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      I have a some theories about that:

      I wonder whether LSD and co increase your openness by somehow wrecking your ability to recognise bullshit. That would certainly increase your openness to new ideas, but it wouldn’t be ideal.

      I think you can only fake conscientiousness with habit formation. Which might still be pretty good. But as soon as you are in a non-habitual situation you’ll be the same lazy, sloppy bastard as ever.

      Neuroticism, extraversion and agreeableness sound like prime candidates for medication. I hear my grandma is much more agreeable since she’s on morphine.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        I wonder whether LSD and co increase your openness by somehow wrecking your ability to recognise bullshit. That would certainly increase your openness to new ideas, but it wouldn’t be ideal.

        These two things certainly both seem like common enough consequences of LSD, but I’m not so sure that the latter causes the former. My reason for skepticism of your explanation is that people who’ve taken LSD seem to also produce a heavily increased amount of bullshit; so it’s a matter of generation, not (merely?) of
        (lack of) recognition.

        • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

          Surely that’s kind of the same thing? I mean, if you’re unable to recognize and hence filter out bullshit, won’t you automatically produce more of it?

    • Anonymous says:

      Conscientiousness increases naturally with age, AFAIK.

  4. Incurian says:

    I am getting a divorce and would like some advice.

    Backstory: Met in college, married in 2010 before my first deployment. No kids. Two houses – the one we live in and one in another state. I got out of the army last year and have been going to grad school, but not working. I have two housemates who are friends of mine and pay some minimal rent. We live in Texas.

    Divorce: About a month ago I told my wife I wanted a divorce. Things had not been going well for some years. She begged me to reconsider (the memory of which is as heart-wrenching as anything I had to deal with in Afghanistan). I told her we could go through the process slowly and amicably as possible – it was not my intention to screw her over in court or anything. We agreed that when it was time we would go talk to a lawyer together. After a couple of weeks, I did reconsider the divorce. I had an epiphany about our marriage and how it would all work out and be ok, etc. I told her, but she had already reconsidered herself and was dead set on divorce. Last week she moved out. I don’t know where she is and she won’t communicate with me at all, but today I did see that a somewhat large amount of money went out of the bank account to a law firm, and she took a big chunk of the savings too.

    Concerns: My immediate concern is that I’m having a hard time even assessing the situation. I am sort of teetering on the knife edge between panic and despair. I have just enough energy to keep from panic, but not enough to start considering the situation without feeling sorry for myself and wallowing in despair. So the sort of advice I need includes whatever obvious stuff I’m probably missing at the moment (writing this out is helping). But also broadly, money is a concern as I don’t have a job and the mortgage is expensive. I have very little savings [now], and my income consists of a stipend from the GI bill which covers 80% of the mortgage. I don’t know where the rent from my house mates is going to go. I would very much like to stay in this house, but I know she does too. It’s the perfect house. I can probably just barely afford it with my renters, but my savings be completely wiped out by legal fees is this is even minimally adversarial. Our other house, if sold, would net me ~30k. That’s a decent amount, but I will certainly need to get a job on short notice, and I’d have to spend a big chunk of it on someone else’s mortgage as rent for wherever I move into. My housemates are not interested in moving with me (it’s a really good house?). Whatever happens with respect to the houses I should be fine, contingent on my finding a job quickly, but either all of my money accrued over four deployments or my dream home (closely followed by all of my money) are definitely going away.

    Advice: Anything on divorce, from lawyers or personal experience or hearsay. Is there any action I need to take immediately? Advice specific to what to do about these houses, and my financial situation in general (which will probably not leave me starving but is still a huge gigantic shift in quality of life and an upsetting waste). I guess emotional advice would also be great. And whatever else I’m forgetting.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Eric Rall says:

      The first step is to collect documentation on what has happened so far: bank statements, rental agreements, receipts, title documents for the house, any emails discussing the divorce, etc.

      Second step is to consult with an attorney. An initial one-hour consultation is usually free, and it sounds like you’re going to need a lawyer no matter what. The sooner you talk to a lawyer, the better you’ll understand your options, plus trying to sort out your finances right now is fraught with legal peril and a lawyer can advise you about you can and can’t do.

      A lot depends on the details the situation and the laws in your state. Your wife cleaning out the savings accounts is probably illegal, and she’s likely to be required to pay back at least some of what she too. If your wife works and makes more money than your GI bill stipend, there’s a chance you’ll qualify for temporary spousal support during the divorce proceedings. How much of the house and savings you own and how much she owns depends on your income, hers, assets before marriage, and whether you live in a community property state.

      If you sell the house before the divorce, you’ll need her to agree to sign the listing agreement and the sale contracts if her name is on the title. Even if her name is not on the title, selling the house without her consent opens you up to accusations that you sold it for less than you could have gotten and cheated her out of her share: even if the accusation is groundless, making it complicates the proceedings and gives her lawyers leverage over you.

      These are all issues that a lawyer can advise you on. Seriously, talk to a lawyer before you do anything else other than getting your documentation in order.

      Short term, consider talking to your housemates about paying closer to market rent so you can afford to keep the house, or at least paying some rent in advance to give you some working capital to pay the lawyer. You can also talk to your bank and see if they have a program that would let you defer part of your mortgage payments temporarily.

      • Alphonse says:

        I wanted to signal boost this response, especially the point of hiring an attorney. You may have hoped to go through an amicable divorce, but that’s not the situation you face anymore. You are firmly in “Get a lawyer” territory. Hiring an attorney can be expensive, but not hiring an attorney can be even more expensive, especially since your spouse has already lawyered-up.

        Find a divorce attorney ASAP. Tell them about your situation. Ask for advice and then actually listen to what they tell you.

      • Incurian says:

        Thanks to both of you. Any thoughts on how to pick the right lawyer?

        • Brad says:

          Unfortunately there’s little you can do to pick a good lawyer. There aren’t very many review sites. Even those that exist, or personal recommendations, don’t tell you much because clients are not very capable of knowing whether or not their lawyer did a good job. They can’t even judge the result because they don’t know if a mediocre one was a heroic effort on a tough case or a lackluster effort on an easy case.

          Your best bet is if you are close to any kind of lawyer at all in your area — PI, criminal, whatever — asking for a recommendation from him. It still won’t be any kind of guarantee but at least another lawyer can have some kind of educated guess.

          I know of a few in the greater NYC area but I don’t guess that’s where you live.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Here’s an article from a lawyer’s blog on how to introduce yourself and your case to a lawyer. There’s a little bit on how to figure out which lawyer to try introducing yourself to, too.

    • quaelegit says:

      I’m very sorry to hear, for whatever sympathies from an internet stranger are worth.

      My parents are getting divorced, and the story up to now bears some superficial similarity to yours, but I don’t know enough about either situation to have any advice. All I can say is reaching out to friends is a good idea — both of them have been getting lots of help and support from friends over the last half year or so that things have been proceeding.

    • Vermillion says:

      I think Eric Rall has given excellent advice on how to proceed in the legal way of things. I’d like to offer a bit in the way of emotional advice.

      I am generally pro-divorce. Not universally, but from what you’ve described I think divorce is for you, right now, the right move. You will probably feel a wee bit of pain, sorry, regret, rage and lots more great stuff over the coming days, weeks, months, possibly years, and hopefully not decades. I am really sorry you’ll have to go through all that and when it’s bad I hope you can remember this: all that bad stuff is ultimately for the good for everyone.

      To explain my pro-divorce bias, I like so many am a product of divorce. Only in my case, I’m a product it’s because if my mom had not gotten divorced from her first shitty husband she’d never have had the chance to marry my Dad and I would not exist. They went on to have a long and loving marriage that would never have happened if that first one hadn’t ended. Her ex by the way also went on to remarry happily.

      So try and keep this in mind: One shitty marriage => two people in varying degrees of misery until one of them dies. One painful divorce => four people (or more, I don’t know your life) happily married till death etc. Anyway, I hope that you can keep your hopes up when it gets tough(er). Good luck.

      • They went on to have a long and loving marriage that would never have happened if that first one hadn’t ended. Her ex by the way also went on to remarry happily.

        Just to echo this … . My first marriage ended in divorce, initiated by my wife falling in love with someone else. That was about forty years ago. She is now married, as best I can tell happily, to him. I am now happily married to someone much better suited to me than she was. A win/win outcome.

      • Randy M says:

        One shitty marriage => two people in varying degrees of misery until one of them dies. One painful divorce => four people (or more, I don’t know your life) happily married till death etc

        I won’t deny your experience, but neither of these formulations are in any way logically necessary–or even likely or frequent–outcomes. My parents were often miserable in their marriage, and since their divorce are still usually pretty miserable.

      • Brad says:

        I never really thought about it that way, but I guess I’m in the same boat. My dad had a brief marriage before he met my mother that ended up in divorce. I have no idea what happened to the ex-wife but my parents had four kids and have now been married more than 40 years.

      • Incurian says:

        Thanks, this is a good way to think about it.

  5. TentativeQuestioning says:

    What’s up with functional hydrocephalus? Could it be related to Mayan head shaping?

    “Lewin’s paper reports that one out of ten hydrocephalus cases are so extreme that cerebrospinal fluid fills 95% of the cranium. Anyone whose brain fits into the remaining 5% should be nothing short of vegetative; yet apparently, fully half have IQs over 100.”

    • baconbits9 says:

      This is one of those things that is so weird no (even obviously incorrect with a few moments of reflection) explanations jump to mind.

      The only thought for following this up that I can even come up with is a selection question. If for some reason this condition was more (say much more) likely to occur in the children of high IQ parents then a partial explanation could be that these people are still 2-3 SDs below their expected IQ and the 126 IQ guy would have been a 160 guy without the condition. I really don’t have much faith/expectation of this as even a partial explanation though.

    • James C says:

      Okay, that’s very weird. First thoughts are maybe a good deal of cognition has been shifted somewhere else, like maybe the spinal cord, but that seems like something people would have noticed. I guess there’s two questions I’d want to ask, the first is the obvious ‘why?’, but there’s also a ‘why isn’t this more common?’. Seriously, if evolution can shave 95% of the weight and metabolic load off a brain without much consequence, why hasn’t it done so for everyone. There must be some major malus from this condition that we can’t see of it would be far more wide-spread.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      I think part of the puzzle is that the cerebellum isn’t that essential. Apparently there are people who do relatively well without it. So there is a big part of the brain that you can squash without damaging IQ. What is essential is the cortex. If the cortex is squashed against the skull, how well would 1980 imaging technology detect it?

      • rahien.din says:

        Old neurology joke : what’s the main function of the cerebellum? To make the back of your head round.

    • Murphy says:

      The brain can be surprisingly capable at adapting to sufficiently slow damage. Patients with degenerative brain diseases can still be functional with large portions of their brain basically being Swiss cheese.

      Often patients with a very slowly expanding void in their brains or a brain tumor can be entirely functional…. right up until they’re not. A common way for such things to be discovered is after a motor accident, sometimes because the individual had some kind of fit/neurological event while driving.

      As we age, even if entirely healthy, we lose a surprisingly large fraction of neurons without losing knowledge and understanding we already have.

  6. Andrew Hunter says:

    How many New Yorkers (yes, I count bridge and tunnelers, Nybbler) do we have here, anyway? As I sit in the back seat of a town car queuing for the midtown tunnel, I am finding Nyb and John’s argument about how dead we’d be after a disaster oddly amusing.

    I’m only here overnight, do you want to warn me away from a longer stay?

    • Brad says:

      If you need a lot of space or quiet, it isn’t the place for you. Otherwise the worst part about it is how eye wateringly expensive housing is, at least as compared to anywhere in the country except the Bay Area.

    • The Nybbler says:

      There’s too many people, the rent is famously too damn high (as are taxes and everything else), the subways are becoming more unreliable (major issues today, or so the news tells me; I was at home), and keeping a car in the city proper costs a fortune. It’s too hot and humid in the summer and it smells bad, the winter is cold, windy and snowy and street/sidewalk snow clearing is hit or miss. If you have the misfortune to go through the Times Square area you’ll be tripping over homeless junkies regularly (not to mention tourists), and the subway panhandlers are seriously annoying as well.

      But the jobs and the culture and the restaurants are indeed here. It’s not quite the city that never sleeps any more, but it’s at least open later than Philadelphia. If by a longer stay you mean moving here, if the crowds and the weather don’t bother you, your dog might be the biggest issue; it’s possible to keep a big dog in the city, since people do, but I have no idea how.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        it’s possible to keep a big dog in the city, since people do, but I have no idea how.

        They buy a house, same as everywhere else. (Actually, I have friends who kept their decent-sized dog for many years even without owning a house.)

        As usual, people exaggerate problems and invent problems where none exist.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I’ve always felt that small dogs are the ones that are higher energy and need more constant activity and large dogs are better satisfied with a couple of walks a day.

          • Artificirius says:

            This is heavily breed/individual dog dependent. In general, working breeds are much higher energy, and require more exercise.

    • Anatoly says:

      I spent a week in New York a few months ago, spending most of my time downtown. When I wrote in my blog that I was in town, a commenter who lives in NYC and is apparently disgruntled by it asked sarcastically whether I’m not disgusted by all the garbage bags on the streets. I sweat that until that moment I never even noticed the garbage bags (or noticed and never gave them a second glance, I’m not sure), but after reading the comment I couldn’t unsee all the damn garbage bags everywhere. They seriously soured the rest of my stay.

      Weird how that works. Sorry if I, in turn, made garbage bags too prominent for anyone in NYC right now.

      • Timothy says:

        We are used to it. Perfectly unremarkable to be navigating around garbage bags, jumping over garbage bags, see various types of scavenger going through garbage bags. And they’re all in transit, not piling up, for timescales greater than hours.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        What garbage bags?

        (I’ve live in NYC for over 25 years, by the way.)

      • BBA says:

        We would put the trash bags in the numerous back alleyways you see in movies about NY, except that those only exist in movies.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Seriously. When I visited New York, all the things I noticed were negative, and the trash pretty much topped the list. I am shocked New York does not have regular bouts of the plague.

        Actually, I really liked Flushing, but that’s because I like Chinese food and had Chinese people guiding me. Otherwise I’d probably still be stuck in Flushing.

        And the subway system is relatively nice, I suppose.

    • BBA says:

      I’m also a New Yorker. I don’t need to warn you away, the prices should do that for you.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      I live in a part of New York City known as “New Jersey.” I may be mistaken, but I recall from another thread that you are in your 20s and having difficulty both with making platonic friends and finding a girlfriend.

      I think that New York is a really good place (relatively speaking) for young men to make friends/girlfriends. Every year thousands of young people show up here from other parts of the US and the world for various reasons — school, work, trying to make it in some industry, whatever, and they have to find a new social circle.

      Also, the fact that everyone lives and works on top of each other is uncomfortable but I think it’s very conducive to making social connections, kind of like living in a college dormitory. Last, due to the large population it’s very easy to meet people who share niche interests with you and also it’s easy to experiment with your identity.

    • Chalid says:

      I think that the more money you have, the more you will like New York.

    • biffchalupa says:

      As good a place as any for my first post – intermittent NYC resident here. First for law school, and then returned two years ago for career purposes. As Chalid notes, the experience is far more tolerable when you have some means to enjoy more of the cultural and social elements that were out of reach as a student.

      That said, I don’t see myself raising a family here, although the city has a way of convincing you that “one more year” makes perfectly good sense despite wanting to move elsewhere, and then before you know it you’ve been here for a decade.

    • fr8train_ssc says:

      Was a New Yorker until I graduated high school.

      The city is overrated.

      Fun fact: about half of NYC’s food is sourced outside the metropolitan area and almost all of that is transported by truck. Any major disaster that causes several highways to become unusable would adversely affect the city’s food supply.

      • keranih says:

        I would quibble that the percentages don’t quite add up that way – but that is mostly my prior that thinks “half the city’s food comes from inside the city is WAY too much”. OTOH, WP has the metro area being much larger, so yeah, it could be that up to half the calories come from inside the larger metro area.

        I was, however, struck by this passage: Many truck drivers are
        forced to park illegally at the risk of receiving expensive parking tickets that are
        sometimes administered separately for the cab and the trailer. One truck driver
        estimated his typical parking fines to exceed two hundred dollars per delivery.
        Parking fines for food deliveries are so prevalent that it has become a budgeted
        cost of business—a cost that is passed on to consumers.

        1) Holy cow, that’s insane. And obviously this is a process not controlled by the state, and no wonder the crime rates are so high.

        2) The costs are *always* passed on to the consumer, whether budgeted or not.

        Thanks for the link.

  7. mrjeremyfade says:

    Thank you, Scott for the comment of the week acknowledgement. It feels like quite an honor.

    It might be interesting to hear more about my continuing experience with tax reform relating to IP and popular tax shelters.

    With what seems like really inadequate notice, they transformed the US into Ireland. How annoying.
    I’ll qualify and limit that little bit of hyperbole below.

    After the bill passed, for a couple months, it felt like nothing much happened. There was cautious discussion. Everyone was very careful not to say too much or anything too definite publicly. (Maybe the big money clients were getting definite advice in the first weeks. Certainly public firms (VBC) seemed ready on the quarterly calls to speak at a high level about their effective tax rates.)

    I found experts to answer my most personally urgent questions and I relaxed. I say all this from the perspective of a person learning how it might affect my work, which is not that of a tax expert. Beginning in early February, I could see that a lot of people had been working very hard, at several firms, each preparing documents hundreds of pages long to help people like me understand what had been passed. I provided a link to one KPMG report in the other thread, but don’t want to give the impression it was the only one or the best. I just like it.

    More recently, I have seen practioners, law firms and accounting firms, come right out with recommendations. This seems important, because it implies confidence. (I struggled with whether or not to include a link, because I don’t want to seem like I’m marketing for anyone.) The recommendations are a variation of :
    1) Consider onshoring your IP to take advantage of FDII with a lower tax rate of 13.125%.
    2) Consider restructuring IP out of the low tax rate places you currently use to avoid GILTI.
    3) Be real careful with your transfer pricing because non US jurisdictions are going to assume you are trying to beat BEAT considerations.

    The 2nd recommendation comes laden with other specific ideas, which vary according to the practioners. I’ve seen reclass your CFCs (foreign subsidiaries) into disregarded entities, changing to a C corp structure domestically, non-US firms could move IP to the US, invest in tangible assets offshore.

    For recommendations 1) and 2) I’ve seen a “carrot and the stick” metaphor used.

    My first thought was “OMG, they’ve turned the US into Ireland,” for IP related tax purposes. Now, I think they partly have. We now have a very low rate for IP related foreign income(FDII) and penalty taxes if your IP isn’t taxed enough (GILTI) so you might as well have your IP in the US. However, all this is before other low tax havens respond to make themselves even more attractive. Consider the link Deiseach provided about Ireland NOT EVEN collecting the tax Apple owed. Lower tax rates won’t work anymore to lure IP out of the US, but there are methods other than tax rates.

    And tax havens may still be beneficial places to dispose of IP assets, I’ve been told.

    On a personal note, for smaller US companies the whole thing can be intimidating. The FDII and GILTI still seem like they are underdefined and it isn’t clear where all the edges are. To me, this feels like I am better off getting wholly on one side of bright lines in the new rules. All the way out of GILTI seems like a good place to be, even if a few bucks are left on the table, for example. There are a lot of costs/risks related to compliance that can be avoided if you just get yourself to a place where you can confidently say, “that’s not relevant to our return.”

    • Deiseach says:

      My first thought was “OMG, they’ve turned the US into Ireland,” for IP related tax purposes.

      Damn it, you Americans take everything! 😀 Now ye will all be drinking pints and having stupid arguments and we won’t have any advantages or distinctives of our own anymore!

      • mrjeremyfade says:

        Now ye will all be drinking pints and having stupid arguments

        Oh, the US has no lack of pints and stupid arguments.

        Seriously though, I love Ireland, especially Western Ireland, as a mere tourist anyway. Whenever a series from Ireland comes to my attention that has that setting, I’m watching.
        I have vacation plans for the next couple years, but after that ….

  8. johan_larson says:

    Each prompt is the first sentence of a novel. Give the name of each novel.

    1. My suffering left me sad and gloomy.

    2. I don’t know whether you know Mariposa.

    3. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

    4. Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; …

    5. If he is awake early enough the boy sees the men walk past the farmhouse down First Lake Road.

    6. We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.

    7. On the windswept ice of a lake in northern Manitoba two ravens sat hunched beside the frozen carcass of a caribou.

    8. I can’t believe it, it’s the fifth time Bouba’s played that Charlie Parker record.

    9. Everybody falls, and we all land somewhere.

    10. My lifelong involvement with Mrs. Dempster began at 5:58 o’clock p.m. on 27 December 1908, at which time I was 10 years and 7 months old.

    Hint: All ten novels are by Canadians.

    I would have known #3 and #4, and may have guessed #7.

    • johan_larson says:

      The answers, rot13ed:

      1. Yvsr bs Cv
      2. Fhafuvar Fxrgpurf bs n Yvggyr Gbja
      3. Arhebznapre
      4. Naar bs Terra Tnoyrf
      5. Va gur Fxva bs n Yvba
      6. Gur Unaqznvq’f Gnyr
      7. Gur Phefr bs gur Ivxvat Tenir
      8. Ubj gb Znxr Ybir gb n Arteb Jvgubhg Trggvat Gverq
      9. Fcva
      10. Svsgu Ohfvarff

    • quaelegit says:

      I only recognize #3.

      Margaret Atwood is the only (other?) Canadian author I can think of, but I’ve only read one of her books, which is not one of the answers. [Note — I’m not commenting on whether she wrote any of the answers, just that I do not see the book I’ve read on the list.]

      After checking your solutions — well I actually know #1 and #9 pretty well but those are both vague opening lines and I didn’t know either author was Canadian so never would have guessed!

      (Didn’t know author for #4 was Candian either, but haven’t read it.)

    • dodrian says:

      I couldn’t guess any, though 3 sounded vaguely familiar.

      Turns out I’ve read 1, 3, 4, and 9. 4 is one of my least favorite books, and 9 is one of my favorites!

    • The Nybbler says:

      3. Only one I knew.

      4. I didn’t read this one, but if I started I suspect it would have been thrown with great force across the room before very long. (I have seen the movie)

      7. Thought I could guess the author, but got it wrong. Definitely never read it.

    • Urstoff says:

      Much tougher than the last one; I only knew 3 and 4, and have only heard of 1 and 6 in addition. Are these all considered to be basic Canadian canon, taught in school and whatnot?

      • johan_larson says:

        Sort of. Canada doesn’t really have a canon as such.

        1 – a recent bestseller
        2 – an old classic, often studied in schools
        3 – a science fiction novel famous enough to count as literature
        4 – a staple of adolescence, for girls
        5 – a respected modern novel
        6 – a science fiction novel famous enough to count as literature
        7 – a staple of adolescence, for boys
        8 – a respected modern novel
        9 – a celebrated science fiction novel
        10 – an old classic, often studied in schools

      • tocny says:

        I was only taught #6 in school, although #4 would probably be considered Canadian canon (but I’ve never read it).

        I think Canada punches above its weight literature-wise, but I don’t know if much of the country would have read or heard of many of them. I’m thinking of writers here like Hugh MacLennan (Barometer Rising, or The Watch That Ends The Night) and Alistair MacLeod (Island).

    • Iain says:

      I knew 3 and 6.

      I recognized 2, having read it for school at some point, but couldn’t remember the title. I probably could have worked out 4, but thought “Wait, was Road to Avonlea a book before it was a TV show?” and spoiled myself when I saw whose works it was based on. I have read 1, but did not recognize the opening line.

      The only other book I recognize is 10, which is a bit embarrassing, given that I’m Canadian.

      Edit: Wait, never mind — I have not only heard of 9, but also read it. I guess it didn’t make a big impression on me.

  9. Harry Maurice Johnston says:

    Anyone got any thoughts on this?

    The 2016 Chicago Homicide Spike – Explained

    The 2016 Chicago Homicide Spike – Further Explained

    It isn’t at all obvious to me, just eyeballing the graph, that there’s anything there that needs explaining – if you just look at the gold (?) line, it was already curving up before the break point and it looks pretty smooth to me.

    They say “After seasonally adjusting the data, we are able to perform a standard structural break analysis on our four dependent variables: homicides, fatal shootings, non-fatal shootings, and total shootings. We are able to find structural breaks in all four data series in and around November 2015.”

    … but I don’t know enough statistics to be sure what, if anything, that actually means.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I’m scrolling through the actual paper and it is setting off a couple of alarm bells for me.

      1. They present the ‘Chicago homicide rate’ as the main finding and its dramatic upswing, but the % change in shootings is much, much lower than the change in homicides. For example (eyeballing the charts) it looks as is if the previous monthly peak in terms of homicides per year from 2012-2017 was a little under 60, and the highest peak after stop and frisk looks to be a little over 90. The earlier peak for shootings was around 300 and the later peak is around 375 (they aren’t necessarily the same months either, just using for illustrative purposes). So prior to stop and frisk ending we were looking at a homicide for every 5 shootings or so, the increase of ~75 shootings gives up 30+ more homicides for a 2.x to 1 ratio of new shootings to homicides. I could come up with a couple of explanations off the top of my head why this could be correlated with the end of stop and frisk, but I don’t see them as strong and some intuitions would point me in the opposite direction.

      2. According to this ACLU article Chicago has been using a variety of stop and frisk techniques since the 1980s, and according to this Chicago Tribune article the homicide rate in Chicago was historically low from 2003-2015 and the 2016 increase brought it right back inline with long term averages. If stop and frisk wasn’t responsible for the drop in homicides then it is difficult to paint it’s end as causal.

      3. There seems to be a ton of variability in the year to year data. Homicides in Chicago dropped by 200-230 (eyeballing) from 1981 to 1982, stayed around this lower rate for several years before ratcheting back up. There is also a significant spike in 1974 which lasts a single year and a couple of other multi year increases.

      4. When compared to other cities Chicago had a large % increase, but many other cities also had large % increases (Louisville, Austin, San Antonio and San Jose), the authors acknowledge this, but their dismissals seem really quick and unconvincing.

      5. This quote is irritating

      Not only was the 2016 spike a sharp increase for Chicago,
      “[n]one of the other five largest cities in the U.S.—Houston, Los Angeles, New
      York City, and Philadelphia, in addition to Chicago—have witnessed a single-year
      homicide increase over the past 25 years that rivals Chicago’s increase in 2016.”

      They are quoting another report, but do they mean no other large city has witnessed a single year increase in total homicides, or a % increase and what do they mean by ‘rivals’ (as in how close or far away are we talking?). Also the past 25 years, if iirc, have seen a decrease in homicide rates across the country in most years which would make large spikes in year to year data less likely than in years with increasing rates.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Forgot one piece

        The authors identify the break in the shootings data in October 2015, but Chicago police stops were down (eyeballing) almost half from their 2013 and ~25% from the 2014 average in March/April without a spike in shootings or homicides that they find.

  10. keranih says:

    Book request:

    Young adult SFF genre, read in a library around 1980 or so. Set (I think) in Australia, during a wildfire. A set of kids (siblings and friends) get cut off from home and take the long way getting back. Along the way they have increasingly magical adventures until they meet a man who holds some sort of stone or gem in his hand and they end up back near home.

    Specific things: the kids rode a school bus, and the school bus/teacher had different names based on the kids smearing the name. (something like ‘Mr Smith’ into ‘Mrs Mit’.)

    The three siblings went to a candy shop and bought the lemon (?) sticks from high up on the shelf, and ended up getting the shoppkeeper po’ed at them for sending him up the ladder again and again.

    One of the friends (?) had a pony that died in the fire, but they didn’t find that out until the end.

    My copy was missing a few pages near the end, so that the story broke off in mid sentence and started again, clearly several scenes further on.

    Part of the trouble is that I am not quite certain that this was one book – I might be mixing a story with the journey of the magic man with a more realistic story of the fires.

    …anyone have any thoughts?

    • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

      Never read it, but I suggest you ask on Stack Exchange, or if you don’t want to create an account I could post a question for you?

    • The Nybbler says:

      If they’re separate, _Ash Road_ might be the wildfire book.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      You’ve reminded me that there is at least one YA SF novel I got from the library in the fifth grade that I can never remember the title of. The setup is that there’s a pubescent girl (i want to say 14) on Earth who meets an annoying boy her age from a space colony. She’s significantly bigger than him and says she doesn’t know why Spacers are so small, for which he calls her dumb. They’re at some kind of school together, and their arguments inevitably lead to having sex. Then they make a big life decision to go on a space adventure together instead of splitting up… And that’s all I remember.

      • Matt M says:

        Are you sure that was a YA SF novel?

        It sounds more like Tumblr to me…

      • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

        Sounds vaguely familiar. Also sounds very much like Heinlein, except for the sex part.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I know, right? I doubt the author was on his level, but I did read this at around the time I was raiding the library for Heinlein juveniles, because it was like those and the POV was a girl.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        about how long ago did you read the book? “In fifth grade” isn’t very informative.

      • Rite of Passage is told as a flashback by Mia Havero, the daughter of the Chairman of the Ship’s Council, after she has completed her own rite of passage, also known as Trial. She has survived for thirty days on a colony planet with minimal supplies as part of her initiation into adulthood on one of several giant Ships that survived Earth’s destruction in AD 2041. To prevent overpopulation on the Ships, family units can only produce children with the approval of the Ship’s Eugenics Council. The penalty for breaking this rule is exile to a colony world.

        By the year 2198, Mia Havero is twelve years old and, like most of Ship-bound humanity, regards the colonists as “Mudeaters”, a derogatory reference to frontier life on a planet. When she accompanies her father on a trading mission to the planet Grainau, Mia learns from the children of a Grainau official that the feeling is mutual; many on the colony worlds call Ship people “Grabbies” because they take whatever goods they cannot produce on the Ships in return for knowledge and technology (doled out sparingly), the heritage of Earth to which the ship residents have laid claim and which colonists are unable to maintain, being too busy staying alive.

        When Mia returns to the Ship, in addition to her regular studies, she joins a survival class. Survival class is every thirteen-year-old’s preparation for Trial, the Ships’ rite of passage into adulthood required within three months of turning fourteen. By requiring adolescents to experience the rigors and dangers of life on a colony planet, the Ships hope to avoid stagnation and ensure that those who survive are skilled enough to contribute significantly to Ship life. However, the mortality rate of Trial participants is fairly high, so no expense is spared to train the adolescents about to go through Trial so that they will survive the month spent planetside.

        Mia’s companion in school and in survival class is Jimmy Dentremont, a highly gifted boy of her own age. Their initial rivalry turns to friendship and eventually blossoms into love. Both in and out of survival class, sometimes with Jimmy and sometimes with other children, Mia has a series of adventures that build her confidence, broaden her world, and prepare her for Trial. Her moral awareness also grows during this time, both through formal study of ethical theory and through reflection on the errors she inevitably makes as she risks new experiences.

        Shortly after her fourteenth birthday, Mia and her class are dispatched to the planet Tintera to undergo their Trial. Having quarreled with Jimmy, Mia refuses to team with him, but still chooses the tiger strategy over the turtle strategy; that is, she chooses to act on this world rather than hide out for the month that she’s on planet. Mia soon encounters a party of rough men on horseback, who are herding Losels, native humanoids the Tinterans treat as domestic animals and use for simple labor, although they may be intelligent enough to be considered slaves. Mia escapes the Losel herders’ attempted kidnapping, and when she reaches the nearest town, she is repulsed by the fact that all Tinterans are “Free Birthers”—they have no population control. She is also disturbed by their apparent practice of enslaving Losels.

        After a second run-in with the Losel herders leaves Mia badly beaten and robbed of the signalling device she will need to return to her Ship, she is rescued by Daniel Kutsov, an old man who has been reduced to a simple, manual job as a result of past political activity. Kutsov treats Mia like an adopted grandchild and explains to Mia that her speech gives her away as being from the Ships. Kutsov tells Mia that Ship people are at best regarded with resentment, and at worst killed. Mia has already learned that the Tinterans have captured a scoutship from another Ship and arrested one of her fellow Trial participants. While recovering from her injuries in Kutsov’s house, she discovers that the prisoner is Jimmy Dentremont. Singlehanded, Mia stages a jailbreak and escapes to the wilderness with Jimmy, but not before the two witness the brutal killing of Kutsov in a roundup of political dissidents.

        Riding through the night in the pouring rain, Mia and Jimmy set up a tent in the woods. While in the tent, they realize their feelings for each other and have sex. They arrive the following day at the military headquarters for the territory, where Jimmy retrieves his own signalling device. Before they leave the base, they also disable the captured scoutship.

        Soon after Mia and Jimmy return from Trial, a Shipwide Assembly debates what to do about Tintera. The Tinterans are Free Birthers, possibly slavers, and a potential danger to the Ship itself. As Mia hears the Assembly’s debate, however, she understands that her views have changed. Her moral world has broadened to include the Tinterans as people, rather than faceless spear carriers to be used and discarded. Thus she cannot bring herself to condemn the Tinterans en masse. However, under the leadership of Mia’s father, who perceives the Tinterans as beyond re-education, the Assembly votes by an eight-to-five margin to destroy Tintera in the name of ‘moral discipline’. Mia and Jimmy, as adults, prepare to settle into their own living quarters on board Ship. Jimmy offers the hope that they will someday be in a position to change their society

  11. wimpledapple says:

    I think my greatest (idiosyncratic) weakness is my inability to swallow pills. Has anyone had success learning how to swallow pills after decades of being unable to? Also, are there any classes of pills that you really, really shouldn’t crush in order to get the active ingredient? (I don’t have any physical issues with swallowing food or anything. It’s more that I’m afraid of choking on pills on some kind of visceral level and I constantly pinpoint where a pill is once it’s in my mouth and compulsively block it with my tongue.)

    • johan_larson says:

      Some painkillers are provided as pills that dissolve slowly. Swallow the pills whole for long-lasting pain relief. Chew and swallow for a quick high.

    • Matt M says:

      Not decades, but I didn’t learn how until my early 20s.

      I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before, but the key for me was always to just do my best to try and imagine the pills simply getting sucked into a river of water. Like, to drink the entire mouthful of water in one big swallow and allow the pills to go along with it, rather than making a specific effort to swallow the pills.

    • RavenclawPrefect says:

      I used to be unable to swallow pills; nothing in particular cured it for me, I just tried it one day after a year or two of not having needed to and it worked. One thing that I recall being a decent workaround was encasing said pill in something I found easier to swallow – macaroni noodles worked, I think, and ice cubes probably would too. Probably not worth the hassle unless the pill is particularly horrible-tasting when crushed, though.

    • UserNumber9 says:

      I’ve had a mild case of a similar problem. Here is what I do now. Try to put the pill on your tongue as far back as it will go comfortably go without gagging. Recently I’ve been putting it on my tongue then pushing my tongue forward while scraping my front top teeth. This gets the pill about halfway to the back of my tongue. Now drink a generous amount of liquid. Ignore the pill focus your mind on drinking the liquid. The pill will hopefully come along for the ride. Yes, unfortunately this means you’ll taste the pill.

      Another thing I’ve done when trying to avoid the taste is put the pill in the pocket under my tongue behind my front teeth. Take in a generous mouthful of liquid, then get the pill to float in the liquid above my tongue, probably by scooping under it with my tongue and doing some strategic swishing of the liquid (I don’t remember how I did this and I’ve been using the first method recently). Then swallow the big bolus of liquid with the pill floating in the middle, possibly by drinking more to wash it back and down.

    • b_jonas says:

      > Has anyone had success learning how to swallow pills after decades of being unable to?

      Not to such extreme, but I have learned to swallow pills more easily, so now I have a lower failure rate. Here’s my advice, sorry if it’s obvious.

      – The most important trick is that you should put the pill under the front of your tongue. This makes it less likely that you’ll start to dissolve the pill with saliva unintentionally, and that’s something you really should avoid (at least for some pills). It also seems to increase the chance that the pill goes to the right place.
      – If you expect to have difficulty swallowing the pill, have your upper body upright (not lying down), and once the pill is in your mouth, lean your head back. This makes it easier for the pill to go through your throat.
      – Liquids are useful. First rinse your mouth with clear water, swallow all of it. This helps remove saliva from your mouth. Then put the pill into your mouth under your tongue, then take a gulp of water into your mouth, then swallow the pill together with the water. The water helps you do a proper strong swallow movement, which is difficult if the pill is the only thing in your mouth. Don’t wait too much between these actions.
      – Don’t put more than one pill into your mouth at the same time.

      > Also, are there any classes of pills that you really, really shouldn’t crush in order to get the active ingredient?

      I believe yes, but I don’t know which pills in particular. I expect a doctor or pharmacist should be able to tell you. You could also ask them for alternatives to pills.

    • dodrian says:

      I struggled to swallow pills for a while, and the trick that worked for me was to chew something thoroughly (a few potato chips, a cracker or cookie works well), place the pill inside the chewed food in your mouth, and swallow that.

      Now I mostly don’t need to do that, I mainly try and avoid thinking that I have a pill in my mouth and just swallow a lot of water.

    • Incurian says:

      It helps if you drink some water immediately before, in addition to washing it down.

    • Well... says:

      Do you mean swallowing pills dry, or with water?

      It seems (from, uh, movies or something?) like most people who take pills with water put the pill in their mouths, then sip some water and swallow the pill with the water. I have trouble doing that for two reasons (one, I don’t like the taste of pills, and two, I think I might have a mild version of the same fear you have about choking on the pill), so I sip the water first, hold it in my mouth, toss in the pill, then swallow the water. This makes it quite easy and it works every time.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I have this problem, too.

      I can swallow food without chewing it, so it must all be in my head. (Well, obviously, but I meant the brain part of my head.)

      One thing I do is get a big mouth of water, close my eyes, tilt my head back just slightly, and push inon my ears with my hands. Then swallow. It works most of the time. Looks silly but whatever.

    • shakeddown says:

      Used to be unable, got good enough to not even need water when I started taking small sleeping pills daily for a while. First few were hard, but you learn.

    • rahien.din says:

      You can train yourself. Start with much tinier things, like large dot-shaped cake sprinkles. Move up to mini M&M’s. Keep going until you’ve developed the skill of swallowing a whole pill.

      Also, are there any classes of pills that you really, really shouldn’t crush in order to get the active ingredient?

      Generic advice : extended- or delayed-release medications should not be crushed. The formulation only works because the medication is encased in slowly-dissolving layers. If you crush it, you’ll get the entire dose all at once, defeating the purpose and giving you side effects.

      • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

        One of my current medications has a warning that women should not handle broken tablets. I don’t know how dangerous it actually is, e.g., if it would be dangerous to use a spoon that had previously been used to crush the tablets, even after the spoon was washed, but you would at least need to take care. Nor was there a warning about this on the box – it was in the information sheet my pharmacist provided when I first went on the medications.

        My (perhaps overly cautious) conclusion is that anyone who wants to crush medications that aren’t designed to be crushed should probably check with their doctor or pharmacist first.

  12. Kelley Meck says:

    I normally do not post here under my actual name. This is my third post looking to work through differences in fact or inference or epistemology that may underlie why some commenters here take a very different view than I do w/r/t/ climate change. (The first two posts on this subject are here and here.) As I’ve said before, I’m publishing under my name to make it clear I’m real and take this seriously. I remain interested in a double-crux style look into where the areas of my disagreement are with any upstanding member of this community who wants to see where we disagree, but for the moment I’m working through the ~38 blog posts I’ve identified at David Friedman’s blog, so I’ve got a pretty full plate. Also, I’m very aware that there are cow-pox-of-doubt problems marching around in my head here; I seem to have had trouble taking everyone seriously in previous threads. At the risk of turning into Orwell’s Boxer, “I will try harder.” Please everyone do likewise.

    I am particularly interested to explore the areas of my disagreement with @DavidFriedman, but do not mean to foreclose participation by anyone else who sees things differently than I do. However if your question/comment is far off from this topic (I’ll get specific below), you might be better served starting another parent comment.

    In the first of my climate change comments, I threw out an eight part list, intending to sketch the contours of my position and thereby give anyone who disagreed with me room to identify where the disagreement centered. In my second post, I focused on #3 of that list, which was ocean acidification. That does not seem to be a locus for that much disagreement.

    In this post, I want to focus on #1 of my 8-part list. Looking back, I see I wrote “Climate change is severely back-loaded. By this I mean that even if we were to stop emitting fossil fuels tomorrow, climate change and warming and etc., would continue at or near present rates for decades.”

    That statement left some things implicit that I now feel I was mistaken to take for granted. So, backing up to expand the room for disagreement on this point, I want to say first that:

    1a) I specifically believe there was no fraud in obtaining the result of Cook et. al., 2013 (link) that has been widely credited with the finding that ~95% of scientists who publish peer-reviewed climate science either have published papers explicitly accepting that manmade factors are the main cause of climate change, or else have published papers that take manmade climate change as a well-established fact in the background of their own study.

    I believe this is a repeatable finding, and that it has, in fact, been repeated. (link) To anyone who is reading and finds they disagree, would you care to estimate what fraction of scientists with published, peer-reviewed climate papers, would describe their published work as agnostic toward or in open disagreement with the idea that manmade factors are the main cause of observed climate change in the last 100 or so years, and offer some real-world prediction that you could test to find out if you are right? For example, if you think the problem is Western governments leaning on suggestible scientists, then perhaps you’d predict more disagreeing scientists in Japan (home to 379 published climate scientists, as of 2013) as compared to Australia (273) or Spain (151). I realize comment-thread hypotheses aren’t that likely to actually get tested, but it’ll really help me understand where we disagree.

    To 1a I would add this clarification of my original #1:
    1b) I think the climate change that these scientists either explicitly report, or take for established fact, is a climate change that is back-loaded, such that if the world tomorrow magically reduces ongoing fossil emissions to zero, warming will mostly continue at present rates for decades, and would continue at a meaningful amount (say, 20% of present rates) even after a century of zero emissions, and maybe for several centuries.

    To clarify, by “back-loaded” I mean that even if we were to stop emitting fossil fuels tomorrow, the globe’s warming trend would continue at or near present rates for decades, and at a significant fraction of present rates for a century or even centuries. (I think some non-warming climate effects might drop off much more quickly. E.g., ocean acidification might slow immediately in direct proportion to a slow-down in emissions. I think I saw that an exogenous change to atmospheric CO2 reaches a local equilibrium with dissolved ocean CO2 so quickly that, the pH of surface ocean water at Mauna Loa nicely tracks the CO2 concentration measured at the Mauna Loa station. But that’s off topic.)

    (To put all that in a clumsy analogy… say you park your car in the sun on a sunny day, with the windows all down, and let it reach an equilibrium temperature inside the car. Now say you roll the windows up halfway. The car will warm, and at an accelerating rate, as less heat escapes through the closing windows. If you *stop* rolling the windows up, the warming rate will stop accelerating, but it will take the car a while to reach a new equilibrium. With the climate, I think it is reasonably well-known that we are much more than a century from whatever new equilibrium we’ve bought ourselves with our fossil fuel emissions to-date. I think ocean acidification finds equilibrium faster than other aspects of the climate system, such that if we stopped emissions tomorrow, the oceans would not systematically further acidify for a century or more.)

    I think that, at least somewhat recently, David Friedman did not agree with me about 1a), and so it was muddying things to jump right to 1b or beyond.

    I think so because of two blog posts of his, here and here. I think by the standards of most lawyers and law professors, the first is a fair and carefully framed question of methodological rigour for the authors of Cook et. al, and that, by those standards, the second post is just a candid report that Cook et. al, did not respond to those questions coherently, let alone persuasively. I also think by the standards of most journalists, raising a legalistic question of methodology under the heading “A Climate Falsehood You Can Check For Yourself” on a private blog is too pointed / uncharitable to expect a polite and patient reply from an overworked scientist who probably hates interacting with journalistic-type inquiries even when not accused of falsity. Indeed Dr. Cook was not polite, but rather sufficiently hurried/dismissive/arrogant that he misunderstood the question and attacked David Friedman’s motives, and left Dr. Friedman wondering if he’d interacted with a rogue or a fool.

    I think Dr. Cook could have explained himself well if he had found and taken time to do so. In particular, his own study included a follow-up asking all the same scientists to rate their own papers, and the methodological problem/ambiguity potentially present in the initial study design is emphatically not present in that follow-up survey, but the result was the same. (Compare option 3 of the second question here.) Plus, as linked above, the “~95% of scientists publishing peer-reviewed climate science” idea is one with a track-record that extends backward and forward in time, across other researchers, quite outside the reach of Dr. Cook, such that he couldn’t have expected to be able to lie very effectively on the subject if he wanted to. So you’d expect if he was motivated to find some easy way to lie to push for political action on climate change, claiming a 95% consensus statistic would not have been his hill to die on. Maybe that’s just motivated thinking on my part though, or anyway maybe I am still missing something important here.

    As a final 1c), I the rate of warming-related, uh, “weirdness”–that is, weather/climate events that do not match human infrastructure–is back-loaded such that even if we magically dropped emissions to zero tomorrow, the rate at which these events happen/worsen will likely increase in the future. (Of course the standard disclaimers that I really have no idea what the future looks like all apply. I am not sure I can be persuasive on this point, because anyone who disagrees with me can assume they’re Julian Simon and I’m Paul Ehrlich, and I haven’t got tools right now to explain just how Julian Simon-side I normally am.) Although I’m not ready to try and persuade on that point, I’d be interested to hear people’s reactions, particularly if they come with links.

    • keranih says:

      So….

      (I really respect what you’re trying to do here.)

      1a ~95% of scientists who publish peer-reviewed climate science either have published papers explicitly accepting that manmade factors are the main cause of climate change

      Not DF, nor anyone else who has expertise in this field…but…I don’t care. It doesn’t matter how many people think the earth goes round the sun, vs round and round the garden like a teddy bear. What matters is the accuracy of the idea, not how many people agree with you. The original study was set up in order to use “you are a minority! most people think you’re wrong! your thoughts are bad!” as a stick to beat climate skeptics with.

      I’ve pointed out before that while this line of rhetoric is evidently effective on the left side of the house, it doesn’t fly well at all with the libertarian contrarian set. Which is distinctly over represented in this space. Continuing to have “all these scientists agree with me!” as a cornerstone of your argument is going to lead to a fundamental structural weakness.

