THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 104.75

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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808 Responses to Open Thread 104.75

  1. Deiseach says:

    Two comments boxes?

    Hey, it appears I’m unbanned again!

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Welcome back!

      You might know a Chesterton quote I remember vaguely. I think he said something to the effect that the common people aren’t moved by reasonable considerations– it’s all symbolism and breaking points.

      • Deiseach says:

        Thank you and yes, I have a vague idea of what you mean but I can’t pin down the exact quote. I’ll have to do some searching and see if I can shake loose the exact memory other than “I have a notion I read something like that somewhere”.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      There are always two comment boxes – one above the comments, one below. People always get surprised about this when they’re the first commenter on a thread, because it’s the only time they see both of them at once.

      • bean says:

        Weirdly, the normal buttons don’t appear when you do this. If I’m the first post, I have to go back and edit in the links.
        But yes, the first poster sees two comment boxes.

    • Viliam says:

      Two comments boxes are displayed only when the algorithm predicts that you will leave one of them unused.

      • helloo says:

        The answer for that paradox would be to always take the 1 box regardless of the trust you have in the computer.

        You might lose $1000, but that’s not much of a price to possibly destroy the trust of an all-mighty predictor.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      One box for each “the”.

  2. meh says:

    What are the ideological arguments in favor of gerrymandering?

    • JohnWittle says:

      The fact that it is impossible not to gerrymander.

      Any particular set of borders will have some set of attributes at the expense of some other set of attributes. Different groups will care about those attributes to different degrees. Some of those groups will therefore be advantaged.

      There is no ‘compromise’ solution; there’s only the choice between drawing the borders at random (which is just gerrymandering for high-variance random elections) or you can draw the borders based on some coherent plan that necessarily favors some groups over others.

      • Tatterdemalion says:

        I don’t think that’s right.

        Firstly, there are lots of electoral systems – proportional representation, top-ups and the like – where seats received are strictly a function of votes received, rather than of their distribution.

        Even if you think that not tying seats directly to constituencies, the first definition of “gerrymander” that the internet gives me is “manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favour one party or class.” So algorithmic seat-drawing using an algorithm chosen for abstract properties rather than to give a particular preferred outcome in this case – or even just “have a non-partisan committee do it” doesn’t meet that definition.

        To answer the original question, the only argument in favour of gerrymandering that I can think of is “they started it” – a country where half the seats are gerrymandered by one party and the other half by the other party will probably have electoral results thatare a less biased estimator of the will the electorate than one which has half its seats gerrymandered by one party and the other half ungerrymandered

      • DavidS says:

        Don’t know what you mean by random boundaries gerrymandering for high various random elections?

        Also you can have a plan That you make based on other reasons (e.g. keeping whole towns part of the same constituency where possible) and that are ‘natural ‘ in some sense. Then don’t change this natural basis whenever another natural basis would suit you better!

      • John Schilling says:

        Most people care far more about local politics, e.g. what schools their children go to, than about who their legislative representatives are. If you demand that legislative district borders correspond to city or county borders, then you should get suitably un-gerrymandered districts and probably local pushback from both sides if you try to tinker too much for legislative purposes.

        Down side is, you’d then wind compromising the ideal that all districts should have the same population for purposes of equal representation. There’s probably a compromise position there if you require that e.g. each legislative district should consist of contiguous cities or counties with at most one additional simple(*) border for population-balancing purposes, but I’d have to think about it so more.

        * Straight line, river, etc.

        • fion says:

          Most people care far more about local politics…

          Is that true? My impression (UK bias) was that people don’t give a shit about local politics but do care about who has a majority in parliament.

          • Randy M says:

            People do care a lot about particular local issues, like if a vacant lot is rezoned leading to more traffic, or some rent control policies change, or a noise ordinance changes, or the borders determining to which school their children go change and so on.

            Which issues will get media coverage and which of those will arouse passions is complicated; local politics might effect peoples lives, but there’s not as much of an audience for stories about Yourtown, USA as for those with implications for nation or state wide policies, even if some of those don’t really impact your life much.

            As far as tax policy goes, people will care about whichever hits them highest, of course states and localities can’t print money.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I think state and local governments in the US have a lot more actual power than local councils in the UK, which makes people care more. State and local government in aggregate control almost as much tax money as the federal government, state governments set and enforce most of the criminal laws that affect day-to-day life, and local governments are responsible for a lot of major services that people tend to care about directly (police and fire protection, local road repair, schools, parks, trash collection, sewers, etc). There are varying degrees of state oversight on the local services, but not a huge amount of federal oversight, and the usual path of escalation if you have a problem with, say, your local school is to complain to the responsible local government body (the school board or the city or county council, depending on the jurisdiction), not to complain to your congressman or your state legislator.

            How much attention people pay to local government varies wildly. In general, homeowners tend to care more than renters (partly because homeowners are more attached to a specific area, but also because local governments rely heavily on property taxes, which are mostly invisible to renters), parent tend to care more than childless people (mostly because of schools), and people in major cities tend to care more than people in suburbs/exurbs (major cities have more extensive services, as well as an entire media market dominated by a single government so there’s more press attention).

      • meh says:

        First, Fallacy of Gray?

        Second, I disagree with how you are defining gerrymandering in 2 ways.
        1. I think intent needs to be involved. I would not consider random borders gerrymandered, since by definition there is no intent.

        2. Borders that favor some group does not necessarily mean they are gerrymandered. A ‘fairer’ map favors the group that was being gerrymandered against, but that doesn’t make all maps gerrymandered.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I often see studies of gerrymandering that say it’s X amount bad by comparing real districts to hypothetical districts drawn with some algorithm that makes them as close to circles (squares?) as possible without having any empty space (or something like that).

        Why couldn’t we use those algorithms to create the real districts?

        • Erusian says:

          Well, most immediately, the Supreme Court has determined that redistricting that privileges a group in one the highest protected classes (race, gender, religion, or national origin) is illegal. This effectively necessitates packing and cracking to ensure certain communities are represented. Likewise, the general guidelines for redistricting emphasize things like community and representation of groups rather than pure geographical or statistical beauty.

          More widely, who writes the algorithms? What do they maximize for? Who decides what they maximize for? Why is maximizing the area of the district what we want?

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            More widely, who writes the algorithms? What do they maximize for? Who decides what they maximize for? Why is maximizing the area of the district what we want?

            One of the obvious properties of a decent algorithm is that it should generally return seats in approximate proportion to number of votes, regardless of geographic distribution of voters.

            If there are two algorithms that each come close to that, neither has very strong incentives to care which gets used, so hopefully choosing between them shouldn’t be too controversial or partisan.

          • Erusian says:

            One of the obvious properties of a decent algorithm is that it should generally return seats in approximate proportion to number of votes, regardless of geographic distribution of voters.

            That is neither uncontroversial or obvious to me. Can you make a case for why that should be?

          • One of the obvious properties of a decent algorithm is that it should generally return seats in approximate proportion to number of votes, regardless of geographic distribution of voters.

            That isn’t possible. Consider any districting map. Rearrange the geographic distribution of voters so that some districts contain only members of party A, the others 55% party B, 45% part A. Party B will now get a much larger proportion of seats than of votes.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Say we made California into three districts. Pretend it’s also evenly populated.

          1. You could make it into three zones on top of each other, called Northern, Central, and Southern. 2. Or you could make three stripes down the length, called Western, Middle, and Eastern.

          The first model gives you zones that are less stretched out and minimize the diameter of any zone. But what if there is an issue important to people on the coast? Spread onto Northern, Central, and Southern, the coastal people don’t have a majority everywhere and can’t speak up. Spread into stripes, they can.

          (Or maybe we don’t want the coasters to have their own district, because they’d cut off coast access or something.)

          Right there we have a choice to make, a value judgment, and one way isn’t clearly better than the other.

          I would certainly be in favor of reducing the craziness of district shapes. Like, districts must go along existing city and/or country borders. But there may be good reasons I don’t know about that make that a dumb idea.

        • yodelyak says:

          Some example algorithms:
          “I cut you pick.” This (and the variants for > 2 parties) works great for assigning portions of a cookie/pie/etc among kids. Make the oldest cut, and have them pick among the cut pieces in reverse birth order.

          @John Schelling is very close to what Colorado already does…

          Section 46. Senatorial and representative districts.

          The state shall be divided into as many senatorial and representative districts as there are members of the senate and house of representatives respectively, each district in each house having a population as nearly equal as may be, as required by the constitution of the United States, but in no event shall there be more than five percent deviation between the most populous and the least populous district in each house.

          Section 47. Composition of districts.

          (1) Each district shall be as compact in area as possible and the aggregate linear distance of all district boundaries shall be as short as possible. Each district shall consist of contiguous whole general election precincts. Districts of the same house shall not overlap.