      1.b a climate change that is back-loaded, such that if the world tomorrow magically reduces ongoing fossil emissions to zero, warming will mostly continue at present rates for decades, and would continue at a meaningful amount (say, 20% of present rates) even after a century of zero emissions

      This is interesting and cool. I would like to see more exploration of this idea, and what it means for 1) testing any hypothesis 2) how long global warming has been going on and 3)our adaptive/reactive steps.

      HOWEVER – you are going to have to do a lot more work to show that a backloaded system is what people mean, and have meant, for some time WRT global warming. I do think you need evidence to show that this was the common view.

      1c), I the rate of warming-related, uh, “weirdness”–that is, weather/climate events that do not match human infrastructure–is back-loaded such that even if we magically dropped emissions to zero tomorrow, the rate at which these events happen/worsen will likely increase in the future.

      …what’s the rate of them happening now? How has this rate changed in the last 50 years? (I have repeatedly heard that it has not – its hard to say that a rate will continue to increase when it’s not, actually, increasing.)

      • yodelyak says:

        Thanks for the reply Keranih.

        1a) I spent a lot of time writing a massive block of text to carefully spell out some things I think about a bite-sized piece of the massive amount of blogging DF has done on this subject, but I may not have chosen a good place to start.

        Expert consensus is useful for knowing what the current state of the art is, but it generally isn’t where the new, better theory is born, or even where the problems are recognized. So once you think the expert consensus is badly wrong, being told there’s an expert consensus over and over again just feels like being talked at. I get that. The reason I got hung up talking expert consensus for so long is that DF has two closely related blog posts aimed at dinging the expert consensus, as opposed ~10 on e.g. polar ice melt, and I wanted to focus on something that wasn’t too massive a subject to take on. Perhaps I should have just dived into something with lots of hard-science data, however daunting.

        As it is, anyone not turned off because I seem to be fetishizing “consensus”, will be bored because they already knew there was a consensus… So, in hindsight… ugh. Not a great choice of topic–you are probably right about that! Still, there are worse things that crickets, so if I don’t get any other comments, so it goes.

        Maybe in a few open threads I’ll write about 1b or 1c or any of the other 8 points, and that’ll get more people commenting and be interesting again. I guess if anyone got this far and is watching for me to show I understand that I know the limits of expert consensus, I guess I can say “ultraviolet catastrophe” and say, yeah, I get it, expert consensus can seem like one small step away from “I asked everyone at the bar.” I mean, if you’re desperate, maybe the bar is better than nothing… but you can’t expect people who are accustomed to thinking for themselves with data to be happy about polling. I think there’s loads of compelling experimental results and data sets to show climate change is real and bad, I just didn’t talk about them in this post, because hey this is a big subject and maybe I’ll get to it.

        1b) A good link on this is here. The basic intuition at this link is that there are sources and sinks for carbon in the atmosphere. If we waived a wand and stopped emitting CO2 tomorrow, and for some reason the other sources and sinks all kept going at today’s speed, in 50 years we’d be back down to 280 ppm–the preindustrial level. However–and intuitively, when you think about sinks like the ocean that are powered by a differential with atmospheric CO2 levels–the closer we get back to 280 ppm (or any equilibrium), the slower those differential-powered sinks work to remove CO2, so you get something like logarithmic decay, and the planet would still be significantly warming more than 100 years out.

        Another thing you could look into is the heat capacity of the oceans. I don’t have a favorite link for that at the moment, but at one point I tried to figure out how much the speed at which the oceans are warming is, in terms of power, as expressed in (say) units of one completely boiled Sydney Harbor… maybe it was that climate change is currently heating the planet at the rate of one boiled Sydharb per day? Per hour? I don’t recall, and now I can’t find my note on that.

        1c) Uh, I got some pushback on this in my first post that I haven’t had a chance to explore yet, so I’m not that confident. But I remember being persuaded by something circa 2010 that was a review of insurance rates in the U.S., and seemed to have done a good job of controlling for there being more stuff to break, such that I was persuaded that insurance losses were increasing because climate change had already gotten real enough that we were experiencing the predicted effect of warmer air => wetter air => more and more frequent 100-year and 1000-year storms than we’d expect. I mean, it’s neat when you can see climate changes by looking at insurance premiums and “flood inflation.” I did warn that I’m not sure I can be persuasive here, only I can say that, provisional on more data, I am currently firmly persuaded. One place I can point quickly is the website “riskybusiness.org” That’s not the place I first was persuaded; it’s a recent find and I haven’t explored it very thoroughly yet. I’ll expand on this if I find a favorite summary, when I can.

        • keranih says:

          1a. I think your sense of the lack of utility of using consensus as a tool is about right. Whether or not the statement of consensus is accurate I’ll leave to DF.

          1b. I didn’t do a good job explaining my objection here – you propose that the people in the 97% study held this idea of a “backloaded” system. In otherwords, you held that “‘most’ of the authors who published those 12k papers in the 20 years studied thought the system was backloaded and thought that even with a ‘full’ decrease in CO2 emissions we would continue to see warming for many decades.”

          You’re going to need to demonstrate this. Because that is really not my impression of the debate surrounding the Kyoto conference in 1992. Nor was it the message put out in the two decades after Kyoto. Oceans as heat sinks only really started getting talked about *after* the warming pause went on for so long that even climate alarmists couldn’t deny that it was there.

          (This may how the system works. But right now, all I see is a buncha people who have grabbed onto an idea and kept trying to find ways to prove their idea is right – when one model is proven wrong, they don’t step back and re-evaluate the whole idea, they just grab up another model and try to make it fit. And now we’re back to the earth going around the sun or vice versa, and the increasingly complex explanations for rejecting the ‘true’ model.)

          1c. Data I’ve seen does not support the idea that weather events have gotten worse. I welcome new analysis. (My home town got hit with a two-hundred year rain the week before a hundred year rain came through two years ago, and the results of that are still settling out.) However, you’re working against my prior formed in the decade after Katrina, when we were all told that Katrina was the new normal because of ‘global warming’ which tells me that people who say the weather is bad because of global warming are lying shills who don’t know what the *&^$ they’re talking about. It’s not *fair* that people with sound charts and analysis have to deal with that burden, but all God’s chillins got troubles, and that ain’t nothing compared to the issues the population genetics researchers struggle against.

          Seriously, man, keep going. You’re doing good.

    • I specifically believe there was no fraud in obtaining the result of Cook et. al., 2013 (link) that has been widely credited with the finding that ~95% of scientists who publish peer-reviewed climate science either have published papers explicitly accepting that manmade factors are the main cause of climate change, or else have published papers that take manmade climate change as a well-established fact in the background of their own study.

      If you have read my blog, you have presumably read the post on that study. Whether there was any fraud involved I don’t know, although it’s pretty obvious that the people who did it knew what result they wanted to get. But your description of the result is simply wrong. The high percentage figure was for the claim that humans were a cause, not that they were the main cause.

      The article sorts abstracts into categories by their position on the cause of global warming. Category 1 is “Explicitly states that humans are the primary cause of recent global warming.” That’s your “main cause.” The example for category 2 is “Emissions of a broad range of greenhouse gases of varying lifetimes contribute to global climate change.” Category 3 implies what category 2 states. So neither category 2 nor 3 qualifies as “main cause.”

      Do you disgree? Is an abstract saying that emissions contribute to climate change saying that they are the main cause?

      The famous 97% figure is for the sum of categories 1-3. The figure for category 1 alone is not reported in the paper but the data are webbed so you can calculate it.

      It’s 1.6%.

      This is important because the fact that Cook’s figure is routinely cited in the form you give, by Cook himself and many others, is strong evidence that the movement in question is more interested in whether claims support its conclusions than in whether they are true. All of us in a dispute like this are going mainly on second hand information, so knowing to what extent you can trust information sources is important.

      So far as your specific question, my guess is that a large majority of the people active in the climate field believe that humans are the main cause of warming since the mid-20th century—which is all the IPCC claims. The current warming trend started in 1911, so the IPCC, at least, is only claiming that the later part of it is mainly due to humans.

      As I think should be clear from my blog, the part of the current orthodoxy I am skeptical of is not the claim that current warming is largely due to humans but the claim that it can be expected to have large net negative effects.

      the second post is just a candid report that Cook et. al, did not respond to those questions coherently, let alone persuasively.

      Misrepresenting the argument you are attacking is not incoherent, it is dishonest. He responds to an argument I never made, as you can check by looking at my original post, and entirely ignores the argument I did make.

      Indeed Dr. Cook

      I do not believe John Cook has a doctorate. He appears to be the only John Cook in the list of different ones on Wikipedia who does not have a Wikipedia article, so I cannot check, but if my memory is correct he has a masters degree in physics. He isn’t a scientist, he’s a polemicist

      I also think by the standards of most journalists, raising a legalistic question of methodology

      My post doesn’t raise a legalistic question of methodology. It accuses Cook of lying in one article about the results of a previous article. If you disagree with that description, feel free to explain why it is incorrect, here or on the comment section of my blog. I believe that to do so you have to be willing to claim that “contributes to” is the same thing as “is the main cause of.”

      In particular, his own study included a follow-up asking all the same scientists to rate their own papers, and the methodological problem/ambiguity potentially present in the initial study design is emphatically not present in that follow-up survey, but the result was the same.

      Look at footnote a on Table 4 of the original paper. What he is defining as endorsing is any of categories 1-3. Only category 1 is humans as the main cause. That is precisely the same thing he is doing in the 97% figure.

      Your point about the continuing effect of CO2 on climate change is correct. If we release no more CO2, it will still be quite a long time before global temperature reaches its long term equilibrium.

      In order to change that we would either need a technology for increased absorption of CO2 or some sort of geoengineering to reduce the Earth’s albedo and so the amount of heat it absorbs from the sun. Both are possible but I don’t assume either will happen.

      • yodelyak says:

        This is a very thorough response, thank you! I will work through all your points tomorrow.

      • Kelley Meck says:

        This does seem to be one crux of why we have different views. I had read Cook et al with some care before posting, and it was your two blog posts about Cook’s study that brought me to look closely at Cook et al in the first place. (I linked to both your blog post and your follow-up post in my original comment above.) When I first read your posts, I was confused. On the one hand, my prior was that Cook was not an idiot whose facts are often plainly wrong, nor a cheap huckster out to mislead, but rather either a sincere-and-mostly-correct concerned person, or a sincere-and-mostly-mistaken concerned smart person. On the other hand, my other prior was that you’d obviously read his paper, raised a sincere concern, and then been responded to in a way that was rude and kind of ironically fell into exactly the problem of mis-reading your concern that he felt you’d leveled at him. I spent some real time trying to understand how that happened. Also, why was your reading of Cook not something I’d seen elsewhere? Why didn’t that make many more waves at the time than it did? I mean, stupid people are everywhere, but thousands of people have read Cook’s paper. If even 1% of them aren’t idiots, then why isn’t this talked about more? So, my prior was pretty strongly that there was probably just a misunderstanding here.

        Having been through law school, I know how easily reasonable people can end up in almost unrecognizably different places from the same text, a problem which usually gets many times worse if politics are involved. That fact tends to make lawyers learn to write in a very careful way, and to judge each other’s writing very searchingly, for any error anywhere; the standard for legal writing is something like, “be nowhere wrong, even when read by a hostile reader.” In contrast, among scientists, (doubly so math and physical scientists, because of the nature of what they are working with and the limitations of prose to talk about mathematical relationships) much more often work with a standard that is, “be right, when read in toto, by someone smart who is trying to find the one way in which what you are saying makes any sense at all.” On the former, legal-writing standard, many specific things in Cook’s paper look like errors that could create a lot of noise or even systemic bias in his result. In many places the paper uses sentences that, to a lawyer, are half-formed, flaccid, ambiguous, or all three. (For non-lawyers reading this… “half-formed, flaccid, and ambiguous” is what lawyers call each other’s writing when what they mean is “runny stool-water of the mind.”)

        That was, and tentatively remains, my basic explanation for how you and Cook’s interaction went so wrong the first time. You caught him making a tight generalization from a bunch of really sloppy prose (underneath of which is a decently rigorous study), and said “false.” He felt wronged that you hadn’t looked for the charitable reading of his sloppy prose, and reacted stupidly. It seems likely to me that he was in the middle of reacting defensively and hastily to many people–many of whom were making about as much sense as the average “yahoo questions” comment about climate change–and consequently maybe he had a cowpox-of-doubt kind of inability to see that your point was a fair concern about sloppiness leading to outright false results, and the confusion was never cleared up.

        Your example of footnote a on Table four is one such example of his flaccid writing, among many. Probably the worst example is the example given for the “3” classification in Table 2: “… carbon sequestration in soil is important for mitigating global climate change’.” Standing alone, this seems to speak very clearly for the idea that any mention of the fact that the global temperature record has a recent positive trend which maybe requires mitigation, but doesn’t take a position on whether human activity is behind that trend, fits the “3” classification… which would completely destroy the usefulness of any derived “>95% of scientists think __ about climate change.” As I explain below, I think that if we read the paper in total, and judge it by the standard for science papers, then probably Cook’s reported number of abstracts that e.g. implicitly accept man-made climate change–probably his reported results are approximately correct, notwithstanding that his write-up of the results has, er, dribbles of stool water on the physical page.

        I think the most important organizing framework in his methodology is his 7 (or 8, depending on how we count them) classifications:
        1: explicitly endorse and quantify, e.g. humans are causing >80% of the warming
        2: explicitly endorse without quantification, e.g. humans are causing
        3: implicitly endorse
        4: no position
        5: Implies humans have had a minimal impact on global warming without saying so explicitly E.g., proposing a natural mechanism is the main cause of global warming
        6: Explicitly minimizes or rejects that humans are causing global warming
        7: Explicitly states that humans are causing less than half of global warming
        (4 was later divided into
        4a: do not address or mention the cause of global warming
        4b: express a that human’s role on recent global warming is uncertain/undefined. Making this division after the fact does look like a kludge that may cover over a lot of ambiguity between the original “4” classification and the “3” classification–which is the main distinction on which the >95% number comes from, so I will grant this is a very suspicious kludge!)

        As I understand it, his study divided the abstracts of some ~12000 papers matching search terms like “climate change” among volunteers to be classified by the above system. The methodology was to have two volunteer rankers (who are likely regular readers of his blog, skeptical science, a fact I’d missed before, which does significantly change my prior for outright fraudulent results) read abstracts and rank them as matching one of these 8 categories (and where two rankers don’t agree, have them correspond, and where they *still* don’t agree, bring in a third ranker to break a tie).

        However since category four expressly includes both (as classification 4a) “Does not address or mention the cause of global warming” and (as classification 4b) “Uncertain: Expresses position that human’s role on recent global warming is uncertain/undefined” I am tentatively pretty persuaded that there is no major systemic bias either in the direction of putting category 3s in category 1, or of putting category 4 in category 3.

        What really persuades me, though, and what I think is my best chance of persuading you, is that his result of classifying abstracts doesn’t have to stand alone. He also got email responses from 1200 authors (a 12% response rate, which is pretty good for a survey I think), who rated their own full papers for whether the papers (not the authors) endorsed man-caused climate change. I linked that part of his study (which may not have been done when you first posted your blog posts) in my comment above. In particular, I think the contrast between classification 3 and classification 4,

        “3 Implicit Endorsement: paper implies humans are causing global warming. E.g., research assumes greenhouse gases cause warming without explicitly stating humans are the cause.
        4 Neutral: paper doesn’t address or mention issue of what’s causing global warming

        and the fact that responses to this survey aligned tightly with the original result from his study of abstracts should be pretty persuasive that >90% of scientists with peer reviewed papers on climate change have, in those papers, endorsed the idea that green house gases are the main cause of climate change. Maybe I’m still being too charitable to Cook, and I’ll come back and look at this again after a lunch break, but this comment is already massive enough.

        • Kelley Meck says:

          Arg, my comments keep getting eaten. I will try again later.

          • Kelley Meck says:

            The famous 97% figure is for the sum of categories 1-3. The figure for category 1 alone is not reported in the paper but the data are webbed so you can calculate it.

            It’s 1.6%.

            This is important because the fact that Cook’s figure is routinely cited in the form you give, by Cook himself and many others, is strong evidence that the movement in question is more interested in whether claims support its conclusions than in whether they are true. All of us in a dispute like this are going mainly on second hand information, so knowing to what extent you can trust information sources is important.

            I think a funny thing here is that I read your (David Friedman’s) blog post first (where the numbers are plainly reported with the centrality they deserve.) Because I didn’t have to dig to find the key info, I didn’t initially share your sense that Cook was being weirdly cagey… but that’s because in my head Cook was getting credit for your blog post’s clarity–Cook buried these numbers completely.

            Taking your commenter’s count of how the numbers broke down, there were

            Level 1 = 64
            Level 2 = 922
            Level 3 = 2910
            Level 4 = 7970
            Level 5 = 54
            Level 6 = 15
            Level 7 = 9

            I think there is something at least a little bit dubious about Cook’s decision not to plainly post these numbers–it smells bad. And I don’t see any good excuse–it’s not like these numbers are so complicated that they need dressing up to appear in a scientific publication. My opinion is he should have put those numbers front and center in his results section. Maybe it is worth pointing out that even so, had he just compared the 1s to the 7s, so 64 out of 73, that’s 87.6% or the 1s and 2s versus the 6s and the 7s is 986/1010 = 97.6%… still about the same amount as he got comparing the 1s, 2s, and 3s to the 5s, 6s, and 7s. (Those comparisons are probably more apt than comparing the 1s to all the other papers and coming up with 1.6%. Yes, 1.6% of the papers whose abstracts were reviewed turned out to explicitly quantify climate change as primarily human caused, but 87.6% of the papers that explicitly quantified the amount of human influence on climate concluded it was primarily human-caused.)

            But at that point, what we’re learning is that of the very small number of scientists who have published a paper putting a quantitative number to the role of human causes in climate change, it’s something like 90% to 10% in favor of humans being the main cause. That’s different than 90% of more than 10,000 scientists having papers that take climate change as a given… he could have been much better about this.

            Anyway, I think I’m mostly not being that constructive right now, and I’m still frustrated my longer, better comment got eaten, so I’ll leave this for now.

          • But at that point, what we’re learning is that of the very small number of scientists who have published a paper putting a quantitative number to the role of human causes in climate change, it’s something like 90% to 10% in favor of humans being the main cause.

            The numbers are better than 90 to 10, assuming Cook correctly reported his results in Cook et. al. 2013, in favor of humans being a cause, not in favor of their being the main cause. You seem to still be missing that distinction.

            Do you agree that an abstract that says that humans contribute to warming is not claiming that they are the main cause–their contribution could be 90%, it could be 10%? Do you agree that, according to the paper in question, Category 2 included such abstracts, hence category 2 and category 3 are not limited to abstracts holding or implying that humans are the main cause? Doesn’t it follow that only the abstracts in category 1 fit your description? That’s 1.6%, not 97%.

            And, as I keep pointing out, the self evaluation responses of the scientists, as explicitly stated in a footnote to the relevant table, are for categories 1-3, hence are for humans as a cause, not humans as the main cause.

            You can defend the original paper on the grounds that it was imprecisely written but not false, although the imprecision, in particular the decision to report the sum of Categories 1-3 but not the individual categories and the repeated use of ambiguous language that blurs the distinction between a cause and the main cause, is at least suspicious.

            But, as I pointed out in my blog post, there is a second paper coauthored by Cook in which he writes:

            Cook et al. (2013) found that over 97% endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.

            That is a flat falsehood and, unless you believe he was unaware of the contents of his own paper, a deliberate lie.

            You are obviously making an effort at a reasoned evaluation of the controversy, but I don’t see how you can get over the two key facts—the example for category 2, which makes it clear that it is not limited to abstracts holding that humans are the main cause, and the statement in the second paper, which describes the result for categories 1-3 as the number endorsing the view that humans are the main cause.

        • sharper13 says:

          From your earlier comment:

          explicitly accepting that manmade factors are the main cause of climate change

          In Cook’s paper, which category or set of categories do you believe contains papers which correspond to your description?

          You talk around it a lot in your reply, but that’s one of the key points of disagreement and I would appreciate you making a clear and specific statement of what it is you’re arguing for. Thanks in advance.

          • Kelley Meck says:

            Thanks for your question. I’ll give you a direct answer, but I also want to say that while I’m being kind of pointed where my disagreement is pointed, I’m not trying to argue to a specific point so much as figure out why David Friedman and I don’t already agree. If, at the end, I feel like I know the main contours of our disagreement (but haven’t persuaded anyone) I can probably live with that. Along the way, I’ll probably learn as much or more than anybody else–so far I’ve gotten to nit-pick here and there, but I’m not sure if anyone else is getting much out of this.

            To answer your question, TLDR-style: probably the 64 “level 1” abstracts are the category that would properly fit under that heading. My mind has changed a good bit, in the course of working through Keranih’s and David Friedman’s comments, so there’s a lot more nuance than there was when I started and that might not be what I’d have said if they hadn’t commented yet. But read my whole answer below and see if that doesn’t answer better.

            If you look at the 7 categories with numbers block-quoted in my re-reply to DavidFriedman, I think you are best served to figure that the 1s and the 7s are by authors like (say) James Hansen or Michael Mann–people who are trying to model the overall climate, in light of the work everyone publishing in climate science has been doing, and who are putting a specific quantitative value (large or small) to the role of humans in climate change in the last half century. The 2s and the 6s are expressly approving/disapproving of the idea that warming is human-caused, but don’t put a number on it or use language (the “primary cause” or the “main cause”) tending to denote a clear percentage range (which maybe denotes > 50%, or approximately 75%). The 3s and 5s use language that seems to accept or reject the idea that humans are the main cause of recent warming, but don’t actually say so. I took most of this as very clear, but probably the credit for that goes to David Friedman and the commenter on his blog who dug up Cook’s data file, not to the Cook write-up of the results. I think comparing the 1s to the 7s, or the 1s and 2s to the 6s and 7s, or (as Cook did) the 1s, 2s, and 3s to the 5s, 6s, and 7s seems like the best way to suss out how much consensus there is about the role of human causes in driving climate change. Since 87.6 is a lot less than the 95% statistic Cook’s paper popularized… yeah, that seems a little deceptive. About 90% may have been a much better estimate from his data, and is the estimate reported by other studies.

            As an aside, I’m not that troubled by how much smaller the set of level 1 class papers is, compared to the level 2 or level 3 classes. To pick on plate tectonics, I expect there are many more papers that take general plate tectonics as an unexplained background for a study of one specific fault line or other plate tectonics question (Yellowstone: supervolcano or deep-core magma updraft?) and don’t actually try to add something directly to any global model for plate tectonics. The fact that level 1 is much smaller than level 2, in turn still smaller than level 3… well, I’m not sure what I would have predicted in advance, but that doesn’t seem hard to explain. But if I had to guess what Cook’s non-awful motive was for lumping them together without showing his work, maybe he thought that the small number of 1s, compared to 2s and 3s, would attract too many hostile interpretations, (when the better comparison may be to compare 1s to 7s, or 1s and 2s to 6s and 7s, as I did above) so he dodged the issue by piling 1s, 2s, and 3s together.

            Anyway, gotta wrap up for the moment. Thanks again.

          • @Kelley Meck:

            I am not sure you understand what I claim my blog post shows.

            I don’t claim that it shows that only a minority of climate scientists believe humans are the main cause. The fact that you don’t say something in an abstract to your paper doesn’t mean you don’t believe it. I suspect that 97% is a substantial overestimate of the number who believe humans are the main cause, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a significant majority believe it.

            The point of my blog post is not to argue a conclusion about global warming but to argue a conclusion about John Cook and, by implication, about the movement he is part of. Cook coauthored an article which offered evidence that 97% of climate article abstracts that took a position on the cause of warming said or implied that humans were at least one of the causes. It also offered evidence, although one had to go the webbed data to find it, that 1.6% of the abstracts said humans were the main cause.

            John Cook then asserted, in print in a second article, that the first article showed that 97% said humans were the *main* cause. That was a flat falsehood and, unless Cook is intellectually incompetent, a deliberate lie. It follows that Cook cannot be trusted to tell the truth, which is useful information since he runs a widely cited web site on climate issues.

            But there is a further implication not about Cook but about the climate movement. Cook’s statement in the second and false form is routinely cited by people arguing for action against climate change. To the best of my knowledge only one person who is in some sense on Cook’s side of the argument (Richard Tol) has pointed out problems with Cook’s article—and for doing so he has been ferociously attacked.

            The only conclusion I can draw from that is that almost nobody in the movement to work against climate change is both intellectually competent, honest, and making a serious effort to make sure that things he says in support of that movement are true. If so, that is a reason to heavily discount the conventional wisdom on the subject.

            One is then left trying to make sense of the facts as best one can while treating the claimed consensus as at most very weak evidence. That is what I have been trying to do on my blog for many years.

          • Kelley Meck says:

            @David Friedman

            Thanks again for taking the time to point again at where I seem to be misunderstanding you. I think this will be my last comment for now, because I’m not sure I have more to say that I haven’t already said, so the last word in this thread is yours if you want it; I’ll come back for the next several days to see if anything new is here.

            It may be I still misunderstand. If I do, I probably won’t be able to fairly recognize my mistake unless I take a break and look again after a week or so, and re-read things fresh. I’ve read it all several times now and mostly feel I’m re-finding the same thing over and over again. For now I’ll say I still think I understand what your blog post is claiming to show, and while I think I can see the criticism you are making of Cook, and it feels like the sort of criticism I would accept from a law professor on an research paper of mine as completely fair criticism, I think it is powered by a legalistic frame of mind that has seized on a logical “excluded middle” that a more charitable reading of his 7-classifications wouldn’t read into his classifications at all. If you haven’t identified that way of reading his 7-part classification, I think that’s the thing you should look for to understand why I’m not readily agreeing with you. Even if you disagree with my reading, if you find it, then I’ll know we’re not talking past each other.

            Maybe I can point at that reading by saying I suspect the raters using Cook’s classification system noticed the same type of concern you raise, which is why classification 4 got split into two halves after-the-fact. 4a is for “no cause mentioned/cause not addressed” and 4b is for “mentioned but uncertain/undefined”. On my read, 4b means, “climate change cause mentioned or etc., but not in a way that makes either a 3 or a 5 seem like the right ranking, such that conscientious volunteers classifying papers want to go with 4, the true-neutral category.” If we assume those volunteers weren’t being intentionally fraudulent, then the number of papers 1 to 3 (which is the number Cook reported) does tell us something about what fraction of climate researchers side with the orthodoxy on the question of recent climate change’s cause.

            To give some examples… On my non-legalistic reading, under Cook’s 7-part classification, an abstract that expressly stated that human causes were responsible for about 10% of recent climate change would get a 7. An abstract that clearly implied, but did not expressly say, that human causes were responsible for an unknown amount of recent climate change would get a 5. An abstract that mentions recent climate change, but in a way that didn’t support classification into either category 3 or category 5 is a category 4b. An abstract that simply doesn’t mention recent climate change’s causes is a 4a. To be a 3, an abstract must make a remark implying that recent climate change as, e.g., something mainly caused by humans or caused by greenhouse gases such that a ranking of 4 or 5 is not equally fitting–so if the remark could be equally taken to mean human climate change is causing 10% of recent climate change as causing 80% of recent climate change, then that is a 4, not a 3. Hence, there is no excluded middle. (I realize some of Cook’s language only matches this if we read his write-up with a willingness to forgive some crappy writing). On his data, if we go with comparing the 1s, 2s, and 3s against the 5s, 6s, and 7s, then the 97% figure is correct.

            Now there are orthodoxies and there are “orthodoxies,” and there are conscientious volunteers, and “conscientious” “volunteers.” I think a meaningful fraction of that 97% may be gray area abstracts that could have been 4s instead of 3s. And a meaningful fraction of abstracts that are correctly classified as 3s may be the work product of scientists who are going-along-to-get-along to get published, whose private view might be a 4 or even a 5. Or some 3s may be scientists who are barely managing to achieve enough understanding of climate science to get their first publication, and of whom it is only fair to say don’t even have an opinion w/r/t/ recent causes of climate change, even if their abstract references the prevailing orthodoxy. So the 3s number may be pretty soft… and the 1s vs 7s number better, in any event, in my opinion.

            I have said I think the 1s versus the 7s is the better statistic. (So, 87%, not 97%, would have been the better summary of Cook’s data, if he really had to go with a summary instead of reporting all his classifications in a clear table.) I realize that is a very different result that the topline Cook reported. A > 97% consensus means 1000 of the same paper’s authors. That seems to corroborate his 97% number, and that survey’s questions do not have (again, my reading here, but I think it is pretty clear) any excluded middle, and the rankings were done by the paper’s own authors and applied to their own papers. So not having issued any retraction, when his result seems pretty robust, at least subject to potential biases that we normally don’t hold dearly against individual researchers, but instead expect to suss out in replications, doesn’t make Cook a fool or a rogue for having reported what his study produced. If he’s that badly wrong, we should pick up on it via replication, or by interviewing his volunteers and finding fraud… not by inferring it from his having not reached legalistic perfection in his write-up. (That’s an understatement. Some of his examples are *terrible*, as we’ve both noted.)

            Again, I think you formed an understandable read of Cook’s paper, which has some egregiously bad failures of clear writing and an unclear study design (which he corrected on-the-fly, and imperfectly, and in ways that are somewhat sloppy. He also didn’t share his data well, which makes him seem hostile toward the public. I don’t think he’s going to be my top choice for an exemplary climate scientist from the orthodox camp… I’d probably go with Trenberth or Hansen for that. But rogue or fool seems extremely uncharitable, and going further to say “rogue or fool” when pointing at everyone else… I’m still confused, frankly.)

            I think Cook is defensive, maybe even cagey, and that makes him pretty deaf to legitimate criticisms and dumb-seeming in his response to well-founded methodological concerns… but his study still seems like a useful addition to a growing literature of surveys of climate experts, and him not having retracted it doesn’t make him and everyone who works with him a fool or an evil person.

          • then the number of papers 1 to 3 (which is the number Cook reported) does tell us something about what fraction of climate researchers side with the orthodoxy on the question of recent climate change’s cause.

            You don’t say what “the orthodoxy” is. That matters, because the first article is, I think deliberately, vague on the distinction between “cause” and “main cause,” never saying which it regards as the orthodoxy.

            I believe you have already agreed, in a response to someone else, that only category 1 represents abstracts holding that humans are the main cause. I think you also agree that only 1.6% of the abstracts expressing an opinion on causation, according to the article’s data, were in category 1. It follows that only 1.6% expressed the view that humans were the main cause. But Cook, in his second article, claimed that 97% did. That’s an error of almost two orders of magnitude and I do not understand how you are explaining it away.

            You say some things about category 4, but category 4 has nothing to do with my argument. All the percentage figures I am citing are, like Cook’s 97%, percentages of the data not including the question 4 responses. That’s why, in the previous paragraph, I referred to “abstracts expressing an opinion on causation,” because that fits categories 1-3 and 5-7 but not category 4, which is why Cook excluded category 4 from the denominator in his 97% and why I exclude it from the denominator in my 1.6%.

            To be a 3, an abstract must make a remark implying that recent climate change as, e.g., something mainly caused by humans or caused by greenhouse gases such that a ranking of 4 or 5 is not equally fitting–so if the remark could be equally taken to mean human climate change is causing 10% of recent climate change as causing 80% of recent climate change, then that is a 4, not a 3.

            Where do you get “mainly” in that from? It isn’t in the definition of the category and it is inconsistent with the examples for both category 2 and 3.

            The paper gives an example of a category 2 abstract:

            ‘Emissions of a broad range of greenhouse gases of varying lifetimes contribute to global climate change’

            That is consistent with 10%, it’s consistent with 80%. So according to you it must be in category 4. But it is given as the example for category 2.

            The example for category 3:

            ‘…carbon sequestration in soil is important for mitigating global climate change’

            That would be true if CO2 was responsible for 40%, in which case it is not the main cause.

            I realize some of Cook’s language only matches this if we read his write-up with a willingness to forgive some crappy writing

            The examples for categories 2 and 3 are not his writing, they are, apparently, quotes from abstracts.

            On his data, if we go with comparing the 1s, 2s, and 3s against the 5s, 6s, and 7s, then the 97% figure is correct.

            Indeed it is. And since his examples show that the 2’s and 3’s can be abstracts that don’t imply main cause, what his 97% figure is correct for is the fraction that hold that humans are a cause.

            I don’t think he’s going to be my top choice for an exemplary climate scientist from the orthodox camp

            He isn’t a climate scientist. As best I can tell he has done no climate research at all. You described him earlier as “Dr. Cook.” Do you have any reason to think he has a PhD?

            and him not having retracted it doesn’t make him and everyone who works with him a fool or an evil person.

            Are you distinguishing between the first and second paper? I’m not arguing that the first paper should be retracted—there are serious problems with it but the conclusion, so far as I know, is correct. It’s the second paper where he says that the first paper found 97% support for humans as the main cause. Since that paper found 1.6% support for humans as the main cause—you already agreed that only category 1 qualifies—that statement is false and should have been retracted long ago. Instead of retracting it he responded to my criticism by ignoring my argument and attacking me for an argument I did not make.

            That is not the behavior of an honest man.

            I have said nothing about “everyone who works with him.” My claim is much broader than that, and weaker than “fool or evil person.” It is that a movement where a provably false claim in support of that movement’s positions is routinely repeated and where the fact that it is false is virtually never mentioned is a movement whose members are not very careful to distinguish what is true from what they want to believe. It follows that statements they make about what is true should be given little weight.

            As you presumably know, I offer other evidence in other blog posts for that final conclusion.

          • nkurz says:

            @Kelley Meck

            As a bystander who appreciates your attempts to understand David’s argument, let me try to further simplify his position as I see it.

            Bedford and Cook 2013 (https://www.weber.edu/wsuimages/geography/Bedford_and_Cook_2013_Response_to_Legates.pdf) says “Of the 4,014 abstracts that expressed a position on the issue of human-induced climate change, Cook et al. (2013) found that over 97% endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.” David believes that saying “main cause” here so egregiously misrepresents the findings of Cook 2013 that it can only be a “deliberate lie”. If you want to resolve your disagreement with David, I think you need to convince David that this assessment is wrong.

            I see two ways you could could do this.

            First, and strongest, you could prove that Cook 2013 actually does show that 97% of the abstracts expressing a position (ie, all not in category 4) “endorse the view” that “human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause” of global warming. Given the definitions of the categories (http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/2/024024/media/erl460291datafile.txt) this seems impossible unless you are willing to read “endorse” as a synonmous with “not explicitly incompatible with”.

            Second, and possibly more achievable, you could try to convince David that the mistakes in that sentence are immaterial or unintentional, and imply nothing particularly negative about Cook’s honesty or character. I think this is where you are going with your comments about reading the paper in “a legalistic frame of mind”? But if you are going to try this approach, I think you need to start by gaining David’s trust with a clear and unequivocal statement that Cook 2013 did not find “that over 97% endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause”, and that Bedford and Cook 2013 was wrong to claim that it did.

            As it is, you seem to be hinting that some of what Cook said was not exactly correct, without actually coming out and explicitly saying that this particular statement was wrong. Since David’s assessment is based on the interpretation of this particular sentence, this lack of clarity makes progress difficult.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      I think Cook’s project here is fundamentally dishonest and his results are rhetoric disguised as science. (Full disclosure: my prior before he published the study was that it would be, based on having previously read and interacted with his skepticalscience blog and those of his detractors and earlier studies of the same sort.) I’m not entirely convinced that Cook knows he is being dishonest; it’s plausible he believes his own press.

      One problem is a motte-bailey sort of squishiness with regards to the question of what “the consensus” is. Rather than having a single well-defined meaning, what it means to “believe in global warming” or to “support the global warming consensus” seems to repeatedly get twisted into whatever form is most convenient for the argument being made.

      To put it in context: even BEFORE any formal studies had been done on the subject, Cook and other climate alarmists liked to claim that skeptics were wrong to be skeptical about some aspect of climate science because “98% of scientists agree with the consensus.” Back then, this claim wasn’t based on any surveys or studies, but just based on their own gut feeling and impression – it was along the lines of “if I believe X and all the people I interact with seem to agree with me, I bet everybody who matters believes it too.” Cook’s studies were an after-the-fact attempt to retroactively justify a rhetorical claim that had already been made. For rhetorical purposes it would be useful to find at least 95% agreement – 98% would be better – because that high a level of agreement would let one paint any skeptics as a bunch of loons believing nonsense as opposed to scientists pushing credible alternative views. (Had the “consensus agreement level” only been say, 60%, it wouldn’t serve that rhetorical purpose.)

      Keeping that context in mind, it seems to me that in most fields it should be possible to discover in a study that “at least 90% of scientists agree with the consensus”, so long as you are the one who gets to define what “the consensus” is and the one who decides who counts as a relevant “scientist” and the one who decides what constitutes “agreement with”. Cook got his numbers by weakening “the consensus” and “agreement” into pablum while strengthening “scientist” to only count a small subset of relevant scientists. Having done this, his numbers aren’t particularly useful.

      David’s doing a fine job of discussing a few of the problems with the Cook paper, so I’d prefer to jump up one meta-level and talk about how the paper’s factoid is used and why it matters. Why do we need a paper claiming ~95% of scientists support the consensus? Because with that number in hand, we can confidently say that any “skeptics” must be right-wing loons who have no scientific basis for their views. Right?

      But there’s a missing step in the logic, an unstated extra assumption. That extra assumption is that skeptics disagree with “the consensus”.

      Which is a problem because if you define “the consensus” the way Cook does, that extra assumption isn’t true.

      If you define “the consensus” narrowly enough to exclude most skeptics, you’ll also exclude a substantial fraction of climate scientists. On the other hand, if you define “the consensus” so broadly as to get at least “95% agreement”, you’ll find that most well-regarded “climate skeptics” agree with it too.

      You asked people for a prediction, so here’s mine: If we were to come up with a list of “climate skeptics” who have published papers in climate-related journals and use Cook’s exact methodology to (blindly) qualify their papers, I predict at least 50% of those papers will qualify as “agreeing with the consensus”.

      TL;DR: Even were it more validly produced, the “95%” stat still wouldn’t provide much evidence that skeptics are wrong to have specific doubts about many of the IPCC conclusions, much less about related claims made in the literature and elsewhere.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        (addendum – missed the edit window)
        Here’s a relatively concise rundown by Dave Burton of recent attempts to qualify the amount of agreement with the consensus. The last one listed, Strengers, Verheggen & Vringer, 2015, surveyed practicing climate scientists and found 65.9% of the respondents believe that human GHG emissions are responsible for at least 51% of the warming trend since the mid-20th century. I find that number plausible for climate scientists and further agree that you’d really want to survey neighboring disciplines to get a more accurate read on what scientists with relevant expertise think.

        • Kelley Meck says:

          The Burton rundown looks really helpful in that it’s written in very plain language, so if I disagree, I’ll probably be able to say why, and disagree amicably; it’s not like that link is hiding its view. I think it’ll potentially be really helpful for understanding the unexpected amount of hostility to there being a consensus re: climate change, even if it doesn’t persuade.

          The Verheggen study looks like a great link to compare w/ the Cook study. Interestingly, Verheggen is also a co-author on a more recent paper with Cook that reports a 90% to 100% interval for the scientific consensus… link. If Verheggen earlier found only 65.9%… what??

          At a gut level, I think the general trend that a consensus will drop-off as you poll further outside a profession should be expected. People have credentials to protect, and are more likely to be ‘unsure’ or loosely hostile to knowledge that isn’t their own, and that’s normal human behavior, so that criticism of Verheggen from Burton (that it doesn’t poll neighboring fields also) seems thin. I mean, adjacent to plate tectonics there’ll be fewer experts who agree with a consensus-type statement of what plate tectonics is all about, as compared to within plate tectonics. It wouldn’t be bad info to have, to know how neighboring fields view plate tectonics (I mean, I’d pretty much always love to have more data than less, so long as the data is gathered carefully.) but it isn’t necessarily damning if that’s not available. The best we have is the best we have.

          I haven’t looked at either closely as of now. Thank you for sharing these.

      • Kelley Meck says:

        @Glen

        This is a very helpful criticism. I’m sorry to be so pressed for time to engage with it. I think my own views of climate change mostly anchor in my experience of, e.g., watching Jim Hansen’s original congressional testimony (from back before I was a thinking person, but I watched the video in the early 00s.) and from things like that, where I could see individual scientists behavior evolve in light of their sincere and well-founded science, but also their often naive but gradually more cynical politics. (E.g., Jim Hansen’s testimony is *earnest*. He really seemed to think it would work to just tell Congress there was a problem. These days I wonder if he would say most of what he accomplished by testifying to congress in the long ago was to put energy lobbyists on notice that they’d better organized to protect their companies’ bottom lines.) Or from interacting with the ideas of people denying climate change–at least a few of them tripped my sophist detection sensors really early, and really often. (I read “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot as a kid, in tandem with reading “The Way Things Ought to Be”, so I sorta had some well-developed patterns to watch for.) I think being on the side that was already persuaded, when this Cook et al study happened, I didn’t look closely at it… so I may not have really understood what a landmine I might be stepping on, to try and defend that study, or the “consensus” idea as a useful concept for approaching conversations about climate between scientists and the general public. But I’m not sure I’m wrong, either.

        I’d rather defend Hansen, if I have to pick a single scientist, or Trenberth maybe–I exchanged some emails with him when I lived in the same state, and he seemed very reasonable and conscientious.

        I do think the fact that there is a consensus against whom many non-unified contrarians are aimed–even if the consensus is just 50%, if it’s the only unified consensus–is rhetorically really powerful. Mainly, it means that there’s something toward which experts can be expected to “punch up.” That was what ended up being something I took as a very damning thing about Roy Spencer’s work. He knows there is a large group of people who are persuaded that they have abundant evidence for rejecting other plausible explanations (solar cycles etc) and a model of climate that works, and can speak about how fast climate will change if nothing is done. But he didn’t/doesn’t aim at making a model that rivals theirs, or challenges theirs, or change their minds. He aims at getting a single paper (that is swiftly retracted) that doesn’t much engage with their ideas, but can be used to launch a speaking/book tour. So, although it’s not generally within a layperson’s grasp whether Roy Spencer’s work was evidence-based and thorough and etc., it *is* easy for a layperson to discern that Roy Spencer’s approach was not aimed at dislodging an existing consensus–was not ‘punching up’–but rather was punching down–aimed at getting credulous or motivated regular Americans to buy his book. (I wrote about this here: link)

        I am not sure it would be a good idea to abandon this rhetorical power, even if it is polarizing. I will think more about whether I really want to defend the way I used the existence of a consensus as part of my argument that Dr. Spencer is not a good source for a lay-person wanting to learn about climate change. I mean, “be nice until you can coordinate meanness”… I had plenty of other ammo to use on Dr. Spencer’s worst stuff, and targeting people for not aiming at taking down the consensus might also just create a barrier to entry such that any amateur-level (but sincere and effortful and potentially contributing) effort is immediately written off. For an example, I think the very large fraction of what Anthony Watts produces at WattsUpWithThat is junk, but I thought his recruiting citizens to track down all the locations of temperature record gathering and keep track of whether there are relevant changes (like if the station moves, duh, but also if someone builds a very big parking lot, like an airport, near it, because heat island effect… I haven’t followed that closely, but it seems like the sort of thing that would have been really cool, if Watts wasn’t so frequently publishing junk. These days his blog has a tagline quote from Breitbart, which should tell you a lot about how eager he is to say whatever will piss of the climate conscious left, instead of trying conscientiously to get people to work together. Shame, really.)

        Anyway, thanks for offering your thoughts.

        • I’d rather defend Hansen, if I have to pick a single scientist

          So would I.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          @Kelley Meck:

          [Roy Spencer] aims at getting a single paper (that is swiftly retracted) that doesn’t much engage with their ideas, but can be used to launch a speaking/book tour.

          I have no particular interest in defending Roy Spencer but I believe you have been misled on this subject by propagandists on your side. For instance: Which paper are you claiming “was swiftly retracted” and when exactly did that “retraction” occur? Answer: The paper wasn’t retracted. As Retraction Watch noted at the time: “Remote Sensing’s editor Wagner tells us the journal is not considering retracting the study.”

          On the claim that Roy’s paper “doesn’t much engage with their ideas“, I find Roy’s take on this plausible. He says in essence: (1) you can’t respond to everything everybody else is writing – that’s not what papers are for. (2) He tried to respond quite directly to what he regarded as the most important arguments available at the time (and the editor and peer reviewers initially seemed to agree). (3) Specific scientists with contrary views refused to share info with him in advance of publication so he couldn’t take into account the findings of some of the specific work he is being accused of having “ignored”.

          My own views of climate change were anchored from following the “Hockey Stick” debate, wherein several “mistake theorist” skeptics at climateaudit.org (and a few conflict theorists) faced off against the denizens of realclimate and skepticalscience, most of whom were “conflict theorists”. Character assassination has been an important technique used in this debate from the beginning and this is exactly how that works – how mudslinging charges propagate. Look at the Quora essay you linked. The question was “Is Roy right about how clouds work?” and your answer was, in essence “Well, I’m not qualified to say whether he’s right about how clouds work – he’s much more qualified on that subject than I am – but I CAN tell you:

          (1) He has sometimes claimed to hold religious (Christian) views on evolution.

          (2) when one of Roy’s papers became really popular with conservatives a journal editor felt compelled by his peer group to fall on his sword over it in a way that produced the false impression the paper had been retracted or was worthy of retraction.”

          Are either of those things directly relevant to whether Roy is right about clouds? No, but the first bit of trivia can be used to paint him as some kind of religious nutcase, and the second helps to paint him as a unmutual wrong-thinker.

          The last bit from your quote up top was “…but can be used to launch a speaking/book tour.” Question: should popular scientists NOT write books in their field of expertise? Should they NOT go on a tour when they have a book to promote and their work has, for whatever reason, struck a chord with the public? Should they NOT put high-profile celebrity quotes on the book jacket? If they DO go on a successful book tour, should we lend their views LESS credence than if they didn’t?

          Do you believe that Roy made his study deliberately controversial in order to sell his in-progress book? If you believe his claim to doubt evolution, why do you disbelieve his claim to doubt (parts of) global warming theory – should we get to pick and choose which things somebody “really believes” and which they’re just pretending at?

          Do you believe journal editors should be held responsible any time scientists issue press releases or do interviews that make their published papers seem exciting and relevant, or only just this once?

          (Again, I have no investment in Roy Spencer’s work and don’t even claim to understand it. Given my druthers, I’d much rather be defending, say, Craig Loehle. Or Steve McIntyre.)

          UPDATE: I think I don’t understand the punch-up/punch-down metaphor. The original metaphor comes from boxing, right? If there exists a view with a massive consensus supporting it, how can somebody from the tiny opposing rebel faction not be “punching up” when they attack?

          There were some substantial communication difficulties between the realclimate crowd and the climateaudit crowd, where the two sides were just operating under entirely different premises across massive inferential distances; it’s possible you’re gesturing at one of these when you say that Roy didn’t/doesn’t aim at making a model that rivals theirs. My own background is in Software QA, wherein identifying a small bug in a program is a positive contribution that does not obligate me to write my own program. Pointing out flaws in a Grand Theory is still science. Sometimes the Grand Theory simply isn’t possible to make work; other times the best person to make a new Grand Theory isn’t the same as the best person to find flaws in the old one.

          (I think we’re largely in agreement on Anthony Watts)

          • Kelley Meck says:

            W/r/t/ Roy Spencer, I see how unpersuasive my quora post is–it just looks uncharitable, doesn’t it? I wish I could re-write it at much more length; I mean, I read Spencer’s book and spend a lot of time patiently working through it to see if he had good evidence, and concluded he was just not a good place to get information on climate. He’s a contrarian mind with good rhetoric and a meteorologist’s priors, vaunted to pre-eminence by the political echo-chambers; however he does not seem to update his beliefs based on anyone else’s work. That’s just my view, really; plenty of room for me to be wrong.

            I’ll take a look at Craig Loehle and Steve McIntyre when I can find some time. Thanks again for engaging with me.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Kelley Meck:

            I see how unpersuasive my quora post is–it just looks uncharitable, doesn’t it? I wish I could re-write it at much more length; I mean, I read Spencer’s book and spend a lot of time patiently working through it to see if he had good evidence, and concluded he was just not a good place to get information on climate.

            The Quora post might not need to be much longer to be more convincing, it’d mainly need a different pattern of emphasis.

            The Quora article never indicates having read Roy’s book. If you’d just said something like “I read Roy’s book [title] and found the arguments on [topic X] unconvincing for [reason Y]” that would have worked much better. (My first impression based on what’s there was the author might have googled the name and found arguments sourced from one of the left-wing mudslinging sites – skepticalscience or desmogblog or exxon-secrets or sourcewatch – and taken those arguments as the final word, without checking to see if Roy or his supporters had ever said anything in response.)

            Back when the “Hockey Stick” was a big deal, there was a group of high-profile scientists (“the Hockey Team”) who liked being able to claim that both the recent warming rate and the recent world temperature level were provably “unprecedented” in the last 2000 years. They seem to have believed that skepticism of this view must be secretly funded by Exxon/Heritage and motivated by evil republicans/polluters; it couldn’t merely reflect honest disagreement. When a bunch of smart people came along from various fields with different priors to express doubt wrt the usual hockey-stick story, their first line of defense was to (a) secretly try to stop skeptics from getting published in journals, (b) publicly proclaim the skeptics obviously weren’t doing science because they weren’t getting published in journals. 🙂

            Then when skeptics did start to get published in journals, the Team argued that these weren’t real journals or weren’t sufficiently mainstream journals. (They also argued that the skeptics weren’t real scientists or weren’t sufficiently mainstream scientists.)

            The “resignation letter” seems to have been part of that strategy – the editor who resigned was embarrassed that his journal had failed to hold the line and somehow let through a paper that served to give aid and comfort to the enemy team at a time when relatively few such papers existed. It was a big deal in the moment, but looking back at it now we’re talking about trusting one editor’s comments about one paper, a paper that neither that editor nor his replacement chose to retract. They didn’t retract it because there was nothing actually wrong with the paper or the process that let it through…except that it got popular with the wrong crowd.

            Given publication and review lead times, I’m pretty sure your claim that Roy ignored already-published contrary data is simply false – the paper he’s supposedly “ignoring” was not yet officially available when Roy wrote his paper nor when the reviewers reviewed it. So this part of the resignation letter was an example of a face-saving plausible-sounding argument, not an actually-correct argument. And yet this one incident accounts for, what, 75% of the Quora response? So if you did choose to redo that answer, I’d suggest deleting all reference to the resignation letter – using those three paragraphs to talk about almost anything else would improve the signal/noise ratio.

            (On the other hand, I’m not sure a Quora entry from 2014 is worth worrying all that much about.)

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Kelley Meck
            If you do get time to look into Craig Loehle, the best paper to start with is “A mathematical analysis of the divergence
            problem in dendroclimatology” Climatic Change (2009):
            (Sci-hub link) . It’s quite short and readable. The background context is the Hockey Stick debate – Loehle’s area of expertise is forest ecology and his paper explains some of the issues with using tree rings as input to very-long-term temperature reconstructions (as was the fashion at the time).

            (for the more political aspects of this debate including McIntyre’s role in it, maybe try Andrew Montford’s book.)

            Thanks again for engaging with me.

            Ditto!

      • Kelley Meck says:

        Okay, one other quick comment that I’d originally written as part of a response to Keranih, but didn’t make the cut, but seems relevant here.

        I am deeply sympathetic to the hostility that people have toward self-appointed climate change crusaders. As the blog Popehat would put it, many of them readily pattern-match to “[the] people … who tend to encrust government… [who] tell me how to raise my family or live my life. I believe in free expression, free worship, free conscience, personal responsibility, the rule of law, strictly limited government (and the strict limitation of people with clipboards and people with guns and badges, thank you very much), and that the best society is one in which free people make free choices, not one in which you allow [anyone] to make the best interests of your children subservient to the best interests of a collective imagined by a smug self-appointed elite.” Yes, a lot of people who care about climate change are functionally indistinguishable from “the people who tend to encrust government… [in] the best interests of a collective imagined by a smug self-satisfied elite.” However, as I myself was once a child, and care a bit about some children of my acquaintance who are alive today, I can also pattern-match all these people who care about climate change to concerned parents/grandparents. That is, I think it’s more parsimonious to think they’re concerned citizens with kids/grandkids of their own, than to think they’re smug bureaucrats. Generally that really takes the wind out of my lowercase “L” libertarian sails. (I do so enjoy hating bureaucrats!)

        From the outside view, we know that expert consensus is often wrong (ultraviolet catastrophe) but we also can use the outside view one meta-level up, to look at what happens to the typical society that uses the outside view to ignore inconvenient consensus expert opinion, either generally or specifically re: tragedies of environmental commons… that doesn’t look like a good choice. So we’re usually left fuming, and hoping somebody breaks this inconvenient climate consensus soon, but stuck with telling our policy makers to respect the consensus (if there is one) for now. As a result, whether or not there is a climate consensus is very tightly tied to whether or not most people support action on climate at all.

        All of which is to say, yeah, taking on the Cook et al paper was not actually a bite-sized way to approach disagreements on this. I’m glad it didn’t get too acrimonious; I underestimated what I was taking on.

        • All of which is to say, yeah, taking on the Cook et al paper was not actually a bite-sized way to approach disagreements on this.

          I gather that you have read through the climate posts on my blog. They contain several others that I offer as evidence of things seriously wrong with the climate alarmist movement, such as this and this. Feel free to comment on those if you think that’s an easier chunk of the problem to look at.

        • keranih says:

          So once again I am extremely receptive to your examination of why/how we think about climate science.

          From the outside view, we know that expert consensus is often wrong (ultraviolet catastrophe) but we also can use the outside view one meta-level up, to look at what happens to the typical society that uses the outside view to ignore inconvenient consensus expert opinion, either generally or specifically re: tragedies of environmental commons… that doesn’t look like a good choice.

          …I disagree. And I think (at least some of) your definitions are off.

          So – consensus expert opinion – what is this? I suggest that it is the current “state of the art” as expressed by a large fraction of the people working in the field at the time. In my experience, this is a moving target, complied from meetings and discussions of a great number of people invested enough in the particular topic to sit through those meetings and discussions. The conclusions will be couched in careful, precise terms that are clear which things have definitive evidence and which have suggestive evidence and where the evidence is conflicting. The final document is full of caveats and sidebars.

          A useful and accurate report of a consensus would relate those points for which this group of experts examined the evidence and agreed on the conclusions. Let me emphasize here – they agreed on the conclusions because when looking at the same evidence, all those individuals used their own reasoning skills and came to roughly the same answer.

          What a consensus statement should *not* be, I think, is a statement which is agreed to because those in agreement feel that everyone else feels this way, so it must be true. It should not be an agreement which is reached not on the merits of the evidence, but upon the political expediency of the end statement. Nor should it be the statement that is reached because of a small group brow beating the rest into adding a particular clause that the majority do not support(*).

          (*) I do allow for minority opinions that are noted as such as important caveats and points of uncertainty, so long as it is clear these are minority opinions.

          So. A consensus statement is very useful when it results as a statement of an experiment: “When a randomly distributed group of researchers are exposed to all the available evidence, what are the most commonly appearing conclusions?” The consensus statement that comes from this experiment is likely to be very close to Fact, bearing in mind the various normal limits such as garbage in, garbage out.

          So when the researchers are not exposed to all the evidence, or the evidence is inaccurate/doesn’t say what we think it says or the researchers are not randomly selected (**) or there are other confounding effects like sacred cow priors, financial incentives, political pressure, etc, then we should expect consensus statements to be more unlikely to match Fact.

          (**) and we’ve already limited those to the researchers willing/able to sit through the meetings

          As I understand it, the UN’s IPCC is designed to study and produce reports showing the “consensus expert opinion” on climate change. Which is great, excepting for how the UN is a horrifically political body, full of potholes and errors. (The US government is not much better – look at the slow rolling reveal of the train wreck that is the human nutrition standards.) The UN has produced, among other errors, the “Livestock Long Shadow” report. I will, however, give the IPCC its due as attempting to construct a proper consensus statement. (Or rather a series of proper statements.)

          Cook didn’t do that. Cook instead tried to tell people what the consensus should be, instead of reporting on what it was.

          In other words, if the consensus is Fact, then whether or not many other people believe it to be true is beside the point – when presented with the same information, a majority of people will come to the same conclusion. If the worth of the consensus leans heavily on people accepting that it is a consensus, then that is *groupthink*, not reasoning. Cook is not attempting to get people to follow his reasoning and so come to the same conclusions. He is attempting to force people to believe that everyone else is already in agreement with him.

          (I have other thoughts on Watt’s Up and the temperature baseline data crawl, but that’s a different topic. I would like more information on this, as I think replication of the data would go a very long way to putting to bed some of the shouting arguments.)

          Finally, I’m going to challenge your assertion that the typical society that uses the outside view to ignore inconvenient consensus expert opinion, [doesn’t make] a good choice.

          Where have “societies” ignored “inconvenient consensus expert opinion” to the detriment of that society? I can think of a few items, but not so many – most of the cases I can think of concern ignoring not “consensus” of experts but rather the opinions of a few radial outliers. Which, sure, it would be great if we-as-humanity accepted unproven-things-which-turn-out-to-be-true earlier, but only if we can also discard unproven-things-which-turn-out-to-be-false at the same time.

          More often, to my thinking, “experts” have jumped on a bandwagon that is not headed towards truth, but instead down a deadend side ally. In terms of movement towards Fact, the vulgar crowd milling about in the square in a Brownian fashion is actually showing greater absolute progress than the highly qualified pioneers harrying on down the one-way side street.

          • Where have “societies” ignored “inconvenient consensus expert opinion” to the detriment of that society?

            Let me offer a case the other way. In the nineteen fifties and sixties, the orthodox position among development economists was that poor countries needed various forms of government planning to become rich. India followed that consensus and stayed poor. So did China, although in that case not because it was the consensus of development economists.

            Hong Kong didn’t follow it, nor did Taiwan, and they got rich.

    • Kelley Meck says:

      New almost-top-level thread, mostly just to concede things I think I should concede–some I maybe should have conceded sooner–and thank everyone for chiming in. I don’t really make any new arguments, and I’m out of time for this project of mine for a while. I just want to close this on a nice note.

      @David Friedman.
      Concessions:
      1. I have no basis for thinking Cook has a PhD.
      I think I felt fine referring to “Cook et al” as a name for his paper, but knew nothing about him personally, and wanted to at least once use his full name or title when referring to him, because it’s possible he’ll read this thread and I thought that a full name is just the nice way you refer to other people in print… and I stupidly assumed he was a PhD. From the wikipedia page (link) on his Skeptical Science website, it appears he is trained in cognitive science, not a physical science at all. Having learned a lot about who John Cook is, I now feel his role is probably best thought of as the rough equivalent to Anthony Watts, except Cook is the guy running the orthodox-side scrum. Like Anthony Watts, he mostly either self-funds or gets funding from website donors. I’m glad there’s somebody playing scrum-leader to counter-balance paid shills and performance artists–I’d prefer Hansen and anyone else doing real science be able to mostly focus on their work without thinking attacks on them are going unanswered. In other words, I seem to have accidentally ended up defending an energetic field marshal in the larger scrum between, on the one hand, some scientists like Hansen who seem sincerely persuaded that the future is at stake, and a large unruly scattering of dissenters/skeptics, some of whom are quite sincere and are sometimes raising constructive criticisms (especially the ones who are economists/libertarians who are concerned the scientists may be underestimating human resilience or the costs of regulation), others of whom are contrarian performance artists or plain crazies. (All these types are hard to distinguish, unfortunately; some sincere dissenters will need to eat and will accept money to be sincere with a podium; not all performance artists perform only for the pay day; some like to be contrary and some like to be influential. And sometimes great thinking comes from people, e.g. John Nash, who have schizophrenia. It was exceptionally unwise of me to try and stake a position w/r/t/ John Cook if I wanted a bite-sized piece.) An energetic field marshall is liable to take his losses personally (and sometimes the sincere dissenters will be right, there will be losses). So it shouldn’t surprise if John Cook is maybe not the best at noticing when he’s made a mistake. An energetic field marshall will also feel responsible for morale, and may feel admitting missteps or defeats will be a further misstep or defeat. I really do not want to defend the particular value of the ideas in Cook’s work compared to any other orthodox-side climate action advocate… I really did not realize the extent to which I was tying myself to awful challenge of defending the existence of a scrum to .

      2. Trying to choose my words quite precisely here, as I seem to have made this longer than it could have been, if I’d been more careful.
      Limited Agreement: I agree I think Cook’s 97% number is flat wrong in the later paper; his phrase is basically claiming 97% of all those papers’ (even the 4s!) abstracts endorsed humans as the main cause of recent change. This is wrong twice; there were a lot of 4s, and it wasn’t an “endorsement” per se, but rather an implication of agreement. But I think it’s a simple mistake that compounds an earlier mistake, where he was cagey and didn’t report his 1s, 2s, 3s, etc., right out in the open, because he thought the number of 1s would be taken as proof that only 1% of climate scientists think the earth is warming up. (Can you say Anthony Watts wouldn’t have trumpeted that #?) Correcting the first mistake, he’d have reported a range of consensus values, from 87% to 97%. Correcting the later mistake, he’d drop the word “endorse” and use a word like, “accepted as established.” Correcting either mistake makes for a pretty small-seeming change in the second paper’s phrase, and would have meant there’d be no systematic problem in his later paper’s number–nothing that looks like deliberate dishonesty. So, for example, if he’d written

      “Cook et al. (2013) found that 97% endorsed of the papers that took any view, took as a given the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.

      That would not feel like a meaningful mistake, except that it’d be an understatement, since some of that 97% did plain out endorse. Likewise, if he’d written,

      “Cook et al. (2013) found that 97% 87% of papers that endorsed a quantitative position, endorsed at least that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.

      then I think there’d be no problem.

      Disagreement: My very strong and so far unmoved prior on the people who work with Cook, or who have not succeeded in getting him to notice that his methodology isn’t perfect and that he looks dishonest, are no more intellectually dishonest than, e.g., the folks who worked with Tversky or Kahneman but couldn’t get them to be nice enough to each other to not hate each other’s guts. Less so, because Tversky and Kahneman weren’t working in a field where they’d become convinced they needed to successfully communicate with policy-makers/the public, in the face of industry-funded opposition, to avert a slow-motion climate catastrophe. Talking about climate change is hard, and when we see someone who seems not to be aware of their mistakes, it’s probably because really showing them their mistakes “has been found difficult, and left untried.” (quotes SSC quoting Chesterton link) At any rate, I’m much more aware of some mistakes I’ve made than I was before, so thank you for taking my bait, as it were.

      @everyone
      Concession: Even if we instead take Cook et al to be saying that 97% is a good estimate for which papers were written from a mindset that accepted humans as the main source of climate change (the 1s, 2s, and 3s being distinct from the 5s, 6s, and 7s), really his write-up raises significant concerns that his methodology was disconnected from the appropriate meaning of “consensus” if what we’re after is justifying reliance on that consensus by policy makers or the public. That is, we want “consensus” to be defined, and for the classification results to align with that definition, such that the public and policy makers know the “consensus” they’re being told about is the kind that actually does have the persuasive force it is being offered for. I.e., we probably want a consensus that includes only the mature-career climate scientists who have a good ability to report on how they’ve personally, independently weighed the evidence… that’s generally the kind that would be persuasive. (If neighboring practitioners all were confident that the methodologies of climate scientists were good–that there were no garbage-in-garbage-out problems, that would be a useful consensus also, probably.) It is unclear if that is the kind of consensus Cook found, and unproductive for Cook to act as though it is clear when facing sincere doubts.

      Again, thanks everyone for being so patient with me! Looking up and down this open thread, it seems like there were more fun places most of you could have chosen to be… glad you found time to talk to me!

      • Glen Raphael says:

        @Kelley Meck (and @DavidFriedman ):

        I have no basis for thinking Cook has a PhD. […] it appears he is trained in cognitive science, not a physical science at all.

        When Skeptical Science first started (~2007), John Cook was a self-employed Australian cartoonist with an undergraduate degree in physics. From the wayback machine, here’s Cook’s initial self-description:

        This site was created by John Cook. I’m not a climatologist or a scientist but a self employed cartoonist and web programmer by trade. I did a Physics degree at the University of Queensland and while I achieved First Class Honours and could’ve continued onto a PhD, I instead quit academia and became a professional scrawler.

        However, AFTER making his lateral move into, let’s call it, “science communicator” and becoming a celebrity author of books and papers, he seems to have eventually gone BACK to school to get a doctorate. A George Mason site now lists him as “research assistant professor” with a 2016 PhD in Cognitive Science from the University of Western Australia and if we go to UWA’s lookup service it does indeed say that somebody named John Cook got a PhD on 24 Oct 2016.

        So he’s not a climate scientist by education, and this wouldn’t have been true even two years ago, but as of today it seems like it is okay to call John Cook “Dr.” 🙂

      • his phrase is basically claiming 97% of all those papers’ (even the 4s!) abstracts endorsed humans as the main cause of recent change.

        I think you are misunderstanding him. The 97% is a percentage of the 1-3 and 5-7 categories. So is my 1.6%. The 4’s are the ones who don’t express an opinion on the cause of climate change, so they don’t count.

        You suggest, as an improved version:

        Cook et al. (2013) found that 97% endorsed of the papers that took any view, took as a given the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.

        That is in fact what he did say in the second paper, and it was flatly false for the reason I keep pointing out. The paper gives examples for categories 2 and 3. Neither of those examples implies main cause. Hence he is only entitled to count the category 1 abstracts as main cause. The category 2 and 3 are people who think that human action is a cause of warming, might think it is the main cause, might think something else is the main cause and human action only contributes.

        So it shouldn’t surprise if John Cook is maybe not the best at noticing when he’s made a mistake.

        He didn’t make a mistake. The first paper was deliberately written to obscure the distinction between a cause and the main cause. It deliberately lumped together categories 1-3 without giving the separate figures, because doing that would have made it obvious that only a trivial fraction of the abstracts actually claimed humans as the main cause. The second paper was a deliberate lie. When called on that he accused me of making the argument you have just made, that the category 4 papers should have been included, an argument I never made, as you can see by reading my blog post.

        Did you read his response to my argument? He pointed out that in the paper I was complaining about, he had written:

        Of the 4,014 abstracts that expressed a position on the issue of human-induced climate change, Cook et al. (2013) found that over 97 % endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.

        That would have been a correct rebuttal of your argument about the category 4’s. It was irrelevant to my argument about the category 2 and 3’s.

        He entirely ignored the argument I did make, that only the category 1 papers counted for main cause, because he had no answer for it.

        As best I can tell, you are objecting to a mistake he did not make and entirely missing the one he did.

        Not for the first time, how can you classify category 2 and 3 as abstracts holding that humans are the main cause when the examples given of those do not express that opinion?

  13. dndnrsn says:

    @bean

    You mentioned in the last OT German long-term ship construction plans (the year 1948 was mentioned). Do you think this was a credible program for the Germans? If the war had unfolded on the schedule they wanted, would it have paid off for them in the way they expected/wanted it to?

    • bean says:

      I checked Dulin & Garzke, and they suggest that given the priority the Navy had been given for the ships, it should have been feasible to complete the H-class ships in 6 years or by 1944 (they’re a bit unclear on which one). However, Hitler had a bad habit of handing out top priority to anything, and even if it had been feasible, it almost certainly would have come at the cost of the rest of the fleet. Battleships, while impressive, aren’t that useful without escorts, and the German destroyer programs were universally terrible.
      As for it paying off, not likely. The German is not an aquatic mammal, and I suspect they’d have screwed things up one way or another. My odds are on several of them getting disabled by air attack, and the rest either sticking to port or getting sunk in a gun battle.

      • dndnrsn says:

        A related question: what’s the most plausible reason the Germans were so much worse at the “human” side of naval stuff (planning, tactics, etc) than land warfare? (My understanding is that this was the case in both wars; the Luftwaffe in WWII was somewhere in the middle ground, while air warfare in WWI was kinda primitive and very dependent on who’d introduced the coolest new widget most recently)

        The overall impression I get is that the Germans just couldn’t pick one task for the navy and stick to it, and the top naval brass wanted battleships because you gotta have battleships but as you point out they didn’t do the related stuff you need to get the battleships to do their job right.

        • bean says:

          It’s because they were never in the naval game for the right reasons. Tirpitz appears to have been able to build his fleet on the back of the Kaiser’s enthusiasm and his own empire-building. There was never a strategic concept behind it. The Navy wasn’t even included in the Army’s warplans. Much the same happened with Hitler’s navy later on. Hitler appears to have believed the propaganda Tirptiz came up with to justify the fleet, and built his accordingly. There was the occasional glimmer of a fleet built to fight France only, but the Plan Z fleet was aimed at the UK, only without realizing that it wasn’t the way to win.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            There was the occasional glimmer of a fleet built to fight France only

            Perhaps this is a stupid question, but what purpose would such a fleet serve? Even if the UK was neutral I suspect they wouldn’t be overly on board with French or German ships running up and down the channel to fight each other, would they?

            A German fleet could potentially strike at French colonies, sure, but isn’t it easier to just throw those resources into walking to Paris? Is the expectation that a French fleet could blockade Germany and have a neutral UK just go along with that?

          • bean says:

            Perhaps this is a stupid question, but what purpose would such a fleet serve? Even if the UK was neutral I suspect they wouldn’t be overly on board with French or German ships running up and down the channel to fight each other, would they?

            This isn’t entirely clear. A Franco-German war would be mostly on land, but there’s the traditional commerce raiding and the bit where you make sure you aren’t flanked by amphibious landings, too. The theory behind the Panzerschiffe, which predate Hitler, was that they were for commerce raiding. Then France built Dunquerke and Strasbourg to counter them, which resulted in Scharnhorst and Gniesnau. At that point, the treaty limits got hit, and they were back to full-size battleships.
            WRT the UK, they might or might not have asked the two sides to keep it out of the Channel. That sort of helps Germany, who can basically claim the North Sea and the northern outlets into the Atlantic.

            A German fleet could potentially strike at French colonies, sure, but isn’t it easier to just throw those resources into walking to Paris?

            Commerce raiding would have been potentially valuable. Attempting the sort of amphibious operations this would have required? Not so much.

            Is the expectation that a French fleet could blockade Germany and have a neutral UK just go along with that?

            I think that was it. I haven’t really delved the depths of interwar German strategic thought.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Tirpitz appears to have been able to build his fleet on the back of the Kaiser’s enthusiasm and his own empire-building.

            Agreed. What I’ve read indicates that the High Seas Fleet was a solution looking for a problem. Tirpitz sold it to the Reichstag using the “Risk Theory” argument, that building a fleet half to two-thirds the power of the British fleet would present enough of a strategic risk to Britain that it’d give Germany useful leverage in their diplomatic dealings. This does have some plausibility as an argument, but everything I’ve heard suggests that it was a post hoc rationalization for Tirpitz’s desire to have a strong battle fleet as a goal in itself, and in hindsight, Germany’s fleet did far more harm than good to their diplomatic relations with Britain.

          • bean says:

            Tirpitz sold it to the Reichstag using the “Risk Theory” argument, that building a fleet half to two-thirds the power of the British fleet would present enough of a strategic risk to Britain that it’d give Germany useful leverage in their diplomatic dealings. This does have some plausibility as an argument, but everything I’ve heard suggests that it was a post hoc rationalization for Tirpitz’s desire to have a strong battle fleet as a goal in itself, and in hindsight, Germany’s fleet did far more harm than good to their diplomatic relations with Britain.

            I finally started doing some reading on the German Fleet, and had Risk Theory explained in a way that made a tiny bit of sense. Apparently, the idea was that after fighting the Germans, the British would be left vulnerable to France and Russia. Which might work in a universe where hostility towards Germany isn’t going to push them into an alliance with France and Russia. But this isn’t that universe.

        • cassander says:

          I don’t think the germans were particularly bad at planning and tactics, what they were bad at was strategy. When they started building the high seas fleet, it was at least vaguely plausible that the germans could “win” a naval arms race with the brits for some highly specific definitions of the term win. They couldn’t, as it turns out, but the Kaiser loved his ships and tirpitz wanted to keep building ships, so they kept building long past the point of sense and drove the british into the arms of the french. the ww2 era buildup was even worse, trying to re-build the same fleet that failed to help them win the last war, only with less time and less money.

      • Protagoras says:

        It’s also noteworthy that during this period France and Britain were investing heavily in rearmament, and it’s not clear how much longer the schemes the Nazis were using to hold their economy together would have continued to be successful if the war hadn’t started and allowed them to start looting conquered territories. So there are lots of ways delaying the war could have hurt Germany more than it helped.

        • cassander says:

          It’s hard for me to imagine the first two years of the war going better than they did for the germans. The real interesting question, I think is whether delaying the invasion of russia a year would have helped. I think you can make a very interesting argument for both sides of the issue

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s hard for me to imagine the first two years of the war going better than they did for the germans.

            Their torpedoes could plausibly have worked. And Goering could perhaps have choked on a chicken bone and been replaced by someone who would leave naval aviation to Doenitz and Raeder. That might have been enough.

            Whether they’d have had working torpedoes by ~1944 without a war to expose their flaws, is another thing that can be argued both ways.

          • bean says:

            Their torpedoes could plausibly have worked. And Goering could perhaps have choked on a chicken bone and been replaced by someone who would leave naval aviation to Doenitz and Raeder. That might have been enough.

            I question if the second half is plausible, actually. It’s in the nature of air forces to want to take over naval aviation, then ignore it. Any plausible replacement for Goering at the Luftwaffe is unlikely to have done differently. The British had the same problem, with Coastal Command’s question of “Are the Germans really going to care that much if we launch a 900-plane raid instead of a 1000-plane raid” being totally ignored by Bomber Harris.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @cassander

            It depends on what they were using that additional year for – would the preparations they intended to do have helped them with the problems they faced historically? The degree to which the planning of Barbarossa had an element of fantasy (or, at least, extreme optimism) to it (especially logistically) suggests that the preparations might not have helped, ditto that these problems were not confined to Barbarossa. And if the narrative that Barbarossa caught the Red Army with its pants down is correct, and a lot of the catastrophe that struck the Red Army especially early on was due to that…

            @John Schilling, @bean

            Would the median replacement have been better, or worse, at doing Goering’s job than Goering was? I suppose that’s the question. Also, I quickly checked Wikipedia to refresh my memory on when he got on the morphine first, and I noted that someone had listed his occupation as:

            Aviator
            Politician
            Art Collector

          • cassander says:

            @john

            I should know better by now than to be so casual with my language with you and bean around. I didn’t mean to imply that there was nothing wrong with nazi war preparations, just that given how well the first two year and a half of the war went for them, I think it’s hard to make a case that an extra year would have bought them more than it cost them given the decisions that were likely to be made.

            @bean

            I’m not an expert on the subject, but goering’s replacement would almost certainly had had less power within the nazi system than goeing did. If he had wanted to exercise as much control over naval aviation as Goering (which, as you say, is quite plausible), he would have been less able to do so. Granted, in the years that really mattered it was Raeder in charge of the navy, and he wasn’t exactly a heavyweight, but he might have gotten more FW 200s made.

            @dndrsn

            It depends on what they were using that additional year for – would the preparations they intended to do have helped them with the problems they faced historically?

            It’s not just a question of how much it helps the germans, but how much it helps their enemies. The allies were far larger and wealthier than the germans were, so it’s quite likely that time would have favored them, particularly in aircraft, which was the one area where the germans had a substantial advantage during the battle of france.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not an expert on the subject, but goering’s replacement would almost certainly had had less power within the nazi system than goeing did.

            Right – Goering’s replacement is, by definition, a newbie. Less clout, and more on his plate to deal with (or more precisely, same amount but it’s unfamiliar to him and requires more bandwidth). It’s quite plausible that naval aviation might drop below his radar, so to speak, long enough for Doenitz or Raeder to exert their own established influence.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @cassander

            Is the scenario that, everything goes as it does until early/middle 1941, but Barbarossa is scheduled for mid-42? What else goes on in that time? Do the Germans commit more to North Africa, is Japan still doing its thing, ? I suppose my overall impression is that if the Germans had an additional year, they probably wouldn’t have had the inclination, or even the ability, to try and fix the industrial and logistical issues that were a couple of their greatest weaknesses. Regardless of what else is happening.

          • cassander says:

            @dndnrsn says:

            Is the scenario that, everything goes as it does until early/middle 1941, but Barbarossa is scheduled for mid-42? What else goes on in that time? Do the Germans commit more to North Africa, is Japan still doing its thing, ? I suppose my overall impression is that if the Germans had an additional year, they probably wouldn’t have had the inclination, or even the ability, to try and fix the industrial and logistical issues that were a couple of their greatest weaknesses. Regardless of what else is happening.

            I would say it wasn’t that they weren’t trying to fix their issues, but that those problems basically weren’t solvable. The germans actually did make very large investments in industrial plant capacity in 41 and 42 that were a big part of why speer was able to produce an armaments “miracle”.

            As to what happens, that’s the big question. Hitler was always going to invade Russia, that was the whole point of all this, but if he doesn’t do it in 41, does he decide then to do it in 42, or just wait with no goal in mind? in the intervening year, how much effort does he put into other fronts? all is contingent, and while the germans don’t know it, the stark reality is that they need to win the war by august of 45, or nukes start falling on germany. When that happens, faced with the choice of surrender or nuclear annihilation, hitler probably choses annihilation then gets murdered by his generals who promptly sue for peace.

            I can’t see any scenario other than the collapse of russia that leaves US and Brits willing to discuss terms, so in hindsight, the best move (assuming you’re dead set on war, which hitler was) was probably to build up the land armies and air forces more, mechanize more divisions, and take an even bigger hail mary at moscow, while not wasting so many irreplaceable assets (mainly pilots and fuel) on the north africa campaign, but that was far from obvious in 1941, and almost certainly not what would have happened. Plus, by 1941, the US was all but a co-belligerent, so it’s possible that the delay buys the germans nothing in net strength, with more siphoned off to other theaters that a 42 attack on russia wouldn’t be any stronger than 41.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I would say it wasn’t that they weren’t trying to fix their issues, but that those problems basically weren’t solvable. The germans actually did make very large investments in industrial plant capacity in 41 and 42 that were a big part of why speer was able to produce an armaments “miracle”.

            Have you read Wages? Tooze attributes the armaments miracle in large part to stuff set in motion before Speer was made armaments guy.

            Plus, beyond the industrial problems, there were logistical problems that were a military thing. I’m pretty sure that the Germans devoted fewer personnel, relatively, to logistics than the Western Allies did. It wasn’t their strong point. Although I suppose that being able to build up would help in some ways – fewer/no Czech tanks and Pz IIs presumably makes supply and maintenance easier, and maybe building more trucks and thus reducing the sheer variety of captured from that used during the invasion of the USSR. I don’t know how much of a factor that was.

            They also had some weird divisions of power within the military but also in the governing of Germany and the war economy. Nazi Germany in general was a crazy quilt of overlapping responsibilities and arbitrary divisions, and a big chunk of this was due to Hitler’s deeply dysfunctional management style.

            As to what happens, that’s the big question. Hitler was always going to invade Russia, that was the whole point of all this, but if he doesn’t do it in 41, does he decide then to do it in 42, or just wait with no goal in mind? in the intervening year, how much effort does he put into other fronts? all is contingent, and while the germans don’t know it, the stark reality is that they need to win the war by august of 45, or nukes start falling on germany. When that happens, faced with the choice of surrender or nuclear annihilation, hitler probably choses annihilation then gets murdered by his generals who promptly sue for peace.

            I’m not really that informed about how many atom bombs the US could put together. In any case, if what happened wasn’t enough to get more than a fraction of the generals to turn against him…

          • cassander says:

            @dndrsn

            Have you read Wages? Tooze attributes the armaments miracle in large part to stuff set in motion before Speer was made armaments guy.

            Yes, that’s why I put quotes around “miracle”, because it was nothing of the sort.

            Plus, beyond the industrial problems, there were logistical problems that were a military thing. I’m pretty sure that the Germans devoted fewer personnel, relatively, to logistics than the Western Allies did.

            Part of their logistical problems, though by no means all, were caused by their industrial problems. Not enough trucks, for example, because they couldn’t make them. So they had to equip whole divisions with french and czech vehicles, which complicated a logistical system that was already over complicated and undermanned, and so on.

            They also had some weird divisions of power within the military but also in the governing of Germany and the war economy. Nazi Germany in general was a crazy quilt of overlapping responsibilities and arbitrary divisions, and a big chunk of this was due to Hitler’s deeply dysfunctional management style.

            this was true of all the countries in the war, and I think it’s hard to say how much worse the germans actually were than anyone else. The US, after all, ended up doubling its commitment to the pacific war because because macarthur and nimitz couldn’t get along. the british, as bean pointed out, lost hundreds of thousands of tons of shipping so Harris could fly 900 plane raids instead of 800. WW2 was a bunch of gigantic command economies slugging it out, they all made pretty terrible decisions and wasted huge amounts of money at various times. the germans could afford it less, and they lost, so their errors get watched a lot more closely.

            I’m not really that informed about how many atom bombs the US could put together. In any case, if what happened wasn’t enough to get more than a fraction of the generals to turn against him…

            there were substantial numbers of generals plotting against hitler pretty much continuously from 1943 on in actual history. I don’t think it would have taken many bombs to get those same men who did actually try to kill hitler to try even harder to kill hitler.

          • Let me suggest a different alternate WWII.

            Suppose Hitler finds a way of getting into a war with Russia, and thus getting all that lebensraum in the east that he wanted, without getting into a war with France and England.

            Here is one, perhaps not very plausible, scenario. He agrees with Stalin on dividing Poland between them, as in fact he did. Stalin attacks Poland from the east. Hitler double crosses Stalin, signs a treaty with Poland, comes in allied to what is left of the Polish army to drive the Russians out, and keeps going—leaving the grateful Poles in control of Poland.

            My impression is that neither the U.K. nor the French were all that fond of the Soviets, so isn’t it possible that they would have let him get away with it? His empire is discontinuous, but between the German chunk and the Russian chunk there are allies happy to let him move supplies across their territory.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @cassander

            this was true of all the countries in the war, and I think it’s hard to say how much worse the germans actually were than anyone else. The US, after all, ended up doubling its commitment to the pacific war because because macarthur and nimitz couldn’t get along. the british, as bean pointed out, lost hundreds of thousands of tons of shipping so Harris could fly 900 plane raids instead of 800. WW2 was a bunch of gigantic command economies slugging it out, they all made pretty terrible decisions and wasted huge amounts of money at various times. the germans could afford it less, and they lost, so their errors get watched a lot more closely.

            Oh, sure, the Germans had a smaller margin of error due to their industrial inferiority. But even before the war starts, from day one, Hitler’s management style is dysfunctional. Stuff like:

            -not caring about some things and having an intense, too-much-detail interest in others (one thing a lot of people ascribe to him was a great memory for facts and figures)
            -hand in hand with that, ignoring or sloppily delegating some things while swooping in to micromanage others (he’d do stuff like browbeat generals with the ability to remember details about a given unit, justifying overruling them that way)
            -making decisions based on who spoke to him last
            -generally, delegating in such a way that his underlings had to compete with each other

            This last one was probably the worst for the German war effort. The various number-two guys in the Nazi regime spent an absurd amount of time feuding and conspiring against each other, beginning before the war (look at the way that Himmler maneuvered himself, largely through intrigue, into various positions). Even when the war was clearly lost, they were still doing it. One common interpretation of this is that Hitler didn’t want any one person to be able to challenge him. Stalin did this too, but he did it by more direct means (to say the least) than Hitler did, which probably caused less confusion. Further, as the war went on, Stalin got better at listening to the experts and trusting his generals; Hitler got worse. Stalin also probably felt more secure in his position than Hitler did. The Western Allies come out looking pretty good – but then again, democratically-elected leaders in some ways are more assured of their position than dictators: if the people turn against them, they’ll do it at the ballot box.

            there were substantial numbers of generals plotting against hitler pretty much continuously from 1943 on in actual history. I don’t think it would have taken many bombs to get those same men who did actually try to kill hitler to try even harder to kill hitler.

            I’m not sure the extent to which I believe stories about generals plotting against Hitler. A few certainly did, but I suspect that far more common are guys turning “thought maybe someone else should be in charge for about 5 minutes in late 1944” into “ah yes, definitely plotted against him, yep, definitely, just never got around to it, had a lot of errands to run” by the time they wrote their memoirs.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Nazi ideology included pretty centrally the idea that the Poles were subhuman, and that Germany needed that land, along with more land, in order to expand its population, and that only by expanding its agricultural population could Germany become truly great. The decisions made by Nazi Germany were grounded in ideologically-derived ways of understanding the world that were out of touch with reality, to say the least.

          • cassander says:

            @davidfriedman

            I believe there actually were some attempts to create a deal between poland and germany where germany would get the german speaking areas of poland and then would help the poles get a bunch of russian territory, but it’s hard to see how such a deal could have gotten made given the level of mistrust everyone had for everyone. Such a deal basically transforms poland into a german vassal.

            @Dndrsn

            -not caring about some things and having an intense, too-much-detail interest in others (one thing a lot of people ascribe to him was a great memory for facts and figures)
            -hand in hand with that, ignoring or sloppily delegating some things while swooping in to micromanage others (he’d do stuff like browbeat generals with the ability to remember details about a given unit, justifying overruling them that way)
            -making decisions based on who spoke to him last
            -generally, delegating in such a way that his underlings had to compete with each other

            One could ascribe similar criticisms to Churchill or Roosevelt. Churchill was not a good picker of subordinates, and while Roosevelt was much better, he definitely didn’t mind then quarrelling.

            Stalin got better at listening to the experts and trusting his generals; Hitler got worse.

            This is true, but it’s hard to separate this from the fact that hitler was generally losing the war and stalin was generally winning. Kursk, I think, is a serious turning point here on both sides. Both Hitler and Stalin get talked into battleplans by their generals. The soviets win, which increases stalin’s trust in them, hitler’s lose, with the opposite effect.

            I’m not sure the extent to which I believe stories about generals plotting against Hitler. A few certainly did, but I suspect that far more common are guys turning “thought maybe someone else should be in charge for about 5 minutes in late 1944” into “ah yes, definitely plotted against him, yep, definitely, just never got around to it, had a lot of errands to run” by the time they wrote their memoirs.

            No doubt there was much post-war exaggeration. But that doesn’t change the fact that there were a lot of actual assassination attempts against hitler, including one launched by the generals basically as soon as it become clear that the Normandy landings weren’t going to get pushed back into the sea. If nukes start obliterating cities and armies, I can’t see how they don’t react similarly.

          • dndnrsn says:

            One could ascribe similar criticisms to Churchill or Roosevelt. Churchill was not a good picker of subordinates, and while Roosevelt was much better, he definitely didn’t mind then quarrelling.

            This is true, but it’s hard to separate this from the fact that hitler was generally losing the war and stalin was generally winning. Kursk, I think, is a serious turning point here on both sides. Both Hitler and Stalin get talked into battleplans by their generals. The soviets win, which increases stalin’s trust in them, hitler’s lose, with the opposite effect.

            However, as the war went on, Hitler became more and more convinced that his generals didn’t have the will to win. His worldview was one where you could basically mind-over-matter things – that an attack that stalled due to lack of troops and resources was really abandoned because the general’s nerve broke.

            As for Kursk, the German generals are hard to trust after the war – it seems some were for it and some against it, but of course some are going to say “well, I told him it was a bad idea, and then he started shouting at me” after the war. It was a bad plan – the Soviets had more strength there than the Germans thought. The Soviet plan was better.

            No doubt there was much post-war exaggeration. But that doesn’t change the fact that there were a lot of actual assassination attempts against hitler, including one launched by the generals basically as soon as it become clear that the Normandy landings weren’t going to get pushed back into the sea. If nukes start obliterating cities and armies, I can’t see how they don’t react similarly.

            Which generals launched it, though? Only a few of them were actually involved, as I recall.

          • @dndnrsn:

            Hitler wanted land to the East, but Russian land would be as good as Polish land. And while Poland might not want to be a vassal state of Germany, that might look like a better deal than being occupied by Russia. Especially if, as in my scenario, the Russians had just attacked it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I don’t think you can separate the desire for land from the racial ideology. The Nazis wanted land so they could increase the population of Germans, because they saw increasing the population of Germans as key for the titanic racial confrontation they predicted would be playing out over a century or so.

          • @dndnrsn:
            I don’t see the problem. Hitler wasn’t, so far as I know, planning to conquer all places that were not inhabited by Germans, just enough to provide room for the expanded German population he wanted. A sizable chunk of western Russia would have been adequate for the purpose. And since communist Russia was much more of a long term threat to Germany than Poland, conquering the USSR would be more useful to him than conquering Poland.

            He eventually tried to do both, but part of the cost of starting with Poland was a war with France and England, neither of which he had to beat in order to achieve his long term objectives. So wouldn’t it make more sense, if he could pull it off, to get a war with Russia without a war with Poland or with anyone else the western allies were likely to strongly object to him fighting?

          • cassander says:

            @dndrsn

            It was a bad plan – the Soviets had more strength there than the Germans thought. The Soviet plan was better.

            I wouldn’t really disagree, but it’s sort of besides the point. hitler’s generals failed, stalin’s succeeded. granted, by 43 the tasks the german generals were being given were becoming increasingly impossible, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to trust generals that are winning than losing.

            Which generals launched it, though? Only a few of them were actually involved, as I recall.

            It only takes a few.

            @DavidFriedman says:

            So wouldn’t it make more sense, if he could pull it off, to get a war with Russia without a war with Poland or with anyone else the western allies were likely to strongly object to him fighting?

            That would be great for germany, but not very good for poland, which would now be surrounded on two sides by a much more powerful germany that wanted a bunch of their land.

          • @cassander:

            Better for Poland than being conquered by Russia. And Germany doesn’t need lots of their land if it has all the land it wants in Russia.

            If it is especially concerned about parts of Poland with lots of Germans in it, it could offer to trade those for parts of Russia, as I gather was at some point considered.

          • cassander says:

            @DavidFriedman

            again, you have the issue of trust. would you trust hitler’s promise that once he’s conquered russia, he totally won’t swallow up poland? After munich and the rest of Czechoslovakia and lithuania? And while he was explaining this plan to betray his current ally (USSR) but totes wants to be allies with poland forever?

          • bean says:

            After munich and the rest of Czechoslovakia and lithuania?

            Lithuania? That was swallowed by the Russians, not the Germans.

            I’ll chime in that I don’t think the Germans could have come up with David’s plan, or that the Poles would have gone along with it. Also, the Russians held off on their attack until September 17th. Even if they were both supposed to attack on the same day, it’s hard to see the Russians not realizing early on that they’d been tricked. Stalin’s paranoia does the rest.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @cassander

            True. Perhaps a better way to put it would be, as the war went on, Hitler’s demands of his generals became increasingly out of touch with reality, while Stalin’s became increasingly in touch with reality. Then again, that might just be the result of losing vs winning.

            As for the generals, the bulk of them remained more or less loyal until the end.

            @DavidFriedman

            Rationally, sure, based on the facts we know. But Hitler wasn’t working from the facts we know. Subjugating the Poles was part of his long-term plan. It’s difficult to make sense of a lot of decisions that seem irrational and counterproductive without considering Nazi ideology, especially racial ideology.

          • cassander says:

            @bean

            See Hitler’s least known territory grab. Not a huge dea in the grand scheme of things. As you say the rest of lithuania is swallowed by the USSR shortly thereafter, but it was another instance when hitler unilaterally repudiated a treaty and issued threats of surrender or be destroyed. And because it happened in their backyard, I have little doubt it loomed large in the minds of polish diplomats.

          • bean says:

            Interesting. I did not know of that, obviously. Thanks.