          (2) Except when necessary to meet the equal population requirements of section 46, no part of one county shall be added to all or part of another county in forming districts. Within counties whose territory is contained in more than one district of the same house, the number of cities and towns whose territory is contained in more than one district of the same house shall be as small as possible. When county, city, or town boundaries are changed, adjustments, if any, in legislative districts shall be as prescribed by law.

          (3) Consistent with the provisions of this section and section 46 of this article, communities of interest, including ethnic, cultural, economic, trade area, geographic, and demographic factors, shall be preserved within a single district wherever possible.

          • yodelyak says:

            The upshot of that “communities of interest” provision is that party insiders in both parties spend some amount of time years prior to redistricting recruiting volunteers to show up at hearings and describe particular transit corridors or floodplains (say, highway 36 from Denver to Boulder, or the various counties all fed by the Poudre river, or what-have-you) as “communities of interest” that must be preserved. Is the “community of interest” that ultimately carries the day in that debate better than the one that loses? Ask five locals and you’ll get five answers.

            Historically CO’s redistricting commission (3 Dems, 3 Reps, and one “nonpartisan” appointee) has been unable to choose between Dem-submitted and Rep-submitted maps in a way that didn’t lead to litigation, eventually resolved by the CO Supreme Court… but generally the court has maps that look very similar, so even if it just flipped a coin, the above rules *mostly* determined what map would be chosen.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            “I cut you pick.”

            How does this work for district cutting? If I cut the map into two slices where my party has a 55-45 advantage in each, what’s left for you to choose?

          • I have a different possible approach to the problem. A proposal for redistricting must take the form of an algorithm implemented in a specific programming language, using a specified set of inputs not including how people voted in previous elections, and there is a limit to how long the program can be. Make the limit reasonably tight and the people designing the algorithm won’t have enough freedom to do an effective job of gerrymandering.

          • yodelyak says:

            @Edward Scizorhands
            “I cut you pick”… there are lots of ways to use this. One specifically and readily google-able, and quite specific way: link.

            Another solution would be to use a two-step process to fill in the blanks in a sentence of the form “the ideal district map will aim to maximize the number of districts that favor party __ over party __ by __%.” First one party fills in the % number. Then the other party can choose which party goes in each of the first two blanks. Then have some bureaucrat draw compact districts that achieve those numbers about as perfectly as is possible with compact districts.

            For an example of this, if it were the Democrats’ turn, they might say “the ideal district map will aim to maximize the number of districts that favor party __ over party __ by 55%.” The Republicans could then choose either to draw the highest possible number of R+10 districts, (meaning there will be a small number of extremely safe D seats) or the Rs could then choose to draw the highest possible number of D+10 districts.

            More generally, the “I cut you pick” idea is to avoid the need to even define “gerrymander” or “not gerrymandered” by letting one person write a definition of their choice (“cut”) with the knowledge that the definition will be applied against the one party by the second party.

          • yodelyak says:

            @David Friedman

            I don’t really think it adds much to say “program” instead of saying “law.” For purposes of drawing districts, we need principled reasons for doing it one way instead of another, and once the principles are settled, drawing the maps is just working out the details. I mean, we could either have a judge who orders all county clerks to consult a map generated by a computer program that applies the relevant principles, or we could have a judge who personally draws the map by conducting all the computations a program would compute in applying those principles… same map either way. The thing we need is the principles.

            I block quoted the CO rules because I think they are pretty good ones–compact districts along County Lines, precincts that aren’t split up among multiple districts, communities of interest as a tie-breaker. Would you suggest some other principles for your program/law for drawing districts?

          • actinide meta says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Von Neumann famously said, “with four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.” (In the news recently is a formula to draw an elephant with only one parameter, but the one parameter is a real number with vast precision, so this criticism doesn’t apply to your proposal which limits the number of parameter bits). But the basic idea is right: a surprisingly small amount of freedom is sufficient to enable shenanigans.

            Your comment is 442 bytes long.

            Here is a video produced by a 256 byte program. Here is another.

            You are right that “length of shortest computer program” (Kolmogorov complexity) is a good measure of “complexity”. (I’ll also assume that a refined version of this proposal would put some kind of limit on the time and space usage of the program) But the lengths that correspond to the level of complexity you must restrict to prevent gerrymandering aren’t “reasonably short”, they are incredibly short. This produces a bunch of practical problems which I think are insurmountable:

            1. The choice of programming language, form of inputs, etc only affects the length of a program by a constant, so asymptotically we can talk about “the” complexity of a program. But for extremely short programs, these effects matter. If you limit redistricting programs to be, say, ten bytes long (which might still be too long to prevent drawing a gerrymander!) you are probably just giving the power (and shifting the problem) to whoever specifies the details of language and inputs.

            2. Kolmogorov complexity is uncomputable. There is no systematic way to find short programs to do something. It’s a subject of creativity, with both steady progress and breakthroughs possible. So if you write a length limit into your constitution based on a guess or theory of how short a program should be required, you may not be able to get any working redistricting program at all. And if you set the limit based on the best sane redistricting program you can write, over time people will manage to squeeze whole universes of complexity into that length.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            Concerning US gerrymandering problems and computational approaches, I liked the general gist of the idea proposed in this Arxiv preprint I spotted Moloch-knows-where: arxiv.org/abs/1704.0336. It does not provide a method for drawing the districts (okay, it does if you like “reasonable” random redistricting) but a cool analysis nevertheless.

            Using a Monte Carlo algorithm, we randomly generate over 24,000 redistrictings that are non-partisan and adhere to criteria from proposed legislation. Applying historical voting data to these random redistrictings, we find that the number of democratic and republican representatives elected varies drastically depending on how districts are drawn. Some results are more common, and we gain a clear range of expected election outcomes. Using the statistics of our generated redistrictings, we critique the particular congressional districtings used in the 2012 and 2016 NC elections as well as a districting proposed by a bipartisan redistricting commission. We find that the 2012 and 2016 districtings are highly atypical and not representative of the will of the people. On the other hand, our results indicate that a plan produced by a bipartisan panel of retired judges is highly typical and representative. Since our analyses are based on an ensemble of reasonable redistrictings of North Carolina, they provide a baseline for a given election which incorporates the geometry of the state’s population distribution.

            The obvious issue with the particular methodology of that particular paper (or any particular chosen methodology) is that the question “what exactly constitutes a ‘reasonable’ redistricting and which definition we should use to construct our sampler” is still going to be political one; if one picks a definition that disfavors one party over another, the losing side will find a way to argue anyway that the chosen method is not truly bipartisan. However, the hope is that all the truly reasonable definitions for “geographically compact district” or “avoid splltting counties” would yield similar results if the underlying concepts are meaningful in any way.

          • Here is a simple proposal for redistricting. A submitted map for (say) state representative districts must be such that, if the distribution of votes were the same as it was in the most recent such election, the number of candidates elected from each party would be proportional to the number of votes for that party, within some small range of variation.

            That attacks gerrymandering directly.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            If a state has enough districts so that, say, the Libertarians are entitled to one, the map you’d have to draw to make it happen will look a lot more gerrymandered than any actual gerrymandered map.

          • yodelyak says:

            @David Friedman

            I like the elegance of “such that, if the distribution of votes were the same as it was in the most recent such election, the number of candidates elected from each party would be proportional to the number of votes for that party, within some small range of variation.”

            But on reflection I think this is functionally identical to “the districts shall never change, or anyway, not much.” To the extent gerrymandering is already a problem, this will tend to lock it in place. Also, when a state does change dramatically, this will not work to guide map-makers for drawing a new map–there will be many wildly different maps where the best guess for the outcome under the new map is about the same partisan outcome as the old map, but they will not all be equal for purposes of power politics, so partisan games will ensue.

            [What I mean is, whether the “the number of candidates elected from each party” is defined as the median, the mode, or the mean of your monte carlo simulation, or whatever you are using to estimate partisan performance, there will be many wildly different maps that return the same estimate. This remains true even if rule 1 and 2 are included, unless rule 2 is extremely demanding.]

            I think a good system (unless it uses an “I cut you pick” trick to avoid needing to define ‘fairness’) needs at least three rules, and usually has four:

            1) an equal or roughly equal number of voters per district,
            2) some mathematical basis for optimizing for compactness of districts (e.g. ban concave districts or require the minimum total sum of all districts’ perimeters) OR some default configuration (e.g. county lines or natural barriers or perfect square shapes)
            3) some third basis for grouping voters (communities of interest, maximizing competitiveness–aiming for exactly the same outcome as last time would go here, maximizing majority-minority districts also would go here).
            4) some fourth basis to serve as a tie-breaker if needed (all the same things as 3).

          • yodelyak says:

            @nimin.k.m.
            Hadn’t seen that specific study. Fits with the others I’d seen! Also seems to agree with my sense that Colorado is doing this one right… so naturally I’d like it. 🙂

            @Paul Z
            Playing with one word from your comment…

            If a state has enough districts so that, say, the [Libertarians/Libras/18-to-25-year-olds/smokers/single-issue-pot-voters/single-issue-school-choice-voters/people-who-are-exactly-5’11”/nonvoters/people who live in house numbers that are 3-digit palindromes] are entitled to one, the map you’d have to draw to make it happen will look a lot more gerrymandered than any actual gerrymandered map.