  14. WashedOut says:

    Two games:

    1) I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 100 inclusive, which I write down and keep secret from you. If you can guess what number i’m thinking of, I will pay you the dollar amount of that number. If you guess incorrectly, the game is over and no money changes hands.

    What number do you select, assuming you are a rational profit-seeking individual?

    2) A stranger approaches you and offers you an attractive deal. They present to you a blank cheque/check signed by them, valid and legitimate, for your cashing. You can write any monetary value you wish on the cheque. If the value you write on your cheque is available in their relevant account, you can cash it and keep all the money, end of story. If the amount you write is greater than the stranger’s account balance, they will tear it up in front of you and you go your separate ways.

    The stranger is honest about the situation and will honour the deal.

    You have no knowledge about the available funds, and are not allowed to make any inquiries.

    What’s your price?

    • johan_larson says:

      I don’t know how you came up with the number, but if you picked it off the top of your head, the likelihoods of the various numbers might match this distribution:
      https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/most-popular-numbers-grapes-of-math/

      The highest expected value in that distribution (value * likelihood) is for the number 42. That’s my choice.

      The second problem is harder. The question is what kind of money some random stranger might plausibly be giving away. It would be a lot of trouble to go to for $5, for instance. On the other hand, giving away $1MM seems like a lot. Game shows routinely give away tens or hundreds of thousands, but they are institutions, not individuals so my price should probably be less than that. On the third hand, if I name too low a price I am giving away free money. My price is $1000. I probably won’t get anything, but I get a tidy sum if I do.

    • Acedia says:

      2) I’d write $2000. Low enough that a moderately well-off (inferred from the stranger’s willingness to give away money in a game of chance that has zero possibility of return for him) person might reasonably be expected to have it in a checking account, high enough that I’d be happy about receiving it.

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        1) I’d assume that you pick your number in such a way that my expected return is the same for each number.

        2) If somebody plays that game with me I’d assume they are a) crazy and b) rich. So I’d go a lot higher than $2000. Maybe $30,000 because that would actually make a difference in my life right now.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          The guy offering the money is either performing a behavioral economics experiment, in which case he isn’t going to have any budget I care about, or he’s operating as some kind of game show, which means $10,000 would be a reasonable amount to give away to a stranger.

    • baconbits9 says:

      $100

      $100,000

      For the 2nd one the effect of a few hundred or thousand dollars missed won’t have a long term effect on my life. $100,000 is the early part of the range where it could start changing my families life in ways we would like to. For what is almost certainly going to be a once in a lifetime shot I’m going (relatively) large.

    • Chalid says:

      With a slight modification, #1 is a standard quant finance interview question:

      1) I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 100 inclusive, which I write down and keep secret from you. If you can guess what number i’m thinking of, I will pay you the dollar amount of that number. If you guess incorrectly, the game is over and you get nothing. If we’re both perfectly rational and not risk averse, what is the fair price you would pay me to play this game?

      • johan_larson says:

        Is there an actually correct answer? It sure sounds like there really isn’t enough information.

        • Chalid says:

          Yes. (I edited slightly for clarity.)

          Very small hint:
          Gjb engvbany crbcyr cynlvat n tnzr fubhyq chg lbh va zvaq bs tnzr gurbel.

          • Jiro says:

            How does that help? Vs lbh jevgr bhg gur cnlbss zngevk, gurer vf ab qbzvanag fgengrtl.

          • Iain says:

            Vs gurer vf ab qbzvanag cher fgengrtl, gura lbh ybbx sbe n zvkrq fgengrtl. Fcrpvsvpnyyl, lbh ybbx sbe n zvkrq fgengrtl gung tvirf gur fnzr rkcrpgrq inyhr ertneqyrff bs jung gur bgure cynlre fryrpgf.

      • Jiro says:

        The best option for you picking a number is if you simulate me, and you choose a strategy that produces the minimum payoff given my strategy.

        The best option for me guessing is if I simulate you, and I choose a strategy that produces the maximum payoff given your strategy.

        If we can’t choose numbers randomly, then this is the halting problem and the conditions of the problem are inconsistent–it’s not possible for both of us to be perfectly rational (but it is possible for one of us to be). If we can choose numbers randomly, it might be solveable, but this isn’t obvious, and proving it would be too complicated even for a finance interview.

        Also, this is a good example of why using puzzles in a job interview is pretty shitty. There are puzzles that lots of people don’t understand, and “lots of people” includes interviewers, who are people like everyone else.

        • Michael_druggan says:

          Go read up on Nash equilibria, this game has one and it’s easy to calculate.

          • How can we find a Nash equilibrium without knowing the objective of the person making the offer? If it were to lose as little money as possible he wouldn’t have made the offer in the first place.

            Suppose, to avoid the problem, we assume he made the offer in a fit of irrationality and is now stuck with it. On that assumption the problem appears soluble, although it’s an odd solution.

            O enaqbzvmrf jvgu c(A)~ 1/A. Abj gur cnlbss gb N vf gur fnzr jungrire ahzore ur pubbfrf. N pubbfrf nyy ahzoref jvgu rdhny cebonovyvgl. Ur pnaabg qb orggre guna gung. Ur jbhyq trg gur fnzr erfhyg jvgu nal bgure fgengrtl, ohg jvgu nal bgure fgengrtl O’f fgengrtl jbhyq ab ybatre or bcgvzny sbe O, fb gur cnve bs fgengrtvrf jbhyq abg or n Anfu rdhvyvoevhz.

            Is that what you wanted?

          • Chalid says:

            How can we find a Nash equilibrium without knowing the objective of the person making the offer? If it were to lose as little money as possible he wouldn’t have made the offer in the first place.

            The question was “what is the fair price to play this game?” so this isn’t an issue. “Fair price” for the purpose of interview questions is the price at which two rational profit-maximizing non-risk-averse players will be indifferent between playing and not playing.

          • @Chalid:

            That was not clear in the question as WashedOut originally put it. He said that if I guessed wrong no money changed hands and said nothing about money changing hands before that.

            Interpreted in that way, I believe the answer I offered in rot13 correctly describes the Nash equilibrium, but it doesn’t tell me what the price will be since there is no strong reason to assume the Nash equilibrium solution.

      • Iain says:

        Lbh nffvta jrvtugf gb rnpu qbyyne inyhr fhpu gung zl rkcrpgrq inyhr sbe thrffvat pbeerpgyl vf rdhny sbe nyy pubvprf (fb bar qbyyne vf cvpxrq gjvpr nf bsgra nf gjb qbyynef, naq bar uhaqerq gvzrf nf bsgra nf bar uhaqerq qbyynef). Vg qbrfa’g znggre jung V cvpx. Vs zl zngu vf evtug, V fubhyq or jvyyvat gb cnl avargrra pragf, ohg abg gjragl pragf.

        • Chalid says:

          Congrats, you’re hired. (I didn’t actually check your numerical accuracy but that’s the least important part of the question.)

        • Jiro says:

          I’m not convinced that that works. Vs V’z ernyyl cresrpgyl engvbany, V pbhyq npg yvxr Bzrtn qbrf va Arjpbzo’f Ceboyrz naq svther bhg jung fgengrtl lbh’er tbvat gb hfr va cvpxvat gur ahzore. Va gung pnfr, vg qbrf znggre jung ahzore lbh cvpx nsgre nyy (be ng yrnfg jung fgengrtl lbh hfr gb cvpx, vs gur fgengrtl pbagnvaf n enaqbz pubvpr), naq qrcraqvat ba jung vg vf, V zvtug qb orggre guna avargrra pragf. Lbh jbhyq unir gb qryvorengryl pubbfr n fgengrtl gung ceriragf zr sebz qbvat orggre guna 19 pragf rira vs V svther bhg lbhe fgengrtl.

          • Iain says:

            Vs V thrff ng enaqbz hfvat n havsbez qvfgevohgvba, gurer’f abguvat lbh pna qb gb cerirag zr sebz pynvzvat zl avargrra-naq-n-ovg pragf bs rkcrpgrq inyhr. Vs lbh fryrpg n ahzore ng enaqbz hfvat gur qvfgevohgvba sebz zl cerivbhf cbfg, gurer’f abguvat V pna qb gb trg nal zber guna gung. Rira tvira cresrpg vasbezngvba nobhg jung gur bgure crefba cynaf gb qb, arvgure bar bs hf unf nal vapragvir gb punatr fgengrtvrf, znxvat vg n Anfu rdhvyvoevhz.

            “Cresrpgyl engvbany” qbrfa’g zrna gung lbh unir gur zntvp novyvgl gb cerqvpg enaqbz ahzoref. Arjpbzo’f ceboyrz vf qvssrerag orpnhfr Bzrtn gryyf lbh gung enaqbz fgengrtvrf jvyy or cranyvmrq.

          • Jiro says:

            Vs V thrff ng enaqbz hfvat n havsbez qvfgevohgvba, gurer’f abguvat lbh pna qb gb cerirag zr sebz pynvzvat zl avargrra-naq-n-ovg pragf bs rkcrpgrq inyhr.

            Fher gurer vf: nyjnlf cvpx 1.

          • Iain says:

            Fbeel: abguvat lbh pna qb gung qbrf abg bcra lbh hc gb rkcybvgngvba ba zl cneg. Vs lbh fjvgpu gb nyjnlf cvpxvat 1, V jvyy qb gur fnzr, ng juvpu cbvag zl rkcrpgrq cebsvg fxlebpxrgf gb na ragver qbyyne.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            But doesn’t that require you to know in advance what their strategy will be?

          • Iain says:

            Only to the extent that they also know what your strategy will be.

            There’s no point at which one player has a one-sided opportunity to adjust to the other player’s strategy. Either we’re only playing once, in which case you can make no assumptions about my strategy, or we’re playing multiple times, in which case we both get an equal opportunity to adjust.

          • Michael_druggan says:

            Iain you are mostly right but you made a small mistake in one of your explanations

            ng bar cbvag lbh fnvq gung bar cynlre cvpxf havsbezyl naq bgure cynlre cvpxf nppbeqvat gb gur qvfgevohgvba jurer rnpu ahzore vf cvpxrq jvgu n cebonovyvgl vairefryl cebcbegvbany gb gur ahzore gb sbepr gur cnlbhg bs orgjrra 19 naq 20 pragf (fcrpvsvpnyyl 1 bire gur 100gu unezbavp ahzore) ohg gur anfu rdhvyvoevn vf npghnyyl jura obgu cynlref hfr gur qvfgevohgvba jurer gur cebonovyvgl bs cvpxvat rnpu ahzore vf vairefryl cebcbegvbany gb gung ahzore. Havsbez qvfgevohgvbaf unir abguvat gb qb jvgu vg orpnhfr gurl ner rkcybvgnoyr sebz rvgure cynlre.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’m trying a simplified version, where the only choices are $10 or $50, and I think I’m just looking at a new version of Newcomb’s paradox, just with an imperfect oracle.

            *EDIT* I came up with a strategy that gets me an expected result of $8.33 but the weird thing is that it doesn’t depend at all on what strategy the offerer does. That doesn’t seem right but I’ve run through 3 different strategies for the offerer and always gotten the same payoff.

          • uau says:

            @Jiro, @Iain:

            Jiro’s proposed strategy does not actually prevent claiming the same expected value. No need for any “that does not open you up to exploitation on my part” qualifications. There’s no counter for the strategy, not even one that would leave you vulnerable to countering changes in opponent’s strategy.

            EDIT: Iain’s post incorrectly said “uniform distribution”. There is a counter to that, but it’s only because that is not the right strategy…

          • Iain says:

            uau and Michael_druggan:

            Yep, you’re both right. Mea culpa. I made sure that the offerer could not be exploited by the guesser, but forgot to make it work in the other direction.

            Actually, now that I think it through, I believe Jiro was correct all along: the offerer’s best response to a uniform distribution is indeed to always pick 1. Mea maxima culpa!

            @Edward Scizorhands:

            $8.33 looks correct to me (although we’ve just had a lesson on how much you should trust my math). Both players should play the strategy you have identified: if they do, the guesser will get $8.33 regardless of what the offerer does, and the offerer will give up $8.33 regardless of what the guesser does. If either player picked a different, dumber strategy — like, say, a uniform distribution — then the other player would have an opportunity to exploit it.

          • uau says:

            That is the general behavior of solutions to this type of games. That is, games where two players independently make a choice from some finite set of options without knowing what the other is going to pick (number of options may differ for the players), payoff is an arbitrary function of the pair of options chosen, and other player tries to minimize payoff while the other tries to maximize it.

            The solution for each player will be a probability distribution such that the payoff will be the same against any single option that occurs in the opponent’s strategy with a non-zero probability. So there can be “bad” options that should never be selected in optimal play; but when those are excluded, as long as one player plays with the optimal strategy, the choices of the other player literally never make any difference for the expected value. If they did make a difference, that would be an indication that the strategies would not be in a stable equilibrium – you’d gain against the opponent’s current strategy by increasing the probability of the well-paying options and decreasing badly-paying ones.

          • Jiro says:

            Either we’re only playing once, in which case you can make no assumptions about my strategy,

            Is that true? You’re supposed to be perfectly rational. This allows you to figure out exactly what the other player’s strategy is, by simulating his reasoning.

            (Of course, it may be impossible for both players to be perfectly rational in this sense.)

    • For your first game, the question is how you picked your number. If you did it at random, obviously I guess 100. If you did it with the objective of minimizing the expected cost, it depends on what you believe about how I will guess—but if that’s the objective, why did you choose to play the game in the first place?

      For the second game, I would need an opinion about the distribution of account amounts in the relevant population.

    • Michael_druggan says:

      The first game has an easily calucable nash equilibrium which has been discussed

      The second game has a Nash equilibrium of “always have $0 in the bank account” which is highly uninteresting so it becomes more of psychology question. I would look around for context clues like people filming me, if there were expensive cameras and microphones I would guess it was a higher budget TV production and guess higher probably around $10,000 if it looked like a lower budget youtube or class project type deal I’d guess lower, maybe around $1000.

      I’d probably make my actual guess something like $998 dollars since I know humans are picking the amount and might do something tricky with whole numbers.

    • Fahundo says:

      Grab the check, dash to the nearest bank before they can take it back, then write my amount and try to cash it. If I go over the account amount now they have to deal with having bounced a check.

      I never used checks, so I’m kind of guessing on how this works.

      • beleester says:

        They may have to deal with overdraft fees, but that doesn’t mean you get to keep the money. The bank will make the funds available to you, but a few days later, they’ll discover that the check was bad and ask for the money back.

        This is a fairly common scam – give a forged check to your victim, ask them to deposit it and send you half (via an irreversible method like cash or Western Union). Spin them a story about how you’re a Nigerian prince who needs to get his money out of the country fast and that’s why you’re paying him so much. A few days later, the check bounces, and the victim is on the hook for $BIGNUM, but you’ve already taken your half and disappeared.

        • Brad says:

          It’s even worse with a foreign bank account. You can wait until it clears and it can still be reversed.

        • Fahundo says:

          Yeah, keeping the money isn’t the point. The point is, if I don’t keep the money, I give them a minor headache to deal with.

    • rahien.din says:

      1. V jbhyq thrff enaqbzyl.

      Nf nobir, gur bssrere jvyy jrvtug gur cebonovyvgvrf bs gurve bssref va beqre gb pbaprny gurve bssre. Gurer vf ab Anfu rdhvyvoevhz va gur cnlbss zngevk, fb V pna’g ragvpr gur bssrere vagb n tnzr-gurbergvpny rdhvyvoevhz. Vs V guvax V unir qrgrezvarq n jvaavat fgengrtl, V zhfg pbafvqre gung gur bssrere unf nyfb pbafvqrerq guvf fgengrtl, naq guhf V pna abg hfr vg – nyy gung qbrf vf gryy zr jung V pna abg thrff! Gurer vf ab jnl gb unyg guvf cebprff naq nf fhpu nyy fgengrtvp thrffrf jvyy or ryvzvangrq.

      Gur bayl fgengrtl vf gb or pbzcyrgryl hacerqvpgnoyr. Gur bssrere vf gura vapragvivmrq gb ubzbtravmr rkcrpgrq inyhr sbe gur shyy enatr bs thrffrf. Guvf jbexf sbe obgu bs hf. Nal qrivngvba sebz gur {enaqbz , ubzbtravmrq} frg bs fgengrtvrf jvyy jbex bhg cbbeyl sbe gur bar jub qrivngrf.

  15. Vincent Soderberg says:

    I struggle with motivation a lot. I am high functioning autistic and suffer from depression. I am on 40 mg (now increasing to 60 mg) fluoxetine. I have a decent talk therapist (tnx swedish healthcare)

    several questions:
    should i expect the motivation issue to get better from increasing the antidepressants, and from exercising?

    Is there any way to increase motivation or is it just sorta genetic? My motivations seems to be mostly dormant, sometimes it exist.

    How should i think when it comes to motivation? Whats the ideal concepts to have in mind, and the ideal coping mechanisms?

    Any good books, either for working on it or just to learn about it?

    Any questions i should be asking myself, that i am not?

  16. Vincent Soderberg says:

    Fun utiliterian question:

    whats the ideal outcome:

    A: All negative health effects from alcohol are forever gone + no hangovers

    or

    B: everyone lives 10 extra years in perfect youthfull health?

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      ‘A’ would boost all the negative non-health effects of alcohol, because much more people would get much more drunk much more often. I think that’s not even a net positive.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I vote for B– some people have never had perfect youthful health, and it would be nice for them to get that ten years. This may be too sentimental for a good utilitarian calculation.

      Also, I find it hard to believe that alcohol knocks an average of ten years off people’s lives.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Obviously alcohol does not remove an average of 10 years from life across a wide population, so the question would be, “Does the increased quality of life for people (in terms of getting the euphoric effects of alcohol and the reduced negative consequences like ‘time spent with hangover’) match the benefits you would get from 10 years of life?”

      It is possible to reasonably disagree. It depends on how much you value the euphoric effects of alcohol versus your baseline. But I think that that overwhelming majority of people would choose B — enough so that if I have to decide for everyone, I’m choosing B and am confident that I’m making a lot more people happy than sad.

      And I say this as a drinker, I note.

    • Michael_druggan says:

      Probably B, only super Heavy drinkers are cutting off more than 10 years of their life with their drinking.

    • AKL says:

      From a utilitarian perspective, in your opinion, if average lifespans increase from 50 to 75 years with quality of life & health across that span unchanged (i.e. 30 is the new 20, 60 is the new 40, etc.), is the world a 50% better place all other things equal?*

      Do we accumulate utils moment by moment at a rate determined by our happiness in each moment?

      My instinct is no, but I have a hard time articulating a reason.

      A tortured example: suppose that interstellar spaceflight is now and forever impossible, and that there is an earth like planet populated by 7B aliens, and that those aliens are just as happy (util-rich?) as humans. Suppose further that the rate of societal advancement of those aliens and humans is identical, and that their future utility will be just the same as humans’. Finally, suppose that because of [magic], anything that would wipe out humans will wipe out the aliens, and vice versa.

      If those aliens all disappeared and were replaced by humans, would the universe be a worse place?

      I think the answer is unambiguously “yes,” I guess for aesthetic reasons? The universe is better with more variety (of sentient life, certainly; of plants or rocks, I don’t know). Just so, the universe is better with a greater variety of people having existed. I choose 2 different people with total happiness (theirs and that the bring to others) of 9.9 over 2 identical people with total happiness of 10.

      I think that most people intuitively agree with this framing, but I’m not sure. Similarly, I think that even most utilitarians don’t think that doubling lifespans doubles utility (even absent knock-on effects like resource constraints or even personal boredom).

      But actually I think Nancy has the right answer, because of all the people for whom 10 years of perfect health would drastically change the length and average health of their life (e.g. someone who dies of childhood cancer). But if you reframe the choice as a 10% increase in lifespan at average (for you) health, I think it’s a push. Neither that nor booze seems like a big deal to me one way or the other.

      *by all other things equal, I mean ignore stuff like animal happiness being part of the goodness of the world (assume that they live longer too, if you want, and the burden of predation etc. is adjusted however you see fit), ignore resource constraints and overpopulation, etc.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        It’s way more than a 10% increase in lifespan, as phrased, even if we assume it means “at the same health that you would naturally experience at say age 30” (or even age 40).

        First of all, people don’t live 100 years on average. They live 80 (in the US). So +10 years is a 12% increase. But if it’s adult years (ie, you don’t spend 12% longer as an infant, child, or someone in deeply in their elderly years, but rather let’s say the span when you go from 20-50 is instead from 20-60, with 60 year olds in the new world now experiencing the same health and life expectancies as 50 year olds in the old world), then you should really be looking, conservatively, at 10 to let’s say 5 years before you die. Call it 55 years of “productive healthy adult life.” So +10 years of it is almost +20%.

  17. warrick says:

    Hello. Long time reader, newbie commenter here. I hope this is an OK place to post this stuff.

    I was wondering if anyone here might have a a tip about non-pop psychology texts about psychological defense mechanisms, especially denial. Is e.g. Anna Freud worth reading? I don’t have any special background in psychology I should add. Thank you for your time.

  18. kauffj says:

    Can anyone recommend the best general intelligence test and test provider that meets the following criteria?

    1) Can be taken online in under 90 minutes (ideally under 60)
    2) Either omits vocabulary and language components or has foreign language versions for major European languages
    3) Designed for adults
    4) Costs $100 or less (ideally)

    I consulted both Wikipedia and Mensa. From that, it seems like perhaps Naglieri would be best, but it seems primarily used with adoloscents and online providers are a minefield.

  19. Well... says:

    In a stateless anarcho-capitalist society of the kind envisioned/proposed by anarcho-capitalists, would wealthy people who committed serious crimes (e.g. rape or murder) be able — without scandal — to pay for their crimes with cash transfers to the victims instead of being made to serve jail time or undergo some other kind of suffering? If so, how is justice served? If in such a society there simply is not any sense of justice that would be recognizable to us, is that OK?

    It’s been a while since I considered myself an anarcho-capitalist and I can’t remember how I would have answered these questions back then, or whether I ever tried. I’m hoping a current anarcho-capitalist can offer his or her insights.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Ignoring the enforcement mechanisms, the most common approach is that justice is based on compensation to the victim. This is usually interpreted to mean that in such a case the wealthy person could offer pay damages but the victim, or the next of kin in the case of murder, would be able to reject such an offer. In this sense justice is served because the victim gets to determine what justice is.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m not an ancap, but given the frequent comparisons made to Norse and other pre-modern Germanic societies it seems plausible.

      In those societies if you commited a crime, your victims and their families were entitled to seek compensation. That compensation could be paid in blood or in gold, and either way is supposed to be a rather steep price. Either way it was regarded as justice; honor had been satisfied once the perpetrator had paid for his crime one way or another.

      There are obvious flaws with that system which can lead to injustice. When you place the responsibility to seek justice on the victims and their families, you ensure that those who are too weak to win duels and too poor to win lawsuits will be helpless. Beyond that, the formulas historically used to determine wergeld were seemingly arbitrary and could result in counterintuitive outcomes.

      At the same time, it is clearly more just than our current system. Police and prosecutors don’t care about getting justice for you or your family; their incentives in catching and punishing criminals are very different from those of the people who are victimized by them. The so-called “justice system” will gladly side with a violent thug and gang rapist over a law abiding citizen in order to appear racially sensitive.

      Personally, I’d rather take the risk that I’m too weak to pursue justice for myself rather than relying on a hostile state to provide justice for me. That equation looks different under a benevolent state but today that doesn’t describe any Western country.

      • baconbits9 says:

        you ensure that those who are too weak to win duels and too poor to win lawsuits will be helpless.

        This is a wild overstatement. You ensure that a weak person with no strong or rich friends will be helpless, and a rich person with no rich enemies will be able to get away with any number of crimes, but these issues are common across all legal systems.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          That’s fair enough.

          In real life Infinitly Rich Men are pretty thin on the ground, and I can imagine a sort of bastard feudalism forming around them in that sort of system.

        • Well... says:

          these issues are common across all legal systems.

          Indeed. What got me thinking about this was something I overheard as my wife was watching a Frontline episode about Harvey Weinstein. An interviewee was talking about how one of the alleged sexual harassment victims took a settlement in exchange for agreeing never to speak about what happened. The intended implication was that this was not fair because Weinstein effectively got away with it.

          On one hand I thought “Why is this noteworthy? The woman got her “justice” in the form of the settlement. End of story.” But on the other hand, I thought there were a lot of potential problems with that outcome from a justice perspective

          I suppose it boils down to the following question:

          Is justice something that may be defined ad hoc by those party to a crime (perpetrator & victim/next of kin) or is justice properly defined by the wider society in which a crime takes place?

          And if it’s a blend of the two (as I think it really is) how is an appropriate balance reached?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Is justice something that may be defined ad hoc by those party to a crime (perpetrator & victim/next of kin) or is justice properly defined by the wider society in which a crime takes place?

            I think the 2nd has to be an outgrowth of the first.

          • Civilis says:

            Is justice something that may be defined ad hoc by those party to a crime (perpetrator & victim/next of kin) or is justice properly defined by the wider society in which a crime takes place?

            In some level, everyone in society is negatively impacted by a crime (or, at least, a non-trivial, non-victimless crime). In the case of a murder, we can’t evaluate the effect on the victim, because he’s dead, but the family and friends are out a loved one, people that live in the immediate vicinity have some level of stress from the crime and the risk, and we all pay for the investigation, trial, and punishment.

            Justice as defined by society is just the amalgamation of justice as seen by the individuals in society, expressed through society’s legal system. If the two get out of sync, social dysfunction will increase. Hopefully, this will be addressed through elections. If it’s not something that can be fixed through elections, you’ll see a breakdown in society as extra-legal methods of justice (such as vigilante actions) will pick up the slack.

          • Iain says:

            Is justice something that may be defined ad hoc by those party to a crime (perpetrator & victim/next of kin) or is justice properly defined by the wider society in which a crime takes place?

            Ignore vengeance and restitution. The most important justification for laws is deterrence. We lock up murderers so that people do not commit murders.

            The big advantage of prison sentences is that they are paid in a roughly egalitarian currency. Ten years may not be the exact same cost to me as it is to a very rich or very poor person, but it’s much closer than $10K — which would be a meaningful cost for me, an impossible cost for a very poor person, and pocket change for someone very rich. Prison sentences are useful as a universal deterrent, because they’re denominated in a currency where everyone has roughly the same ability to pay.

            The fact that it’s easier for rich people to dodge prison time is a red herring. It’s a problem, sure — but this proposal does nothing to solve it. If you can use your wealth and power to avoid a jail sentence, you can also use your wealth and power to avoid a cash transfer.

          • Randy M says:

            The big advantage of prison sentences is that they are paid in a roughly egalitarian currency.

            (I’m only poking this theory for holes because it made sense)
            Is that true for the young vs the old? After all, you pay your prison sentence out of your remaining years, and a ten year sentence can be from a bit over a tenth to in fact all the remaining life one has.
            Of course, in both cases the same amount of time-in-prison is being inflicted.
            I guess it depends on whether prison is more about taking away freedom or inflicting boredom/misery.

          • baconbits9 says:

            We lock up murderers so that people do not commit murders.

            No we don’t, almost no one wants to commit murder and when we train soldiers and promise them its ok it takes a ton of time and effort to do so and they frequently end up with PTSD.

          • rlms says:

            No we don’t, almost no one wants to commit murder

            So? We want to stop the people who do.

          • Aapje says:

            Interestingly, recidivism for murder is very low.

          • Randy M says:

            Interestingly, recidivism for murder is very low.

            Well for one, we are much more hesitant to release murders than other offenders, aren’t we? And, serving longer sentences, they are older when released.
            And People in jail for stealing money are still going to need money when released–all the more so–but people who wanted one particular person dead will already have him dead when released (although I’d expect them to continue to be the kind of person willing to resort to murder, see above, they will be older, so less impulsive, likely).
            And does the recidivism rate include other violent offenses?

          • Aapje says:

            Recidivism for all crimes is also the lowest, but still pretty high at 48% in 5 years, see table 8. However, the average recidivism for violent crime is 71%.

        • He doesn’t have to have strong or rich friends.

          At least in Icelandic law, the damage claim was marketable. So if the value of the claim is more than the cost of collecting it I can sell it to someone else who has sufficient assets to collect it.

          Or I can sell it to someone else who is an enemy of the person I have a claim against and wants to enforce my claim in order to harm him.

      • dndnrsn says:

        @Nabil ad Dajjal

        The so-called “justice system” will gladly side with a violent thug and gang rapist over a law abiding citizen in order to appear racially sensitive.

        I think this is inaccurate. One can just as easily find cases where black guys who were innocent plead guilty because there was reason to believe they wouldn’t get a fair trial (eg, Brian Banks) or cases where a black guy gets mistaken for the perp and the DA smooshes him, perhaps to the extent of evidence suppression, etc.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          That’s a counterargument I don’t hear very often: the system isn’t unnust because it punishes the innocent regardless of whether they’re black or white.

          In all seriousness though, the real problem with what you’re saying is that I have no reason to trust the people telling me those supposed horror stories after every single one before has turned out to be a lie. Maybe this guy is innocent, sure, but maybe this is another case of “hands up don’t shoot.” I refuse to trust a media and political establishment which has consistently and blatantly lied to me on this issue.

          I’m much more inclined to believe things which the media tries to cover up or downplay. A liar correctly fears the truth so if you want to understand what’s really happening you need to look for the things which they’re trying to prevent you from thinking about.

          If this sounds like a conspiracy theory, that’s because it is. There are ongoing, well-documented conspiracies in the news media (e.g. JournoList) to slant and distort coverage for political ends. The media have been caught red-handed lying about and covering up massive cases of abuse in order to prevent “backlash” against the abusers. If someone lies to you regularly and proudly states their intentions to continue to do so then trusting them is insanity.

          • rlms says:

            That doesn’t seem very rationalist.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I’m not a rationalist.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Ken White over at Popehat talks about this occasionally, and he’s a defense lawyer who used to be a prosecutor so it isn’t hearsay. OTOH, I don’t think he’s ever suggested that the problem is specific to black defendants.

    • Fossegrimen says:

      From my point of view this seems like a significantly more just system than the current US system where justice is conflated with or replaced by revenge. The two concepts seems to me to be obviously separate and to some degree contradictory.

    • John Schilling says:

      I assume that would depend on what the victims and/or their families would prefer. There will never be any shortage of poor widows who would rather have a check for $7.6 million than see their husband’s killer in jail, and I expect ancapistan would facilitate that.

      But I also expect that those who won’t compromise on such matters will have their thing as well, a protection racket agency that insists if you kill one of ours, you face our justice no matter how high or mighty you may be. Submit to their judgement, or die, or live in the prison you’ll make for yourself to survive each day with an eight-figure bounty on your head.

      The prospect of such a syndicate deciding its powers might be put to “better” use than protecting the poor from the rich, of its leaders finding they have more in common with their rich “enemies” than the poor under their protection, is a big part of the reason I don’t thing anarcho-capitalism is stable in the long term. But if we postulate a stable ancapistan, it’s going to have people with bloody daggers looking out for the little guys.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I assume that would depend on what the victims and/or their families would prefer. There will never be any shortage of poor widows who would rather have a check for $7.6 million than see their husband’s killer in jail, and I expect ancapistan would facilitate that.

        This is probably not true. A person who can afford $7 million dollars to stay out of prison is going to be associating with people worth at least hundreds of thousands and probably have life insurance policies worth enough to make their widows want to pursue justice (or at least put a higher price tag on it).

        • John Schilling says:

          Such a person is also going to be associating with, e.g., panhandling bums at the gate of his mansion, and may not properly evaluate the risks associated with releasing the hounds as an expedient solution to such unseemliness.

  20. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Taleb’s theory of skin in the game seems reasonable, but if Pinker’s right that the world is generally getting better for people, then there’s a contradiction, since I think that politicians have less skin in the game than they used to.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Why are you assuming that politicians are the ones making the world better?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’m not assuming the politicians are making the world better, but if Taleb is right, politicians having less skin in the game should be making the world worse.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Yes, but people with SITG should be making it better, so its two forces pushing against each other.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      That’s only a contradiction in a totalitarian state.

      Politicians and bureaucrats are responsible for improvements in the public sector, which are few and far between. Actors in the private sector have more skin in the game and have done quite a bit more good in the world.

      This is all assuming ad arguendo that Pinker is right. Personally I disagree.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Is the improvement in the world the result of politicians? If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have to be a contradiction. On the other hand, does Taleb’s theory pass the historical test – do historical (or present) leaders who stand to lose a lot more if the whole thing goes under outperform, say, American politicians now, who have to screw up royally (har har) or just get really unlucky to feel personal consequences?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Taleb says it’s a good thing if the leader who pushes for war has to lead on the battlefield, since that should lead to being more responsible about staring wars.

        Pinker says that the proportion of people dying in wars has been dropping.

        • bean says:

          Taleb says it’s a good thing if the leader who pushes for war has to lead on the battlefield, since that should lead to being more responsible about staring wars.

          This just seems tailor-made to lead to a giant fight over what “lead on the battlefield” means. Consider the following cases (US in WWII):
          *A platoon commander in a high-numbered division who only saw a few days of combat. Lost one man to a booby trap.
          *A platoon commander in a low-numbered division, who saw lots of action before being promoted to higher command.
          *A platoon commander who got the million-dollar wound in the first five minutes of combat.
          *Any of the above stories, but as a sergeant, or even as a reasonably senior private.
          *Someone who started off with a battalion in 1942 and was running a division by the end of the war.
          *Someone who was in a staff role through 1943, and took a high-numbered division overseas.
          *Someone who flew fighters starting in late 1944/1945, and never had a command slot.
          *Someone who flew multi-crew aircraft starting in late 1944/1945, and never had a command slot.
          *A naval officer who was a (junior) division officer on a ship that saw action.
          *A naval officer who was captain of a ship that saw action, but was not damaged.
          *A general officer who never got shot at, but lead an entire theater.

          I can think of another dozen cases where there’s some ambiguity. Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that military experience, particularly on low levels, probably isn’t that helpful, because it leads to bad evaluations of your own competence on related matters.

          • christhenottopher says:

            I think this somewhat misunderstands Taleb’s point. He doesn’t think that skin in the game produces individuals who make better choices, he thinks that putting oneself at risk tends to eliminate people who make bad choices. So in that regard, yes he would be fine accepting that experience can make a person potentially arrogant. But as long as that arrogant person faces consequences from his choices, then he will wind up dying/getting eliminated from the pool of decision makers and allowing this process to continue will leave only the good decision makers in the end. The mechanism is selection NOT individual improvement.

          • bean says:

            He doesn’t think that skin in the game produces individuals who make better choices, he thinks that putting oneself at risk tends to eliminate people who make bad choices.

            That does not sound like the first formulation given. More than that, trying to use the military as a crude leadership eugenics program is not going to give the results you want.
            1. There’s way too much chance in who dies and who survives. The median platoon leader in the 1st Marines or 1st Infantry Division died about 4 times during the war (this number has not been checked, but a lot of units took casualties equal to multiple times their book strength, and junior officers were the hardest-hit.). The survivors might have been a bit better than the dead, but to get a real improvement, you’re going to need multiple generations.
            2. The traits that improve survival as a junior leader aren’t necessarily the same ones you want in national leadership. I’d suspect that bravery/cowardice is a much stronger predictor of survival than anything else. Yes, someone who is smart and competent is more likely to survive, but he’s also more likely to get handed tough missions that increase the body count. And someone who is good at small-unit leadership may not be well-suited to leading a country.
            Edit: Note that this is even more prominent in other environments. At sea, your chances of survival are only loosely linked to your own personal performance. Particularly if you’re a junior officer, the captain, your ship’s luck, and your swimming skills are the most important factors.

            Or maybe Taleb says that we should send Congresscritters to fight on the front lines. While that’s an interesting concept, I’m not sure it’s practical any more for a whole bunch of reasons. But that’s also not the formulation Nancy used.

          • christhenottopher says:

            Yeah, I think a lot of people miss that Taleb is not talking about what makes an individual make better choices, but what makes the larger group better. Skin in the game is generally a bad deal for individuals in the same way that natural selection in evolution is really rough for those trying to survive it (and yes Taleb explicitly makes this connection in his works). So now to your objections to the selection process.

            1. There’s way too much chance in who dies and who survives. The median platoon leader in the 1st Marines or 1st Infantry Division died about 4 times during the war (this number has not been checked, but a lot of units took casualties equal to multiple times their book strength, and junior officers were the hardest-hit.). The survivors might have been a bit better than the dead, but to get a real improvement, you’re going to need multiple generations.
            2. The traits that improve survival as a junior leader aren’t necessarily the same ones you want in national leadership. I’d suspect that bravery/cowardice is a much stronger predictor of survival than anything else. Yes, someone who is smart and competent is more likely to survive, but he’s also more likely to get handed tough missions that increase the body count. And someone who is good at small-unit leadership may not be well-suited to leading a country.

            There’s a saying that comes to mind. “Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.” Now we can debate the merits of how well that applies in literature but it does encapsulate that randomness will eliminate some good leaders, but that the selection process will remove all the bad ones. Is this as efficient as a hypothetical “separate out all bad leaders and good ones then only keep the good”? Sure but such a system is not practical in the real world due to the opacity of what makes a good leader in complex situations like warfare.

            Consider the historical comparison in the American Civil War of George McClellan and Ulysses Grant. McClellan was conscientious, careful with logistics and training, a star pupil at the military academy West Point, and by all accounts well liked by the soldiers under his command. Grant was an alcoholic who nearly flunked out of West Point (coming in at the bottom of his class) and was known by his men as a butcher who threw their lives away. McClellan on paper looked like a much better officer hence why he got command of the Army of the Potomac before the older and more senior Grant. And time and again he failed despite having superior numbers, logistical capabilities, and equipment. The only thing that got rid of him and put Grant in charge is that Lincoln did not care about your credentials, only whether you won the campaigns you started, which Grant did. Grant didn’t win every fight or battle, but he consistently achieved the objectives of his campaign (which was the relevant metric for his position). Of course McClellan was only fired, not shot (as say Stalin did with his generals when they failed, which did eventually give the Soviet Union a bunch of very effective generals at the top), but the effect is the same.

            So to your point about what works for lower level leaders not being the same as upper level leaders, skin in the game would then select for people who can do both if a person has to pass through one level to get to the next. Of course we already try to solve this problem by putting officers and enlisted men on different career tracks. We know we’re asking for different traits out of privates-corporals-sergeants than we are out of lieutenants through generals. A private only gets weeded out through dying or cowardice, a lieutenant also faces the issue of getting canned if he can’t complete objectives or can’t get his men to follow orders (on top of the “don’t die or run unnecessarily”). “But,” you may ask, “isn’t that why we have a separate process for picking politicians, they have a different set of requirements.” This is true and could be a potential angle against Taleb’s “make them be put at physical risk” idea.

            However, one might note that voting may not be a particularly good filter because it is done too infrequently. Four years for a President between elections is more than enough time to screw up a war beyond repair without getting replaced. Putting said President with the armies, whereby if the army is sufficiently badly beaten he gets killed or captured, gives faster feedback to bad ideas and a quick turnaround to have someone less incompetent lead. One might could find even better ways to weed out the terrible leaders, but being on or very close to the frontlines is traditional and Taleb tends to like older solutions to problems (for reasons similar to Burkean conservatism and because old ideas have proven themselves more by actually surviving longer). The idea is our society will be better off if there is more immediate feedback (aka selection against) from the people actually making the decision. Politicians are tasked with deciding whether or not to start a war and there needs to be some mechanism that removes them from their office for making such a momentous decision badly. Physical risk is one such mechanism that does provably remove people. Will it remove some good politicians too? Yep, but Taleb tends to prefer systems that limit downsides by removing all bad actors (and some good ones), to ones that keep all good actors (but also keep some bad ones).

            EDIT: Another point against voting as the skin in the game is the problem of rational voter irrationality (aka due to the low benefit:cost ratio for having accurate beliefs about politics in voting systems, voters do not tend to make decisions of who to support based on the actual results of policies). The mechanism to weed out bad actors should be tightly linked to the choices they make. So a stock trader who is overly risky loses all his money. A general who loses his army loses his job/head. Etc.

          • bean says:

            There’s a saying that comes to mind. “Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.” Now we can debate the merits of how well that applies in literature but it does encapsulate that randomness will eliminate some good leaders, but that the selection process will remove all the bad ones. Is this as efficient as a hypothetical “separate out all bad leaders and good ones then only keep the good”? Sure but such a system is not practical in the real world due to the opacity of what makes a good leader in complex situations like warfare.

            Slow down a minute. If you wanted the goalposts at “senior military leaders only” you should have said so earlier. I explicitly was talking mostly about junior leaders, and this logic fails hard there. At that level, survival is very much random, which doesn’t just mean that some of the good and all of the bad die. It means that survival is only weakly correlated with goodness/badness.

            At a high level, professional survival is somewhat correlated with goodness/badness, but Lloyd Fredendall survived the war with his reputation intact, despite being someone who should never have been placed in charge of a children’s tea party, much less a Corps. What happens when he decides to go into politics after the war?

            Consider the historical comparison in the American Civil War of George McClellan and Ulysses Grant.

            Wait. You want to use Grant as your example of war filtering for good politicians? I’m not even sure I need to give further rebuttal.

            So to your point about what works for lower level leaders not being the same as upper level leaders, skin in the game would then select for people who can do both if a person has to pass through one level to get to the next. Of course we already try to solve this problem by putting officers and enlisted men on different career tracks. We know we’re asking for different traits out of privates-corporals-sergeants than we are out of lieutenants through generals.

            It’s not just that. The skills required to be a good lieutenant are not the same as those needed to be a good major or a good general. Yes, there are some leadership traits that run throughout, but there’s also a very different set of skills required. For example, Mustangs (officers who are former enlisted) are notably better lieutenants, but lose their edge by the time they make field grade, because a field-grade officer does different things.

            “But,” you may ask, “isn’t that why we have a separate process for picking politicians, they have a different set of requirements.” This is true and could be a potential angle against Taleb’s “make them be put at physical risk” idea.

            That’s been my entire point from day one. The only useful information you can get is on someone like Eisenhower, who was a politician in uniform for the better part of a decade before he became President. Even someone like Patton or Grant wouldn’t have been nearly as well-qualified because they were in a position where they could tell their subordinates “shut up and do what I say”. Eisenhower had to deal with Monty.

            However, one might note that voting may not be a particularly good filter because it is done too infrequently. Four years for a President between elections is more than enough time to screw up a war beyond repair without getting replaced. Putting said President with the armies, whereby if the army is sufficiently badly beaten he gets killed or captured, gives faster feedback to bad ideas and a quick turnaround to have someone less incompetent lead.

            Seriously, put down the goalposts. I’m getting irritated now.
            This is simply not practical on any level, and can only make things worse. Casualties among the top command staff mean that either the enemy got through with a bomber, or that the war is totally and irretrievably lost. The former has little to do with the President’s competence, and a lot to do with the competence of whoever is running the air defenses. The latter is way too coarse of a signal to be of any use at all. If you insist on putting senior command staff at physical risk out of obedience to Taleb’s theory, then you’re shooting yourself in the head when I blow them apart with a careful strike at them directly. Warfare has come a long way in the past 150 years, and this is just not practical.

            One might could find even better ways to weed out the terrible leaders, but being on or very close to the frontlines is traditional and Taleb tends to like older solutions to problems (for reasons similar to Burkean conservatism and because old ideas have proven themselves more by actually surviving longer).

            Taleb is a finance person, not a military person. It would be nice if we could make generals pay physically for their mistakes today. But we can’t, and any attempt to do so is a catastrophically bad idea.

            Politicians are tasked with deciding whether or not to start a war and there needs to be some mechanism that removes them from their office for making such a momentous decision badly.

            We already have that. It’s called defeat, either in an election or for the country as a whole. I strongly suspect that Taleb’s background in finance is making him draw silly conclusions on this. Finance is continuous, with lots of relatively small decisions that give lots of feedback. Warfare has a few big decisions, particularly at that level. There was an election between Iraq and Afghanistan, for crying out loud. Even if we’d purged Congress after Iraq turned into a mess, a substantial percentage of Congress has turned over since then. The feedback is faster than the need for another decision already.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m sorry, it looks like I didn’t come close to saying what I meant.

            Taleb was talking about much earlier eras (sorry, I don’t have a date) when the political leader who decided to go to war was also obliged to lead on the battlefield.

            You may have a point about Taleb having a finance background but not a military background, and that means he doesn’t have good judgment about military matters.

            I’ll also note that while Taleb makes his own investments, but as for more general matters he’s a pundit. If he’s wrong about government, he won’t be the one who pays.

          • John Schilling says:

            Skin in the game is generally a bad deal for individuals in the same way that natural selection in evolution is really rough for those trying to survive it (and yes Taleb explicitly makes this connection in his works)

            Did anyone ever bother to inform Taleb that natural selection generally produces useful results over a timescale of dozens to hundreds of generations?

            War isn’t a powerful enough selector to be useful in this generation, or the next or the one after that. Even in the really ugly wars, the casualty rate is rarely more than 25%. And as bean notes, most of that is random. Most of the parts that aren’t random, depend on tactical skill in small-unit combat, which is almost completely irrelevant in any other context. And most wars don’t see even a 2.5% fatality rate.

            Colonels and generals, rarely die except for extreme bad luck, even if they are on the losing side of the battle or the war, even if they lead from as close to the front as a colonel or general realistically can. Even their reputations can survive utter defeat, or fail despite decisive victory. And when you do get a general who survives battle and war alive and with a sterling reputation for victory, well, you’re the one who brought up Ulysses S. Grant. McClellan would probably have run a better administration.

            If you were planning to have your society run by a hereditary aristocracy for many generations, it might be marginally useful to institute a norm of military service with front-line leadership positions strongly encouraged and performance ruthlessly evaluated. But hereditary aristocrats are pretty good at making sure their sons get to earn their combat ribbons in positions with little actual risk and benefit from a decidedly un-ruthless evaluation of military performance, so I’m doubtful even there.

            If you want a selection method powerful enough to filter out specific people as unsuited to lead, rather than entire bloodlines, war is too chaotic and usually too merciful. Same goes for most other real-world competitions. You’re going to need something so ruthless and so artificial as to make a suitable plot hook for a series of YA novels.

          • johan_larson says:

            Maybe this isn’t about selection of the competent. Maybe it’s about making sure people take care to make the best decisions they can. If you don’t have skin in the game, you can afford to be a bit casual. But if you have skin in the game, you can’t. Consider the thought and care you’d put into selling your own house as opposed to what you’d put into advising someone else on how to sell theirs.

          • christhenottopher says:

            Bean:

            Slow down a minute. If you wanted the goalposts at “senior military leaders only” you should have said so earlier. I explicitly was talking mostly about junior leaders, and this logic fails hard there. At that level, survival is very much random, which doesn’t just mean that some of the good and all of the bad die. It means that survival is only weakly correlated with goodness/badness.

            At a high level, professional survival is somewhat correlated with goodness/badness, but Lloyd Fredendall survived the war with his reputation intact, despite being someone who should never have been placed in charge of a children’s tea party, much less a Corps. What happens when he decides to go into politics after the war?

            Well, let’s be fair, this whole thread started here:

            Taleb says it’s a good thing if the leader who pushes for war has to lead on the battlefield, since that should lead to being more responsible about staring wars.

            (Italics mine)

            My responses have been based on trying to get Taleb’s point as I understand it across from that beginning. And yes I know that Nancy’s description of Taleb’s point is different than mine (going back to his books from this discussion I do see he mentions both reasons as justifying skin in the game), but either way that’s definitely talking about senior leadership. I don’t see myself moving goal posts but maybe a bit of talking past each other. Of course, I could be wrong on what’s actually happening in my comments (the brain does tend to paint it’s perception of itself in the best possible light) and my apologies if I am.

            Nonetheless I’m not convinced the point doesn’t generalize downward. You argue that at low levels death is random enough that it’s not correlated with skill as a military leader. This seems, not well supported by your arguments so far. Consider a scenario where being a good leader means that your average per day of being removed from command (death, wounding, firing, demotion) chances are .8% and being a bad one your per day removal chances are 1%. A lot of bad leaders will survive for a good while there and a lot of good leaders will be gone. For a hundred days of those loss chances, 37% of your bad leaders will still be around and 45% of your good leaders. The longer you run this, the greater the percentage of those still living will be good ones. Pretty much the only way you don’t get that is if leadership ability is completely non-correlated with position survival or over very short time spans for selection.

            Clearly even lower levels of a veteran army tend to be more skilled than lower levels in a non-veteran army. Some of this probably comes from learning and some probably comes from selection. Removing leaders at any level from the danger of elimination does still allow learning, but it removes the selection pressure for better decisions.

            Wait. You want to use Grant as your example of war filtering for good politicians? I’m not even sure I need to give further rebuttal.

            That’s not really my point. It’s not for politics in general but for the decision process of whether or not to fight wars. If there is no cost sufficiently high to remove a leader from his position for the decision to go to war, too many war loving politicians will stay in power. That’s the point from Taleb about selection from wars and politicians. And if you do have a bunch of complaints about Grant as president (which, fair enough, he continually hired corrupt subordinates), he won two terms which should be a caution about the efficacy of voting as a sufficient way to select against bad leaders.

            Seriously, put down the goalposts. I’m getting irritated now.
            This is simply not practical on any level, and can only make things worse. Casualties among the top command staff mean that either the enemy got through with a bomber, or that the war is totally and irretrievably lost. The former has little to do with the President’s competence, and a lot to do with the competence of whoever is running the air defenses. The latter is way too coarse of a signal to be of any use at all. If you insist on putting senior command staff at physical risk out of obedience to Taleb’s theory, then you’re shooting yourself in the head when I blow them apart with a careful strike at them directly. Warfare has come a long way in the past 150 years, and this is just not practical.

            I don’t see the goal post moving still, but that might be a sign I’m either fooling myself or not explaining myself clearly.

            But at the same time I’m not really convinced that maintaining the top level leadership is quite as irretrievable a loss as you make out. This seems to have an easy solution, don’t put all your leaders and their potential replacements in the same risk situation. All of them can face risk, but say, at different point on the front. Or only the current leaders are at the front and their back-ups stay behind to take up command in the event the leaders in the front do wind up getting eliminated. If losing the top person, but not their in-the-wings replacement, was as irretrievable as you say, then losing Franklin Roosevelt should have been a bigger loss to the US war effort than it was. Yes it was late in the war and yes there were allies, but both were also true in the 7 years war when Empress Elizabeth of Russia died and that did turn the war around. The lesson there is that there are ways to build systems that can survive leadership losses and having such a system means top level leaders can be put at more risk to retain the risk.

            We already have that. It’s called defeat, either in an election or for the country as a whole. I strongly suspect that Taleb’s background in finance is making him draw silly conclusions on this. Finance is continuous, with lots of relatively small decisions that give lots of feedback. Warfare has a few big decisions, particularly at that level.

            Leaders don’t have to personally lose with their country so “defeat for the country” is only a selection impact for the leader if they are removed with the loss. Otherwise no selection effect has occurred for the person making the decision. Losing an election does do that in theory, but I have my doubts to the effectiveness of that given that voters may not be voting on how well the war went. There’s a theoretical good reason and a theoretical bad reason for that. The good reason is the voters have broader concerns that need to be balanced by what happened in the war. To the extent that is true, not punishing a leader who screws up a war would make sense. The bad reason is that because individual votes do not change results, people are incentivized to support a political party for cultural/social in-group reasons rather than what produces the best results for the citizen or the nation. Given how opinions change based on who’s in charge rather than results (for a recent example, see the flip in Republican and Democratic opinions on the FBI), I’m inclined to think the bad reason dominates.

          • christhenottopher says:

            John Schelling:

            Did anyone ever bother to inform Taleb that natural selection generally produces useful results over a timescale of dozens to hundreds of generations?

            War isn’t a powerful enough selector to be useful in this generation, or the next or the one after that. Even in the really ugly wars, the casualty rate is rarely more than 25%. And as bean notes, most of that is random. Most of the parts that aren’t random, depend on tactical skill in small-unit combat, which is almost completely irrelevant in any other context. And most wars don’t see even a 2.5% fatality rate.

            Numbers help me out in thinking about stuff like this so thanks! And yeah that seems fair, the selection aspect of this is too weak. The other “think more carefully when you’re at risk” part Nancy/john larson mentions is still there (and yep on re-reading Taleb does mention this too), but the argument is weaker without the selection part.

            EDIT: However, it’s worth remembering firing/demotion would raise that selection a lot too and that tends to occur more in warfare than peace time. That would still be weaker for the very top level since their firing would still be at the ballot box and I do have doubts about the effectiveness of that.

            Nancy Lebovitz:

            I’ll also note that while Taleb makes his own investments, but as for more general matters he’s a pundit. If he’s wrong about government, he won’t be the one who pays.

            I would agree with that without a doubt.

          • bean says:

            @johan_larson

            Maybe this isn’t about selection of the competent. Maybe it’s about making sure people take care to make the best decisions they can. If you don’t have skin in the game, you can afford to be a bit casual. But if you have skin in the game, you can’t. Consider the thought and care you’d put into selling your own house as opposed to what you’d put into advising someone else on how to sell theirs.

            That’s a reasonable point, but I can’t see any way to incorporate it into the act of declaring war in this day and age.

            @christhenottopher

            Well, let’s be fair, this whole thread started here:

            Looking that over, I can sort of see where you’re coming from. I read it as “has lead” instead of “has to lead” because the later makes no sense at all in the context of warfare today. Whatever benefit you’d gain by making congresscritters have “skin in the game” would be lost a dozen times over by having politicians instead of generals running the war. Oh, and they wouldn’t actually be in danger. Unless you put them in small-unit leadership, in which case they’re worse than useless to their units, and their survival is largely a matter of chance.

            And yes I know that Nancy’s description of Taleb’s point is different than mine (going back to his books from this discussion I do see he mentions both reasons as justifying skin in the game), but either way that’s definitely talking about senior leadership.

            Senior leadership is pretty safe today, though. You don’t go out on the front lines as a general except on inspection tours, because your headquarters is very important and needs to be somewhere safe.

            Nonetheless I’m not convinced the point doesn’t generalize downward. You argue that at low levels death is random enough that it’s not correlated with skill as a military leader. This seems, not well supported by your arguments so far.

            I’m not saying that it’s totally uncorrelated, just that it’s much less correlated than your success as a stock picker is with your skill at that task. Although in some cases, good leaders might take or be given more risks than bad ones. I don’t know how the arrows cancel out, just that it’s a bad way to select.

            Consider a scenario where being a good leader means that your average per day of being removed from command (death, wounding, firing, demotion) chances are .8% and being a bad one your per day removal chances are 1%. A lot of bad leaders will survive for a good while there and a lot of good leaders will be gone. For a hundred days of those loss chances, 37% of your bad leaders will still be around and 45% of your good leaders. The longer you run this, the greater the percentage of those still living will be good ones. Pretty much the only way you don’t get that is if leadership ability is completely non-correlated with position survival or over very short time spans for selection.

            Again, leading an infantry platoon is not the same as leading a country. This will probably eventually get you decent platoon leaders. But it doesn’t generalize. Note just how low your enrichment is. After 100 days, you’re only at 55% good leaders. After 2.5 years (approximate length of US army participation in Europe), you’ll reach 86%, but have killed .066% of your good leaders. Note that I didn’t get the decimal wrong there. Less than 1 in 1000 good leaders survived. The signal is there, but you have to kill an awful lot of people to get it. And it doesn’t generalize.

            Removing leaders at any level from the danger of elimination does still allow learning, but it removes the selection pressure for better decisions.

            It’s possible to remove leaders who make bad decisions by means other than killing them in a war. Several US generals were relieved, but I don’t think it’s possible to conclude that bad generals died at a rate greater than good generals. I’d expect the reverse to be the case. Good generals are more likely to put themselves in danger.

            That’s not really my point. It’s not for politics in general but for the decision process of whether or not to fight wars.

            You brought up Grant, who besides running a bad administration also apparently made some uniquely bad decisions WRT the Indian Wars. (This claim was made a couple of OTs ago when talking about the benefits of presidential military service, but I know nothing about the Indian Wars, so I can’t verify.)

            If there is no cost sufficiently high to remove a leader from his position for the decision to go to war, too many war loving politicians will stay in power.

            I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to remove leaders who make bad decisions. I’m saying that relying on the enemy in a war to do it for us is a uniquely bad way to go about doing so. This logic made a great deal of sense in an era when rulers often had to be generals, and when generals were on the battlefield itself. But that hasn’t been the case for at least a century and a half.

            But at the same time I’m not really convinced that maintaining the top level leadership is quite as irretrievable a loss as you make out. This seems to have an easy solution, don’t put all your leaders and their potential replacements in the same risk situation. All of them can face risk, but say, at different point on the front. Or only the current leaders are at the front and their back-ups stay behind to take up command in the event the leaders in the front do wind up getting eliminated.

            Sorry, no. A couple of problems:
            1. Who are we trying to kill again? Congress, generals, or someone else?
            2. Modern battles are best fought from a tent full of computers, video displays, and staff officers. This stuff is expensive, and building twice as many to make sure we can recover from sacrificing some in an attempt to improve the breed is not a good idea.
            3. The timescales don’t really allow that. Unless we fully duplicate the command staffs, there’s local knowledge and connections you can’t replicate quickly. And there’s also morale issues.
            4. It’s not selective enough on victory or defeat. I can put the headquarters well back, and guard it in such a way that only a really catastrophic defeat will result in more than freak chance taking out the commander. That sort of catastrophe that will result in him being relieved anyway, so this isn’t really more selective on his skill. Actually, this is true of almost any distance you put the HQ from the front, and moving it up just increases the chances of a freak death.

            Look, I understand the appeal of this. It makes perfect sense when you’re talking about pre-industrial warfare, and probably produced some good consequences then. But the best option is probably to encourage more Congresscritters to visit places that are genuinely dangerous, particularly if they voted for war. Trying to actually kill them simply won’t work. I try not to argue on my authority, but I’m going to do so here. I’ve been a serious military enthusiast for 15 years, and this is a terrible idea.

            Leaders don’t have to personally lose with their country so “defeat for the country” is only a selection impact for the leader if they are removed with the loss.

            Under any structure I can think of that’s relevant today, defeat removing the leader from power is much, much more selective on victory or defeat than is actual death on the battlefield.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Actually, there is a proposal (only from the left, I think) to make the president and congress have skin in the game. Draft their children.

            Presumably, this only applies to children of military age. And those children would put into combat.

            I’m not sure how serious this proposal is, but I’ve seen it often enough.

            I consider it to be morally atrocious, but I’m opposed to conscription generally.

          • pontifex says:

            Well, that’s obviously absurd. If we used war as a crude leadership eugenics method, we’d get cowardly leaders who send other people off to the front lines, while making damn sure that they were in the rear, with the gear. And they’d probably be pretty persuasive inventing reasons why it has to be that way.

            Hmm, wait…

          • bean says:

            Actually, there is a proposal (only from the left, I think) to make the president and congress have skin in the game. Draft their children.

            Presumably, this only applies to children of military age. And those children would put into combat.

            I’m not sure how serious this proposal is, but I’ve seen it often enough.

            This is stupidly easy to game. In principle, I don’t have a huge problem with it, but you’re either only going to get quasi-volunteers, or you’re going to trample military systems to make a political point. Taking any psych medicine is enough to disqualify you from military service. Half of congresscritter kids are depressed, the other half have ADD. Most people can’t meet the standards for combat units, and we don’t want to waive those. What about various deferments? How do we define war in this situation, anyway? “No, it’s just a police action.” What about cases when the war is over by the time any draftees could get there? (Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm.)
            A better option might be to do mandatory embeds of Congresscritters with combat units. That way it’s their skin, and you don’t see all sorts of weird incentives going on. I’m still not wild about it, but it has more merit. But it also has the lottery problem. The risk to the participants is not necessarily correlated with how well the war as a whole is going, or how good of an idea it was.

            Edit:
            The last point might actually be a feature, instead of a bug. Their risk isn’t that much different from the common soldier.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Did anyone ever bother to inform Taleb that natural selection generally produces useful results over a timescale of dozens to hundreds of generations?

            No it doesn’t, there are plenty of ways to get selection effects in a single generation and one of them is having animals that watch each other and learn from mistakes that they see.

          • quanta413 says:

            The last point might actually be a feature, instead of a bug. Their risk isn’t that much different from the common soldier.

            Why not? Vote for a war, and you should have to take a little bit of grunt risk.

            Maybe even embed random congress members until their casualty rate per unit time is statistically indistinguishable from a grunt. The overall risk they took would still be far below that of a grunt who spent years on the battlefield. And that means they should suffer at least one injury if there’s a war. If it doesn’t happen by the next election, automatically prevent them from running again. We’ll never know if they aren’t gaming the system to eliminate the risk if a few aren’t getting wounded or dying.

            Maybe they can skip the front lines if they just shoot themselves in the foot (no anesthetics allowed before shooting though). Seems like a costly enough signal to send to show you are serious.

            Of course, there are now obvious opportunities for them to politic against each other to place others in riskier assignments, but I’m not sure if this problem is really a huge deal from the perspective of someone who’s not a congress member.

          • bean says:

            Why not? Vote for a war, and you should have to take a little bit of grunt risk.

            That was more or less where I’d come to by the end of that comment, yes.

            Maybe even embed random congress members until their casualty rate per unit time is statistically indistinguishable from a grunt. The overall risk they took would still be far below that of a grunt who spent years on the battlefield. And that means they should suffer at least one injury if there’s a war. If it doesn’t happen by the next election, automatically prevent them from running again. We’ll never know if they aren’t gaming the system to eliminate the risk if a few aren’t getting wounded or dying.

            I’m coming to accept embedding as a good idea, although I’m not sure it’s either good or possible to precisely match grunt casualty rates. (Is that just for the ones sent, or Congress as a whole? Because the later is impossible.) Embeds are going to be a tiny bit safer because they’re not the first person through the door when clearing a house, and they may not have the stamina to keep up when running around a town with a flack jacket on. How much safer depends on the causes of casualties. In Iraq, it wouldn’t have been a big advantage.
            Complications start to appear when we look closer, though. How do we handle it when there’s significant Congressional turnover during a long war? Do we make the new people go? If so, how do we decide who does or doesn’t need to do a tour? There’s also stuff like Desert Storm, which was short enough and easy enough there probably would have been no Congressional casualties.

            Maybe they can skip the front lines if they just shoot themselves in the foot (no anesthetics allowed before shooting though). Seems like a costly enough signal to send to show you are serious.

            Please. Aim it just right, so it misses anything important, get a stint in the hospital, and then go back to Congress? No way. Put them somewhere dangerous and/or unpleasant.

            Of course, there are now obvious opportunities for them to politic against each other to place others in riskier assignments, but I’m not sure if this problem is really a huge deal from the perspective of someone who’s not a congress member.

            Oh, have the assignments distributed by some frustrated Colonel on the verge of retirement, who really doesn’t like Congress. Or the opposing party.

          • Aapje says:

            Actually, there is a proposal (only from the left, I think) to make the president and congress have skin in the game. Draft their children.

            It seems very unjust to punish family members in that way.

            In other news, organized criminals in my country just shot the brother of a police informant. The killed brother was not involved in any criminal activity and left behind several children.

            Do we want to copy these kind of ‘I will hurt your family’ tactics?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Wouldn’t having to lug some sixtysomething congressperson around be a pretty bad deal for everyone else in the unit? I’m guessing that embedded journalists are selected to at least a minimal extent for ability to handle it physically, etc, which you couldn’t do if all congress had to do this.

            And who’s to say it wouldn’t have the opposite effect? What was the career boost to embedded journalists, versus the risk? Who’s to say Representative So-and-So won’t come back from a brief where the soldiers made sure he didn’t get shot at, but he maybe got kinda-sorta close to something blowing up, thinking he’s a Man of Action who Understands War and now has a clean conscience sending guys a third of his age off to get shot at?

            Heck, I can think of a certain PFC who was decorated for front-line service in the previous war, ended up in a top leadership position, and consistently believed that his front-line experience meant he knew better than generals who had spent most or all of the previous war as staff officers. That’s obviously one example. But I’m having a hard time thinking of any historical pattern showing that being willing to risk your own hide is correlated with good large-scale leadership. Does Taleb back up his notion regarding skin in the game with historical evidence, or is it just sort of “anyone who doesn’t acknowledge this is an IYI who doesn’t deadlift”?

          • Jiro says:

            Vote for a war, and you should have to take a little bit of grunt risk.

            I think this is an isolated demand for rigor. There isn’t much demand that people can’t vote for taxes unless they’re going to be paying some of the taxes. Or that they can’t vote to sentence criminals differently if they’re not a ciminal. Or that they can’t vote for zoning regulations if they don’t own a business harmed by the zoning.

          • bean says:

            Wouldn’t having to lug some sixtysomething congressperson around be a pretty bad deal for everyone else in the unit? I’m guessing that embedded journalists are selected to at least a minimal extent for ability to handle it physically, etc, which you couldn’t do if all congress had to do this.

            That’s a good point. I don’t know the qualifications for embedding, but you can definitely be more selective than with Congress. On the other hand, I was more or less operating under the assumption that they’d stay with the Humvees, not necessarily be running around with the absolute front lines. But yes, they should definitely hear bullets going by.

            And who’s to say it wouldn’t have the opposite effect? What was the career boost to embedded journalists, versus the risk? Who’s to say Representative So-and-So won’t come back from a brief where the soldiers made sure he didn’t get shot at, but he maybe got kinda-sorta close to something blowing up, thinking he’s a Man of Action who Understands War and now has a clean conscience sending guys a third of his age off to get shot at?

            To be fair, a lot of government people do tours on the front lines. What I’m suggesting is a somewhat longer-term scheme, a bit like what the British do, but in combat. Say a month with a specific unit, going where they go and doing what they do, as far as possible.

            Heck, I can think of a certain PFC who was decorated for front-line service in the previous war, ended up in a top leadership position, and consistently believed that his front-line experience meant he knew better than generals who had spent most or all of the previous war as staff officers.

            That’s a good point. I’ve made similar points before, and really should have remembered it here.

            But I’m having a hard time thinking of any historical pattern showing that being willing to risk your own hide is correlated with good large-scale leadership. Does Taleb back up his notion regarding skin in the game with historical evidence, or is it just sort of “anyone who doesn’t acknowledge this is an IYI who doesn’t deadlift”?

            No clue, as I’m operating from second-hand accounts. I go back and forth on this. I think the idea of exposing leaders to hazards to bring their guts into play is a good one, but I’m not sure it’s practical to implement. There’s definite potential for bad consequences.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            This is all well and good for dis-incentivizing unjust wars but it also dis-incentivizes, say, going over to Europe to stop the Nazis. Potentially even more strongly, since there will be more casualties fighting a competent opponent.

            You can make the argument that in a just war they should be willing, nay, eager to sacrifice for it but, come on, these are politicians we’re talking about.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @bean
            Is it a good thing to have MPs or whatever with proven guts? Does having proven physical courage make someone a better decision-maker when it comes to going to war? The assumptions of “oh, leaders should serve” seem to be “people who have known the horrors of war will not eagerly enter into them” and “people with military experience will be better at judging whether a war is a good idea or not.” Either that or “people who have seen combat are morally better people” or something similar.

            One can find plenty of historical counterexamples. The previously mentioned PFC for the first two, and his generals for the third – some of them were decorated combat vets, and overall they displayed at a minimum considerable moral cowardice, in some cases far worse.

          • Nornagest says:

            The assumptions of “oh, leaders should serve” seem to be “people who have known the horrors of war will not eagerly enter into them” and “people with military experience will be better at judging whether a war is a good idea or not.” Either that or “people who have seen combat are morally better people” or something similar.

            I was thinking the point of this was more along the lines of “leaders would be less likely to get their countries into stupid pointless wars if it meant they got shot at too”. As others have noted, it’s quite common for political leaders to have past military experience with or without such a stipulation.

            There are definitely some adverse selection effects here, though. During and before WWI, the aristocratic classes of just about every country I could name had a highly martial character, but it didn’t stop them from getting into stupid wars.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If you look at rulers who would be on the battlefield themselves, were they more or less likely to get into bad wars?

          • Nornagest says:

            Who knows? It’s very hard to find good historical analogues to this proposal. You need to go back pretty far to find eras where the political leadership of mature nations (that is, not revolutionary movements) would personally participate in battle, and I’m not sure I can think of any cultures where political leadership would participate in battle without also holding military leadership.

            If you allow family members, though, it’s much easier — as I alluded to earlier, young men from the aristocratic classes of most European nations were hit disproportionately hard by WWI. But that was essentially voluntary and they were usually officers, though not usually high ones.

          • quanta413 says:

            I think this is an isolated demand for rigor. There isn’t much demand that people can’t vote for taxes unless they’re going to be paying some of the taxes. Or that they can’t vote to sentence criminals differently if they’re not a ciminal. Or that they can’t vote for zoning regulations if they don’t own a business harmed by the zoning.

            You can’t know if it’s isolated if you don’t know what I think about the other cases.

            Every regulation Congress applies to businesses should apply to Congress, but this isn’t true. Every law an ordinary citizen is subject to, a congressperson should be subject to too. No privileges or immunities de facto or de jure.

            You misclassify how the criminal case should be analagous. If someone enacted a law that created a crime for everyone else but not themselves, that would be analogous to sending other people to war. When a criminal law applies to yourself as well as too others (in the future, not retroactively), that is the same as if you had to spend some time on the battlefield if you sent others to the battlefield.

            I don’t propose that a fresh member of Congress who hadn’t voted for a war be forced to travel out to the warzone. That would be rather different.

            I’m inclined to say that it wouldn’t be obviously unreasonable to say that you can’t raise taxes that don’t affect yourself (or wouldn’t if you engaged in some behavior; so you can vote to tax emissions of X as long as you would pay that tax if you emitted X), but that’s more of a civil matter. Taxes also aren’t nearly as big a deal as criminal matters or war. They aren’t a matter of life or death or imprisonment like war or criminal law.

            I don’t see why anyone should be allowed to control what goes on on someone else’s property if there is no contract between them and they can’t show how it harms them. Sure the government can do this with the flimsiest of justifications, but it makes for bad outcomes. Like San Francisco.

            War is such an extreme case of moral decision, that I’m just willing to go an additional step and say maybe we should make sure that leaders partake of the consequences a little. Not because I think it will make them better leaders. Just so that they might pause for half a second before going to war.

            Although I think it’s less likely it makes congress have more martial spirit, I think that would still be preferable in some ways to the status quo. Not invading Iraq would’ve been best, but invading and then keeping it under control for the necessary number of decades I think is probably second place. Instead we got the worst of both worlds. A large scale invasion toppling a stable (if nasty) government, followed by a hasty withdrawal leaving a power vacuum and the rise of radical Islamic offshoots.

          • John Schilling says:

            If you make it so that even aspiring to political power requires “risking” wartime military service, political power will necessarily be concentrated in a population selected towars seeing war as a positive personal experience.

            And, with military service (particularly in leadership positions) not being all that terribly dangerous, you get further selection for creating the appearance of having undergone personal risk through combat, for taking credit for victories regardless of one’s role in winning them, and in waging war in a manner conspicuously glorious rather than tactically efficient.

            Careerist military officers are good enough at those things already, and the results as transferred to the political sphere may not be what you are looking for.

          • Jiro says:

            You misclassify how the criminal case should be analagous. If someone enacted a law that created a crime for everyone else but not themselves, that would be analogous to sending other people to war.

            But pretty much all lawmakers create laws that only make other people criminals. If you’ve never robbed a bank, and you make bank robbery criminal, you’re making a law that only creates a crime for a group of people (bank robbers) that doesn’t include you. If that’s permissible, it should also be permissible to send only volunteers to war, even if you’re no more a volunteer than you are a bank robber.

            And I doubt that you seriously think a Congressman should be prohibited from imposing, oh, a pollution tax if he doesn’t own a factory that generates pollution.

            or wouldn’t if you engaged in some behavior; so you can vote to tax emissions of X as long as you would pay that tax if you emitted X

            How is that different from “you can vote to start a war using volunteers, as long as you would go to war if you volunteered”? Volunteering is “engaging in some behavior”.

          • quanta413 says:

            @John Schilling

            I find your objection pretty convincing. That’s why I think congressional casualties would be a necessity for the idea to make sense even hypothetically. Some need to be badly wounded or dead to know they aren’t cheating (as a group, they may cheat individually to off opponents, but I suspect this would discourage warmongering by the group as well). I suppose you could also create the necessary risk by having all the pro-war contingent play russian roulette or something.

            @Jiro

            Sure, if every private can after a war is declared but before being deployed, opt out with no penalty but the loss of his military salary and benefits, then I would have no problem with Congress being allowed to “go to war”. Actually, that might be too effective. I’m not sure.

            The volunteering, however, is not of that type. It’s indentured servitude.

            How is that different from “you can vote to start a war using volunteers, as long as you would go to war if you volunteered”?

            Voting to start a war is like paying for the building of and owning the polluting factory that brings you profits. You have to pay taxes on it. You can’t say “Well I just ordered those guys over there to build it, I didn’t lift a finger myself, why should I have to pay?”

            I don’t believe monetary costs are easy enough to assess or discouraging in quite the right way. So it’s off to risk life and limb. And I expect some limbs and/or lives. A lack of them would be reneging on the hypothetical deal.

            I’m sure there’s a much better way to discourage the poor behavior of playing world police present in the American ruling class, but I don’t know what it is.

            @all

            To be honest, I wouldn’t even half-seriously propose these rules for a war where a country was invaded. But for wars of aggression or “police actions” I find the idea interesting enough to defend.

          • Jiro says:

            Sure, if every private can after a war is declared but before being deployed, opt out with no penalty but the loss of his military salary and benefits, then I would have no problem with Congress being allowed to “go to war”.

            I’m pretty sure that bank robbers can’t opt out after robbing a bank but before being sent to jail, and polluting factories forced to pay extra taxes can’t opt out after polluting but before paying the taxes.

            Voting to start a war is like paying for the building of and owning the polluting factory that brings you profits. You have to pay taxes on it. You can’t say “Well I just ordered those guys over there to build it, I didn’t lift a finger myself, why should I have to pay?”

            The analogy is comparing the person voting for soldiers to fight a war to the person voting for taxes on the factory owners. In both cases, a person is voting for another person to be harmed in a way that the voter does not have to suffer himself because he is not in the class being harmed.

            It isn’t comparing the person voting for war to the factory owners themselves. And making that comparison doesn’t refute the first comparison anyway–you would just conclude that the factory owner, the voter for the war, and the voter for the factory taxes all have to pay.

          • bean says:

            Is it a good thing to have MPs or whatever with proven guts? Does having proven physical courage make someone a better decision-maker when it comes to going to war?

            Nornagest pretty much nailed where I was going with this. I wasn’t talking about making sure they’d served in the past. For a lot of reasons, I think that’s probably a bad idea. I was talking about making them take risks as a result of their decisions. But even that is something I go back and forth on.

          • keranih says:

            “Courage is of two kinds; first, physical courage, or courage in presence of danger to the person: and next, moral courage, or courage before responsibility; whether it be before the judgment-seat of external authority, or of the inner power, the conscience. We only speak here of the first..”

          • quanta413 says:

            I’m pretty sure that bank robbers can’t opt out after robbing a bank but before being sent to jail, and polluting factories forced to pay extra taxes can’t opt out after polluting but before paying the taxes.

            Your classification scheme ignores that laws refer to future actions you have the option of not doing. If robbing banks was a normal job and totally legal up until some time, the law should not be able to change ex post facto to punish former bank robbers. When the law changes you can opt out of robbing banks in the future and not be punished for robbing banks.

            Voluntary service to invade a foreign country is only morally justified as being voluntary about wars that are already ongoing when one volunteers. If tomorrow without provocation, Trump decided to try to conquer Canada, everyone who refused the orders would be morally justified although legally out of line.

            The analogy is comparing the person voting for soldiers to fight a war to the person voting for taxes on the factory owners. In both cases, a person is voting for another person to be harmed in a way that the voter does not have to suffer himself because he is not in the class being harmed.

            Your analogy is making this comparison. Mine is not. Your analogy is not very useful from the point of view that I care about because it ignores the fact that military service is indentured servitude that you can’t get out of, whereas if you have a polluting factory and Congress decides to start taxing it, you can shut down your factory after the tax law passes but before it goes into effect and not pay the taxes.

            You also ignore that the harms of war (especially in the case of the U.S.) are not restricted to the soldiers on the governments side. More harm probably accumulates to the enemy being shot. And if you’re the invader (like the U.S. usually has been), the moral justifications are slim. Locking soldiers into indentured servitude to risk life and limb for pay doesn’t regulate the externality that I care about. Immoral wars in foreign countries. All punishment accruing to the soldiers is as if congress contractually bound people to live in a town, then congress mandated the people living there build a giant polluting factory in the town hurting many other towns but also the people in the town, and then it “taxed” the people in the town to discourage this future behavior. This “tax” doesn’t discourage externalities very efficiently, and I would find the behavior deeply immoral on congress’s part. Even if the people bound to the town knew they might possibly be called upon to build polluting factories but most of the time they wouldn’t be. After all, if our townspeople are analogous to American soldiers they’ve been implicitly promised that the factories they build would at least do something good for the people of their town and the surrounding towns, yet they find the factory they are forced to build has the sole purpose of polluting the waters of their town and others.

            And again, contracts for indentured servitude are not the same as normal contracts.

            It isn’t comparing the person voting for war to the factory owners themselves. And making that comparison doesn’t refute the first comparison anyway–you would just conclude that the factory owner, the voter for the war, and the voter for the factory taxes all have to pay.

            Agree on the first two, not on the third if the voter for factory taxes doesn’t then go and build a factory. The voter for the factory taxes didn’t create the externality like the factory owner or the voter for the war did. Congress creates the externality for other people when it invades them; it is not some random bystander. It is not just the soldiers who suffer (and also are the instrument used to create the externality), but primarily the people being invaded.

            You could discourage building polluting factories by taxing people who worked at them but not owners. This would discourage building polluting factories. But it’s administratively more efficient and morally more sensible to strike at the top responsible party, the person or corporation that owns and runs the factory.

          • Jiro says:

            Your classification scheme ignores that laws refer to future actions you have the option of not doing.

            Joining the military as a volunteer is something you can do in the future. You have the option of not doing it.

            military service is indentured servitude that you can’t get out of

            At this point you’ve changed the idea to something almost completely different from how it started. The initial argument was that the politicians are voting to harm a class that excludes themselves, which is far more general than your current version and does cover robbers and polluters.

            Also, you ignore the case where the politician imposes costs on a class, but leaving the class also has costs. If so, you can technically leave, but leaving won’t let you escape the costs, and the politician is imposing costs on people who cannot escape them just like he is on soldiers. (Consider having the choice between paying a tax or going out of business.)

            You also ignore that the harms of war (especially in the case of the U.S.) are not restricted to the soldiers on the governments side.

            If you’re going to count indirect harms, that raises the possibility that not going to war has an indirect harm just like going to war does. By your reasoning, politicians then should not be permitted to refuse to vote for a war unless they’re willing to take on that harm.

          • quanta413 says:

            At this point you’ve changed the idea to something almost completely different from how it started. The initial argument was that the politicians are voting to harm a class that excludes themselves, which is far more general than your current version and does cover robbers and polluters.

            That was not my original argument although maybe it was someone else’s. I didn’t say “Congress isn’t made of soldiers they shouldn’t be allowed to command soldiers to take risks.” I said

            Why not? Vote for a war, and you should have to take a little bit of grunt risk.

            I.e. Congress should have to take responsibility for its actions like everyone else. The current system is clearly not working. I’m willing to play with crazy mechanisms.

            I did not elaborate everything up front. I thought the differences between wars that Congress chooses to engage in and robbery or polluting which Congress does not was obvious. Apparently it isn’t. Congress is not regulating random other people who happen to start wars. That would be analogous to regulating robbers or polluters and I would find it perfectly acceptable. Congress is the robber or polluter. Soldiers are factory workers engaged in indentured servitude (temporary slaves).

            Joining the military as a volunteer is something you can do in the future. You have the option of not doing it.

            It’s something you can’t quit without criminal penalties i.e. imprisonment. How many other jobs result in 5 years of imprisonment if you give your 2 weeks notice?

            Being a soldier is not actually comparable to almost any other contract that modern U.S. society would allow. There may be good reasons for it (theoretically). Do you think that it should be legal for people to sign an employment contract where if they decide to quit, they go to prison? If yes, for which jobs is this morally acceptable and why?

            Also, you ignore the case where the politician imposes costs on a class, but leaving the class also has costs. If so, you can technically leave, but leaving won’t let you escape the costs, and the politician is imposing costs on people who cannot escape them just like he is on soldiers. (Consider having the choice between paying a tax or going out of business.)

            These sort of things may be bad, but leaving almost everything has a costs. You are extending the idea to situations that are too different. Like I’ve said before, I’d be fine with the current system if the “cost” of leaving your job as a soldier when a war was declared but before being deployed was just loss of the job. Maybe even civil penalties. But the cost is years of imprisonment or death. Indentured servitude is temporary slavery. This is only even vaguely morally accepted because supposedly U.S. wars are very important for defending the nation etc. However, most U.S. wars are actually wars of choice that involve killing other people halfway around the world who haven’t even touched a U.S. citizen.

            If you’re going to count indirect harms, that raises the possibility that not going to war has an indirect harm just like going to war does. By your reasoning, politicians then should not be permitted to refuse to vote for a war unless they’re willing to take on that harm.

            Indirect harms? Are bombs and bullets an indirect harm? Under what classification is this true? Bullets and bombs are canonical examples of direct harms. The whole point of them is to kill people and blow stuff up.

            There is not a moral symmetry between murder and not-murder. What would it mean to accept the harms that come with not engaging in an action? There are an infinite numbers of things we don’t do and don’t get the benefits from. Considering how variable this would be, how do we even know that Congress isn’t already suffering the harms that come with not conquering Mexico? They aren’t in direct control of key resources in Mexico.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “Skin in the game” can be about more than just physical danger. For example, if you know there’s a good chance you’ll end up commanding a particular war (and hence being responsible for your country’s victory or defeat), you would — hopefully — give more thought as to whether or not said war is actually winnable before voting in favour of it.

            Of course, what might actually happen is that vainglorious MPs or Congressmen vote in favour of wars, hoping to be put in charge of them and boost their careers with a glorious victory. Kind of like how Roman governors used to deliberately provoke neighbouring tribes to invade so they could fight them, burn a few villages and have a big, popularity-boosting celebration in Rome to commemorate their victory. Meanwhile, important but unglamorous campaigns got put off, sometimes for generations. (It wasn’t until Augustus’ time that Rome secured its communications across the Alps, because campaigns there were mostly against impoverished bandit villages, and destroying those didn’t look very impressive compared to fighting with the British or Parthians.)

          • albatross11 says:

            Perhaps one way to decrease the world-policing aspect of US foreign policy would be to require Congress to actually declare wars we’re in. Maybe we should add that to the constitution. (Oh, wait….)

        • Jiro says:

          These sort of things may be bad, but leaving almost everything has a costs.

          Yes, but not everything has the same size costs.

          When the cost of leaving is larger than the cost that the politician is imposing, then the politician is imposing costs on people who cannot opt out of paying them. “You’re forced to stay in and pay the cost” and “you can pay the cost or leave and pay another larger cost” are pretty darn similar, because in either case the cost is not optional.

          Indirect harms? Are bombs and bullets an indirect harm?

          The costs of not going to war can also be bombs, bullets, or death. But you don’t demand that the politician pay the costs of not going to war in the same way that you demand the politician pay the costs of going to war.

          • quanta413 says:

            Yes, but not everything has the same size costs…

            Sure, but besides the point. There are no other jobs (in the U.S.) where the penalty for leaving is years of imprisonment or death. It’s not just that some things have high costs. Being a soldier is temporary slavery.

            And Congress is the one sending soldiers out to commit murder (for supposedly some greater good). You still haven’t bothered answering why holding Congress responsible is wrong and yet taxing polluters isn’t wrong. (Unless you also say taxing polluters isn’t).

            The costs of not going to war can also be bombs, bullets, or death. But you don’t demand that the politician pay the costs of not going to war in the same way that you demand the politician pay the costs of going to war.

            Technically true, but in an utterly irrelevant way. I wouldn’t mind different standards for when being invaded and have already said so (which incidentally, means you are at war until you surrender anyways). However, I’m just going to repeat myself because you still haven’t answered the obvious

            There is not a moral symmetry between murder and not-murder. What would it mean to accept the harms that come with not engaging in an action? There are an infinite numbers of things we don’t do and don’t get the benefits from. Considering how variable this would be, how do we even know that Congress isn’t already suffering the harms that come with not conquering Mexico? They aren’t in direct control of key resources in Mexico.

            We don’t tax people who aren’t polluting when they could be polluting because that pollution might cause some further affects down the road that are positive.

            The burden is on you to prove why murdering people is the sort of good we want to encourage.

            Incidentally, emotionally I wouldn’t really mind inflicting more harms on politicians in an of itself. But my irrational dislike for them aside, punishing people for not committing murder is stupid and wrong. And it would be stupid to cancel out the incentives for not murdering people by punishing someone whether they are engaging in murder or not.

            Please how explain what features of what you’re saying make it distinct from a radical moral relativism where committing murder and not committing murder are somehow equivalent.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Calling soldiers “murderers” strikes me as an example of the worst argument in the world.

          • quanta413 says:

            @The original Mr. X

            Fair enough, I got carried away. To be correct, replace “murder (for supposedly some greater good)” with “killing (for supposedly some greater good”). Etc. for other places I said “murder”.

            I think the burden of war degenerating into murder as opposed to killing generally falls on the people starting the war (i.e. The President and/or Congress in the U.S.). Soldiers are under threat of death for refusing to follow orders. This is enough duress that it should get them off the hook as long as the orders aren’t horrifyingly out of bounds. So it is the leaders of a country who engage in things morally comparable to murder (or conspiracy to murder or what have you).

            It is possible to engage in a “just” war where I would say the leaders aren’t engaging in something morally equivalent to murder, but I don’t think the U.S. (or any other country) does very much of that. I wouldn’t want to argue for anything besides the Civil War, WWII, and the Korean War as having been morally justifiable. And even then, I wouldn’t say that even every major action was morally justifiable. Just overall it was probably better than doing nothing.

          • Jiro says:

            There are no other jobs (in the U.S.) where the penalty for leaving is years of imprisonment or death.

            All that’s necessary for the argument is that the penalty is at least as high as the harm the politician wants to cause to the group. “You can go to jail for desertion or you can do X” isn’t in principle different from “you can choose something worse than X, or do X”. Both of them are equivalent to “you are forced to do X”.

            What would it mean to accept the harms that come with not engaging in an action?

            I’m not talking about all actions. I’m talking about cases where the war prevents, and is justified as preventing, some harm. We don’t require politicians who vote against the war to risk such harm.

            This isn’t going to lead to an infinite set of possibilities.

          • quanta413 says:

            All that’s necessary for the argument is that the penalty is at least as high as the harm the politician wants to cause to the group. “You can go to jail for desertion or you can do X” isn’t in principle different from “you can choose something worse than X, or do X”. Both of them are equivalent to “you are forced to do X”.

            You’re so far off from what I’m saying now that I’ve completely lost the thread.

            I’m not talking about all actions. I’m talking about cases where the war prevents, and is justified as preventing, some harm. We don’t require politicians who vote against the war to risk such harm.

            This isn’t going to lead to an infinite set of possibilities.

            “Justified as” and “actually does” are very far apart. War by its very nature is guaranteed to cause harm. It involves stabbing, shooting, or blowing people up. Being able to show that going to war will prevent harm requires not only accepting moral utilitarianism of some variety (and utilitarianism isn’t that great in the first place) but also accepting the existence of predictive power far beyond what any civilization has ever managed yet.

            You can’t know if going to war would have prevented harm if you don’t go to war; not to any reasonable standard of evidence. You can know if going to war would cause harm with something like 95% certainty or better. Because that’s the whole point of war.

            There is not a symmetry between action and inaction outside of irrelevant trolley problems.

            Besides, how do you know that Congress isn’t already suffering the harms of not conquering Mexico? They don’t have the resources of Mexico at their command. They don’t have the prestige of controlling more territory.

            I’m just repeating myself at this point though.

          • Jiro says:

            You’re so far off from what I’m saying now that I’ve completely lost the thread.

            TRhe argument was that people who vote for war should have to serve, because if you think hurting your soldiers is necessary, you’d better be prepared to be hurt yourself.

            I pointed out that we don’t have this standard for other things and you said that war is different because soldiers can’t leave, so the harm is being forced on them..

            My response is that although in the other examples people can leave, the cost of leaving is larger than the cost of the harm. If this cost is larger, they effectively can’t leave to avoid the harm either.

          • Jiro says:

            War by its very nature is guaranteed to cause harm. It involves stabbing, shooting, or blowing people up.

            So do lots of other things, including the examples I gave. Telling someone “pay this tax or close down your business” is also guaranteed to cause harm.

            Besides, how do you know that Congress isn’t already suffering the harms of not conquering Mexico? They don’t have the resources of Mexico at their command.

            That depends on the justification for the war. Suppose they want to go to war with Mexico to stop drug cartels from raiding Texas villages. If the congresspeople voting against the war don’t live in Texas villages, they won’t suffer that harm.

  21. Le Maistre Chat says:

    On dragons:
    The English word dragon is indirectly a loan from Greek drakon. However, drakon (masc) and drakaina (fem) never described saurian creatures with six limbs. The referent was snakes, with mythical connotations. A drakon was always depicted as a snake, sometimes with multiple heads, while a drakaina was more typically a woman from the waist up and serpentine below (cf. Echidna), with a couple having more elaborate forms (cf. Scylla with wolf heads where her waist and serpent part meet). Note how similar this makes Greek dragons to Indian nagas, which have the same threefold depictions as snakes, multi-headed snakes, and human from the waist up, with the last being typical for females (nagini).
    Closely related to the Aryan languages of India are the Iranian, where intelligent three-headed serpents are called azi dahak (interestingly, the 12th century Ajāyeb ul-Makhlooghāt says that when any serpent turns 100 years old and reaches the length of 30 gazes – 21-30 meters – it’s called an azdaha. No mention of when it gets extra heads.) The Germanic dragon-equivalent is usually simply a giant venomous serpent (cf. Jormungandr, Nidhogg, Fafnir), but Grimm preserved German folktales where they’re multi-headed.
    Whence then the dinosaur-like dragon with six limbs? Well, ancient Mesopotamian mythology and iconography distinguished four creatures we might call dragons, all born of Tiamat along with scorpion-men, mermaids, “minotaurs”, naked heroes, and sentient storms. These four were Basmu, Musmahhu, Mushussu, and Usumgallu. Basmu were giant sea serpents. Musmahhu resembled sauropods with seven heads. Mushussu vaguely resemble an ornithopod dinosaur, though the head and neck seem to be a serpent and the forelimbs identical to a lion’s. Usumgallu have four legs plus wings, looking something like a feathery version of our dragons.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      So for my crossover cosmology, we can assume that nagas/naginis and drakones/drakainae descend with modification from the musmahhu. But what’s the deal with multiple heads? Multiple individuals sharing a body is a birth defect. Then there’s the oddity that the names are gendered and those with multiple snake heads are almost never called female (only exception I can think of is the Lernaean hydra). Hmm, maybe a nagini gives birth to twins and lays them in pouches on the sides of her mate’s body, so the multi-headed ones are Mister Seahorse? Does that contradict the primary sources? 🙂

      As for our Western dragon, the first individual associated with that body shape is the red dragon of Wales, which the wizard Merlin met as a boy. While as I said the hexapod form is like Tiamat’s usumgallu, the head and tail are more saurian and the wings are a bat’s rather than feathery ones. Perhaps they descend with modification from the mushussu instead?

      • beleester says:

        While multiple individuals sharing a body is a birth defect, multiple independent mouths to bite with sounds pretty useful. Perhaps a hydra or drakon has its “real” brain in the chest, while its other heads are just local processing units to help it manage that many limbs (like how a Stegosaurus may have had an extra “brain” in the tail).