            True enough! But I think it shows something different than what you maybe meant it to show. What does it mean to say any of these groups is “entitled to” a district of their own?

            I don’t think there’s actually any good principled reason to use existing political teams for drawing political district lines. (That goes for Dems and Rs as well as Libertarians and Greens and NRA voters and what-have-you.) I’m sympathetic to “maximize the number of competitive districts” and I can speculate about some positive possible motives for “maximize the number of majority-minority districts” but ultimately I think the best districts are *governance* districts–draw the district around the problem, not around the people who all already agree about the solution. So use counties (or some other already-existing governance district), and where you can’t use counties, use geographic boundaries like rivers, or big transit corridors like highways, or places that all have the same multi-county sewer line or all are served by the same water supply… or what-have you.

            That we cannot complete the work to be done does not mean we ought to abandon the work we can do.

            Edited to add: forgot to mention. @nimin.k.m. your link is broken, points wrong place. correct link is: https://arxiv.org/abs/1704.03360.

          • To the extent gerrymandering is already a problem, this will tend to lock it in place.

            No it won’t. The criterion isn’t that the same distribution produces the same number of winners as it did in the previous election. It’s that it produces a number of winners for each party proportional to the overall number of votes for that party.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Here is a simple proposal for redistricting. A submitted map for (say) state representative districts must be such that, if the distribution of votes were the same as it was in the most recent such election, the number of candidates elected from each party would be proportional to the number of votes for that party, within some small range of variation.

            That attacks gerrymandering directly.

            Mandating a focus on distributing winners isn’t so much attacking gerrymandering as it is baking it into the foundations

          • yodelyak says:

            @David Friedman

            A submitted map for (say) state representative districts must be such that, if the distribution of votes were the same as it was in the most recent such election, the number of candidates elected from each party would be proportional to the number of votes for that party, within some small range of variation.

            Oh, I see. Interesting, and very much not within the usual suggested solutions for gerrymandering. Very direct. I think I still see some problems.

            1. Because ballots are private, the only data available to make this determination (to my knowledge) are county-level vote totals. Using only the knowledge of who voted last time, and what the overall county totals were, it’s not easy to draw any different map without making it a question of broad speculation how that will affect partisan performance in the new district. Once broad speculation is involved, how do you avoid a battle-of-experts and a prolonged court battle (if a court is involved)? I envision one side just coincidentally drawing new maps that are “expected” to result in proportional results, but, uh, by strange coincidence, never quite do? (Colorado’s system has longish legal battles too, so I guess by the time you’ve got actual court battles, that’s a step up from the states right now that gerrymander aggressively and never have to explain themselves.)

            2. Punishing individual enemies.
            A further problem is that map-drawing can be used to punish individual legislators, or whole sets of them, personally, mainly because you can re-draw maps to exclude an elected’s address from the district they want to run in. Say next year NY does some snap redistricting (I know nothing about redistricting in NY, and assume this is unlikely and would be extra-legal) and re-draws Crowley’s old district to exclude Ms. Ocasio-Cortes’s voting address, or even her whole precinct, but otherwise keeps the district the same. She’ll have to move to stand for election in the district. For candidates with national profiles and plausible shots at Congressional salaries, maybe moving is financially justifiable to keep one’s office… for state legislators, in most states, not so much.

            Something aimed at Ms. Ocasio-Cortes so blatantly would probably create a public outcry. But for a more under-the-radar thing, one could just do everything possible to ensure one’s own party’s incumbents get to run from mostly un-altered districts (yay incumbency advantage) while pushing several of the other party’s incumbents to choose between 33% of their district over here, 33% of their district over there, and 33% thataway–and all of them have to jostle/finagle a way to avoid primarying each other.

            Variations on this kind of problem are pretty endless, so the best thing is to mix having a nonpartisan arbiter for the final map, and some sufficiently constraining standard for that arbiter to use other than partisan performance that the arbiter can quickly narrow down to something like the idealized “most fair” map (at least by that standard). A standard like “let’s pick maps that match our other governance boundaries, especially counties” works really well for this, I think.

          • @Yodelyak:

            I was assuming that precinct level vote totals were normally available. Was I mistaken?

          • Mandating a focus on distributing winners isn’t so much attacking gerrymandering as it is baking it into the foundations

            I don’t see how. The point of gerrymandering is to give one party more representatives than their share of the vote. Are you misreading my proposal as evaluating the proposed map on the basis of the outcome of the previous election?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            @Edward Scizorhands
            “I cut you pick”… there are lots of ways to use this. One specifically and readily google-able, and quite specific way: link.

            thank you, I’ll need to consider this.

          • yodelyak says:

            @David Friedman

            In six cycles I’ve never encountered a campaign that precinct-by-precinct breakdown of which candidates got how many votes, so I’m pretty sure it isn’t made available.* I have worked in a mid-level or leadership role on party-supported campaigns in four states. What I’ve always seen is data that tell me exactly who voted in each precinct, in every election, along with their party affiliation. E.g., if I had access to either major party’s relevant databases, I expect I could look up and find out exactly which elections you have voted in, and what party if any you were registered to at the time. I can’t, however, find out what the precise precinct-level results were for any candidate you might have supported.

            As a side note, I have had to bite my tongue a couple times when a campaign field director explained a strategic decision prioritizing GOTV in one precinct over others because the precinct has lots of regular voters registered to the party of the campaign’s candidate. Who cares about the absolute number of voters registered to your party? In particular, if they’re all the kind of voter who always votes, or who never votes, or who lives at the end of a long driveway behind a locked gate where you can’t get to them to remind them to vote anyway–then there’s no reason to prioritize that precinct, as opposed to prioritizing a precinct with a smaller absolute number of your party’s voters, but a higher likelihood for each of your voters that reminder to remember to vote will make the difference between them voting or not, and where you’ll get a good bang-for-your-buck in terms of how many reminders you can deliver with an hour of trying. Sometimes it’s not worth making waves–whatever the field director thinks makes sense, is better than arguing about it and doing what they wanted anyway.

            *This sentence edited for redundancy.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Maybe some combination of “the wrong is political, so the remedy should be political” and “the alternatives have problems of their own”. I don’t think either argument, or both arguments together, has decisive weight, but they do at least have some.

    • DavidS says:

      Most of the time it seems to just be ‘the end justifies the means’ plus ‘the other guys do it too!’

    • AG says:

      That the outgroup is such an existential threat if they get any power, that they must be neutralized. They’re the loud minority to our silent majority, anyways.

    • Erusian says:

      It’s effectively impossible to not gerrymander in a territorial voting system. Notably, most anti-gerrymandering proponents suggest something that effectively moves the system towards proportional representation.

      A territorial voting system has all kinds of coherent ideological arguments. Communities often have common interests that are not effectively represented in raw election numbers. Territorial systems discourage separatism. The tyranny of the majority. The United States was founded with an explicit agreement to protect smaller communities and we should not renege on that agreement now. Etc.

      Note, these are not explicitly conservative arguments or just to the benefit of conservatives. The Democrats often take advantage of territorial systems to ensure minorities, for example, get a representative whose mandated to explicitly represent a minority community’s interests. This does not happen in proportional systems, with a few small exceptions.

      • Aapje says:

        @Erusian

        The Democrats often take advantage of territorial systems to ensure minorities, for example, get a representative whose mandated to explicitly represent a minority community’s interests. This does not happen in proportional systems, with a few small exceptions.

        You have it exactly backwards. Regional, winner take all systems benefit highly concentrated groups, at the expense of groups that are minorities in most polity-sized regions, like black people.

        Gerrymandering to give black people a representative that reflects black interests or black culture is an admission that the relevant interests are in large part not actually local, where people have the same interests as their neighbor, regardless of race or such. It’s really an attempt to make a regional system more like a proportional system.

        In a proportional system, groups that are (large enough) minorities in many regions are way better off compared to a non-rigged regional system.

        The figures for the US congress bear this out. Blacks are 10.5% of the (rigged) House of Representatives, while only 3% of the (non-rigged) Senate.

        • Erusian says:

          You have it exactly backwards. Regional, winner take all systems benefit highly concentrated groups, at the expense of groups that are minorities in most polity-sized regions, like black people.

          Regional, winner take all systems do benefit highly concentrated groups at the expense of populous but dispersed groups. Minorities are often more concentrated than majorities, though. At least for a given meaning of concentrated. One problem the Democrats have is that a number of distant but highly concentrated communities are collectively a dispersed group.

          Gerrymandering to give black people a representative that reflects black interests or black culture is an admission that the relevant interests are in large part not actually local, where people have the same interests as their neighbor, regardless of race or such. It’s really an attempt to make a regional system more like a proportional system.