        Bonus for your crossover cosmology: Extra body parts are a common motif in Hindu and Buddhist mythology – multiple heads represent awareness (the ability to see in many directions at once), and multiple arms represent power (the ability to do many things at once). So maybe the “wise, ancient dragon” tropes should get reserved for the crazy many-headed creatures, while the more traditional-looking dragons are ironically more monstrous.

    • Nornagest says:

      interestingly, the 12th century Ajāyeb ul-Makhlooghāt says that when any serpent turns 100 years old and reaches the length of 30 gazes – 21-30 meters – it’s called an azdaha.

      Interesting. In Japanese folk mythology, there’s this concept of tsukumogami — literally “tool kami” — where household objects that turn 100 years old acquire a spirit, a personality, and often powers of motion. Kasa-obake (umbrella monsters) and chochin-obake (lantern monsters) are two famous types.

      I wonder if there’s anything like this in other cultures.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        @Nornagest: I

        wonder if there’s anything like this in other cultures.

        I just found All About Chinese Dragons on Google Books, and page 4 claims there’s a 6th century primary source where dragons are said to be born as snakes, and the familiar long is their second change at age 1000 (the first being called jiao). Furthermore apparently they grow horns at age 1500 (qi long) and a pair of wings at 2500 (ying long).
        In the Balkans, Slavic speakers believed that a zmej dragon was a snake who’d lived to be at least 100. Zmej is kind of an outlier among Indo-European dragons, as they always have at least three heads, a pair of legs, and wings.

        Outside of dragons, apparently the Latter Han Dynasty Lunheng presented the belief that non-human animals became shapeshifters at an advanced age. I’ll need to look it up, as it’ll be pretty interesting if the author says “100 years”.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        “In Japanese folk mythology, there’s this concept of tsukumogami — literally “tool kami” — where household objects that turn 100 years old acquire a spirit, a personality, and often powers of motion”

        This is really cool, and I haven’t run across the idea before. There’s a woman in a de Lint novel whose stuff becomes sentient and mobile after a while, but I’ve never seen the idea applied to a whole culture or a whole world. See also Brin’s The Practice Effect.

        Play it as careful extrapolation, and there would be a lot of interesting effects.

      • keranih says:

        Russian/Slavic culture has the concept of ‘house things’ and ‘yard things’ and ‘well things’ – not inanimate objects that gain consciousness or powers, but non-human beings which inhabit those spaces. (I have heard tales where the spaces become very specific – closet things, loft things, jar things.)

        Being American, my sense is that 100 years old is *ancient*. We don’t even have so many houses that are that old. OTOH – ships are typically afforded names and personalities, as well as sometimes cars (and trucks) but not carts or wagons.

  22. powerfuller says:

    Hey, here’s another long post on English prosody. This time, the topic is the difficulty of distinguishing rising and falling meter.

    I will use the terms “acephalous,” (missing initial syllable), “anacrusis” (extra initial syllable(s)), “catalexis,” (missing final syllable), and “hypercatalexis” (extra final syllable). Yeah, these terms suck.

    The orthodox view is that meter can be divided into four types according to two categories: either rising or falling, and either double or triple time. Rising means the stress increases across the syllables of a foot; in falling, the stress decreases. Double and triple refer to the number of syllables in the foot. So, you have iambic (rising double), anapestic (rising triple), trochaic (falling double), and dactylic (falling triple). It’s fairly easy to tell double from triple, but rising and falling tend to meld into each other, with one quickly becoming the other. Indeed, some, like Robert Wallace, claim there is no significant difference between them. So is there a real difference, and how can we tell one from the other?

    Rising meter is generally agreed to be natural default in English. There is probably more iambic verse than all other meters combined. But there is not universal agreement.

    Bayfield argues that the basis of blank verse is trochaic. He says that the description of blank verse as iambic came from comparison to the Greek iambic line, but that our understanding of Greek prosody changed around the 1880s, with the Greek line afterward considered to be a trochaic line with anacrusis and catalexsis. So x/ x/ x/ x/ x/ becomes x /x /x /x /x /.

    I don’t know anything about Greek prosody, so I can’t comment on this change, but as in Greek, so in English, I guess. His argument seems to be this: meter, like in music, measures time, and it’s measured from stress to stress. Feet must have equal values, and the rhythm must be continuous. Inverting the stress distorts the timing and rhythm, rendering the line prose. Music begins with a heavy downbeat, so verse must, too; the reader’s sense of time begins with the downbeat, the first heavy stress. He explains instances of heavy stresses grouped together by inserting pause beats, so the line “How will he scorn! How will he spend his wit!” which would normally be scanned something like this:

    HOW will | he SCORN! | HOW will | he SPEND | his WIT! /x x/ /x x/ x/ becomes instead:

    HOW will he | SCORN! (…) | HOW will his | SPEND his | WIT! (…) /xx /… /xx /x /…,

    with the ellipses representing the pause beats. Since meter in poetry acts like meter in music, marking the time and guiding the reader, pauses must be included. I’m highly skeptical including pause beats illuminates more than it obscures, since you could basically argue for a pause anywhere, of any value. Later he gives the example:

    LOOK where he | GOES, even | NOW (…) | OUT at the | PORtal.

    You could hear a significant pause there, sure, but you could also hear it after “goes.” This sort of logic reinforces my belief that most arguments about prosody are arguments about taste, namely trying to prove one reading of a line (which the arguer thinks is the best) is the correct one. However, this sort of logic is also likely to lead to contorted readings down the line, as sticking true to the theory becomes more important than another favored reading.

    He uses a few other concepts, like the third syllable of a dactyl being heavier than the second, to explain other instances of inverted or grouped stresses. His theory is pretty weird and therefore piques interest, but it’s not worth investigating too much at the moment.

    The main takeaway is that people can hear the same lines as obviously iambic or obviously trochaic. But any iambic line could be scanned as trochaic with anacrusis and catalexis; any trochaic line as acephalous iambic with hypercatalexis. The lines themselves haven’t changed, which leads me to suspect “rising” and “falling” refer less to phenomena in the lines and more to a certain feeling one has about them. For example, I’m skeptical that the line

    TY ger | TY ger | BURN ing | BRIGHT, which is usually considered catalectic trochaic (not acephalous iambic), is fundamentally different from, say:

    the TY | ger TY | ger BURN | ing BRIGHT

    Which would be perfectly iambic. If rising and falling constitute two fundamentally different meters, it seems strange a small change can clearly and powerfully reverse them.

    continued…

    • powerfuller says:

      Creek tries to identify the factors that contribute to the sense of a falling rhythm. He lists: the expectation of recurrence, the arrangements of syllables at the beginning and the end of the line, the effect of a caesura, enjambment and metrical irregularities, phrases and vocabulary.

      The reader’s expectation can often fit a poem into one meter versus the other. Considering The Tyger, if you read it without a heavy falling rhythm in mind, some lines have a lighter, 3-stress rhythm with anapests – “in what DIStant DEEPS or SKIES,” “on what WINGS dare HE asPIRE,” (or DARE he). Other lines are strictly iambic: “and WATer’d HEAVen WITH their TEARS.” Since the initial line is ambiguously trochaic or iambic, and the second more so (the “In” could be unstressed), why the tendency to read the whole poem as trochaic?

      I think part of the reason is the incessant drumming of the trochaic rhythm matches the ominousness of the poem, but on the other hand, the ominousness is, in part, due to the drumming. Blake’s illustration doesn’t look half as deadly as the poem sounds. Part of reader expectation is genre; I usually hear Dr. Suess’s poems as anapestic more than dactylic, since anapests are commonly used for light verse. Evangeline is falling rhythm in part because it’s a sad poem.

      Regarding beginnings and endings of the line, and those around caesuras, Creek writes that unstressed syllables tend to attach themselves to the closest stressed syllable, so weak endings support a falling rhythm, and strong, rising (which would suggest lines like “Tyger, tyger” are more iambic). What to do with a line with both a weak beginning and end, like “The mountain sheep are sweeter”? He writes the weak ending attaches “er” to “sweet,” giving a trochaic feel, but to my ear it sounds more iambic with a dangling ending. I would suspect the beginning of the line is more important, since the rhythm is already somewhat established by the time the reader gets to the end, but that fails as a useful rule, since many iambic lines are acephalous.

      He writes that strong end-stops of lines reinforces a dominant rhythm; The Song of Hiawatha, for example, would probably lose its trochaic feel without the constant stop-and-start of the separate lines. Evangeline is also heavily end-stopped. Enjambment allows more variation and reversal of rhythm, but I suspect that constant run-overs are also likely to turn any ongoing rhythm into the default rising rhythm. In Bryons’s lines

      KNOW ye the | LAND where the | CYPress and | MYRtle
      are EMB | lems of DEEDS | that are DONE | in their CLIME?

      the dactylic first line runs over into the second, so it doesn’t sound like a final trochee followed by an iamb, but the continuation of a dactyl or anapest. Despite the falling rhythm of the first line, as it goes on it just “naturally” (to my ears) begins to sound more anapestic, with anacrusis in the first foot (i.e. KNOW | ye the LAND | where…). I suspect that almost all regularly trochaic or dactylic lines, in the absence of very strong end-stops and a heavy pattern of reciting by the reader, end up sounding iambic or anapestic in the long run. Hiawatha sounds a lot nicer when you consciously avoid hammering the trochaic beats and focus on the natural stresses. If you read Hiawatha or Evangeline as prose with no line breaks, would the falling rhythm remain clear?

      Regarding vocabulary, he writes that a continuous rhythm is supported by splitting a disyllabic word between two different feet, as that propels the reader along to the next foot. Thus iambic meter is more successful than trochaic meter, since, ironically, more disyllabic words are naturally trochaic. This might explain why trochaic has a clumsier, heavy stop-and-start feel, as the slight pauses between words match up too well to the foot divisions. This matching produces a stronger, but choppier rhythm (tyger, tyger, burning etc.). The effect is not as strong with iambic words matching foot divisions, though, so maybe trochaic meter itself is just plain old choppy?

      So is “rising” and “falling” a distinction without a difference? Do they mean anything other than something to point to when trying to explain a feeling one has about a poem? One might write specifically with falling meter as a goal, but that doesn’t mean the final product has it. I’m inclined to think there is no fundamental difference, even though poems written specifically to be trochaic and dactyl often sound really different from other poems, and writing in a falling rhythm is a very different experience than writing a rising rhythm. I suspect that “different” might just mean “awkward.”

      • onyomi says:

        It’s an interesting idea, but I’m a bit skeptical that e.g. iambic meter is just trochaic meter with anacrusis (also, yes, these prosody terms do suck, don’t they? I find most of them really hard to remember even after using them many times; maybe it’s because a lot of them come from Greek and I haven’t studied Greek? Then again, not sure knowing that “dactylic” comes from a word for “finger” would help all that much…).

        What makes me skeptical is the following:

        In my mind, there’s a very good reason English meter is so often iambic, which is that modern English makes such heavy use of unstressed prepositions. Language without a lot of prepositions sounds “special” somehow, maybe like a magical incantation: “Double, double toil and trouble…” The part beginning “Fillet of a fenny snake, / In the caldron boil and bake…” sounds more like regular speech than the opening incantation to me, and also more iambic.

        But the overall tenor of the poem does not change here and I think it would be odd to describe the shift from the opening to a simple shift from trochaic meter to trochaic meter with anacrusis. It feels like a more fundamental shift to me (and yes, I am also relying, to some extent, on a subjective feeling here, but to back it up a little, these “iambic” bits are using prepositions and ending lines on stressed content words like with “of frog” and “of dog.” This seems more than just a subjective difference relative to “trouble” and “bubble.”).

        • powerfuller says:

          Not sure how to handle the vocabulary… at least the unwiedy Greek terms are more or less agreed upon, but they’re still awkward.

          That’s a good point regarding prepositions. I don’t think Bayfield’s theory holds much water; if English has only one meter, it’s definitely iambic over trochaic. His theory is so overly particular I’m not sure if it describes anything more than how he himself hears poetry.

          Do you know if Shakespeare would have pronounced “fillet” as “FILL-it”? To my ear, the rest of the poem sounds to be in the same rhythm as “Double double…”, so I guess I would consider it trochaic and missing the last syllable (less awkward than catalexis?). When the poem’s lines begin with weaker stresses, allowing more of a run-on in the reading, like “Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing / For a charm of powerful trouble”, I start to hear it more as iambic. Falling meter is so dependent on the style of reading that I’m unsure it’s actually a fundamental meter in its own right, and not some other kind of phenomenon.

          I’m finding it very hard to write about prosody because it is all subjective, right? I feel like prosodists are always groping around for some way to express some feeling about a line as though it were a scientific thing. Like when critics talk about “fingering” and “modulation,” I don’t know if those mean anything more than “well-handled” and “pleasantly varied,” though when used in comparisons between one poet and another those terms always seem to imply some more subtle meaning. But I think it’s useful, nonetheless, so criticism can keep trying to talk about the nuts and bolts of poems and not just the broader themes, morals, etc.

          • onyomi says:

            I think you’re right that the lines with “Fillet of a fenny snake…” are still trochaic, but I do think it elsewhere becomes more iambic and also is different from all the iambic pentameter elsewhere in Shakespeare, which tend to sound more like “regular” speech as opposed to an incantation.

            I do think it has to do with qualities of the language itself: Old English having more declensions, even Middle English having a lot more unstressed syllables ending words:

            Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
            The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, etc.

            I notice that Sanskrit to Hindi makes this change as well: they drop a lot of short “a” syllables and “visargas” ending words in Sanskrit so that e.g. Sri Rama becomes Sri Ram, Ganesha Ganesh, and so on.

            I once had the notion that classical Chinese had a trochaic bias, but I think it is really more of a syllable-timed language like French or Italian, and so that maybe syllable quantity and tone are more important there.

          • powerfuller says:

            I wonder if the pronounced final “e” in Middle English helped create the norm that a weak final syllable generally does not turn an iambic rhythm into a trochaic one and is just considered extra-metrical instead. From what I remember of reading Chaucer, the weak ending tended to strengthen the sense of line division more than create a falling rhythm. Or maybe that’s just because the “e” doesn’t have a hard stop, weak stress aside.

    • onyomi says:

      Is there an earlier long post on English prosody? This is relevant to my interests.

      • powerfuller says:

        I wrote a post about disagreements over the English spondee. If I keep up with it, I may switch to an external site a la Bean’s Navel Gazing. It wouldn’t have a title nearly as good, though.

        • bean says:

          Keep in mind that I was posting here for about 8 months before I went independent. The important thing to do is probably to index your posts so you and other people can find them. We’ve had a lot of good effort posts that have vanished into the mists of history because we don’t have an index.
          Also, it’s Naval.

          • Aapje says:

            No, It’s naval navel gazing 😛

          • powerfuller says:

            Son of a bitch! Botching up the puns already. I suppose my working title should be “me am talk poems now.”

            And thanks for the advice on the index! I’d prefer to keep to posting in the open threads for a while before committing to a blog elsewhere. I’ve really liked, and been inspired by, your effort to add some deep dives into eclectic interests to SSC. I’m definitely not planning on matching your output, though.

          • bean says:

            And thanks for the advice on the index!

            Not a problem. In further advice, I’d suggest finding somewhere that isn’t the OTs to set them up. Otherwise, you have to rebuild them every 4 weeks. (I used the even-numbered OTs before switching to Google Docs.)

            I’d prefer to keep to posting in the open threads for a while before committing to a blog elsewhere.

            It’s a good way to get some practice before you try blogging for real. I certainly didn’t plan on doing anything like what I’ve done.

            I’ve really liked, and been inspired by, your effort to add some deep dives into eclectic interests to SSC. I’m definitely not planning on matching your output, though.

            Thank you.

        • Telminha says:

          Powerfuller, do you write poetry?

          • powerfuller says:

            Yes, badly. Prosodists are to poets as sports nerds to athletes. I may not be able to hit a fastball, but at least I can memorize baseball statistics!

  23. Well... says:

    Is Islam’s status as an Ibrahimic religion at all controversial? I’m not entirely clear on this but if I understand approximately right, somehow Muslims trace their religion’s founders’ lineage to Ishmael, the child Abraham had with his wife’s handmaiden. How confident is that tracing, and how is it related to Islam as a religion?

    • Loquat says:

      AFAIK that’s correct, Ishmael is identified with Muslims and Isaac with Jews, at least enough to justify the song Brother by the interfaith Israeli metal group Orphaned Land.

    • christhenottopher says:

      To be clear, Ishmael is associated with the Arabs, not all Muslims. No Malays are claiming descent from Ishmael or Abraham. Of course, literal blood relations from Abraham is not needed to be considered “Abrahamic”, just belief in his god (otherwise basically all Christians and Muslims don’t count). I was going to use the example of the Bahai faith since the founder seems to have been Persian (not even a Semitic group), but the founder Bahá’u’lláh apparently claimed blood descent from Abraham too so at least the founder of an Abrahamic religion does actually seem to need to claim descent from Abraham (so maybe Mormonism doesn’t count if you consider that a separate religion from Christianity? At least I haven’t seen anyone claim Joseph Smith can trace his ancestry to Abraham).

      • sharper13 says:

        Mormons believe a couple of related ideas:
        1. As a result of his numerous posterity, the descendants of Abraham (including the “lost” tribes) have sufficiently mixed with the rest of the world that most people are related.
        2. Everyone who has accepted the covenant of baptism is an heir to the Abrahamic covenant, or set of promises, even if they would be an “adopted” heir, rather than a literal blood heir.
        See Galatians 3:26-29 (KJV):
        26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
        27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
        28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
        29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

        • S_J says:

          On part 2, : that is one area where Mormon teaching isn’t far from most Protestant (or, I suspect Catholic/Orthodox) teaching.

          It’s not a big, headline item. But it is hard to avoid.

          It is a part of Christian teaching that was sadly ignored by some believers, when the descendants of Abraham (especially those also descended from Isaac and Jacob) were persecuted by some Christians.

      • Well... says:

        Ishmael is associated with the Arabs

        Right. That’s the part I’m confused about, because by that same logic, shouldn’t all Arab religions (even the pre-Muslim polytheistic ones) be considered Abrahamic?

        • Randy M says:

          I though Ishmael was associated the Ahabs?

          Anyway… The Muslim’s religion links Arabs to Ishmael. Presumably non Muslim Arabs dispute or don’t care much about the claim to be descended from a biblical figure. And I don’t see why secular westerners would see a connection.

        • S_J says:

          Before Mohammed, Mecca apparently was a center of worship of many deities.

          My memory is that one of those deities was Allah, as worshiped by Abraham.

          I do know that Mohammed insisted on removing all the other deities, but keeping Allah.

          • Well... says:

            Before Mohammed, Mecca apparently was a center of worship of many deities.

            As I understand it, this is true except YHVH was not one of them, and Abraham did not worship Allah.

            However, Allah is (again, if I remember right) a title, not a name, so it’s possible that my final clause above is wrong.

          • Nornagest says:

            “Allah” is simply Arabic for “God”. It shares a root with the Hebrew “El”, and the close cognate “ʾĕlāh” is used in Biblical Aramaic, for example in the Book of Daniel.

            It’s very likely that the chief deity of whatever religion was predominant in pre-Islamic Mecca was called by the name — in a polytheistic system, “God” unqualified generally refers to the chief local deity, as we can see in Classical Greek writing for example. Although I don’t know if he’d have been identified with the Christian and Jewish God, or if the same stories would have been attached to him. Hardly anything’s known about pre-Islamic Arab religion (the early Muslims stamped it out very thoroughly), so this is necessarily somewhat speculative.

    • Brad says:

      Is Islam’s status as an Ibrahimic religion at all controversial?

      I’ve seen the claim from evangelical Christians that Moslem don’t really worship the same god. Somehow they worship Satan instead. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people out there that claim that it isn’t an Abrahamic religion. But the whole point of the phrase “Abrahamic religion” is to refer to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. If you just want the latter two you say “Judeo-Christian”.

      How confident is that tracing, and how is it related to Islam as a religion?

      I’m not sure what you mean by this. There is zero evidence outside of much later religious texts that Abraham even existed in the first place. If on the other hand you mean did Mohammad intend to link his religion to Abraham of the Hebrew and Christian bible, then yes he certainly did. It isn’t like he mentioned a random Ishmael and someone later made the connection.

    • John Schilling says:

      The controversial bit is the one where, because Islam is an “Ibrahamic Religion”, everyone is supposed to accept that Moslems and Christians worship the “same God”. This is a bit dubious on account of:

      A: Christians explicitly worship, as their One True God, All God and Nothing But God, a guy named “Jesus Christ” who lived as a carpenter and lay preacher in 1st-century Judea, and

      B: Moslems explicitly assert that the guy named “Jesus Christ” was Not In Any Way God and that the One True God they worship never lived on Earth, and

      C: Most of the people making the “same God” claim don’t seem to be either devout Christians or devout Moslems and don’t believe that JHWH, Jesus, or Allah are actually God.

      There are contexts where it is legitimately useful to note that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism share the same historic origin and have some theological overlap without claiming that they worship the same God, but that’s a fine line to walk and leads to controversy if you aren’t careful with what you are claiming.

      • bean says:

        Christians explicitly worship, as their One True God, All God and Nothing But God, a guy named “Jesus Christ” who lived as a carpenter and lay preacher in 1st-century Judea

        That’s not quite right. He’s not All God and Nothing But God. He was also fully human, and he’s only part of the Trinity.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Yeah, Lewis’ trilemma really puts the lie to sharing god: Islam is incompatible with Lord and Liar and Christianity is incompatible with Lunatic and Lord.

  24. Vermillion says:

    On the most recent Rationally Speaking the guest (already forgot the name, sorry) endorsed reading the biography and autobiography of the same person. She mentioned Clarence Thomas, and I had fine time with US Grant’s autobiography, followed by Ron Chernow’s new book. So now I’m interested in finding more duos. Any suggestions?

    What order do you think works best?

  25. onyomi says:

    Continuing this mega thread, but hopefully in a slightly different direction:

    It seems to me a lot of the discussion revolves around the question:

    “Do we owe it to people in general, or to small-to-mediumish town white men in particular, to provide them with jobs that make them feel good about life (including a feeling of “high status”), or do we need merely ensure they don’t starve, otherwise telling them they ought to move or learn a new skill?”

    What strikes me is: maybe part of the problem is that merely not starving is no longer very high status, like a high school degree is no longer very high status?

    Example: being able to “put food on the table” was supposedly once a pretty desirable trait in a husband. But try saying “hey baby, want to come back to my 700 sq. ft. home and watch my 12-inch black and white TV? I just bought a new bottle of French wine we could try…” and see how impressed everyone is.

    That is, it may not be what you are doing at your job that is the problem, nor even how society views that job, nor even what your salary would buy you in 1950, but what most jobs will buy you today, relative to the status that purchasing power now commands?

    • The Nybbler says:

      But try saying “hey baby, want to come back to my 700 sq. ft. home and watch my 12-inch black and white TV? I just bought a new bottle of French wine we could try…” and see how impressed everyone is.

      Don’t mention the TV and that still works in Manhattan. At least until they find out the apartment’s in the projects.

      • onyomi says:

        Hah, well maybe I should have added “let’s drive my Cadillac back to my 700-square ft. home in the suburbs…”

    • keranih says:

      SFF author CJ Cherryh notes in one early short story compilation that now we all have a finely crafted metal spoon to eat our soup with, and can command an entire orchestra to entertain us as we dine. And that this is the level of material wealth of the kings of old. (And this is without counting a/c and dental.)

      So, yeah, I think there is something to that.

      How to fix the dissatisfaction – that I ain’t got. I am not sure how to define a “right” level of dissatisfaction tolerance so that a coping mechanism does not deal as well with enslavement, torture, cancerous tumors on ones face, and the brutal murders of ones kin as it does with slights from one’s rater, down turns in the market, foreign competition, clumsy sexual passes, a small apartment over looking the garbage bins, and and a host of microaggressions.

    • Brad says:

      “Do we owe it to people in general, or to small-to-mediumish town white men in particular, to provide them with jobs that make them feel good about life (including a feeling of “high status”), or do we need merely ensure they don’t starve, otherwise telling them they ought to move or learn a new skill?”

      The biggest problem with this demand is that it can’t be people in general or the small-to-mediumish town white men won’t accept it.

      Not only do they demand we create make-work jobs for them, even at the cost of value destruction, not only do they demand that we lie to them and for them to obfuscate what is going on, but worst of all they demand that these fake jobs be *relatively* well paying. Because it isn’t just about the money and what it can buy, it’s about feeling superior to all those people out there without “good jobs” and part of that is being paid more than those people.

      Given the above I don’t see how this plan is either politically tenable or morally acceptable.

      • onyomi says:

        Arguably this is a problem black men face in America too, at least as badly as white men:

        Single motherhood has gone up in the black community way more than in the white community since the introduction of welfare and the broad-scale entry of women into the workforce. Put another way, marriage to a black man with a stable job “merely” good enough to “put food on the table” is now a much less attractive option, relatively speaking, than it was before the 60s. And according to that new Chetty study (which I think the NYTimes reported dishonestly, but which still may be interesting/valuable), younger generations of black men seem to have an especially hard time replicating their parents’ success in recent decades. And certainly I don’t think anyone would argue black men are facing less of a drug-related crisis in America today than white men, albeit manifesting differently.

        If you want to say this is a crisis men in general face because they can no longer derive as much status from being breadwinners in a world where women can support themselves then I might agree (that is, there may be a hard-to-avoid tradeoff between male status and female agency). I’m much less convinced it’s a problem of white men needing to feel superior to black men.

        • Brad says:

          Arguably this is a problem black men face in America too

          At least from my perspective this response took my comment in a weird direction. The problem I was talking about was entirely unreasonable and immoral political demands, not single motherhood, negative class mobility, and drug use.

          • Jiro says:

            At least from my perspective this response took my comment in a weird direction.

            Boith the white and black versions are about jobs. The fact that you call one “immoral political demands” and the other “class mobility” doesn’t change this similarity.

          • onyomi says:

            @Brad

            Well, okay, I thought, past the edit window, that maybe I read too much into your post, however, it still raises the question for me:

            If you’re right that part of the problem with small-to-mid-town white American males is that they need to feel superior to someone else by having a better job than average, then who is that “someone else”?

            I assumed you meant women and minorities, which led me to focus on (now mostly urban) black men, who would seem to be the foil to small-town white men in your formulation. But it seemed to me that, rather than playing a zero-sum game, urban black men actually face very similar problems to small-town white men.

            That is, I sort of support the idea that it’s a relative issue, as status is a pretty zero-sum game, and I suggested that part of the problem was that the lifestyle a blue collar job can buy you today is no longer as impressive in relative terms.

            On the other hand, I’m less sure it’s as intractable as you seem to feel because I’m not as convinced that the old, small-town, blue collar white male self esteem was actually predicated on having a better job than “someone else” (except maybe their wives, admittedly a pretty big group, and maybe also that group of men, within their own communities, not capable, for whatever reason, of holding a steady job), so much as having a particular identity (responsible, adult breadwinner) within a more coherent sort of community that used to value that sort of thing more highly because not starving used to be inherently more impressive.

          • powerfuller says:

            My guess would be white working class men are less upset about having lower status jobs than non-whites than they are upset about having lower status jobs than their own fathers did. Onyomi’s point about wanting higher status jobs than their wives seems plausible too.

          • Brad says:

            @onyomi
            I think that if you want to get away from race, and that’s fair enough, then we can instead look at your parenthetical:

            (except maybe their wives, admittedly a pretty big group, and maybe also that group of men, within their own communities, not capable, for whatever reason, of holding a steady job)

            Let’s even leave women aside.

            If what our hard working ‘merican insists on is that at least he should be making more than his good for nothing cousin that drinks all day and tinkers with his car, why should indulge that wish?

            His cousin takes his check and shuts up. That’s cheap for the rest us. Meanwhile our guy insists that we set up a massively inefficient system so he can lie to himself and his wife about how he is working hard to produce value, when really he isn’t. Those inefficiencies cost us far more per dollar than writing the cousin a check but instead of agreeing to take less because it is in this expensive form, he wants much more! How is that reasonable?

          • John Schilling says:

            So, just to be clear: Cousin Alex takes his $300 check and “shuts up”. Except for where he either says every month that he’s still looking for work, or says up front that he’s totally and permanently disabled, and either way hopes we don’t check up on that.

            Cousin Bob collects his $500 check after working all week to make auto parts that we’d otherwise have payed $350 to have had imported from Korea, and says he’s proud he earned $500 for the hard work he put in making auto parts.

            And in your esteem, Alex is more virtuous than Bob. The system by which we support Bob is less efficient than the one by which we support Alex. The $300 check is “cheap for the rest of us”; paying $500 for $350 worth of auto parts is the “more expensive form”. Have I got this right?

            I can’t argue with your ranking of virtues, because that’s an arbitrary idiosyncracy, but that is going to severely restrict the useful solution space.

          • Randy M says:

            [edit: @ Brad]
            In the one case, you have a community that inculcates values amenable to productive labor, in another you have one that propagates meek compliance. The former is superior unless we are certain this lineage is worthless henceforth.

            As has been pointed out by someone somewhere I read, America now has communities where the children have very little interaction with anybody employed, and the consequent demands on behavior that that entails. This does not lead to good citizenship or an ability for otherwise high potential individuals to become productive.

            You are saying they need to either shut up and take welfare, or learn other jobs. If other jobs are truly productive and necessary, it is useful to have environments that support and encourage work in general, and subsidizing work that is less than fully optimal (or value destroying) is a worthwhile investment (or at least could be, depending on the cost).
            If we are post scarcity, then we can discuss how to convince people to assign status based on other metrics, like youtube followers or number of products liked on facebook. Maybe something to do with reddit.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think focusing on the virtue of Alex and Bob here is a mistake, because in general, Bob can’t really know whether he’s worth his pay. That’s determined by a whole market in which there are various subsidies, tariffs, special permits, union-supporting laws, union-restricting laws, etc. Bob can only know how he reacts to the world in which he lives.

            But at a political/social level, we care about whether we want more people living like Alex (just cash your welfare check and stay out of trouble) or Bob (do subsidized work for your paycheck which is partly a welfare check in disguise). If we’re just adding up costs on the government budget, we want more Alexes, and we should move policy toward having mostly Alexes and few Bobs. The argument for preferring Bobs comes up if we think there are some secondary benefits to having Bob work instead of cash a welfare check. We may think work provides necessary structure that keeps people out of trouble. We may think keeping Bob in the habit of working will make it easier for him to move to an actual productive job in the future. We may think working a job is the only way our society has for men to feel decent about themselves, and it’s worth it to spend more on *spiritually satisfying* welfare than *spiritually destructive* welfare. (In the same way we might prefer providing people cheap wine and subsidized sexbots to keep them happy if that were cheaper than providing them welfare checks and decent subsidized housing.)

            But that’s all kind-of separate from whether Alex or Bob is behaving virtuously as an individual.

          • John Schilling says:

            If we’re just adding up costs on the government budget, we want more Alexes, and we should move policy toward having mostly Alexes and few Bobs.

            How so? Alex costs the government $300, Bob only $150. Plus administrative expenses in both cases. Most of Bob’s salary comes from people who genuinely need the auto parts Bob makes and are willing to pay (at least) fair market value.

            Admittedly those are numbers I made up, but the balance should hold for quite a few of the people who were laid off in the last decade or two at least. These are mostly people who were marginally more profitable to employ than their foreign and/or robotic competitors not too long ago, and are now marginally less so. Their productivity hasn’t gone to zero, nor has that of the competition increased by an order of magnitude.

            Well, OK, the ones far enough along the path through opioid addiction to prison, suicide, or overdose death are presumably now zero net productivity. But at least part of the problem should be addressable at the upper margin, with Bobs who are still capable of doing good and mostly-useful work.

          • Incurian says:

            The real numbers probably matter a lot. Also, isn’t it unlikely that one program will actually replace another, rather than be in addition to it?

          • Chalid says:

            Admittedly those are numbers I made up, but the balance should hold for quite a few of the people who were laid off in the last decade or two at least. These are mostly people who were marginally more profitable to employ than their foreign and/or robotic competitors not too long ago, and are now marginally less so

            Look up the real cost to consumers of say agriculture quotas or steel tariffs, it can often be much more than the value of the goods produced.

            A lot of people really do have zero or negative marginal product in a lot of jobs, and a) jobs where people can have negative marginal product are becoming more common and important and b) we (employers) are becoming better at telling which people are going to have negative marginal product. (I think this is a chapter or two in Tyler Cowen’s Great Stagnation IIRC).

          • baconbits9 says:

            Admittedly those are numbers I made up, but the balance should hold for quite a few of the people who were laid off in the last decade or two at least. These are mostly people who were marginally more profitable to employ than their foreign and/or robotic competitors not too long ago, and are now marginally less so. Their productivity hasn’t gone to zero, nor has that of the competition increased by an order of magnitude.

            I don’t think this is true. You don’t get companies abandoning factories and machinery at major losses due to marginal changes in labor costs. You might (should) get a decrease in future investment and some long term moth balling but you don’t expect major layoffs from these marginal changes. To reverse layoff trends you have to make investments in the industry competitive with the investments available to the rest of the country. This is, to put it mildly, complicated.

          • as status is a pretty zero-sum game

            A common view but not, I think, a correct one.

          • onyomi says:

            Re. tariffs: as with most other forms of revenue collection, if it could substitute for part or all of the income tax instead of just being in addition to it, the net economic impact would be a lot less obviously negative, especially if we assume that, in terms of future productivity, paying extra to keep Bob working a productive, if protected, job is better than paying him to stay alive on the sofa, addicted to painkillers.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @onyomi

            The uses of tariffs as revenue sources and as protections for local industry are at cross-purposes. If you use a tariff to protect an industry, you need to set it high enough so there are few imports (and thus little revenue).

          • onyomi says:

            @David Friedman

            Good point.

            I think having some sense of that being true is what led me to want to focus on the other men within our small-to-mid town blue collar white community.

            Maybe I’m stereotyping about a time I wasn’t yet alive, but my sense is that 1950s small town white man was mostly deriving his sense of status from how fully he could participate in that small town white community, as opposed to comparison between himself and urban whites or minorities.

            Not that he probably didn’t think of himself as higher status, on some abstract level, than women and minorities, as most white men in the 50s probably did, but I don’t think it’s the loss of that abstract sense of superiority, nor a relative decline in small town communities that largely explains today’s state of ennui.

            Rather, I think it’s a much more qualitative change: even if the money coming in still buys the same stuff, there’s a world of subjective difference between the factory being there and the factory not being there.

          • onyomi says:

            @Nybbler

            Doesn’t stop them making a lot of money taxing cigarettes?

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t think this is true. You don’t get companies abandoning factories and machinery at major losses due to marginal changes in labor costs.

            Why wouldn’t they? Some plan that involves running at a loss but making it up on volume?

            A factory is a building full of scrap, plus the opportunity to hire workers at market wages(*) to make a particular class of good for sale at market rates. So long as that opportunity has an expected net value of at least positive epsilon, you use it. Once it goes to negative epsilon, and is expected to remain so, you sell it for scrap. Anything else is pure sunk-cost fallacy.

            Sunk-cost fallacy being a thing, the workers won’t lose their jobs until their net productivity is somewhere below negative epsilon. But the stockholders won’t usually let it get too far below.

            Look up the real cost to consumers of say agriculture quotas or steel tariffs, it can often be much more than the value of the goods produced.

            “can be”, covers a multitude of sins, and the underlying claim sounds a lot like dogma. Is there a place you would recommend I looking up broad, quantitative data?

            * And you have to keep at least some of the workers on payroll or the machinery becomes irreversibly scrap.

          • Brad says:

            @onyomi

            Doesn’t stop them making a lot of money taxing cigarettes?

            Cigarettes are extremely inelastic. That’s kind of their whole thing. Most goods aren’t.

            The economic analysis in this subthread is uncharacteristically bad. We can’t just say that there are 500 widgets being sold at $350 and we are going to introduce tariffs such that the equilibrium price goes to $500 and say that the total cost is 500 x $150 = $75,000.

            What about the elasticity of demand? 500 widgets are no longer going to be sold. In some cases the shift in demand goes all the way to zero. Suppose some company out there is working on the next hot tech category, akin to the introduction of the smartphone. That company needs to make back it’s fixed R&D costs. If tariffs and other trade barriers mean that the variable costs alone push the pricing into something that would only have niche appeal rather than mass market appeal it may not be able to introduce the product at all. In 2000 even Warren Buffet couldn’t buy an iphone.

            What about retaliatory tariffs and the losses associated with them? What about the risk of breakdown of the entire free trade system?

            I didn’t think I’d have be the one to tout the merits free trade in a forum with a plurality of self professed libertarians.

          • onyomi says:

            Tariffs have bad economic effects, but so does the income tax. Assuming I have to have a government funded by taxes, it isn’t obvious to me that funding the government in a way that discourages international trade (which will surely stimulate some forms of domestic production at least somewhat) is worse than funding the government in a way that discourages domestic production and investment.

          • rlms says:

            By my back of the envelope calculations (35.6 tonnes of steel imported at 450 $/tonne, 47% from countries affected by tariffs at a 25% rate, federal revenue from income taxes in 2015 of $1.48 trillion), you would need ~1000 similar tariffs to replace income taxes. And that’s assuming tariffs don’t decrease imports of the goods they affect (i.e. they are completely useless at doing what they were intended to).

          • albatross11 says:

            John Schilling:

            I’m assuming it’s cheaper to just give people a check than to give them a subsidized job. If it’s cheaper to keep them in a subsidized job than on welfare, then it seems pretty easy to make the argument for the subsidized job over welfare.

            On the downside, subsidized jobs and jobs kept viable by tariffs and regulatory barriers and such tend to retard progress. Again, think of taxicab medallions and Uber–the protected market that gave some people a good living was also making the rest of the society worse off by keeping us from having better cab service, and when Uber came along and broke that system, the world became a better place overall despite the losses that the medallion-owners took. You can imagine ending up with a society where a lot of the economy is locked into structures that have been built up to protect middle-class jobs at all costs, and that sounds like a not-very-dynamic economy. If we’d somehow locked in all the good jobs of 1900, we’d still have a lot of people making city gas from coal and hauling ice around from door to door.

          • onyomi says:

            Re. subsidized jobs vs. welfare and setting aside the fact that, if you look hard enough, almost everyone’s job is “subsidized” one way or another (for example, Scott’s job is “subsidized” by a government-backed medical cartel artificially depressing the supply of psychiatrists), there does seem good prima facia reason to expect the former to be cheaper in the final analysis, though obviously real numbers matter (but are probably extremely hard to figure out, comprehensively: is someone losing the economic skill of showing up for work on time a calculable loss, for example?), namely because there is only consumption in the welfare case, where there is a consumption/production tradeoff in the make-work case, assuming the work is at all helpful/productive.

            Example: I am not a fan of the WPA idea, but given a choice between something like more welfare and a new WPA I might expect the latter to produce better social and economic results.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m assuming it’s cheaper to just give people a check than to give them a subsidized job. If it’s cheaper to keep them in a subsidized job than on welfare, then it seems pretty easy to make the argument for the subsidized job over welfare.

            Well, when you give people subsidized jobs, you can have them produce useful goods and services that are sold in the market for money that covers much of their salary. When you give them welfare, the taxpayers have to come up with all of the money. So I’m not clear on why you would expect the subsidized jobs to be more expensive.

            If your model for a subsidized job is people being paid to do completely useless stuff, or even mostly useless stuff, then I don’t think anyone is proposing that and I’m not sure why anyone would when the “do useful stuff” model is available.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            There’s some use to employing workers as opposed to simply cutting them a check. You keep them engaged with the work force and they can possibly move on to private sector work. They can learn new skills and maintain industry contacts and keep up basic competencies like showing up to work on-time, listening to the boss, not fighting with co-workers, and not being addicted to drugs.

            My primary objection is what category of “useful” things we have them do. Theoretically they can, say, open and run a car factory. This might be cheaper, though I am not sure: GM lost $30 billion in 2008, so maybe this would still be a pretty penny.

            My objection to them doing this is the government running a car factory, not them employing people.

            We could have them doing other “useful” things, but then I have my remaining objections of whether we really need the bridge-to-nowhere or a brand new health care clinic in rural Georgia or something.

          • John Schilling says:

            My primary objection is what category of “useful” things we have them do. Theoretically they can, say, open and run a car factory. This might be cheaper, though I am not sure: GM lost $30 billion in 2008, so maybe this would still be a pretty penny.

            GM generated $150 billion in gross revenue in 2008, so even if the taxpayers had eaten that entire loss it’s one dollar of subsidy plus five dollars of useful goods gives six dollars in wages for American auto workers. Well, OK, probably four dollars or so for American workers given GM isn’t entirely an American company, but by the same token American taxpayers didn’t just give GM $30E9 in cash to fund their global operations for the year.

            But 4:1 leverage would still put it well ahead of welfare, if those were the only alternatives.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            There’s some use to employing workers as opposed to simply cutting them a check. You keep them engaged with the work force and they can possibly move on to private sector work. They can learn new skills and maintain industry contacts and keep up basic competencies like showing up to work on-time, listening to the boss, not fighting with co-workers, and not being addicted to drugs.

            The bolded bit (and things like it) is quite important, I think, but doesn’t seem to have been discussed much in this sub-thread. We know that unemployed people are more likely to be depressed, use drugs, turn to petty crime, etc. So when we discuss the relative costs of leaving people on welfare vs. coming up with make-work for them to do, perhaps we should factor in the costs of treating them for depression, periodically throwing them in gaol, and so forth, when doing our calculations.

            (Incidentally, on the topic of make-work, might I suggest putting up a few pyramids around the place, ancient Egypt style? They’d prettify the country a bit, and if the Egyptian example is anything to go by, they’d pay for themselves by drawing in tourists for the next four and a half thousand years. So not only do we get the social benefits of low unemployment, we get all that sweet, sweet tourist money as well to help boost the economy. Win-win.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Not pyramids, skyscrapers.

            And not entirely joking. Assuming(*) there is sufficient demand for office or residential space that ginormous skyscrapers are only marginally subeconomical rather than colossal waste, and assuming that a significant fraction of the workers we want to subsidize are in construction or related fields, nudging the economy towards building more or taller skyscrapers could be a reasonably high-leverage way of arranging jobs that people will be proud to have.

            After all, even rationalists can assign more utils to an impressive skyscraper than a ruthlessly pragmatic analysis might justify.

            * This step very much needs to be justified before proceeding past the talking-about-it stage.

        • dndnrsn says:

          OK, so, Brad is right this is a different direction from his post. However, I’m gonna pick on one thing briefly:

          Put another way, marriage to a black man with a stable job “merely” good enough to “put food on the table” is now a much less attractive option

          Anecdotally, if you pay attention to what black women say, this is the opposite of how it is. Single motherhood has gone up because of various factors, but since the 70s especially mass incarceration of black men has reduced the % able to put food on the table: a large number of black men are either incarcerated at any given time, unhireable/unhireable at good jobs because felons/assumed to be felons, etc. The standard for a man being a “catch” is thus lower, and so men who meet that standard are often aware they can play the field, and some % of them do.

          The same thing appears to be happening in the white lower classes, extending probably into the lower middle class – the rate of out-of-wedlock birth among white Americans is now around or a tad higher than the rate among black Americans in the mid-60s that was deemed worrying then. Among black Americans it extends further up the SES scale.

          • Aapje says:

            Can’t it be both? If it has become harder and more costly for men to measure up as a provider, then you’d expect a larger subset of men to not be able to measure up no matter how hard they try and a larger subset to decide that trying to measure up is not worth the effort.

            Then you’d expect to both see top tier women stay single because of their high standards, while you’d also expect low tier women to have fewer options even if they lower their standards.

            You can compare to maids. When managing the household became easier and the cost/benefit ratio of having a maid deteriorated, households didn’t end up with really cheap maids, but the market bifurcated. Having a maid only became an option for the elite.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It’s not necessarily about being a provider – it’s about being able to contribute in a meaningful way at all. It’s not a “men dropping out” situation where they decide console games and weed are more fun than gainful employment, either. That’s a more recent thing.

            And it’s not about rising standards. It’s about the number of men on the market, so to speak, being reduced in some way. A man who cannot hold down a job due to factors that are at least in part external becomes a significantly worse prospect. Men who can meet the minimum standard do better than they would otherwise.

            Bizarrely enough, a similar situation is probably already occurring among the more affluent (of all ethnic groups): if current trends increase, a lot of sorts of degrees are going to be held primarily by women, and in some social circles women will outnumber men. This won’t result in the women in these circles having higher standards.

            If you go to a school where 2/3 of the student population is female, you will often see guys with women who out in the general population would be out of their league, both in terms of physical attractiveness and often also in intellect, character, etc. A smaller % of eligible and attractive men means lower standards for men within that group, higher for women, more “bargaining power” for men, less for women. This is, of course, assuming an environment in which heterosexuals are the largest portion.

          • onyomi says:

            It’s interesting: logically an increased number of NEETs, MGTOWs, gang members, and other men who don’t seem like/want to be good providers, should make the dating market easier for men with actual jobs, yet my very subjective impression is that this is not at all the case?

            It might be that men and women have both simultaneously become less attractive to one another (insert super culture war-y reasons as to why that could happen)?

          • dndnrsn says:

            So, first, which men are we talking about? Are we talking specifically about young men? Because my subjective experience was that online dating was pretty fruitful. I got about a third of my messages returned, went on a bunch of dates, went on a smaller number of second dates, got into a couple short-to-medium-term relationships. It was not like the horror stories. I’m OK looking, I’m reasonably smart, I’m funny, I’m not much of an asshole usually, but I’m not some whole package perfect deal guy. Either I’m better than I thought I was, or a lot of guys are screwing up somehow.

            Possibilities:
            1. The gender gap is less than one would think if one only looked at, say, men and women 22-30 with at least a BA, when you consider that older men tend to be interested in younger women more than the inverse. Women in their 20s are going to have guys in their 30s going after them – and guys in their 20s are going to, potentially, have a harder time competing. Additionally, the gender imbalance in people earning many kinds of degrees, is a fairly recent thing, in most fields, isn’t it?