          It is no such thing. Black representatives represent specific (often) black communities, not just black people in general. Those communities sometimes have common interests based on their shared race. They sometimes do not. In a proportional system, they would be forced to instead vote for representatives for black people collectively. This would mean they are there not to represent the interests of a minority community but of the minority itself.

          In a proportional system, groups that are (large enough) minorities in many regions are way better off compared to a non-rigged regional system.

          Proportional systems benefit people who are more dispersed, yes. A lot of the work in this argument seems to rely on the idea that minorities are more dispersed than majorities. In fact, they tend to concentrate into ethnic neighborhoods.

          The figures for the US congress bear this out. Blacks are 10.5% of the (rigged) House of Representatives, while only 3% of the (non-rigged) Senate.

          This only proves that there are no black majority states but that there are black majority communities within those states. Which is true.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The Voting Rights Act resulted a requirement (recently struck down) to make majority-minority districts in order to prevent dilution of minority power. In general it required that minority power be maximized.

      I think this was a terrible idea, and the argument that minority power should be maximized equally terrible, but it is an argument.

      • yodelyak says:

        In practice, the Voting Rights Act worked to ensure that Southern states had about one very solidly Democratic congressional seat, usually held by a person of color, and often held by someone somewhat to the fringe of the party’s national base and national leadership (with predictable results for the relative power of those representatives in Congress).

        I used to argue in defense of the act by saying the point was not to maximize minority power but to guard against total minority disenfranchisement via gerrymandering. That is, the idea was to prevent the South from being maximally dickish. I no longer think the odds of states being maximally dickish on purely racial lines are that high–they are much more likely to be maximally dickish on purely partisan lines, with race just being the best avenue they have for achieving that.

        I think a much better approach would have been to just require districts to be drawn on the basis of some better principle(s) than “what’s best for my party”.

        • yodelyak says:

          I’m no longer really sure what I think about the Voting Rights Act. I have some sympathy to the idea that the Roberts court just threw away their umbrella because they weren’t getting wet… hard to say if the rain stopped, or the umbrella was working.

    • benwave says:

      I’m not sure this provides an answer to your question, but you might be interested in the Māori electorates in the New Zealand general election. To compress a large amount of history into a very brief description, as a result of negotiations there were seats created in the New Zealand parliament for which only the native Māori people of New Zealand were eligible to vote. This was at a time when candidates were selected by strict electorate-by-electorate first past the post. This effectively results in a kind of gerrymandering, deliberately selected to ensure Māori representation in parliament. The parliamentary system in New Zealand is now a mixed member proportional one, which muddies the waters somewhat and has led to calls for the seats to be disestablished, but they remain currently.

      • yodelyak says:

        This is actually very nearly what the voting rights act achieved. The states that were covered by the act (prior to it being gutted by recent Supreme Court holding) were forced to set aside ~one district to be majority-minority. The rest they could mostly jigsaw as they saw fit.

        You can bet that representatives of color from VRA-created districts had to work a little harder to be taken seriously, since their colleagues could write them off as affirmative action hires, and since they often had to cater to districts that were somewhat outside the mainstream.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Oddly, IIRC India has similar seats for Anglo-Indians (that is, ethnically English citizens of India). The rationale is that other ethnic groups in India are concentrated in specific geographical areas (which ensures representation, as India’s lower house is elected under a system of first past the post in single-member geographical constituencies), while Anglo-Indians are not.

        Currently, the two Anglo-Indian members of Parliament are nominated by the President rather than being elected.

        India also reserves seats in its Parliament for members of “Scheduled Castes” and “Scheduled Tribes”, but does this by stating that certain constituencies can only be represented by such people- though everyone in that constituency is allowed to vote.

  3. robirahman says:

    There will be an SSC meetup this Saturday, June 30th at 616 E St NW in Washington, DC. We meet from 7pm to midnight in the 2nd floor lounge to talk about the past month’s posts and eat snacks. If you live in the area, consider coming to one!

    We have a Google group if you are interested and want updates by email for future monthly meetups.

  4. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Guys, does the “WW2 was badly written” joke ever get old?

    Ridiculous anime superweapon was used as a Deus ex Machina and then never again.

    • disposablecat says:

      Are there any good fictional treatments of this?

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Hey, suppose we rehash all the atrocity propaganda from the previous war, only this time it turns out to be real?

      • hls2003 says:

        Just chiming in that while the WWI Germans were nowhere near Nazi-level bad in terms of atrocities, there were absolutely atrocities and the Germans were a primary perpetrator (though of course not alone). For example, the Rape of Belgium was a real thing that happened. Allied propaganda certainly exaggerated portions, but more recent historical appraisals tend to agree that it was serious.

        • Protagoras says:

          I’d say the Ottomans were the primary perpetrators of atrocities in WWI. But the allies weren’t particularly well-behaved, either, and the fact that the Germans look worse on the whole than the French or Russians probably had more to do with the latter not spending much time occupying large chunks of enemy territority the way the Germans did.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          Possibly the best story of WW1 allied atrocity propaganda:

          When Antwerp was captured by the Germans, a Cologne newspaper reported (truthfully) that church bells (meaning church bells in Germany) were rung in celebration.

          A Paris newspaper, citing this article, claimed that the priests in Antwerp had been forced by the Germans to ring the church bells there (which could be an innocent mistranslation).

          A London newspaper, citing the Paris newspaper, said that priests in Belgium who refused to ring church bells to celebrate the capture of Antwerp had been expelled from their churches.

          An Italian newspaper, citing the British newspaper, said that the priests had been sentenced to hard labour.

          Whereupon the same Paris newspaper, citing the Italian newpaper, said that the priests had been hung head down and used as clappers to ring the bells! Of course, it didn’t mention its own earlier report, merely saying that the Italians had got the news “from Cologne via London”.

          EDIT: The original source for this is Arthur Ponsonby’s Falsehood in War-Time, which may not be trustworthy. One would have to go through the archives of the papers concerned (Koelnische Zeitung, Le Matin, Times of London, Corriere de la Sera) to check…

          • Aapje says:

            Wikipedia also has this issue. In fact, the rules can make it especially hard to correct things that are fully made up.

            For example, someone wrongly wrote on Wikipedia that Sacha Baron Cohen had worked at Goldman Sachs. The Guardian added this to an article. At this point, there is a notable source (WP:NOTE) and the Wiki guidelines say that those are to be believed. Questioning that without another notable source is ‘original research,’ (WP:OR) which is normally not allowed on Wikipedia. However, of course you are generally not going to find an article that denies a made up factoid, unless it is so outrageous that a reporter asks Sacha Baron Cohen about it and finds his answer important enough to publish.

            An example of false news becoming reality is that pranksters added the nickname “The Millville Meteor” to the Wiki page of Mike Trout. This was then picked up by articles and baseball reference sites, which then provided notable sources for this claim.

          • fion says:

            And to think I thought Randall Munroe was joking.

          • baconbits9 says:

            An example of false news becoming reality is that pranksters added the nickname “The Millville Meteor” to the Wiki page of Mike Trout. This was then picked up by articles and baseball reference sites, which then provided notable sources for this claim.

            But now it is his nickname, making the false news correct!

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Remember how the superpower vs. Afghanistan plot so dominated Cold War after 1979 that once they wrapped it up, they had no idea what to do with the Soviet Union? So they not only tore down the Berlin Wall and Warsaw Pact, but had the Union break up into 15 nation-states?
      I feel like everything after the shocking 2001 season premiere where they let Islamic terrorists destroy the Twin Towers is becoming a retread of that. You think they’ll mix it up by having President Bush 2 invade Iraq to prove himself to Daddy, or are we in for another 10 seasons focused on Afghanistan?

  5. HeelBearCub says:

    Predicated on Trump getting his first nominee confirmed, what odds do you give that SCOTUS will roll back the Roe-Wade 24 weeks time limit? How about rolling it back quite substantially?

    Also, how soon after do you think Obergefell will be challenged? Will Robberts vote for SCOTUS to take it up? Will he reverse his earlier vote?

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      I think an Obergefell challenge is unlikely to go anywhere – I don’t think there’s much political appetite for it.

      I’m much less optimistic about Roe vs Wade, though – if Trump gets his first choice in, I’m confident it will be challenged soon, and think that the balance of probability is that it will be struck down.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Political appetite?

        It requires merely a few cooperative government individuals, as most states still have laws banning gay marriage.

      • Garrett says:

        I’d also add that there is what I consider a “better” argument in support of legalized same-sex marriage, that is that prohibiting it constitutes sex discrimination. If Adam can’t marry Steve solely because of his sex, it’s sex discrimination. I believe that there’s much more support among conservatives for that interpretation of the 14th Amendment than some form of “equal dignity” or “privacy” concern.

      • johansenindustries says:

        ‘Dignity’ is just awful. I think that there is some suggestion in the recent travel ban case that there is a recognition that ‘dignity’ is awful. I don’t think that Robert’s would want to leave the courts with that stain.

        And there is definitely enough political will that he would be given that chance, if he wanted it.

    • John Schilling says:

      Roe v. Wade was 28 weeks, not 24. And Planned Parenthood v. Casey modified that to “whenever the scientists say fetuses are generally viable”. I don’t see the Supreme Court having any interest in arguing the numerical value; “viability” is as strong a Schelling point as you are going to find if you are not going to use conception or birth, and when viability occurs is the sort of factual argument that is traditionally left to scientists with district or appellate courts acting as referees.

      The battles will be over, A: who has to pay, and B: how many hoops a woman will have to jump through along the way, and C: how much of this can be delegated back to the states. The answers to all of those will probably be the same for one-week embryos and twenty-week fetuses.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        So what is your prediction vis-a-vis the law Iowa just passed?

      • Lillian says:

        Wouldn’t “birth” be a stronger Schelling point? It’s extremely unambiguous, either the baby is still inside the woman, or it’s not. You don’t need any kind of specialist to determine it, whereas an n-week limit does require an expert to opine on how old the fetus is based on its development. You also don’t need a scientist to determine what “n” is going to be. Frankly if it were up to me, that’s where i would put the limit for two reasons:

        1) The Christian reason is that a person does not become ensouled until they take first breath. The Bible is pretty consistent on the idea that breath is life. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” -Genesesis 2:7

        2) The scientific reason is that babies don’t achieve the capacity for self-awareness until 4-5 months after birth, meaning they’re not quite people until then. Notionally this means infanticide is fine, however since you have to draw the line somewhere, and birth is the best place to do so for the reasons given above, you might as well draw it at birth. Also i don’t want to live in a society in which people’s reaction to someone throwing a baby in a dumpster is, “How old is that baby?” and not “HOLY SHIT! SOMEONE THREW A BABY IN A DUMPSTER!”

        • Baeraad says:

          Wouldn’t “birth” be a stronger Schelling point?

          Yes, and it’s the one I would personally prefer, but it’s also unacceptable to a lot of people. Conception is likewise a stronger Schelling point, but is also unacceptable to a lot of people (including me). Viability is the strongest Schelling point that enough people can more or less live with that it works as a compromise.

        • John Schilling says:

          Wouldn’t “birth” be a stronger Schelling point?

          Yes, as would conception. Hence the “if you are not going to use conception or birth” clause in my original statement.

          Also, we are not going to use birth or conception. People trying to impose one or the other of those standards have caused more harm to the US political system than any other factor, over the past half century or so, and still have nothing to show for it. Knock it off, already.

          • Lillian says:

            Oh, somehow my eyes glided right over the “or birth” part and didn’t see it, my apologies. Also, the fact that i prefer the birth line doesn’t mean that i’m unwilling to compromise at viability. Seen as a struggle between the “conception” and “birth”, setting the line anywhere north of 20 weeks is a slight win for the birth side given that pregnancies normally last around 40 weeks. It’s not my ideal, but i will definitely take it. We do after all need to share a country with people on the other side, and i was taught in pre-school that “i get everything and you get nothing” is not what “sharing” means.

            Nonetheless in a negotiation you start with what you want, not what you’re willing to compromise to.

        • veeloxtrox says:

          I have a quibble about your 1) point. I would say that your view is held by the vast minority of theologians who have studied the issue. I would say that Bible in multiple points talks about babies pre-birth as people. There is Romans 9:11-13 (ESV) “11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”” and Psalm 139:13 “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (see also Isiah 44:2,24 49:5 and Jeremiah 1:5).

          Overall on a more practical level, Christian’s count it as a really bad thing to kill an innocent baby so they would much rather draw the line at conception and be sure then draw it later and let a few babies get killed.

          • Iain says:

            It’s worth noting that fervent anti-abortion sentiment is a relatively recent phenomenon among American evangelicals, mostly post-dating Roe v. Wade. There’s a good set of examples here:

            In 1970, a poll conducted by the Baptist Sunday School Board found that 70 percent of Southern Baptist pastors supported abortion to protect the mental or physical health of the mother, 64 percent supported abortion in cases of fetal deformity and 71 percent in cases of rape.

            Three years later, a poll conducted by the Baptist Standard newsjournal found that 90 percent of Texas Baptists believed their state’s abortion laws were too restrictive.

          • One possible standard would be the point at which, if the fetus was born prematurely, it could survive–which has gotten earlier over time as medical treatment of preemies has gotten better.

          • Nick says:

            One possible standard would be the point at which, if the fetus was born prematurely, it could survive–which has gotten earlier over time as medical treatment of preemies has gotten better.

            Isn’t that what the Court meant by viability? Or am I misunderstanding the term?

          • John Schilling says:

            Yes, I believe that was basically the ruling in Casey. Roe’s “third trimester” standard was interpreted as a coarse approximation as to the limit of survival for premature births per 1970s medical science and should not be treated as carved in stone. The court’s ruling suggested 22-23 weeks as the appropriate benchmark in 1992, and in a way that didn’t rigidly fix that date against any future changes.

          • Lillian says:

            This is incidentally my primary concern with the viability threshold, it keeps dropping lower and lower as a function of medical science. Presumably eventually we will have exowombs and there will be no viability threshold at all. We could potentially use a “viability without medical intervention” threshold, which wouldn’t move but may prove unacceptably high for opponents.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Lillian, in that hypothetical, would an abortion ban be so great a burden? Instead of an abortion, a woman would sign some paperwork to give up her parental rights and responsibilities, and then have early labor induced; the doctors would then move the baby to an artificial womb.

            Yes, it’d be somewhat more burdensome, but it’d still provide a quick route to no longer be pregnant or a parent. The biggest objection I can see would be cost, but perhaps – as long as we’re talking idealistically – the government could cover the cost for all (un-)willing mothers as part of a compromise.

          • Lillian says:

            That would very much depend a lot on details that are not presently available given the hypothetical nature of the scenario. The more pressing concern is what happens in between. If we reach a compromise on say, 22 weeks, and then viability drops to 18 and later 16 weeks, that represents an ongoing and unegotiated loss for my side. Willingness to reach an agreement is somewhat predicated on the expectation that the terms of the agreement will be maintained.

          • Aapje says:

            @Evan Þ

            The mother/parents may feel morally obligated to care for the baby if it is born, while an abortion gives no such obligation. So it’s more complex than you make it out to be.

          • maintain says:

            @Evan Þ
            >Instead of an abortion, a woman would sign some paperwork to give up her parental rights and responsibilities, and then have early labor induced; the doctors would then move the baby to an artificial womb.

            And also they’d need to find foster parents for the next few decades. All in all, that’s a heck of a lot of work to save the life of something which may be microscopic and incapable of even thinking to begin with.

            If you really don’t like abortion, and you’re thinking about hypothetical future scenarios, maybe it would make more sense for the government to place everyone on birth control until they openly agree to raise a child.

          • John Schilling says:

            And also they’d need to find foster parents for the next few decades.

            At least in California, and I believe almost every other US state, any mother can drop off her newborn baby at any hospital and walk away, no obligations, no questions asked. Definitely no need to arrange twenty or thirty (WTF “few”?) years of foster care. I see no reason to believe this would not hold for babies being transferred to exo-wombs; it is the obvious political compromise position and it is already black-letter law.

          • a reader says:

            @Lilian:

            If we reach a compromise on say, 22 weeks, and then viability drops to 18 and later 16 weeks, that represents an ongoing and unegotiated loss for my side.

            It seems you are too much a conflict theorist about it. As I said in the other comment, in almost all Europe the limit is fixed at 12 weeks (except special cases like malformation or danger for the mother) – and it’s ok from a practical point of view.

            @maintain:

            And also they’d need to find foster parents for the next few decades. All in all, that’s a heck of a lot of work to save the life of something which may be microscopic and incapable of even thinking to begin with.

            Of course nobody will go through such trouble for a microscopic morula or blastocyst. But for a healthy 4-5 months old fetus who already looks (and acts) more or less like a very small baby, I think Evan’s solution could be the ethical one, when it will become possible. I think it is easier to find adoptive parents for newborns than for older children. But probably there will be few such cases – in that future, the methods of preventing unwanted pregnancy would also become better.

            If you really don’t like abortion, and you’re thinking about hypothetical future scenarios, maybe it would make more sense for the government to place everyone on birth control until they openly agree to raise a child.

            Hm, I think that may be a good – although quite eugenicist-sounding – idea: to offer free temporary sterilization to any young man over 18 who is single or already has 2 children – and reverse it for free just before marriage. Maybe even reward it with some money, to encourage young men to do it. That will prevent not only abortions, but also lots of children that grow without fathers from the start and are at risk of poverty and even crime. But many will say it’s eugenics.

          • correlatedresiduals says:

            This, and to contradict Iain’s point, this is not a new belief. Catholic’s have condemned abortion for a very very long time. You can debate whether they had condemned it as early as the 1st century (as they themselves claim), but there’s basically zero debate that they have condemned it since the 5th century, with famous Church doctors such as St. Augustine vigorously condemning the practice.