            If older men go after, and realistically have a chance of success with, younger women, and that’s not mimicked by younger men going after older women, that would line up with both young guys complaining the dating market sucks (because guys with more time in career and thus more money, whose attractiveness isn’t fading yet, are going after the women they’re going after too) and women in their 30s and onwards complaining the dating market sucks (it does, because the guys their age are going after younger women).

            2. Unrealistic expectations on an individual level. Everybody thinks they’re hotter, smarter, funnier, whatever, than they are. Since people are generally better at assessing others than themselves, the problem is obvious.

            3. Unrealistic expectations on a social level. Men watched too many action-adventure movies and thought they’d get a hot babe along the way to rescuing the president. Women watched too many rom-coms and thought they’d get a guy who knew what they wanted even better than they did, so they could get thrills but not disrespect or actual danger.

            But here’s the thing. Young women also seem to be complaining bitterly about the dating market. And older women. And, really, everybody. If you just go by kvetching, everyone seems pretty unhappy. Maybe there’s some kind of market failure going on, where everybody is simultaneously disadvantaged. Or at least is not getting what they want.

            Something I realized yesterday, that the current young-woman dating complaint, as seen in that “Cat Person” New Yorker short story, l’affaire Ansari, and a whole bunch of thinkpieces, is “the guys I have casual sex with are jerks” – they don’t get treated with the kindness and respect they think they are entitled to. I’ve been pretty unsympathetic to this complaint because, well, then don’t have casual sex with them; I read it as an attempt to retreat from agency instead of admitting to bad decision-making regarding sex with jerks. But it makes perfect sense if you see it as occurring in a situation where, due to a shortage of acceptable men, women have less bargaining power. The women don’t really want to have first-date sex or whatever with some guy, but if there’s a shortage of guys who are even decent on paper, they might feel they need to provide a sample to get him to buy in, to put it as crassly as possible. There’s been a race to the bottom. Even worse for these women, they’re not recognizing it as a shitty hand to be dealt in a market, which is why the thinkpieces are all about how it’s those men’s fault for not being more respectful, or society’s fault for socializing women to have sex with jerks, without recognizing that those jerks have a minimal incentive to be respectful as long as they’re getting laid and getting Ansari’d is a nasty but extremely low-probability thing. If they knew what was up, the thinkpieces would be “OK ladies, we gotta form a price-fixing cartel“.

            On the other side of the equation, guys who maybe don’t have the greatest market position on accounts of being not as appealing as they think they are, they don’t get it either. They don’t say “well, I’m third-rate in terms of how attractive I am; guess I should either improve myself or lower my sights” but instead blame women, or the universities, or Chad (the metaphorical construct, not the country). They think they’re higher value than they are, so they go after women who are higher value than they are, and then when they fail in that, they come up with reasons for that to have happened that don’t involve an honest reassessment of their own value.

            And then you look at gay men and lesbians, and they have their own, often quite different, complaints.

          • onyomi says:

            I got about a third of my messages returned

            It’s been about ten years since I tried online dating, but either it’s changed a lot since then or else your experience is very not representative (when I was using it it seemed like there were maybe… 100 male profiles for every 1 female? And all female accounts even with no pictures or information would get inundated, while male profiles had to put in a lot of effort crafting personalized messages and curating the profile just to get a small number of responses). Maybe you are way more handsome/charismatic than you think?

            The women don’t really want to have first-date sex or whatever with some guy, but if there’s a shortage of guys who are even decent on paper, they might feel they need to provide a sample to get him to buy in, to put it as crassly as possible. There’s been a race to the bottom.

            I do think it’s possible that society could simultaneously be producing fewer of the sorts of women men want to marry and fewer of the sorts of men women want to marry, all while (because of?) making marriage an overall less attractive deal with the increased availability of casual sex to men and increased possibility of supporting themselves for women.

            And this gets to why I don’t think it’s quite right to think of this or the blue collar white male self esteem issue as truly zero sum. It’s possible to have a social equilibrium where everyone is happier and one where everyone is unhappier.

            Very un-pc, but tbh I increasingly wonder if feminism doesn’t result in a world of both men and women being less satisfied with life and relationships by incentivizing both groups to spend less time and energy on the things that make them desirable partners.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            Couple high standards on the part of women with the greater desire to have sex on the part of men and a reluctance on the part of men to fast-track into long term relations & it seems to make perfect sense that you would get clashing strategies.

            Women presumably tend to scare off the most desirable men by pushing for a long term relationship right away. They can then get the highest quality man by hooking a man with sex and then building up an emotional relationship so he won’t leave.

            However, this is extremely easy to misunderstand (or to exploit) by men who just want to have sex (who are on average much more active than the men who want a relationship, so men seem a lot more sex-focused than they are).

            The higher desirability of women as sex partners than relationship partners also means that the better the man that is interested in her, the more likely he is to just want sex. So the higher the standards of the woman, the higher a percentage of the men that ‘qualify’ are just looking for sex.

            So the maximizing female strategy is then about not being too picky, so enough men who ‘qualify’ are willing to be in a relationship, but without having such low standards that the men are poor partners.

            @onyomi

            I just watched “The Greatest Showman” and the pretty explicit message was that people should accept you as you are, which is pretty narcissistic and anti-social if you take it to an extreme.

            There is also the issue that traditionally, we pushed men into the role of providing for the family, but also for the state. With women working more and a more extensive welfare state, men still need to work hard to pay for society’s toys, but this is less and less to the direct benefit of women and thus not seen as being part of the quid-pro-quo as much. Arguably, society is reluctant to weaken the male gender role too much exactly because it needs male sacrifice for the state.

            So one could argue that libertarianism is MRA politics, because it lets the income earner spend the income, rather than the state, so then men’s contribution is much clearer than when the money is taken out of their paycheck and it is the state that does the spending. That would explain why libertarianism is far more popular among men than among women.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @onyomi

            It’s been about ten years since I tried online dating, but either it’s changed a lot since then or else your experience is very not representative (when I was using it it seemed like there were maybe… 100 male profiles for every 1 female? And all female accounts even with no pictures or information would get inundated, while male profiles had to put in a lot of effort crafting personalized messages and curating the profile just to get a small number of responses). Maybe you are way more handsome/charismatic than you think?

            I mean, I hope so. But probably not; I’m certainly not especially handsome (I clean up well but I doubt I’m ever going to be more than high-end-of-average no matter what I do) and the stuff I’m good at that falls under “charisma” is not getting-laid-instantly type stuff. I think what I was doing right was I read up a little bit on online dating and its statistics, and figured out how to write a decent opening message. If most guys are just spamming “hey bb u wnt sm fk” a message that shows you read her profile and have found a way to link her interests to yours, and ends with a question that lets her continue the conversation without much effort, I think that puts a guy ahead of the pack.

            I do think it’s possible that society could simultaneously be producing fewer of the sorts of women men want to marry and fewer of the sorts of men women want to marry, all while (because of?) making marriage an overall less attractive deal with the increased availability of casual sex to men and increased possibility of supporting themselves for women.

            It could be that people didn’t turn out to want what they thought they wanted, men and women alike. But so many people are invested now that they can’t turn back.

            And this gets to why I don’t think it’s quite right to think of this or the blue collar white male self esteem issue as truly zero sum. It’s possible to have a social equilibrium where everyone is happier and one where everyone is unhappier.

            I think the two things are different, though. Some people are happier in the current economy.

            Very un-pc, but tbh I increasingly wonder if feminism doesn’t result in a world of both men and women being less satisfied with life and relationships by incentivizing both groups to spend less time and energy on the things that make them desirable partners.

            There are all sorts of explanations one can give. I doubt feminism as a unit is responsible for this. Consider how a lot of the backlash against the articles about how clearly Aziz Ansari is a monster who dreadfully abused that poor girl was led by middle-aged women, and how in general the feminists who get turned into “bad feminists” for not having up-to-date enough opinions are middle-aged women. If they’re feminists, clearly feminism can’t be responsible for the current situation, unless we’re gonna break “feminism” down into subcategories.

            @Aapje

            Couple high standards on the part of women with the greater desire to have sex on the part of men and a reluctance on the part of men to fast-track into long term relations & it seems to make perfect sense that you would get clashing strategies.

            But do women have high standards? One significant thing restricting the supply of men within bubbles is that women tend to be less fond than men of forming a relationship with someone with lower SES than them. Not necessarily lower income, but lower education seems to be the ticket. “Status” is a vague concept, but it’s what I’m gesturing at. In male-female couples I know of (anecdata, of course) when the woman makes more, the man has some kind of other status boost: he’s a professor or is on his way there, or something like that.

            Women presumably tend to scare off the most desirable men by pushing for a long term relationship right away. They can then get the highest quality man by hooking a man with sex and then building up an emotional relationship so he won’t leave.

            However, this is extremely easy to misunderstand (or to exploit) by men who just want to have sex (who are on average much more active than the men who want a relationship, so men seem a lot more sex-focused than they are).

            Do women try to push for a relationship right away? Certainly, a lot of guys exploit – consciously or not – the weak bargaining position that women have in bubbles where desirable men are outnumbered by desirable women. Back in university, with damn near 2:1 female:male ratio, I saw some very desirable women (attractive, smart, ambitious) get into relationships with guys who absolutely were not their equal, as well as make terrible sexual decisions regarding lower-quality guys they weren’t in relationships with. Supply and demand.

            The higher desirability of women as sex partners than relationship partners also means that the better the man that is interested in her, the more likely he is to just want sex. So the higher the standards of the woman, the higher a percentage of the men that ‘qualify’ are just looking for sex.

            So the maximizing female strategy is then about not being too picky, so enough men who ‘qualify’ are willing to be in a relationship, but without having such low standards that the men are poor partners.

            The maximizing female strategy would be to price-fix. Or at least be aware that a strategy is needed. Something I’ve noticed is that while, among the people I know from university, I would estimate that on average the women have their shit together more than the men (or, from undergrad at least), and are better at strategizing/planning their lives in general, when it comes to sex and relationships, they seem a lot more resistant than men to the idea that this is something you might need to plan, to adopt strategies for, etc. Women who have multiple degrees and everything planned out will express the opinion that, with regard to relationships, things should “just happen” and planning etc are undesirable. Whereas there’s a bunch of men who are underachievers who are just kind of drifting, but they’ll recognize that if you wait for stuff to just happen, nothing will happen, or nothing positive at least.

          • Nobody here seems to be considering the technology explanation for current problems.

            In a society without reliable contraception and reasonably safe abortion, sex and children are joint products. Having a child without a husband is costly, so women are reluctant to engage in intercourse without at least a commitment to a long term relationship. Men want sex, it’s difficult to get it without marriage or at least engagement, so they are willing to agree to those terms.

            Once you have reliable contraception and safe and available abortion, or even just the first, the link is broken. Women like sex too, and even women who wouldn’t choose to engage in sex for its own sake may be willing to accept a price, in attention, affection, and the like, well short of marriage. Women who want to have and rear children are then in competition with women who don’t, which weakens their bargaining position.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            But do women have high standards? One significant thing restricting the supply of men within bubbles is that women tend to be less fond than men of forming a relationship with someone with lower SES than them. Not necessarily lower income, but lower education seems to be the ticket. “Status” is a vague concept, but it’s what I’m gesturing at. In male-female couples I know of (anecdata, of course) when the woman makes more, the man has some kind of other status boost: he’s a professor or is on his way there, or something like that.

            If women want their men to have higher status, and women have been gaining status relative to men, then that demand has become harder to meet for more and more men.

            Ergo, women’s standards have been going up in a relative sense, even if they may not have increased (or may even have lowered) in an absolute sense (which is rather irrelevant).

            This is basically my complaint about the way we’ve been implementing ‘egalitarianism:’ because women’s demands of men may not really be criticized by men, while the opposite is allowed, the ‘renegotiation’ of the gender roles is one sided. Men for the most part now have to measure up to an insane mix of traditionalism and egalitarianism.

            Ultimately, it should be obvious that people have to accept that a society that results in men and women having reasonably equal SES, can only have good relationships for most people if men are willing to accept a partner with higher SES and women a partner with lower SES.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I don’t see how that works as a sufficient explanation, as surveys show that nearly everyone wants kids (~94%). So then nearly all men and women are willing to sign on for a child-rearing ‘project’.

            This competition can only exist if you have additional explanations, like men cheating, men and women having far different standards for the conditions under which they want to start a family and/or something else.

          • Matt M says:

            So then nearly all men and women are willing to sign on for a child-rearing ‘project’.

            I think there’s a very large difference between people who “want kids” in the abstract (at a certain time and place with a certain ideal partner) and people who are willing to accept the risk of having a kid, immediately, with the person you’re about to have sex with.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Technology was definitely the necessary factor for a lot of the social changes we’ve seen. It changed the “market” by reducing the negative column of the ledger, especially for women. One major result of this is that paying for sex seems to be less common than it once was – because it’s more readily available without either a payment or a promise.

            @Aapje

            This is basically my complaint about the way we’ve been implementing ‘egalitarianism:’ because women’s demands of men may not really be criticized by men, while the opposite is allowed, the ‘renegotiation’ of the gender roles is one sided. Men for the most part now have to measure up to an insane mix of traditionalism and egalitarianism.

            I don’t think you can say the renegotiation is one-sided: men are far more likely to expect women have sex sooner than they would have been previously, and far more likely to get sex sooner. And while on the one hand a woman who insists on a certain length of relationship, or a certain level of commitment, before sex, means a lot of men will filter out, on the other hand, there’s no guarantee a man is going to follow through with commitment after sex, either.

            Further, men don’t criticize the demands of women, maybe, but a whole bunch seem to ignore them. The women who write angry thinkpieces about how their hookups don’t pay enough attention to their pleasure, aren’t kind to them, etc, clearly aren’t getting what they want. What they want might be unrealistic, but what a lot of men want is unrealistic too.

            I think you could say also that women are trapped by a mix of old and new standards: men will often not stick around for a woman who makes it too hard for them, but they also might balk at committing significantly to a woman who made it easy!

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            My point is not that nothing changed because it became possible to separate sex from pregnancy (mostly). My argument is that the change doesn’t explain why relationships got harder.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            A lot of the changes are not negotiated and/or people don’t feel bound by it (in so far that they can get away with). So you are correct that the outcome was not just a one-sided change to benefit women (but that is not what I said). I was talking specifically about the social norms that society polices, which is only part of the picture (and second order effects play a major role too).

            Ultimately we can’t really have a honest conversation about the differing needs as a society or in person, when men and women talk to each other. It’s lies and powerplays.

            That is suitable for a society where you have defined roles, so you know what to lie to be or what actually to become. However, in a society where people supposedly are more free to shape themselves, it becomes really important that they have good information, so people can know what realistic options there are that are semi-consistent with their personality. Otherwise people will just be flailing about…

          • dndnrsn says:

            A lot of the changes are not negotiated and/or people don’t feel bound by it (in so far that they can get away with). So you are correct that the outcome was not just a one-sided change to benefit women (but that is not what I said). I was talking specifically about the social norms that society polices, which is only part of the picture (and second order effects play a major role too).

            You said the renegotiation was one-sided: what are we counting as negotiation?

            Ultimately we can’t really have a honest conversation about the differing needs as a society or in person, when men and women talk to each other. It’s lies and powerplays.

            That is suitable for a society where you have defined roles, so you know what to lie to be or what actually to become. However, in a society where people supposedly are more free to shape themselves, it becomes really important that they have good information, so people can know what realistic options there are that are semi-consistent with their personality. Otherwise people will just be flailing about…

            It’s not as though the information is hard to find, or even particularly difficult to figure out on one’s own. In some cases it’s information that’s been “lost”. Not even information from the olden days of trading the village elder several goats for the hand in marriage of his eldest daughter or whatever. The middle-aged women who made up the bulk of good criticisms of that Ansari article came of age in the 70s.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            You said the renegotiation was one-sided: what are we counting as negotiation?

            You have the relationship and behavioral equivalent of the Overton window, which determines group level behavior. I’m arguing that this has mainly been pushed in one direction.

            Of course, people are less bound by rules around relationships/dating/sex, so it has become a bit less important. Also, I would argue that people that think they get a bad deal often start to defect from the societal norms.

            So the overall outcome has not moved in one direction, but having an unfair process at one level means that you get unfairness at another level.

            Compare it to a society that has taxation that many of the taxes consider unfair & where the taxation cannot be effectively policed, so you get people doing tax evasion. The unfairness that people perceive at the legal level causes them to behave differently at the individual level (like to defect, in this case).

            It’s not as though the information is hard to find, or even particularly difficult to figure out on one’s own.

            I have absolutely no idea what the odds are of finding a woman who ticks my hard demands and whose hard demands I tick; or what would be the approximate benefit (or downside) if I would change myself in some ways.

            In the old situation I could simply compare myself to the idealized standard and could be sure to increase my odds by moving in that direction, especially since the other gender would be taught to desire that idealized form (and the same with the genders reversed).

            Of course, that had great downsides to those who were not happy with the idealized standard, however, the (more or less) single hierarchy gave high clarity. Right now we have high uncertainty, at least if you are not naturally highly desirable to begin with.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Aapje

            You have the relationship and behavioral equivalent of the Overton window, which determines group level behavior. I’m arguing that this has mainly been pushed in one direction.

            Has it? It’s much easier for men to get free sex than it once was. I get the sense a lot of women preferred it was otherwise.

            Of course, people are less bound by rules around relationships/dating/sex, so it has become a bit less important. Also, I would argue that people that think they get a bad deal often start to defect from the societal norms.

            So the overall outcome has not moved in one direction, but having an unfair process at one level means that you get unfairness at another level.

            Compare it to a society that has taxation that many of the taxes consider unfair & where the taxation cannot be effectively policed, so you get people doing tax evasion. The unfairness that people perceive at the legal level causes them to behave differently at the individual level (like to defect, in this case).

            What would you consider defecting, in this context?

            I have absolutely no idea what the odds are of finding a woman who ticks my hard demands and whose hard demands I tick; or what would be the approximate benefit (or downside) if I would change myself in some ways.

            In the old situation I could simply compare myself to the idealized standard and could be sure to increase my odds by moving in that direction, especially since the other gender would be taught to desire that idealized form (and the same with the genders reversed).

            Of course, that had great downsides to those who were not happy with the idealized standard, however, the (more or less) single hierarchy gave high clarity. Right now we have high uncertainty, at least if you are not naturally highly desirable to begin with.

            Were relationships happier, or clearer, in the past? How would we establish that? The major differences I see is that sex outside of relationships was both less common and qualitatively different, and that marriages tend to be far easier to leave. The degrees of course differs by place in the world. These have had major effects, but have they made people more unhappy, or just unhappy in different ways?

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            Has it? It’s much easier for men to get free sex than it once was. I get the sense a lot of women preferred it was otherwise.

            People, including menpeople seem to be having a lot less sex than 20 years ago (we unfortunately don’t seem to have good data for further back), with the greatest decline in most recent times. The data shows that the unpartnered have the least sex.

            So this ‘free sex’ seems more of a fantasy and/or benefit for a tiny fraction of men, than some universal benefit for men.

            I would argue that the real improvement for men is access to porn, which allows greater sexual satisfaction without needing women (like vibrators were a similar improvement for women).

            Haven’t you just been deceived by a narrative that treats the life of a small minority of men as the male experience?

            What would you consider defecting, in this context?

            Opting out of various social expectations, giving up on certain goals in life, voting for Trump, becoming libertarian, going Red Pill PUA, etc.

            Were relationships happier, or clearer, in the past? How would we establish that?

            See the Amish thread for the impossibility to judge happiness, so I’m not going to argue about that.

            It does seem obvious that more strict rules are clearer and cause more matches than a more free-form environment, especially when so many lies are being told.

          • dndnrsn says:

            People, including menpeople seem to be having a lot less sex than 20 years ago (we unfortunately don’t seem to have good data for further back), with the greatest decline in most recent times. The data shows that the unpartnered have the least sex.

            So this ‘free sex’ seems more of a fantasy and/or benefit for a tiny fraction of men, than some universal benefit for men.

            But 20 years ago was 1998. It absolutely is easier today for a man to get sex without either paying for it and without a wedding or at least a ring, than it was prior to the 60s/70s. Saying “well 20 years ago” is missing the point; that’s like talking about the record low murder rates (but starting the graph at some point in the 70s and ignoring aggravated assaults and attempted murder). The late 90s were well into the sexual revolution.

            Haven’t you just been deceived by a narrative that treats the life of a small minority of men as the male experience?

            No, I haven’t, because it’s not a narrative, it’s the factual situation. Prior to the pill, antibiotics, and the sexual revolution kicked off by those things making sex much less hazardous, especially for women, it was much harder for straight men, in general, to get sex for free without serious commitment than it is today. That some men get more sex than others, that some men get no sex at all, or that we’re having less sex than 20 years ago, doesn’t change that in the middle of the 20th century there was a change that resulted in a significant increase in out-of-wedlock unpaid sex of various sorts.

            Opting out of various social expectations, giving up on certain goals in life, voting for Trump, becoming libertarian, going Red Pill PUA, etc.

            What about women? What do they do if they defect?

            It does seem obvious that more strict rules are clearer and cause more matches than a more free-form environment, especially when so many lies are being told.

            But were those matches happy? If people are told to fit into a mold to fit into society, some of them are not going to fit into that mold. The social changes we’ve seen were kicked off by some people being unhappy, enough people that it hit a nerve.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            It absolutely is easier today for a man to get sex without either paying for it and without a wedding or at least a ring, than it was prior to the 60s/70s.

            Sure. It is also easier to get rich, but that doesn’t mean that ‘get rich’ is a feasible/good strategy for most people or that this change was some major improvement for mankind.

            Right now men seem to have two options:
            1. Low commitment and little sex (on average)
            2. High commitment and more sex (on average), but still less than those that committed strongly in the past

            Whether or not this is good for men depends on whether the lower average commitment makes up for the reduction in sex & also whether the cost of commitment has changed. Did the situation for people improve during the Great Recession when ‘free food’ (soup kitchens) became much more prevalent? Do people become happier when you give them welfare or do they prefer to have the higher benefits AND costs of a job? The data strongly suggests that people on welfare tend to be very unhappy (to the extent that it affects their health).

            Furthermore, the question is also whether the value of relationships has declined and how much for each gender. You are ignoring these factors to just point at a fraction of the issue, which to me seems relatively unimportant. You were the one that took my pretty broad complaint and argued that easier access to free sex was some major boon to men that means that the relationship situation improved a lot for men. To me, it seems likely that you are pointing at the relationship equivalent of soup kitchens…

            What about women? What do they do if they defect?

            Opting out of various social expectations, giving up on certain goals in life, voting for Hillary, demanding special treatment for women from the government/employers, demanding big government which effectively means men indirectly providing for women, having sex/relationships with women, etc.

            But were those matches happy? If people are told to fit into a mold to fit into society, some of them are not going to fit into that mold. The social changes we’ve seen were kicked off by some people being unhappy, enough people that it hit a nerve.

            My point is not that we should go back to that. My argument is that the new model is not working well for many to an extent that more and more people are opting out completely or are quite dissatisfied with the options/outcome.

            Improving things doesn’t necessarily require regressing to traditionalism, but it does require first accepting that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Voting for Hillary was gender-based defection? I voted for her because I believed Trump was a monster.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy

            My claim that people who want to defect can do so by doing X, doesn’t mean that all people who do X do so to defect.

            For example, people who are hungry can choose to do something about that by way of eating something, however, not everyone who eats something is hungry (they can also do that to be sociable or because the food seems tasty).

          • dndnrsn says:

            Sure. It is also easier to get rich, but that doesn’t mean that ‘get rich’ is a feasible/good strategy for most people or that this change was some major improvement for mankind.

            But it’s not the equivalent to getting rich. It’s not something only a small chunk of guys can do. I’m not talking about walking into a bar and walking out with multiple women hanging off the guy. I’m talking about losing one’s virginity to a high school girlfriend a month into the relationship, instead of losing one’s virginity to a prostitute.

            Right now men seem to have two options:
            1. Low commitment and little sex (on average)
            2. High commitment and more sex (on average), but still less than those that committed strongly in the past

            Do guys in committed relationships have less sex than men did prior to the pill? Remember, the pill was first legally available to married women, allowing them to control their own fertility far better than methods before enabled. Presumably, a woman who can choose whether to get pregnant or not is going to have sex with her husband more often than a woman who can’t.

            Whether or not this is good for men depends on whether the lower average commitment makes up for the reduction in sex & also whether the cost of commitment has changed. Did the situation for people improve during the Great Recession when ‘free food’ (soup kitchens) became much more prevalent? Do people become happier when you give them welfare or do they prefer to have the higher benefits AND costs of a job? The data strongly suggests that people on welfare tend to be very unhappy (to the extent that it affects their health).

            But we haven’t established whether people within committed relationships are having less sex, have we? And people are only having less sex total compared to 20 years ago, not 60.

            Furthermore, the question is also whether the value of relationships has declined and how much for each gender. You are ignoring these factors to just point at a fraction of the issue, which to me seems relatively unimportant. You were the one that took my pretty broad complaint and argued that easier access to free sex was some major boon to men that means that the relationship situation improved a lot for men. To me, it seems likely that you are pointing at the relationship equivalent of soup kitchens…

            On the contrary – I said that easier sex for men was the window moving in the direction women seem not to want. It isn’t necessarily good for men. But it’s something a lot of men wanted: a guy’s girlfriend having sex with him without him needing to buy a ring is something a lot of guys wanted. Or even before she’s his girlfriend: plenty of women who say they are only in it for long-term relationships will have sex 1-3 dates in, long before the relationship has been established as such; very few of those women seem to demand a wait until the relationship has been established to have sex. A lot of men prefer that, or casual sex (which isn’t just open to top-tier men), to sex with prostitutes, which was a lot more common in the past.

            This may have turned out to be bad for men, or for society in general, or whatever. But if you turn back the clock however many years, to before the sexual revolution, you will find more men answering “yes” to the question “do you wish it was easier to get sex without cash or commitment” than women answering “yes” to the question “do you wish it was easier for men to have sex with women in general, and thus probably you in specific?

            Opting out of various social expectations, giving up on certain goals in life, voting for Hillary, demanding special treatment for women from the government/employers, demanding big government which effectively means men indirectly providing for women, having sex/relationships with women, etc.

            I would think that a woman “defecting” with regard to sex is more defecting against other women – some people think of the “race to the bottom” in terms of sex being earlier in a relationship in this fashion. (And a woman being sexually attracted to women, that’s hardly a response to society in general, is it?)

            My point is not that we should go back to that. My argument is that the new model is not working well for many to an extent that more and more people are opting out completely or are quite dissatisfied with the options/outcome.

            Improving things doesn’t necessarily require regressing to traditionalism, but it does require first accepting that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

            So, I would agree with this, the old model was bad, the new model may be better on average, but:

            -something clearly “stalled”, and we’ve got an ugly mix of the old norms and what the people pushing the new norms wanted (eg, the same people who will have random sex with someone they just met, will think that negotiating sex, talking about it, is weird)
            -there’s a general unwillingness to discuss tradeoffs; the thing people want (whether it’s to go back to traditionalism, or to continue to push to the brave new future of random sex whenever) has to be the bestest choice all around, not the better choice when all tradeoffs are considered.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Brad makes a really good point here. The US could try to work some kind of Germany-style “let’s promote skilled trades education and high-quality manufacturing” scheme. It would require changes to the educational system, for starters. It might really help a lot of Americans who have been left behind. But it would not improve the relative position of lower-middle-class white men in certain parts of the country who are sore they can’t support a family of 4 on a 40-hour week like their dads could.

        • Randy M says:

          But it would not improve the relative position of lower-middle-class white men in certain parts of the country who are sore they can’t support a family of 4 on a 40-hour week like their dads could.

          You and Brad are equivocating two positions.

          Is the problem with the WWC view that they see themselves as better than the average person, intrinsically *more* worthy of getting material comforts of the UMC for a minimal amount of diligent but unskilled labor?

          Or is the problem that they want, as perhaps some previous generations had, an ability to support a family in a low crime neighborhood on one salary through honest (that is, diligent and productive, if not maximally efficient) labor?

          Is the second view being taken as evidence of the first (likely racist) first view?

          Now perhaps the problem with what they desire is that affording the modern comforts that they–but not previous generations–consider necessities is literally impossible without 100 hours of labor per household on average. (aside–we measure labor in “manhours.” Perhaps in an “information economy” we need to norm this by IQ. “This job calls for about 40 brainhours”.)

          (Although a comment was raised in the last thread about how living like that–say, not having AC, having kids in hand-me-downs and bunking 3 to a room, no reliable transportation–is looked down upon socially and perhaps even legally in ways it wasn’t when the material abundance wasn’t available for a price, that I think was well put).

          Fine, perhaps they have economically unreasonable expectations, and perhaps they are only resentful because they are economically illiterate.

          But I wonder if it isn’t worthwhile to consider why this is so and if anything can be done about it (and I say this as someone skeptical about the ability of government to positively reorganize society and in favor of economic freedom).

          Our productivity is higher than in past generations, due to innovations and automation, possibly even education creating a more–okay, due to robots. The end result is more wealth divided among fewer producers in exchange for cheaper products for purchasers. People who would have, in previous generations, been excellent robots–done repetitive tasks reliably–are told to go learn how to make robots, or else entrepreneurs of some sort–internet based landscaping consultant, perhaps, or maybe self-wedding planner–and to enjoy the reduced price products when they do find work. This is economically efficient, but it is a poorer situation for a great many. At least, a great many Americans; American wwc are worse off, but shouldn’t they be happy with their dole, since Chinese ex-farmers are much better off running machines than they are worse off as unemployed machines?

          I don’t know, nothing here we haven’t discussed before. Automation, globalization, happiness from expectations.
          But from my perspective, what is being requested are good things, and it’s reasonable to ask why, with increased productivity, this good thing is no longer available. Even if in the end the answer is, Moloch decided you had things a bit too good for the kind of person you are.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The whole “guy in the new suburbs supports 2.5 children and a stay at home wife on a blue-collar income, fairly nice living conditions, he only needs a high-school diploma, etc” thing was, arguably, a blip in time and place. It was enabled by various conditions that aren’t the case any more. It’s cheaper to build that factory overseas and ship the stuff to the US (or wherever).

            There was also racism and sexism involved. This was more available to white men than to black men. Outside of the lower classes (where women were once more likely to work than everyone else, to make ends meet) women were less present in the workforce. So, less competition.

            Now, I’m a pinko. I think that a good society is one where anyone who plays by the rules has a decent place to live somewhere safe, health care, enough to eat, some free time, some vacation time, etc. If they can work, great. If they can’t work for reasons outside of their control? Then help them out.

            But the sort of person who wants pride from their work probably wants something better than society’s preferred standard, right?

            (I have to get going to the gym but I will expand on this a little later)

          • Brad says:

            You and Brad are equivocating two positions.

            Is the problem with the WWC view that they see themselves as better than the average person, intrinsically *more* worthy of getting material comforts of the UMC for a minimal amount of diligent but unskilled labor?

            Or is the problem that they want, as perhaps some previous generations had, an ability to support a family in a low crime neighborhood on one salary through honest (that is, diligent and productive, if not maximally efficient) labor?

            Is the second view being taken as evidence of the first (likely racist) first view?

            I don’t think I’m equivocating. I’m outright saying it is the first one.

            That said, your second has some problematic elements.

            First, I don’t read “low crime neighborhood” as a demand for better policing and criminal justice, but instead as a implicit demand for a positional good. Good neighborhoods like good job presupposes, and in the final analysis insists on, bad neighborhoods.

            Second, the very question at hand is “productive”. A scheme of demanding trade barriers from the government and then charging supra-competitive prices is not productive, it’s value destroying. That’s the case even though actual useful goods are produced. Suppose the US government banned excel and any similar product and insisted that all calculations be done by hand by bookkeepers. And this law was at the behest of would-be bookkeepers. Would bookkeeping then be “honest labor”? I’d say no.

            I don’t know, nothing here we haven’t discussed before. Automation, globalization–American wwc are worse off, but shouldn’t they be happy with their dole, since Chinese ex-farmers are much better off running machines than they are worse off as unemployed machines?
            But from my perspective, what is being requested are good things, and it’s reasonable to ask why, with increased productivity, this good thing is no longer available.

            What happened to speaking truth as a terminal value which comes up so much around other issues around here?

            Why is it suddenly not only okay but obligatory to put into place a fundamentally dishonest system that pretends a vast value destroying welfare system isn’t really welfare and that the people benefiting from it aren’t on the dole?

            Their choices are as Matt M said:
            http://slatestarcodex.com/2018/03/25/ot98-vauban-thread/#comment-613124

            1. Suck it up and work a slightly less awesome job
            2. Learn a new skill that’s actually in demand and get a good job
            3. Take your welfare pittance and shut up

            There is no fourth choice. The false fourth choice being presented is to take #3 move it from a pittance to a very high payment, but only for a favored few, and make everyone pretend that it isn’t actually welfare.

          • Randy M says:

            @dndrsn

            It was enabled by various conditions that aren’t the case any more. It’s cheaper to build that factory overseas and ship the stuff to the US (or wherever).

            But as we get more productive, shouldn’t the goal be make this available for as many as possible? Rather than to scoff at the historical anomaly of the non-rich/smart having nice economic situations?

            There was also racism and sexism involved. This was more available to white men than to black men.

            Was that causal? White factory owners paid their white workers more because somewhere a black man was underpaid? I’m not sure the numbers work out for that. But like I said above, it should be the goal to expand this kind of situation, blacks included.

            Outside of the lower classes women were less present in the workforce

            yep, I think we talked here about how women entering the workforce (or at least the married middle class women) had the effect of reducing wages, thereby making it so a family needs two incomes for the same level of material comfort (excepting the technological advancements etc). Wonder how many of those women wouldn’t like a bit of that sexism back.

            Now, I’m a pinko.

            I would say magenta, but breaking up a serious topic with gravatar meta-humor would be a breach of etiquette.

            But the sort of person who wants pride from their work probably wants something better than society’s preferred standard, right?

            Is all pride relative? I don’t know, maybe. All the things I’m proud of, I do wish were more universal, but maybe you’re right and if they were I wouldn’t appreciate them.
            I think the pride a working class man wants from his work is to be an integral part of doing something that benefits him and those he cares about it ways he can clearly understand, without making anyone else directly worse off. More abstract thinkers can take more pride in work less related to the output of the sweat of their brow. Would a cave man have less pride killing a rabbit because his neighbor killed a mammoth? Yeah, there’s probably a relative factor to it.

            @Brad

            I don’t think I’m equivocating.

            Okay, maybe I was equivocating you and dndrsn.

            That said, your second has some problematic elements.

            Well, what doesn’t?

            Good neighborhoods like good job presupposes, and in the final analysis insists on, bad neighborhoods.

            This is all down to psychology, isn’t it? Are people fundamentally motivated by relative status–envy? Introspection tells me no, but maybe I’m either atypical or self-blind. I had a nice neighborhood growing up–hardly the best, but I walked to Jr High. I don’t think I would have appreciated it any worse if every other neighborhood was worse better. Would my parents have gotten less satisfaction for providing safety if they hadn’t been aware others were less safe?
            In the end, I’m okay with setting our goals at reasonable standards of safety and order and then telling people feeling left out to sod off and envy less (heck, we could even command them not to envy). But assuming that they only want something because some else has better from the get go and writing off the concerns because all goods are positional is lazy cynicism.

            A scheme of demanding trade barriers from the government and then charging supra-competitive prices is not productive, it’s value destroying.

            As is setting up government agencies to tax and redistribute wealth. There’s inefficiencies involved, people that could be doing productive work are auditing suspected tax cheats, etc. We’ve decided the trade off is worth it–I think you have agreed? You’re expressing that these other trade-offs aren’t, mostly because the people involved are not properly grateful (or at least you haven’t given a numerical amount of inefficiency that starts to become problematic). Fair enough, I suppose. I even agree that laws preventing people from making economic decisions in their favor (like your excel example) are wrong (though like I pointed out last time, let’s look at the laws that make one nations workers more competitive with another’s).

            That’s the case even though actual useful goods are produced

            Is a situation where we are taxing all transactions to provide acceptable (to the voting public) levels of welfare better than the one were we tax some transactions and the people who would have made received welfare are instead making those goods?

            What happened to speaking truth as a terminal value which comes up so much around other issues around here?

            That seems to be exactly what I suggested in the part you elided:

            Even if in the end the answer is, Moloch decided you had things a bit too good for the kind of person you are.

            I’m not arguing economics. I’m expressing sympathy and distaste for the situation where what looked like an attainable middle class lifestyle for the American middle class of average intelligence ends up being an illusion based on transitory preferences and advantages worn away by the collective results of individual decisions, compensated for by nice phones, resulting in a need to roll in the demolish crews to vast swaths of the country. Maybe your’re right and these people are resentful and lazy or dullards ill deserving of such sentiment, but I’m unconvinced of that.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            First, I don’t read “low crime neighborhood” as a demand for better policing and criminal justice, but instead as a implicit demand for a positional good. Good neighborhoods like good job presupposes, and in the final analysis insists on, bad neighborhoods.

            I don’t think this follows. While I don’t personally think a Utopia is possible, I don’t consider wanting to live in one (or a society closer to one) to be a positional aspiration. I can derive utility from, say, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, heating, etc. without requiring the existence of backwaters that lack those things. Why does a neighborhood without violence, drug abuse, crumbling infrastructure, etc. require those things to exist elsewhere to be desirable?

          • Brad says:

            Randy M

            In the end, I’m okay with setting our goals at reasonable standards of safety and order and then telling people feeling left out to sod off and envy less (heck, we could even command them not to envy). But assuming that they only want something because some else has better from the get go and writing off the concerns because all goods are positional is lazy cynicism.

            The Australian MMT school proposes that the government be an employer of last resort with a fixed level of compensation for all last resort jobs. Do you think that under such a system there would be no stigma to working at the last resort salary even if someone wasn’t working in the last resort scheme? What about at the minimum wage today, is there a stigma just because it is the minimum wage — that is to say is someone making $11/hour right across the border in Nevada happier than someone making $11/hour in California?

            I think your set reasonable standards of safety and order and if people don’t like it they should sod off is quite akin to my position of here’s your UBI and if you don’t want to take your help that way tough luck.

            As is setting up government agencies to tax and redistribute wealth. There’s inefficiencies involved, people that could be doing productive work are auditing suspected tax cheats, etc. We’ve decided the trade off is worth it–I think you have agreed? You’re expressing that these other trade-offs aren’t, mostly because the people involved are not properly grateful (or at least you haven’t given a numerical amount of inefficiency that starts to become problematic). Fair enough, I suppose. I even agree that laws preventing people from making economic decisions in their favor (like your excel example) are wrong (though like I pointed out last time, let’s look at the laws that make one nations workers more competitive with another’s).

            What’s being proposed is both highly inefficient and deliberately has distributional consequences. The outright and admitted goal is to bring “good jobs” back to the rust belt. To me it looks like pure special pleading. If the proposal had been an employer of last resort scheme I would have looked on it more favorably. I prefer a UBI but that’s a good debate to have.

            I don’t see how being opposed to a special scheme for a particular group of people is read as animus towards those people. Special schemes should bear a strong burden to begin with.

            Is a situation where we are taxing all transactions to provide acceptable (to the voting public) levels of welfare better than the one were we tax some transactions and the people who would have made received welfare are instead making those goods?

            Yes. All other things being equal we want to avoid distortions.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Why is it suddenly not only okay but obligatory to put into place a fundamentally dishonest system that pretends a vast value destroying welfare system isn’t really welfare and that the people benefiting from it aren’t on the dole?

            Is it any more dishonest than the credentialism and the intellectual property, copyright and patent laws, and regulatory capture that artificially bolster the job security and wages of the salaried class? Aren’t you ignoring the value-destroying (value-preventing?) systems of environmental and labor regulations that make US-based manufacturing less competitive than Asian sweatshops?

            I’ll take a finger-wagging about the free market from David Friedman, but from anybody else it sounds like “market interference for me but not for thee.”

          • albatross11 says:

            One thing to remember here is that when you’re talking about position in a hierarchy, everything is zero-sum. If blacks rose in status[0] over the last few decades, whatever the reason, then non-blacks must have fallen in status to compensate[1]. So regardless of other issues, if we have seen blacks rise in status, whites must have fallen in status.

            We also know that people *hate* falling in status. People measure themselves by their parents, and if they’re worse-off than their parents, they’re likely to be unhappy about it. So even if there were no racial animus at all, you’d see the whites who fell in status relative to their parents unhappy about the changes that led to their fall.

            However, the usual complaints you hear w.r.t. the white working class isn’t falling in relative status, it’s falling in absolute resources–Dad made a good living in Youngstown, OH as a union factory worker, but the factory closed, and now his son is making a crappy living working at a convenience store. And there’s social dysfunction associated with that–Dad drank a little too much but things worked out ok, his son has an Oxycontin habit that’s not working out nearly so well; Dad and mom stayed married long enough to raise their kids, his son has two kids by two different girlfriends, and he’s on the hook for child support payments sufficient to eat a lot of his meager income, so he’s living in Dad’s basement despite being 40 years old.

            [0] It seems like blacks must have risen in status over the last several decades, but I’m not sure how that tracks with the Chetty numbers.

            [1] This assumes every race reproduces at the same rate, which is approximately true but not exactly true

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M

            But as we get more productive, shouldn’t the goal be make this available for as many as possible? Rather than to scoff at the historical anomaly of the non-rich/smart having nice economic situations?

            Personally, yes. I think that is a good goal. But we’re talking specifically about certain kinds of jobs in certain places; just straight up giving everyone money or public healthcare for all or whatever would probably be less market-distorting than actively building policy about bringing back those jobs.

            Was that causal? White factory owners paid their white workers more because somewhere a black man was underpaid? I’m not sure the numbers work out for that. But like I said above, it should be the goal to expand this kind of situation, blacks included.

            It’s more, are the jobs there, is someone allowed (by actual law or by unwritten law or by whatever) to take them, etc. There were places where black men got at least a bit of the sweet sweet postwar pie. I’m hardly an expert on this, but I think Detroit might qualify, at least for the black middle class, historically? At a minimum I’m pretty sure that some decades back Detroit had a larger % of the black population be middle class than the norm.

            yep, I think we talked here about how women entering the workforce (or at least the married middle class women) had the effect of reducing wages, thereby making it so a family needs two incomes for the same level of material comfort (excepting the technological advancements etc). Wonder how many of those women wouldn’t like a bit of that sexism back.

            It’s weird that you get both people who are on the right and types who are at least moderately radfem in sympathy looking at the influx of women into the workforce and average wages in those industries, and get the opposite thing from it (in the case of the latter, “women entering industries rendered them devalued because people don’t value women”, is the take I’ve seen – there might be something there honestly).

            I would say magenta, but breaking up a serious topic with gravatar meta-humor would be a breach of etiquette.

            I see purple myself, but maybe we have different opinions on what constitutes magenta.

            Is all pride relative? I don’t know, maybe. All the things I’m proud of, I do wish were more universal, but maybe you’re right and if they were I wouldn’t appreciate them.
            I think the pride a working class man wants from his work is to be an integral part of doing something that benefits him and those he cares about it ways he can clearly understand, without making anyone else directly worse off. More abstract thinkers can take more pride in work less related to the output of the sweat of their brow. Would a cave man have less pride killing a rabbit because his neighbor killed a mammoth? Yeah, there’s probably a relative factor to it.

            I think one of the things that Brad and I have in common here is we’re both seeing the loss of quality of living be presented as a loss of something tangible, a loss of place/position. It’s impossible to bring that back, let alone bring it back but give it to everyone. Partly because it is relative. Partly because it’s just unfeasible. I think I’ve read Brad on this right, at least.

            Making sure that everyone has a good – not bare minimum – standard of living is great. Warping policy and the economy to give an absolute and relative boost to a limited chunk of the populace? No way!

          • MrApophenia says:

            @dndnrsn

            It was enabled by various conditions that aren’t the case any more. It’s cheaper to build that factory overseas and ship the stuff to the US (or wherever).

            People keep saying this like it happened due to some uncontrollable external force. This isn’t the case; in many cases we can nail it down to specific economic policy changes by the US government.

            Take the famous “China Shock” paper by Autor et al. They make a pretty strong case that much of the shock in question could be attributed to a single change in China trade normalization policy. Not long term trends, not global economic trade patterns – one change made by Congress.

            This is where Brad comes in and says that change was great and increased economic freedom and the barrier removed was destroying economic value and all the rest. And that may be true. But do you think if we could hop in a time machine and show Congress the effects of that vote, they’d still do it again?

          • onyomi says:

            @Brad

            Good neighborhoods like good job presupposes, and in the final analysis insists on, bad neighborhoods.

            I disagree because I’ve lived in entire countries (Japan) with basically no “bad” neighborhoods. Of course, there are more and less affluent or desirable neighborhoods, but virtually no neighborhoods where people say “we don’t go there at night” or that you would take a detour to avoid.

            Of course there are neighborhoods you’d feel prouder about affording or not be thrilled to advertise your residence in, but the gap is much smaller than exists in most US cities because almost every neighborhood enjoys some basic level of safety and upkeep.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @MrApophenia

            People keep saying this like it happened due to some uncontrollable external force. This isn’t the case; in many cases we can nail it down to specific economic policy changes by the US government.

            Take the famous “China Shock” paper by Autor et al. They make a pretty strong case that much of the shock in question could be attributed to a single change in China trade normalization policy. Not long term trends, not global economic trade patterns – one change made by Congress.

            This is where Brad comes in and says that change was great and increased economic freedom and the barrier removed was destroying economic value and all the rest. And that may be true. But do you think if we could hop in a time machine and show Congress the effects of that vote, they’d still do it again?

            But regardless of why the changes happened, they happened, and the conditions which allowed for there to be some really, really nice low-education blue-collar jobs are no longer there. Further, it’s hard to see how they could be brought back just for the people who enjoyed those jobs, let alone everyone. Trying to bring them back now isn’t time machine, it’s turning the US into one of those Pioneer Village sort of setups.