          • Lillian says:

            It seems you are too much a conflict theorist about it. As I said in the other comment, in almost all Europe the limit is fixed at 12 weeks (except special cases like malformation or danger for the mother) – and it’s ok from a practical point of view.

            Conflict theoriest doesn’t quite seem like the right framework for someone who is viewing it as a negotiated agreement, since this necessarily assumes some amount of good faith on the part of the other side.

            If i come to an agreement about what the price of bread is going to be, and i’m the one buying, i’m not going to be happy if we pegged it to some measure that is expected to increase. Nor for that matter, do i particularly care what other people negotiated their prices to, i want the best deal for myself. Certainly we can renegotiate in the future as circumstances change, but i want to retain control of the agreement, not let it change by itself.

            It’s business, not war.

          • Nick says:

            If i come to an agreement about what the price of bread is going to be, and i’m the one buying, i’m not going to be happy if we pegged it to some measure that is expected to increase. Nor for that matter, do i particularly care what other people negotiated their prices to, i want the best deal for myself. Certainly we can renegotiate in the future as circumstances change, but i want to retain control of the agreement, not let it change by itself.

            I think it’s more balanced, actually, Lillian: the date of viability moves earlier and earlier, but contraceptive and abortifacient methods grow more effective over time too. Technology both hurts and helps your side.

            Also, correlatedresiduals, be fair to Iain. He said American evangelicals, not Christians in general. He’s right about evangelicals, who really were more tepid on abortion then than they are now.

        • a reader says:

          In my opinion, conception and birth are obviously not the correct answers. To regard a fertilized cell, or a morula (an amorf group of identical cells) or a blastocyst as a human being requires the same kind of suspension of disbelief as regarding the eucharist as the body and blood of Jesus, although you see it’s bread and wine; but also, to see a fetus that looks like a miniature baby and acts like a baby (sucking thumb etc.) but not consider it a human being requires similar suspension of disbelief (except for people that, as I saw in a comment above, don’t consider newborn babies human beings!).

          But I can’t say exactly where to put the limit. Maybe between embryo and fetus, at 8 weeks – is that a clear enough Schelling point? I think that an important element would be (like in deciding about the end of life): does it have a brain (that works)?

          In most of the European Union the limit is 3 months (12 weeks):

          http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6235557.stm

          • Lillian says:

            The problem with “brain that works” is that there is no clear definition of “brain working”. You can get cases of people who, as long as they are kept fed and hydrated, the body will keep living, but all the higher thought functions have been destroyed. The lights are on, but there’s nobody home. Some people think this is still a person worth saving, other people think it is not.

            Anencephalous babies are literally born without a brain, and while about half of them are stillborn, another half manage to survive hours or days before cardiorespiratory failure. The latter cases are due to having a functional or semi-functional brain stem, which allows for reflex actions such as breathing and response to external stimuli like touch and sound, but without a cerebrum they will never develop any actual awareness.

            Personally, i think it is precisely the capacity for self-awareness that makes the person. Given that this doesn’t happen until months after birth, it seems pretty obvious to me that we can safely put the limit at birth. Though as i said above, i’m willing to compromise if necessary.

            However, a lower standard along a similar line logic could be attained by using cerebral cortex development. The central nervous system in a fetus develops from the bottom of the spine up, so the cerebral cortex, which governs thinking and feeling, develops last. Now i’m having trouble pinning down a specific week number around which this starts happening, but premature babies do show some baseline electrical activity in their neural cortex, and third trimester babies are capable of learning. This would suggest placing the limit somewhere in the late second or early third trimester, if you were using that standard.

      • Garrett says:

        Technical point. “Conception” isn’t really a thing, medically. You either have fertilization or implantation.

        Fertilization has the advantage of being an almost binary thing, in that the transition between unfertilized to fertilized occurs so fast that there’s no human-timescale in-between state. The down-side is that something like 50% of fertilized eggs fail to implant without any intervention. So if you pick that point you have to account for that fact.

        Implantation occurs about a week after fertilization. It has the advantage of being the point at which there’s actually a connection between the mother and the fertilized egg and so is “permanent”. This process is also one which is discouraged via IUDs, so that it ensures that form of birth control is not a problem. But it’s also a process which takes a few days to complete. It’s possible that this could lead to some mid-implantation legal complications, though I can’t imagine how at the moment.

    • hls2003 says:

      1) There is no 24-week limit in current case law, as I understand it. Greater restrictions are allowed following viability.
      2) I would bet a lot of money that Roe v. Wade will not be overruled (as in, the “right to abortion” under the penumbral privacy reasoning first articulated in Roe) anytime in the tenure of the next nominee.
      3) Any tinkering will be at the margins – e.g. a “feels pain” threshold, or parental notification being revisited, etc. at the state level.
      4) What do you mean by Obergefell being “challenged”? I am confident that there are test cases being considered right now; but any such case (in order to squarely challenge the ruling) would probably have to be a state or federal law banning same-sex marriage. I think that there is little political appetite to [Edit: enforce] such a law, even in very red states. But I would also bet a lot of money that the Court will not squarely overturn Obergefell anytime in the tenure of next nominee. More likely would be marginalizing it as an outlier.
      5) Speculatively, I do think Roberts would vote to deny cert on a test case squarely designed to overturn Obergefell. In my opinion, Roberts would view that as a negative for the Court’s reputation, for which he seems to care a great deal.

    • Deiseach says:

      Re: Roe vs Wade, I don’t think there will be any messing about with it unless some case really needs to go all the way to the Supreme Court. Nobody really wants to touch it; the legal reasoning seems to be shaky (emanations of penumbras belongs in a poem by Blake, not a judge’s decision) but so much law has been based on it, and it is such a toxic subject, that just letting the mess fester is the least worst solution.

      Arguments on viability (e.g. that advances in medicine mean unborn younger than 24 weeks can now survive) aren’t going to go anywhere because if you’ve passed laws for late second/early third trimester abortions on the grounds of fatal foetal abnormality and the like, meaning that pregnancies after the cut-off point can still be terminated, then you’re reversing your decision and saying that a pregnancy that results in a viable birth should go ahead, even if the infant only lives a short while after birth. Prepare to be eviscerated for holding such an opinion.

      There’s enough of the mushy middle “abortion should be legal but only for extreme cases and up to a certain point” that there isn’t the support for the “abortion at any time up to the day before giving birth for any or no reason” crowd or the “make it illegal again crowd”, so there’s no chance of even the Republican party trying to get a judge who will decide to ban abortion. Why would they do that – to pander to the Evangelicals/religious pro-lifers? There may be enough of them to swing elections but there aren’t enough of them to win elections if they’re the only ones turning out to vote for you.

      We’ve just had the abortion referendum in my country. I fully expect the eventual legislation, whenever the government gets around to writing it, that is going to be all “only up to twelve weeks and after that for exceptional cases alone” to go the way of the dodo, and a lot of people who voted ‘yes’ on the “be compassionate and trust women” grounds to go ‘hey hold on, I never voted for thatwhen the activists get their way*. They may be extremely surprised and shocked, but once that stable door has been unbarred and the horse is out, there’s no way to bolt it again.

      *This being said, the proposed legislation only allows abortion on request up to 12 weeks. Such a short time period means that there will always be people who fall through the cracks of this legislation and will still be forced to access abortion outside the Irish jurisdiction. We are concerned that the proposed legislation does not go far enough in ensuring realistic access to abortion services.

      During the referendum campaign the government went to great lengths to make it clear that abortion access after 12 weeks would be highly restricted and their proposal puts the power solely in the hands of medical gatekeepers. We believe that while there should be appropriate medical supports in place to help anyone faced with an unexpected pregnancy, the best people to make the ultimate decision about their healthcare are the individuals themselves.

      • hls2003 says:

        Note that even if Roe were overturned in its basic principle (it has been largely superseded in the details of its holding), all that would do is allow restrictions, not outlaw abortion itself. HBC above links to an Iowa law banning abortion past 6 weeks, which I admit is surprising to me (though less surprising given the electoral demographics of Iowa – it’s got even a bigger rural/city split than most states, and the rural areas tend to be very conservative and the liberal cities very liberal). But that is an outlier, and I expect most states would not adopt a zero-tolerance position or anything close to it.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Deiseach:

        The idea that there is no political appetite for challenges to Roe v. Wade is patently false.

        There are abortion time limits being passed in the states everywhere from 6 weeks to 20 weeks.

        ETA:
        In addition, SCOTUS has taken up multiple abortion cases in the last several years, and in each case the issue at hand was further restricting the ability to obtain abortions. In multiple states there is now only a single abortion provider due to restrictions passed by state legislatures. It’s a very live issue.

      • 10240 says:

        In Hungary abortion is legal, and there is not much debate about it, but the limit is 12 weeks (20 weeks in case of fetal defects). I haven’t heard anyone argue against this, and I think many people who support abortion think it would be problematic after 12 weeks (and even more after 20 weeks). I suspect many countries are similar.

      • 10240 says:

        There may be enough of them to swing elections but there aren’t enough of them to win elections if they’re the only ones turning out to vote for you.

        Even in the most conservative states?

      • Walter says:

        Roe v Wade : “Nobody really wants to touch it;”

        Why do you think that? The pro life movement has been an active force for decades.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          A week ago I would have agreed that Roe was safe, but I’ve been reading pro-choice Libertarians who say it should die.

          https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2018/07/03/let-roe-go/

          As bad as Roe was from a governance POV, I worry that taking the knife out will cause more damage than leaving it in there.

          • John Schilling says:

            A week ago I would have agreed that Roe was safe, but I’ve been reading pro-choice Libertarians…

            A demographic that makes up, what, 2% of the US population?

            I agree with the pro-choice Libertarians as a matter of legal principle, but I also understand that about 98% of the population is going to want this decision made on the basis of object-level pragmatism, which will be a mix of “Abortion must be fully legal no matter the cost”, “Abortion must be banned no matter the cost”, and “This sort of disruption is too high a cost, leave it alone”.

    • BBA says:

      My guess on abortion case law by the time the dust settles:

      (a) States can ban abortion entirely, and 20-30 of them do
      (b) They can’t ban crossing state lines to obtain an abortion, or purchasing abortifacient medicines by mail order, because that’s solely within Congress’s powers
      (c) Congress does nothing [always a safe prediction] so existing federal laws stay in place
      (d) North of the border, Morgentaler remains good law and weekend trips to Vancouver suddenly become all the rage for rich men’s mistresses

      Obergefell is more secure, what with all 5 justices who voted for it still sitting on the court. what with the massive swings in public opinion in its favor (unlike views on Roe, which have been remarkably stable) and the difficulties involved in sorting out the thousands of involuntary divorces that would result. Possible but unlikely we end up with states being able to ban same-sex marriage but having to recognize them from out of state. But I think it stays put.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Obergefell was 5-4 with Kennedy being the deciding vote and writer of the majority opinion. Roberts voted against .

      • johan_larson says:

        The right-to-life crowd has spent a generation fighting tooth and nail against Roe v. Wade by every political means available to them. They are going to want to put a capstone on that project now that they are within striking distance. I expect there will be some heavy maneuvering behind the scenes in the Republican party to put a hard-core right-to-lifer in the bench this time around, and then bring a series of cases before the court that give the court plenty of opportunities to narrow Roe v. Wade or overturn it entirely.

        Some more details, here:
        https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/06/the-coming-battle-to-overturn-roe-v-wade/563936/

        • John Schilling says:

          They are going to want to put a capstone on that project now that they are within striking distance.

          Right. Just like they wanted to put a capstone on that project when Stevens was appointed to the court, like they wanted to when O’Conner was appointed to the court, and again when Scalia was appointed to the court, and yet again when Kennedy was appointed, and once more with Souter, and once more again when Thomas took the bench, and then they took a break for a while, and then it was Alito’s turn, and then Roberts.

          Each time it was different. Each time, this time, it was a solid conservative judge replacing one of those pinko commie Democrats or treasonous RINOs, who was going to put the capstone on the roll-back-Roe-v-Wade project. And each time, the whining from the other side of the fence was that if they let the damn dirty Republicans nominate even one more judge it would be Handmaid’s Tale forevermore.

          0 for 8, guys. But this time it’s going to be different. Somehow.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Why should it be so hard to find a judge who is against Roe v. Wade and put them on the Supreme Court?

          • Brad says:

            I think after the Harriet Miers debacle GWB was more concerned with finding someone qualified beyond all doubt than someone that was perfect on Roe. And it isn’t like Roberts is Souter, while I don’t expect him to strike down Roe (technically Casey) in one fell swoop, I do expect him to vote in favor of narrowing the right significantly over the course of several decisions.

            Alito and Goresuch have given us no reason to think that they won’t vote against Roe. So the question is more what happened in the 80s and early 90s rather than why is this so hard in general.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Why should it be so hard to find a judge who is against Roe v. Wade and put them on the Supreme Court?

            Stare desisis is a big part of it. While there’s a fair amount of support in conservative legal scholarship for revising or replacing the substantive due process doctrine that underlies Roe and Casey, the doctrine has been baked into so many precedents for so long that a fundamental revision of it would require unsettling a huge pile of what’s currently considered settled case law. Not many judges (other than Clarence Thomas) are willing to go that far, regardless of what they think of substantive due process in the abstract. The further we get from Roe (45 years, now), the bigger the case against reconsidering its conceptual underpinnings: Rehnquist and Scalia were willing to overturn Roe, albeit on narrower grounds than Thomas’s, but they were both older judges who were well along in their legal careers when Roe was decided.

            There’s also a political angle. There are currently 49 pro-life Republicans in the Senate (Collins and Murkoski are pro-choice), which is not enough to confirm a justice who refuses to affirm that Roe and Casey are settled law. And the 49 pro-life Senate Republicans include some wild cards like Rand Paul, who might vote against confirming a judge who’s apt to vote to overturn Roe on political rather than legal grounds.

            The confirmation angle is both harder and easier than it’s been in the past. Easier because there’s currently a Republican majority, since fewer of the Republicans in the Senate are pro-choice, and since the SCOTUS confirmations are no longer subject to filibusters. But it’s also harder because the norms of voting to confirm a well-qualified but ideologically inconvenient judge have been steadily breaking down since the 80s.

            There’s also the question of the candidate pool: conservative schools of Constitutional interpretation have gotten a lot more traction in academia over the past 50 years or so, and the pool of lawyers and judges with strong resumes and well-formed conservative legal philosophies is a lot larger than it used to be. However, Roe is far enough in the past that the current crop of potential SCOTUS appointees were still in diapers when Roe was decided, and as such they generally have much stronger stare decisis priors against overturning Roe than previous generations of judges. And there was a big filter on the pipeline for a long time, as Arlen Specter was one of the senior Republicans on the Judiciary Committee for a long time and he had a reputation for torpedoing any judicial nominee who didn’t affirm a belief that Roe was settled law.

          • Alphonse says:

            Scott,

            It doesn’t have to be, but it does take intentional effort. There’s a fairly clearly understood tendency where justices drift to the left over their tenure on the Court. Picking people who will remain on the right is not a trivial task, even though it isn’t impossible.
            (People posit varying reasons for why justices drift leftward, but I’ll set that aside. The tendency is quite clear though.)

            A major project of the last few decades of conservative legal efforts has been to identify and promote people who would be consistent when appointed as federal judges and, eventually, Supreme Court justices. Whatever people think about whether that project is good, the people running it are quite intelligent and very dedicated. It would be foolish to expect modern Republican appointees to drift as much as those in the past.
            (See Thomas and Scalia as examples of this trend. Gorsuch is also generally viewed as quite reliable.)

            On the object level issue, I’m confident we’ll see a direct challenge to Roe, and I think that a decision fully overruling it is not implausible (i.e. a full-throated “wrong the day it was decided” overruling). A massive number of conservatives abhor Roe in a way that simply isn’t true for, say, Obergefell (which I expect is safe). The people calling the shots in making these decisions in the WH care about this issue in particular, even if Trump probably doesn’t care (and Gorsuch’s appointment shows that that group has decisive influence in this process).

            I think Roberts will be the swing vote for the next case reconsidering Roe, which bodes poorly for its survival.

            ETA: If Roe survives, I think Eric Rall is correct that it will be primarily because of stare decisis, not because the actual reasoning of Roe or Casey (where stare decisis was also decisive) is persuasive.

            That said, I think it’s easy to over-estimate the import of stare decisis in this context. Roe is the most divisive case in the last century, and it is at absolute best highly debatable as a legal matter. Despite the predictions of the Casey plurality, refusing to overturn Roe has hardly ended the debate over abortion.

            The Court has also shown a somewhat greater willingness to overturn precedents of this kind recently. Janus, decided this term, struck down Abood, which is approximately as old as Roe and also dealt with a politically contentious issue (mandatory union fees).

            I’m not sure that it’s more likely than not that Roe gets overturned in the next few years, but it’s genuinely probable at this point. There is a generation of conservatives who have diligently worked for this moment, and it’s actually within reach.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why should it be so hard to find a judge who is against Roe v. Wade and put them on the Supreme Court?

            Well, we’ve had I think four Republican presidents conspicuously fail at that task (for “will actually vote to directly overturn Roe v Wade” levels of “oppose”), so there seems to be something a bit tricky about it. At a guess:

            Supreme court candidates are de facto screened early by the Harvard and Yale law schools, and later by the American Bar Association, who can give opponents of an “unqualified” justice enough ammunition to block the nomination of any justice they really don’t like. As Brad notes, the Harriet Miers nomination shows that Republican senators aren’t just a rubber stamp for whomever POTUS picks. Harvard, Yale, and the ABA are all dominated by people who, while they may be OK with some expressions of conservative politics, are not going to look favorably on ideological firebrands who are going to overturn fifty years of foundational precedent because their God told them to.