          • BBA says:

            A couple of points:

            (1) I have only the vaguest recollection of the ’90s political debate over trade with China, but I remember even then the term “Rust Belt” was a thing. It was other East Asian countries that were “stealing our jobs” at the time, plus the less regulated, business-friendly environment of the Sun Belt (whatever happened to that?).

            I can buy that the situation went from bad to catastrophic, and China was the cause, but (to my knowledge) it was neither a conscious decision to fuck over the Rust Belt nor done in the belief that American manufacturing would continue to thrive. The belief at the time was that the Rust Belt was already fucked.

            (2) I wonder if someone more familiar with the WTO process is around. It’s portrayed as the US Trade Representative dictating terms to the rest of the world (and to Congress and the President, for that matter), but I can tell it’s not so simple because the Doha negotiations have been stalled for a decade. Were other countries trying to extract terms from China, or pressure the US to accept the deal as-is, or was it all just “globalism fuck yeah” at the time?

            (3) Elsewhere the analogy of growing cars in Iowa is brought up. Setting aside the issue of ag subsidies, your typical unskilled worker has no corn, no fields, and no assets with which to buy them. The only thing he has to sell is his unskilled labor. And if the market says unskilled labor in America is worthless, well, somehow my mind immediately jumps to the rapid decline in the horse population in the early 20th century.

          • MrApophenia says:

            The basic argument Autor et al make is that it had to do with the solidity of China’s most-favored nation status. One of the big arguments economists made for years that Chinese trade wasn’t responsible for the manufacturing decline is that they had MFN status with the US since the 80s, so why did it suddenly cause a collapse in the early 2000s?

            The answer they seem to find is that when China entered the WTO, the US made that status permanent. Before that, it had to be renewed by Congress every couple years. This meant that for an American company, investing heavily in China was risky – if Congress decided to change its mind about that policy the next time renewal came up, you’re fucked.

            Once it became permanent in 2001, that calculation changed, and American manufacturing jobs fell off a cliff.

          • keranih says:

            (2) I wonder if someone more familiar with the WTO process is around. It’s portrayed as the US Trade Representative dictating terms to the rest of the world (and to Congress and the President, for that matter), but I can tell it’s not so simple because the Doha negotiations have been stalled for a decade. Were other countries trying to extract terms from China, or pressure the US to accept the deal as-is, or was it all just “globalism fuck yeah” at the time?

            It’s worse than that. The Doha negotiations initiated in 2001. (And these were supposed to be the Seattle negotiations, except some…people launched massive protests and shut down the forum, about when agreement was about to be reached.)

            The basic problem for the WTO/GATT process is that it is attempting to assume a level playing pitch on a world made of mountains and swamps. On a level field (assume a spherical cow), all could engage in trade in order to reach whatever they best want. If one person was more successful than another, well, God in His glory brings rain to the just and the unjust alike.

            But the field isn’t level. Humans – and through collaboration, societies – have attempted to construct work-arounds to compensate for particular weaknesses. Many of these work-arounds have had huge unanticipated negative impacts, particularly when the work arounds start piling up on each other. GATT/WTO attempts to do away with all of the work arounds, so that the human-constructed negative logjams are removed.

            But. The particular weaknesses remain. A large wealthy country like the US with an agile workforce is going to have inherent strengths over many other countries who have less room to deal with their weaknesses. (Lack of diversity in economy is a large part of the weakness – if all your eggs are in one basket, all it takes is a couple other countries to have an advantage and you’re sol.) (Plus there is frequently an industry-government collusion in many countries making it very difficult for the economy to diversify beyond that industry.) For the US, removing (nearly all) the barriers will (probably) work out well.

            For other countries, there was more of a sense that [x] regulations should come down (because that was a particular advantage) but [Y] regulations should stay up, because that was a disadvantage. But other countries wanted [X] to stay up and [Y] to come down. So the US wanting ALL THE BARRIERS DOWN looked like dictating terms to everyone else.

            It is my sense that reducing transnational barriers is generally good for everyone on the average, but that pockets of non-agile, disadvantaged industry get hit hard no matter what country one is in. Worker protection and environmental regs (among others) reduce industry agility. Also, nationalism/tribalism is a thing, and has logjam effects on perceived value of different goods, not all of which are apparent at the start.

            However, this is mostly sideways of my field, and I’ll take corrections from people who know better.

          • @keranih:

            You keep talking about advantages and disadvantages for countries, and I don’t know what you mean. My suspicion is that your intuition is in terms of absolute advantage—that something that makes it cheaper for the U.S. to make steel or more expensive for the Japanese to make steel is an advantage for the U.S. with regard to trade between the U.S. and Japan.

            Is that right? Are you ultimately assuming that a trade surplus is good and a trade deficit bad?

          • keranih says:

            @ DF –

            I am assuming that having a lot of something that people want a great deal is better than having a lot of something that people want only a little – and better than having a bit of something that they want a lot.

            I also think that having some of a number of different things that are in moderate demand is better than having one thing that is in great demand.

            I am also speaking of countries as formal arrangements of groups of people, and thus controlling (for the moment) various resources.

            (As I said, I’m at the edge of my understanding here. Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

        • At a slight tangent …

          One of the interesting things in Gallagher’s Torchship trilogy is a situation where people at the bottom have been lied to in order to provide them with fake status, they discover it, and the results are unpleasant.

          • John Schilling says:

            I didn’t think the pure and simple form described there would plausibly go undetected long enough to matter, but the idea was interesting and I’d like to see it fleshed out in a novel dedicated to the subject sometime.

            The consequences of a significant fraction of a society’s population going through an abrupt transition from the modest level of status they’d been lead to believe they had earned, to the complete lack thereof, yeah, that was appropriately ugly.

          • albatross11 says:

            Perhaps increasing media visibility of other hierarchies makes almost everyone sadder? Once I could be the biggest fish in my tiny pond, now I compare myself to the guy down the road a ways making a million bucks a year and reckon myself a failure.

          • onyomi says:

            now I compare myself to the guy down the road a ways making a million bucks a year and reckon myself a failure.

            Or in the movies.

            Am I crazy or do others also have a sense that movies used to include more realistic depictions of Average Joe’s life (Rocky, for example)? Now it seems like tv is all Cardashians, movies are all Tony Stark, etc.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @onyomi

            Some people have observed that in sitcoms and so forth, people often have outsized lifestyles relative to their jobs. Did sitcoms used to be like this?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @dndnrsn

            The Brady Bunch was probably the ur-example. Six kids and a live-in housekeeper in Southern California on one income (Mike Brady was an architect, but he wasn’t Frank Gehry). But some others were less unrealistic; “Too Close for Comfort” and “One Day at a Time” come to mind.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @Nybbler

            Yes, but we never find out what happened to Mrs Brady #1 or Mr X (was her prior name ever revealed?), and life insurance payouts could have made the lifestyle manageable.

      • John Schilling says:

        The biggest problem with this demand is that it can’t be people in general or the small-to-mediumish town white men won’t accept it.

        Are you claiming that small-to-mediumish town white men would reject a proposal that gives them what they consider good jobs, on the sole grounds that it also gives good jobs to e.g. urban black men? That seems uncharitable, unlikely, and in need of supporting evidence.

        • Brad says:

          Are you claiming that small-to-mediumish town white men would reject a proposal that gives them what they consider good jobs, on the sole grounds that it also gives good jobs to e.g. urban black men?

          I’m claiming that they wouldn’t consider them good jobs if hardly anyone was making less than them.

          That seems uncharitable, unlikely, and in need of supporting evidence.

          I don’t recall seeing even a scintilla of evidence from you for any of your many unlikely claims in the predecessor thread. You may want to (re)read this: isolated demand for rigor.

        • Randy M says:

          I think Brad made it clear in the previous thread his lack of sympathy was due to this group thinking that they should have life better than others. He–and he can correct me if I’m wrong–thinks they look down upon lazy people on welfare, when their own virtues are not terribly relevant to the modern economy and any pandering to their feelings is unjust in part due to that false superiority.

        • John Schilling says:

          I don’t think it constitutes an isolated demand for rigor to consistently place a higher evidentiary bar on defamatory accusations than on other statements – and I’ve been trying to conduct this discussion in particular without accusing anyone of anything. Generally speaking, it’s much easier to have solutions if you don’t also insist on accusations, or vice versa.

          And yes, I think the stereotypical WWC would claim to be superior to, and to deserve a better life than, non-working welfare recipients. The WWC defines itself by working, and at least claims that it wants to work for its pay. The claim that they believe themselves to be better than working non-white people, that they would reject a deal that offered them good-paying working-class jobs just because it also offered the same jobs to black people and might not leave them anyone to feel superior to, that’s an accusation of racism or close enough as makes no difference, and I don’t think it gets us any closer to a solution.

        • Brad says:

          These claims about the same exact people are far more defamatory than what I’ve said:

          Or they’ll just take their rifle down from above the fireplace and join some of the the other disaffected ex-Trump/Sanders voters who have hoisted the black flag and gone Bonnie and Clyde on the globalist bourgeoisie techbros who ruined everything for Real America(tm).

          What about your pragmatic understanding that they aren’t going to limit themselves to the choices you say are acceptable, and that you’ve got barely enough policemen and prisons to deal (at great social cost) with the subset of black Americans who have joined Team We Don’t Give A Fuck over the past century or so? Give half the white working class cause to join that team, and you’re going to need a whole lot more cops and prisons and have to deal with a whole lot more collateral damage.

          And as I said, not a scintilla of evidence in sight.

        • Randy M says:

          These claims about the same exact people are far more defamatory than what I’ve said:

          Honestly, I’m in agreement with that. Saying desperate people do desperate things may be true and may even be good reason for policy considerations, but doesn’t speak terribly well of the desperate.

        • gbdub says:

          Brad I’m sympathetic to your point here but I do think you’ve gone a bit too far with “this is all about relative status”.

          That ignores that many of the small-to-medium size towns have seen a real absolute decline in prosperity. It’s harder to find good paying relatively unskilled jobs. The jobs you do find are less stable and provide fewer benefits. It’s objectively harder to support a big family and a stay at home wife. Hell, my grandpa raised 6 kids and supported his wife in relative comfort, then retired at 55, never worked another day in his life, and died at 80 with a house and no debt, as a tradesman at an auto manufacturer. That simply doesn’t happen at nearly the scale it used to, and had any of his sons tried to follow his footsteps they’d probably be in some difficult economic straits.

          The relative status that matters is not relative to anonymous brown people in the big city, but to your father’s generation. You did what you were “supposed” to do and it doesn’t work any more.

          Now, as you correctly note, it could well be (probably is) true that the previous generation they are comparing themselves to was the beneficiary of an unsustainable boom, and it would do much more harm than good to continue to prop it up for the sake of keeping that relatively narrow slice of Americana fat, happy, and proud.

          But again, there was absolute comfort and financial stability that was once available and has gone away, it’s not merely relative status.

          • Incurian says:

            The relative status that matters is not relative to anonymous brown people in the big city, but to your father’s generation. You did what you were “supposed” to do and it doesn’t work any more.

            This rings true to me. It’s an expectations problem, not an envy problem.

          • Brad says:

            It’s a good post, but a couple of points:

            First, it is always tricky to talk about absolute prosperity. We have deflators that use a basket of goods approach (while accounting for substitutions for the best of them). Economists also try to take into account the quality of goods and the introduction of new goods. These efforts are by no means perfect, it may not be possible to do this perfectly, but I think they are superior to cherry picking something like “owned a house without a mortgage” and using that a single or one of a handful of metrics. It’s easy to poo-poo iphones and big screen TVs but millions upon millions of people are out there choosing them. Who are you to say they are all wrong?

            Second, I don’t think the perception of wealth of the prior generation is totally unconnected from relative wealth back then. Part, and not a small one, of what made those grandfathers’ positions an enviable one was their relative position as compared to others. It wasn’t just a matter of those six kids getting new clothes every year and that meant they were rich because new clothes are so better than old clothes. A real part of it was that there were other kids at school didn’t get new clothes every year.

            Third, everyone in this conversation, and certainly me, support anti-poverty measures. The problem is that in a lot of cases we aren’t actually talking about poverty. We have people that want to jump the means tested queue and get a far superior form of welfare because they used to be paid well or even worse their fathers or grandfathers used to be paid well. Less a safety net and more a climbing harness that keeps them at the highest economic position they or their family has ever attained.

            That’s the real heart of the matter — even if we concede that someone in MI without the ability to do more than manual labor is reasonably upset at the fact that manual labor is no longer especially valuable, why is this the biggest unfairness in the world? Why does that merit extraordinary measures? Doesn’t this seem like special pleading to you? In 1960 when your grandfather was living high on the hog did he or any of the politicians that he voted for support creating “jobs” that would allow someone unlucky enough to have been born outright retarded to make enough money to support a stay at home wife and six kids?

          • albatross11 says:

            I think it’s important to realize that things have gotten materially better for people at the bottom in US society in some ways, and materially worse in others. It’s not all one way.

            Charles Murray’s _Coming Apart_ describes some ways things got a lot worse at the bottom, overall. These are only indirectly material decreases in well-being, but going from mostly intact families that are involved with their communities to mostly broken or never-formed families that are isolated from their communities is a big change for the worse for most people.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Do we owe it to people in general, or to small-to-mediumish town white men in particular, to provide them with jobs that make them feel good about life (including a feeling of “high status”), or do we need merely ensure they don’t starve, otherwise telling them they ought to move or learn a new skill?”

      IMO, the standard should be to allow honest men to earn enough of a living to support a wife and children. Anything beyond that is a luxury.

      EDIT: A quote!

      “AN honest man falls in love with an honest woman; he wishes therefore, to marry her, to be the father of her children, to secure her and himself. All systems of government should be tested by whether he can do this. If any system—feudal, servile, or barbaric—does, in fact, give him so large a cabbage-field that he can do it, there is the essence of liberty and justice. If any system—Republican, mercantile, or Eugenist—does, in fact give him so small a salary that he can’t do it, there is the essence of eternal tyranny and shame.”

      ~G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, March 25, 1911.

      • Brad says:

        IMO, the standard should be to allow honest men to earn enough of a living to support a wife and children.

        The rub is “earn”.

        Consider a few scenarios:

        1) Someone gets a check from the government for $50,000 a year. Has he earned $50,000 a year?

        2) Someone gets a check from the government for $50,000 a year. As part of the program requirements he must dig and refill holes. Has he earned $50,000 a year?

        3) There’s a small village. In similar villages a garbage collector earns $30,000 a year. However in this village the government has granted someone a monopoly on garbage collection which allows him to instead charge the villagers a total of $50,000 a year. Has he earned $50,000 a year? $30,000? Some other number?

        • Anonymous says:

          1) Someone gets a check from the government for $50,000 a year. Has he earned $50,000 a year?

          No.

          2) Someone gets a check from the government for $50,000 a year. As part of the program requirements he must dig and refill holes. Has he earned $50,000 a year?

          Yes. I don’t see any difference here, for the matter of earning, than if the employer were non-governmental.

          3) There’s a small village. In similar villages a garbage collector earns $30,000 a year. However in this village the government has granted someone a monopoly on garbage collection which allows him to instead charge the villagers a total of $50,000 a year. Has he earned $50,000 a year? $30,000? Some other number?

          He has earned what he is paid. While a monopoly is far from the best economic thing overall, it doesn’t prevent the basic mechanism from operating – he actually has to do the work to get paid. How much he is paid is not an issue, as long as the service/labour/production requirement is there.

          • beleester says:

            Yes. I don’t see any difference here, for the matter of earning, than if the employer were non-governmental.

            The difference is that it’s unlikely a non-government actor would pay someone to dig holes and then fill them in, since that provides no benefit to anyone.

            The question that Brad is gesturing at is “If the government creates a make-work job because they want you to get paid, rather than because someone needs the job done, does that count as earning a living, or is it just welfare by the back door?”

            (Scott wrote about this situation a long time ago, pointing out that these sorts of situations are economically inefficient, even if they do make you feel better than simply getting a welfare check.)

          • Anonymous says:

            @beleester

            I stand by my statement. Non-government actors also sometimes employ people in makework jobs. The uselessness of the profession doesn’t impact the issue, IMO. If he is paid for doing something useless, but does it conscientiously in accordance with the requirements, then he’s earned it. The worker is not culpable for the idiocy of his employer.

          • rlms says:

            @Anonymous
            The existence of non-governmental makework can be assumed to be optimal (maybe it’s necessary for some kind of signalling) if you believe in the efficiency of free markets and all that jazz like many people here seem to. The same isn’t true for government makework.

            Change scenario 2 so that the work is filling in a form. Does that make a difference?

          • albatross11 says:

            The problem with the make-work jobs, anywhere, is that they’re inefficiencies in the system. Some future improvement that eliminated them would make the world as a whole better off. Think of cab medallion holders before the rise of Uber–they were making a nice income off an inefficiency in the system, and when the inefficiency was optimized away, they lost a lot of money.

          • Anonymous says:

            @rlms

            OK, I wouldn’t consider filling in a single form labour. Maybe if he was supposed to fill these forms as a day job.

          • rlms says:

            @Anonymous
            But where is the line? What about spending a day digging holes, or a week filling out forms? You could just say it’s a continuum; someone who digs holes 40 hours a week has fully earned their pay, someone who works 10 hours has partly earned it, and someone who only works 1 hasn’t really earned it. But that doesn’t seem very principled, for one thing it means whether someone is earning their pay or is a worthless scrounger depends the number of hours people typically work in your society at the moment.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t know where the line is.

        • Incurian says:

          IMO, the standard should be to allow honest men to earn enough of a living to support a wife and children.

          The rub is “earn”.

          Also “support.”

          • Anonymous says:

            By support I mean a minimum standard – a roof overhead, heat in the winter, clothes on their backs and food on their plates.

          • As I have argued before, something like your “minimum standard” makes it sound as though you are describing something objectively minimal when you are actually asking for a real income something like ten times as high as the global average through most of history.

            One of your requirements is a roof. One room with a roof on it can hold a family, although not very comfortably—that seems to have been common in Moscow through much of Soviet history and among peasants in many parts of the world through most of history.

            Food on the table. The minimum cost full nutrition diet, using things like lentils for protein, costs about $600/year/person.

            So either your criterion is satisfied by a very low income, something under ten thousand dollars a year for a family, or what you really mean is more like “the sort of standard of living that people in America today think of as the lowest that they wouldn’t feel very deprived to have.”

            Which makes it clear how subjective the standard is.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Using your examples, it should be obvious that the third is by FAR the best outcome in every metric.

          He is actually providing a service (i.e. not sitting on his ass getting a check or doing “digging holes” make-work) and the economic burden on the villagers is 2/5 what it would be in other cases.

          I mean, assuming that we all agree that being able to earn 50,000 is good and that we should provide that ability to our citizens, the third is the way to do it.

          • Brad says:

            Those weren’t policy proposals, they were designed to tease out the definition of “earn”.

      • BBA says:

        To quote another wise man, times are gone for honest men and sometimes far too long for snakes.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      The framing of this, and most discussions about the effects of automation or outsourcing on the rust belt here, is hiding the actual problem.

      If you drive around western New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, etc. it’s impossible not to see that the physical infrastructure of civilization is literally falling apart. Abandoned train yards, roads and bridges in horrifically poor repair, multistorey buildings on the verge of collapse. Actually live there for any length of time and you’ll see that the rot is even deeper; even in a seemingly nice building, everything from the wires and the plumbing to the foundations are in appalling shape. The only exception that I’ve seen is hospitals and biomedical labs.

      There is a lot of work to do in this country and that goes double for the rust belt. Even just repairing and replacing the basic infrastructure of the country would require armies of electricians, plumbers, carpenters, steel workers, construction workers and a hundred other forms of skilled blue collar jobs.

      Nobody needs to be “provided” a make-work job. There is a lot of real, very important work that we as a country have been putting off for decades that can only be done by the people who are unemployed or underemployed now. Both Obama and Trump promised to allow Americans to do that vital work but so far it seems that both of them were lying through their teeth.

      One final point: anyone who says that it’s impossible to keep manufacturing in the country has to deal with the example of Germany. Their manufacturing sector is, as I understand it, quite robust as is their vocational education for blue collar workers. They have a lot of other problems that we should learn from and avoid but in terms of maintaining the standard of living and dignity of the working class they’re head and shoulders above us.

      • Brad says:

        When the Chinese government builds a gleaming new city in the middle of nowhere that no one is ever moved into, was the work of building that city make-work or real very important work?

        The rust belt is rusting in large part because no one wants to live there. Granted there’s things like bridges on a major interstate that are real EV+ investments that should be made, but building or repairing Potemkin airports is no less make-work rent seeking factories that exist only because of the government forces consumers to buy from them.

        There may well be a ton of work to in those areas but isn’t for electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and steel workers–it’s for demolition crews.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          This is like some kind of evil twin of the broken window fallacy.

          Washington devastated American manufacturing with onerous regulation and disadvantageous treaties. So it’s hardly surprising that people don’t want to live in the devastated manufacturing centers of America.

          But those areas are more than capable of being economically productive, if they are allowed to recover. Justifying choking off those regions ability to recover because they’re devastated is spectacularly missing the point.

          • Brad says:

            The treaties weren’t disadvantageous. They benefited American enormously. That’s what trade does. Of course erstwhile rent seeking oligopolists don’t like competition and are upset at have lost their exploitative gravy train, but such is life.

            Further, your “allowed to recover” is just the same old demand for obfuscated welfare at a higher level of the polity. You aren’t demanding that the rust belt be allowed to do anything. You are demanding that the productive areas of the pour hundreds of billions of dollars into EV- projects in a dying region for a futile effort to revive them. I hope you never described yourself as a libertarian or bitched about your taxes going to welfare.

          • Incurian says:

            I buy the argument that regulations did put American workers at a disadvantage, but I also wonder if the potential-workers of today would consent to working without those regulations. After all, I believe they (or their representatives) are the ones who lobbied for them in the first place. (here I am thinking of labor regulations – maybe you had in mind environmental regulations which my argument probably doesn’t apply to)

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            It’s hilariously self-righteous to call blue collar workers oligopolists when the highest paying white collar jobs are all heavily licensed and represented by industry groups.

            Lawyers, doctors, professors, and all the assorted bankers, accountants, and stockbrokers are direct beneficiaries of literal guild systems. White collar professionals aren’t Randian supermen: we make the money we make in large part because the government and industry groups have seen fit to deliberately reduce competition for our jobs.

            So I deserve an oligopoly as a researcher to protect my income, that’s just fair and logical. But people like my parents and grandparents are lazy bums who can eat shit if they want the same deal.

            /Rant

            Part of why I’m not a libertarian is that I don’t believe that the economy exists for it’s own sake.

            The root word in economy is oikos and that is it’s purpose: to support the home and the family. If economic growth comes at the cost of American homes and families then I reject it.

            America’s elites can, and did, discard our native working class in the pursuit of higher profits. That was wrong and the despair that it has created far far outways the money they made on that deal.

            I don’t think that it’s likely to be corrected through the democratic process and a revolution would only make things worse. But it was still wrong and at the very least we can acknowledge that wrongness and own it.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Lawyers, doctors, professors, and all the assorted bankers, accountants, and stockbrokers are direct beneficiaries of literal guild systems.

            Heh, and actually the whole thing I’ve been thinking is that educated yuppies can often make the same exact arguments for a “respectable” income as the unemployed WWC. Lawyers in particular have a saturated market and, from what I understand, have a great deal of difficulty getting a good job unless they graduate from one of the Top 14 law schools. PLUS they have massive debt.

            I hear similar stories from different professional fields.

            You hear the same from general college grads who get disappointing jobs that do not support the lifestyle they want. I’d be one of them, but my wife makes more money than me and life has beaten my expectations like a red-headed step child.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Nabil ad Dajjal you took the words out of my mouth.

          • rlms says:

            How do American regulations compare with German ones?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @rlms,

            From what I understand, which may in fact be incorrect, German laws are stricter but they’re enforcement is less adversarial.

            When the FDNY does a surprise inspection in my lab, they’re very clearly hoping to find something worth fining us over. They’ll go out of their way to find them, to the point that we’re trained never to talk to the inspectors one-on-one because they will ask you trick questions where any answer indicates non-compliance with some obscure rule. And the fines are large; while I’ve been here the institution has had to pay hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars for fairly trivial violations.

            The way it’s been explained to me, this hostility on the part of the regulators is alien in Germany. The government wants you to play by their rules but is ultimately hoping that your business will succeed rather than fail.

          • I buy the argument that regulations did put American workers at a disadvantage

            I think a lot of people in these threads, and elsewhere, are missing the implications of the principle of comparative advantage.

            One way to get a car is to build it in Detroit, another is to grow it in Iowa. To do the latter you grow the raw material cars are made of—corn—put it on a boat, and send it out into the Pacific. The boat comes back with Hondas on it. That is just as much a way of producing cars as building them in Detroit, just a little more indirect.

            One implication of looking at things that way is that what matters for trade isn’t absolute disadvantage via regulation and the like but relative disadvantage–not relative to Japanese or Chinese workers but relative to American producers of export goods. So the argument that regulation results in the Chinese outcompeting our import competing industries depends on the claim that the regulation disadvantages those industries relative to the export industries that are their real competitors.

            This point isn’t obvious, which is why most public discussion of trade policy is conducted in terms of an economic theory, absolute advantage, that has been obsolete for a little over two hundred years. If it isn’t obvious to you, remember that Chinese costs are in Yuan, U.S. costs are in dollars, and think about the market that determines the exchange rate between those two.

          • Jiro says:

            One way to get a car is to build it in Detroit, another is to grow it in Iowa. To do the latter you grow the raw material cars are made of—corn—put it on a boat, and send it out into the Pacific. The boat comes back with Hondas on it. That is just as much a way of producing cars as building them in Detroit, just a little more indirect.

            If you’re going to count “growing corn and sending it overseas to get cars” as growing cars, you also need to count “growing corn and sending it to Detroit to get cars” as growing cars. Both of these things leave the farmer with the same amount of profit, but only the latter leaves the people in Detroit with profit as well, so it’s strictly better (if you’re not one of that tiny minority of rationalists who doesn’t care about Americans more than other people).

      • dndnrsn says:

        I address this above, briefly. The German system is the gold standard for promoting skilled trades and keeping quality manufacturing jobs in the country. However, their educational system is quite different: it starts streaming pretty early. A significantly lower % of Germans go to what we would consider “proper” university, and there’s a lot less choice.

        State-of-the-art educational thinking in North America seems to revolve around the idea that in a perfect world everybody would be able to get into a university somewhere and get their BA in whatever. Streaming is unpopular. Part of this is because streaming has been used in racist or otherwise bigoted ways and that can’t be ignored. Part of it is an assumption by the sort of nice middle-class people who become teachers-of-teachers/educational-system experts that 1. everyone should go to university and 2. everyone is capable of going to university. Part of this is class prejudice: university makes you cultivated; a BA in Fertile Crescent archaeology and history making 30k at a random desk job will fit in better at a nice upper-middle-class dinner party than a Board-Certified Widget Technician making 3x that. And the sort of people who end up teaching at teacher’s colleges and write proposals for educational reform and so on are the sort of people who go to nice upper-middle-class dinner parties.

        Part of it is happenstance. “German car” just says quality more than “American car” does, even if that reputation is not wholly deserved.

        • Randy M says:

          Part of it is an assumption by the sort of nice middle-class people who become teachers-of-teachers/educational-system experts that 1. everyone should go to university

          Educational training programs–universities that train teachers–produce teachers who believe that everyone should go to a university. Who pass the belief on to–well, everyone, since everyone has to go to school.
          Works out pretty well for the university, it does.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            If it were just the teachers pushing “everyone goes to college,” it wouldn’t be an issue. One of my friends is a teacher at a crappy Chicago Public School. Believe me, his kids do not listen AT ALL when he tries to instill the “go to college” wisdom on them.

            He says it’s almost impossible to get his kids to imagine a life that does not include government assistance.

            For the UMC, everyone goes to college, and everyone tells you that you need to go to college. And a GOOD college. Your teachers do. Your parents do. Your movies do. Your friends do. Your barbers do. Taylor Swift does. Everyone does.

            You might as well try to tell them that they should give up the First Amendment.

            I think something like 90+% of my graduating class went to 4 year schools. Factor in the 2-year schools and we probably actually did have more Communists at our school than people who did not go to college.

          • Randy M says:

            If it were just the teachers pushing “everyone goes to college,” it wouldn’t be an issue. One of my friends is a teacher at a crappy Chicago Public School. Believe me, his kids do not listen AT ALL when he tries to instill the “go to college” wisdom on them.

            You’re right. I was a teacher and my kids did not listen AT ALL, full stop.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Things fall apart, new things are built. A ride down Liberty Ave in Pittsburgh 20 years ago would have shown the same industrial wasteland; it looks different now. Rebuilding the factories of Newark or Bethlehem or Allentown isn’t “useful work”.

        To keep manufacturing employing a ton of people you have to fight on the one side cheap foreign manufacturing and on the other automation. Obviously you can do the first through tariffs and trade restrictions, though this amounts to a subsidy from the customers to the suppliers. Maybe you can stop automation too, with enough regulation, but making the whole country the mid-20th-century Amish equivalent seems likely to have a lot of drawbacks. Why then, after all? Why not ban the steamshovel, which put so many ditchdiggers out of business?

        • baconbits9 says:

          Things fall apart, new things are built

          Yep, a century ago the oil industry in Pennsylvania was crushed by the discovery of cheaper oil in Texas, and the railroad industry was hammered by the expansion of the highway system after WW2. Oh well sounds callous, but if we attempted to actually prevent/forestall/compensate every one of the major shifts it wouldn’t be minor economic growth issues that would be created, we would be ordering stuff from amazon via telegraph and waiting 6 weeks for it to be loaded on a slow cross country train and taking our horse and buggy to pick it up.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Slight Steel-Manning the case: local cities and societies bought into a certain regulatory regime. They have invested and created norms around that regulatory regime. It’s easy to say “just learn new skills,” but developed societies do not turn on dimes and cannot simply create new norms to succeed in new economies as if these are just new blockchain ledgers that appear out of nowhere.

      Just imagine, my Mom’s family grew up in Pennsylvania. Her Mom’s side is still almost exclusively in the steel industry. The entire family! It’s what your Dad did, it’s what your grand-dad did, it’s what your great-grand-dad, etc. You MIGHT want to say “well, ADBG, you are different!” But I’m an accountant. My Mom is an accountant. My Uncle is an accountant. My grandfather was an accountant. It’s quite damn possible HIS Dad was an accountant, too, but I can’t go that far back. Certainly there’s a whole set of received wisdom and inherited genes that makes this family lean towards accountancy.

      Obviously these are specific cases, but in general the UMC teaches their kids a lot more skills about how to survive in the modern economy than the WWC teaches their kids. It is absolutely unreasonable to expect the WWC to teach their kids any better, since they themselves don’t know better: they don’t know how to navigate college politics, they aren’t tuned into the college market to know what extracurriculars colleges will like, they are not tuned into job markets to determine what are the good internships for a resume.

      In the same way we don’t point at China and expect them to start producing Nobel Prize winners and democracy in a single moment, we shouldn’t be pointing at Pittsburgh and expecting them to all become accountants and insurance salesman.

      We CERTAINLY shouldn’t assume the existence magical can-openers that reverse generations of norms and social learning and then mock them when said can-openers do not materialize.

      Now, given that these societies have INVESTED both physical and social capital assuming a certain set of policies, do we have the RIGHT to alter said policies without compensation? I don’t see a solid argument why this is so. We’re not talking about simple companies, but entire regions of the nation. Citizens, not consumers.
      At the very least, what sort of precedent does Washington set if it simply disregards entire sections of the nation because their cultures are now considered useless, when, prior to, they were essential not just for our economic well-being, but vital national achievements like crushing the Nazis?

      If we were talking about counter-cyclical economic policy, Keynesians would just say “sticky wages” and support practically any stimulus, but if we’re talking about “sticky norms” it suddenly doesn’t matter because these people voted for the wrong candidate in 2016.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Just imagine, my Mom’s family grew up in Pennsylvania. Her Mom’s side is still almost exclusively in the steel industry. The entire family! It’s what your Dad did, it’s what your grand-dad did, it’s what your great-grand-dad, etc

        This tendency is actually an outgrowth of a declining industry. When the steel industry was growing it would have been less likely to see this, your dad and granddad might have worked their, but someone else was running a restaurant, a kid might strike out on their own knowing/thinking that a job in the steel mill would always be there if they failed, etc etc. You get ‘everyone in the family works at the mill’ when other jobs get scarce and people start being extremely territorial and you can’t get a job unless you know 4 guys at the plant well enough that they won’t recommend anyone else over you.

        In the same way we don’t point at China and expect them to start producing Nobel Prize winners and democracy in a single moment, we shouldn’t be pointing at Pittsburgh and expecting them to all become accountants and insurance salesman.

        Depending on the region the US steel industry has been declining for 50-70 years. Almost no one who was working during the peak is still in the workforce. I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland where people are still talking about trying to revitalize the steel industry through tariffs and subsidies, and it is 70 years past the peak of employment. Exactly how long can we give a region before its ok to tell them to start getting out of a dying industry?

      • Brad says:

        Now, given that these societies have INVESTED both physical and social capital assuming a certain set of policies, do we have the RIGHT to alter said policies without compensation? I don’t see a solid argument why this is so. We’re not talking about simple companies, but entire regions of the nation. Citizens, not consumers.

        I don’t see why not. Every policy change upsets investments made in reliance on the prior policy regime. A rule that said that we have no right to change policy without paying off those that relied on the old policy would mean permanent stagnation. We have mechanisms to created vested rights that bind the government even after the current politicians leave and new ones come in. Having a such a processes implies that nothing else does so.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Second comment, not a steel-man but a legitimate disagreement:

      otherwise telling them they ought to move or learn a new skill?

      I’m generally sympathetic to people because the bolded is a lot easier said than done. Even after learning a new skill, which is a major time and money commitment that you might not be able to do with a family, you need an employer to actually take a chance on you. Apparently it’s different in tech or whatever, but at individual contributor levels for the rest of us, people generally don’t want to talk to you unless you already have experience in the field.

      “You need experience to get experience” conundrum.

      This likely means getting underpaid for quite some time, because you’re “getting paid in experience.”

      You can make transitions if you project particularly admirable confidence or if you have good connections, or if you have a good reputation in a company and are moving into something vaguely related, but these are all things your average coal-miner from PA isn’t going to have when he tries to make a transition into accounting.

      I’ve been a lukewarm proponent at my office of hiring people from non-traditional backgrounds. This is not hard work. It can be done by any exceptional 14 year old or reasonably competent 16 year old.

      The biggest psychological hurdle is that it is almost impossible to fire people, which makes people cautious to take risks.

    • MrApophenia says:

      This seems to miss that a very large part of the problem is actual poverty. Not imagined poverty, not perceived lack of status, actually being dirt-ass poor. The number of households in extreme poverty – actual third world style poverty, as defined by the World Bank, someone who makes less than $2 per day – doubled in America between 1996 and 2011. (Link: http://npc.umich.edu/publications/policy_briefs/brief28/policybrief28.pdf )

      The rates of less severe, but still dramatic, poverty have similarly skyrocketed. As someone who actually grew up in a small town in the Rust Belt, let me assure you: it is really shitty. People are not holding their nose and refusing to do an honest day’s work. There is no work. The jobs are just gone. When one random service job does open up, dozens of people apply. They can’t all get it.

      (This isn’t a hypothetical. I personally know of a single part time job as a clerk at Tim Horton’s that got more than 50 applications.)

      People can talk in high minded rhetoric all day long about how our modern economy has created greater market efficiency which has created more net value overall. Good for the market as some kind of abstract force! But it has also taken large sections of the country that used to be prosperous and made them into poverty-stricken hellholes like something out of the Great Depression. And when you annihilate economies of whole geographic bands of the country, that is going to have all kinds of inevitable negative effects which spiral out from that. Which is maybe an argument for not adopting policies which will turn whole regions into that that warehouse district from the end of Robocop.

      (I am much more sympathetic to the argument that globalized trade has dramatically improved life for poverty-stricken people in other countries. This seems like a legitimate argument in favor of those policies. Still a hard pill to swallow for the millions of Americans driven into poverty to do it, though.)

      EDIT – To paste in something from David Wong, of Cracked (yeah, I know, but what can I say, I like David Wong’s writing), who sums this up better than me. The actual article has links to other stuff supporting some of his claims here: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-trumps-rise-that-no-one-talks-about/

      “They’re getting the shit kicked out of them. I know, I was there. Step outside of the city, and the suicide rate among young people fucking doubles. The recession pounded rural communities, but all the recovery went to the cities. The rate of new businesses opening in rural areas has utterly collapsed.

      See, rural jobs used to be based around one big local business — a factory, a coal mine, etc. When it dies, the town dies. Where I grew up, it was an oil refinery closing that did us in. I was raised in the hollowed-out shell of what the town had once been. The roof of our high school leaked when it rained. Cities can make up for the loss of manufacturing jobs with service jobs — small towns cannot. That model doesn’t work below a certain population density.

      If you don’t live in one of these small towns, you can’t understand the hopelessness. The vast majority of possible careers involve moving to the city, and around every city is now a hundred-foot wall called “Cost of Living.” Let’s say you’re a smart kid making $8 an hour at Walgreen’s and aspire to greater things. Fine, get ready to move yourself and your new baby into a 700-square-foot apartment for $1,200 a month, and to then pay double what you’re paying now for utilities, groceries, and babysitters. Unless, of course, you’re planning to move to one of “those” neighborhoods (hope you like being set on fire!).

      In a city, you can plausibly aspire to start a band, or become an actor, or get a medical degree. You can actually have dreams. In a small town, there may be no venues for performing arts aside from country music bars and churches. There may only be two doctors in town — aspiring to that job means waiting for one of them to retire or die. You open the classifieds and all of the job listings will be for fast food or convenience stores. The “downtown” is just the corpses of mom and pop stores left shattered in Walmart’s blast crater, the “suburbs” are trailer parks. There are parts of these towns that look post-apocalyptic.

      I’m telling you, the hopelessness eats you alive.”

      • Brad says:

        This seems to miss that a very large part of the problem is actual poverty. Not imagined poverty, not perceived lack of status, actually being dirt-ass poor. The number of households in extreme poverty – actual third world style poverty, as defined by the World Bank, someone who makes less than $2 per day – doubled in America between 1996 and 2011. (Link: http://npc.umich.edu/publications/policy_briefs/brief28/policybrief28.pdf )

        This is a somewhat misleading statistic. When the World bank talks about $2/day in the third world it is looking at consumption. But this article is looking at cash income.

        More importantly to this discussion there’s no indication that it’s a specifically or even disproportionately a rust belt phenomenon. The poorest parts of the country include parts of Appalachia, which I’m not sure is even part of the rust belt proper, and also parts of the deep south and large Indian reservations in the Southwest and Dakotas. That doesn’t mean there aren’t extremely poor people elsewhere, but those are the first places I’d look.

        This goes back to the distinct lack of university in both the complaints and the proposed solution. It’d be one thing if Western NY all of a sudden discovered how much a problem poverty in the US is and had a Come to Jesus moment about anti-poverty programs in general. But that’s not what’s happening, is it? Western NY politicians aren’t looking for and don’t support programs that are going to help poor people in New Mexico as well as poor people in Buffalo. No, they only want programs that are specifically going to bring “good jobs” to Buffalo.

        In any event, I agree that extreme poverty is a problem and a problem that we ought to have a public policy response for. But I don’t think that it has much if anything to do with the decline of demand for labor in the manufacturing sector or an ill advised effort to reverse that would be an effective or efficient way to alleviate that poverty.

        • MrApophenia says:

          I actually don’t really disagree with anything you said there. I mostly just get annoyed by the aspect of this discussion which talks about this problem as if it’s all in the heads of people in these regions.

          The problem isn’t that they perceive that their status has been diminished. Or at least not just that. You don’t get suicide rates so high they’re lowering the average American lifespan because people are worried someone else has got a better job than they do somewhere else in the country. The problem is that their actual circumstances, not their perceived ones, have become a hopeless economic mire from which there are no clear means of escape.

        • Brad says:

          *the distinct lack of universality
          *which wouldn’t be an effective

          I need to proofread before hitting post.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Actually, I will quibble with this a bit – because the problem really is different between Buffalo and New Mexico. Have you been to Buffalo lately?

            There are poor people everywhere. But what we’re talking about is a kind of whole-region collapse, and that is not a universal phenomenon. We’re talking whole cities hollowed out and abandoned to go to ruin.

            People keep throwing around the term “post-apocalyptic” to describe this for a reason – it is a reasonably accurate description to use capture the kind of wholesale regional decay affecting huge regions of the country. If you picture visuals from a zombie movie or a post-nuclear survival tale, you will have a reasonably accurate mental visualization of the condition of several major American cities and the countryside surrounding them.

            New Mexico has poor people, and they absolutely deserve assistance. That is not the same problem to solve as “Central Pennsylvania is so fucked up that Hollywood had to pay to rebuild portions of it because it was too ruined to film The Road there without some fixing up.”

          • Brad says:

            Yes, I was in Buffalo last summer. I even posted about it on here. When was the last time you were in northeastern New Mexico? There aren’t just “some poor people” there.

            This attitude is exactly what I’m talking about. You think that because these regions were once quite wealthy their problems are far more important than regions that are worse. Same with individual people. Sorry no sale.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Actually, I will quibble with this a bit – because the problem really is different between Buffalo and New Mexico. Have you been to Buffalo lately?

            There are poor people everywhere. But what we’re talking about is a kind of whole-region collapse, and that is not a universal phenomenon. We’re talking whole cities hollowed out and abandoned to go to ruin.

            I don’t know Buffalo, but I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland and it was about as close to a national joke as an area can get for much of the last 50 years. The population of Cleveland fell dropped by well over 50% from its peak, poverty rates and crime rates were/are real problems etc. But the hollowing out isn’t nearly as dramatic as the claims make it out to be. While the city of Cleveland was declining dramatically the population of the surrounding counties rose substantially during the first 20-30 years of the decline. Even including the 400k-500k decline in population for the city the surrounding counties increased by >800,000 residents (roughly a 40% increase) from 1950 to 1970, meaning a 1.2-1.3 million person increase in the non Cleveland areas.

            Yes, downtown Cleveland went to crap, but most of the statements about the hollowing out or the rust belt ignore the reasonably prosperous surrounding areas and exaggerate the devastation by doing so.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Just read more on the high poverty regions of New Mexico and fair enough, will admit I was wrong there.

            Still, I can’t help but think policies which make a bunch of formerly prosperous regions become more like Northeastern New Mexico are problematic.

          • christhenottopher says:

            Still, I can’t help but think policies which make a bunch of formerly prosperous regions become more like Northeastern New Mexico are problematic.

            If a cheaper and effective replacement oil for fuel/industrial uses/plastics was found then the oil boom areas of North Dakota (not to mention Saudi Arabia) would look a lot more like the poor parts of New Mexico. A lot of petroleum workers would probably have a hard time transitioning too (though worth mentioning a lot of the decline of an area does not mean a decline of the people since many of them move to more prosperous areas). But the answer clearly isn’t throw out the technology.

            Prior to the Civil War, the per capita income for whites in Georgia was double that of Northern whites (though admittedly pretty skewed towards the larger plantation slave owners). The duel hit of ending slavery and the physical devastation of the Union armies wrecked that. Indeed so much so that the rural areas of my state (and the LONG time home of my dad’s side of the family so I’m intimately aware of what this area is like) has not recovered the economic status it had in over 150 years. Given the declining importance of agriculture, the Southern rural areas probably never will. And Sherman’s march to the sea was quite a bit harsher than shut down factories.

            Not that it wasn’t deserved in the above case (enslaving people and rebelling because you think secession will let you keep your slaves in perpetuity isn’t admirable), but I say this because changing times will produce a different set of winning areas and losing ones. And it sucks to see that happen to an area you feel a connection to, but change is inevitable. Either a person can find their way by moving (like your ancestors did to the area) or by finding ways to have their home adapt.

            On the second point, consider a couple of things. 1) The decline of city center was not isolated to just the rust belt. Even huge coastal cities like New York or Sun Belt manufacturing-light cities like Atlanta declined in the last couple of decades of the 20th century. As Brad notes, suburbia spread almost everywhere. But then a lot of cities turned around. Not only the above examples (the former New York having 2 centuries of momentum to get it past rough parts and the latter being part of the Sun Belt’s rise so I understand why you might not think those viable models to export), but even formerly Rust Belt cities. Take the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania (primary cities being Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton) which prior to 2000 were pretty classic cases of rust belt decline slightly buoyed by the potential to commute to NYC and Philadelphia (though only somewhat, we’re still talking an hour trip to either city). Steel manufacturing used to be the heat of the region’s economy and yep that’s gone. However, the whole area is growing and each of the cities are too (with Allentown in particular now well above it’s previous peak population). This isn’t just “state capital jobs” or “university town” driven growth since these aren’t state capitals and only one fairly smaller school is in the area (not something that really drive university town growth like a flagship state school). There are areas of the rust belt that halted and turned around decline just like the coastal or sunbelt cities did.

            Now I’m not an expert in the Lehigh Valley so I don’t have all the answers there of what can and can’t be exported. But I think there is a lesson to learn that local conditions can turn an area around from a broader regional decline. Local politics probably drove Detroit’s decline as much as the decline of US automaking. So really, if you want to help a city reverse decline, focusing on the local politics is probably the most tractable and possibly even most effective means.

  26. alacrity86 says:

    Dear Scott,

    You think you’re soooooo big, like your some sort of jesus, or at least, Thomas Aquinas. WELL my friend, let me tell you something about YOU:

    I see, in your blog, under the title “You Are Still Crying Wolf,” that you have a paragraph of unsightly detail describing how “Pro-Trump” “bots” were linking to you and, as a result, you have taken down the text. OMG, QUEL HORROR, that a pro-trump trumpian might repost your argument.

    I have a question for you scott, when you talk about the nuances of the trump administration with your friends, have you ever felt the need to preface your conversations with some anti-trump boilerplate, emphasizin