            Also, Supreme Court candidates pretty much have to be US Appellate Court judges, or something of similar stature. Achieving and holding that job is is a strong filter for the sort of political acumen that understands how massively disruptive it would be to overturn Roe v Wade and how much it would harm conservative political causes in general.

            Also also, anyone who is truly willing to see the world burn for the sake of unborn babies, is going to have numerous opportunities to set the sort of fires that burn their own career to ash long before they get to SCOTUS-candidate level. And the bit where people carefully suppress their true political beliefs and inclinations all through their career until they reach the very top of the ladder, is not something real people do.

          • theredsheep says:

            Obligatory cynical answer: because hatred of Roe v. Wade is the thickest chain holding evangelicals and other religious voters in the GOP at this point. Obergefell is an implausibly popular ruling to target at this point, and we already have enough of a court presence to give at least some resistance to the “not baking cakes is tantamount to Jim Crow” crowd. Homeschooling seems fairly safe, everyone knows creationism and school prayer are simply not on the table anymore; what other hot issue is there? Trans? Promising but not delivering the destruction of Roe is the biggest cookie the GOP has to offer. Just about the only cookie.

            (I don’t know if anybody actually reasons it that way, though)

          • Supreme court candidates are de facto screened early by the Harvard and Yale law schools, and later by the American Bar Association, who can give opponents of an “unqualified” justice enough ammunition to block the nomination of any justice they really don’t like.

            It’s possible to graduate from a left of center law school without accepting its views—Clarence Thomas managed—and a degree from Harvard or Yale is not a requirement, although it helps.

            The ABA has a history of politically biased judgements–both Posner and Easterbrook got low ratings despite both impressive academic credentials before and very high performance as judges, judged by citations, after. Given how ideologically weighted the abortion issue is, I’m not sure an ABA refusal to endorse a candidate whose only visible disqualification was his view of Roe would carry much weight.

            My preferred candidate is Michael McConnell, who got generally favorable treatment by scholars when he was up for the appeals court, including ones left of center. He is on record as supporting a constitutional amendment to reverse Roe—I don’t know what his view is on whether it should be reversed without one.

            He is also a very nice guy, and one of the leading experts on church/state legal issues.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not sure an ABA refusal to endorse a candidate whose only visible disqualification was his view of Roe would carry much weight.

            It only has to carry enough weight to delay one Senator for a few months. The GOP currently has two explicitly pro-choice Senators who would be looking for an excuse to block an explicitly anti-Roe justice, and insisting on debating an “unqualified” nominee deep into election season would almost certainly be enough for that.

            My preferred candidate is Michael McConnell

            He’s not on the list, unfortunately.

      • Walter says:

        I don’t know what you mean by ‘when the dust settles’, but my prediction has always been that ultimately technology will give us some manner of external baby growing device, and the pro life cause will triumph. I don’t think it will be for a long time though.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          If we had extreme control over reproduction, such that a woman couldn’t get pregnant unless she really consciously wanted it and met with her doctor to make sure it happened, the need for abortion would die out, the desire to fight for the right would die out, and people would be shocked at how the primitives acted in the old days.

          Like if we could lab-grow meat for cheaper than factory-farming animals, that would win, and people would be shocked at how cruel we ever were to animals. And I say that as a meat-eater.

          • yodelyak says:

            This day is coming fast. I think cheap, non-invasive, non-hormonal reversible male birth control will be here soon.
            Five years? Ten?
            Link
            Link

          • keranih says:

            …For what it’s worth I think that we are there. Women who don’t want to be pregnant have all the tools they need at their disposal to keep from getting pregnant.

            What they lack is a responsible adult minder to force them to use those tools.

            As committed as I am to getting rid of elective abortion, I would not trade putting the autonomy of every woman under the control of a minder in this manner to do away with every last excuse for ‘unintended’ pregnancies.

            …not preemptively, at any rate.

        • theredsheep says:

          It would cost a significant amount of energy, and thus money, to keep an artificial womb running. This would certainly have political implications. Especially if the cost of the unit itself were high, which it almost certainly would be; there’d be a lot of anger about only the rich being allowed such a basic life function, and angsty reflections over the cost of keeping one baby alive vs. feeding X poor people etc.

    • Brad says:

      My strong impression is that Roberts doesn’t want big splashy decisions outright overruling major precedents. I expect to see a lot of nibbling and hollowing out.

      • disposablecat says:

        What would that look like for Obergefell, do you think?

        • Alphonse says:

          I expect we’ll see cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop come out the same way, but with stronger protections for people who make religious objections to the application of public accommodations laws in this context.

          I would be very surprised if there was a serious effort to get Obergefell overturned. Trying to reverse the tide on same-sex marriage seems futile, and in my experience the mainstream of conservative legal thought is fairly divided on same-sex marriage anyway. I know plenty of people who, despite thinking that the reasoning in Obergefell was awful (which it surely was!), were perfectly content with the outcome. And that includes card-carrying members of the Federalist Society (the primary conservative legal group).

          For all the hand-wringing happening on Twitter right now, Obergefell is here to stay. Kennedy’s retirement likely just means that more breathing room will be left in our society for people who disagree with same-sex marriage.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I was really disappointed with the logic of Obergefell. I’d been expecting a decision using Scalia’s dissents in Lawrence, Romer, and Windsor as a template. Basically, admitting that the court had been applying something more akin to intermediate scrutiny to cases about laws discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation (as Scalia’s dissents had argued), defending it on the basis of sexual orientation meeting the criteria for a semi-suspect classification (which there’s a pretty good case that it does), and ruling that an opposite-sex-only marriage rule didn’t hold up under the standard of scrutiny applied in the other three cases (also as Scalia’s dissents had argued in each of the three cases).

          • Lillian says:

            The logic i wanted in Obergefell is the marriage is nothing more than a legal contract for forming a household. It is demonstrable fact that same sex couples form households in a substantially similar manner people of opposite sexes, and for substantially the same reasons. There is no compelling reason to keep them from doing this, or to deny them legal recognition for having done this. The government can’t bar people from doing things just because it feels like it, so absent any compelling reason, the ban is unconstitutional. Yet, instead of treating it as a straightforward contractual matter, we instead got Kennedy waxing poetic about all this love and human dignity nonsense that has nothing to do with it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Lillian

            If marriage is just a straight contractural matter, the states have the power to regulated it absent a reason not to. And the Fourteenth Amendment does not mention sexual orientation. So there’s no grounds for Obergefell there.

          • Lillian says:

            There lots of things the Fourteenths Amendment does not mention which have since been read into the Constitutional penumbra. That’s the benefit (and downside) of having judicial review.

            That said, my specific argument does rely on smuggling in a second principle into the Constitution: That the government should not forbid things without a compelling reason, and that there’s a fairly high standard for what constitutes a compelling reason. It may not be possible to make it work without it, in which case my hope that the Court would use may been in vain.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        40 year precedent for union fees didn’t seem to be an issue for him.

        Obergefell, having passed through his court, seems more likely to trigger that reaction, I agree.

        • Brad says:

          Aboud was pretty obscure and only applied to public sector workers. I’m talking about on the decisions that the general public knows about. All bets are off on the low visibility stuff.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Brad:
            So, it’s not so much a matter of legal principle as … what? Desire to appear to be principled to people who aren’t paying attention?

            In other words, why is the “obscurity” of the principle in the eyes of the general public germane?

          • BBA says:

            For whatever reason, the public respects the Supreme Court as an institution. There’s a theory that this legitimacy will be degraded if the court is seen as acting too overtly politically. The more obscure the issue, the less likely the court is to attract public notice and the more politically it can behave.

            That’s the theory, anyway.

          • Alphonse says:

            Roberts is generally viewed as substantially concerned about his “legacy” and especially the institutional legitimacy of the Court. Viewed this lens, the distinction makes sense.

            Striking down the ACA would have incredibly high-profile and contentious, potentially undermining the perceived authority of the Court. At the end of the day, the Supreme Court is only powerful because it is viewed as basically legitimate. If the Court overextends, it risks causing the other branches to push back on it (see FDR’s attempt at Court packing).

            Overturning Roe raises these concerns to a substantial degree. It’s reasonably plausible that even if Roberts thinks that Roe was wrongly decided, that he wouldn’t want to expend the institutional capital to strike it down now.

            Overturning a less prominent case, such as Abood, will make some people angry, but it feels more like legal debate / inside baseball and less like the Court injecting itself into the political governance of the country (regardless of whether that’s true or not).

            This institutional legitimacy point is also a large reason I expect that Obergefell would be safe, even if Trump replaced both Kennedy and another of the liberal justices (Ginsburg or Breyer) — the same-sex marriage debate is largely settled and at least that aspect isn’t as contentious anymore, so I suspect the justices would elect to expend their institutional capital striking down other things (affirmative action, abortion, free speech restrictions, etc.).

          • Chalid says:

            For whatever reason, the public respects the Supreme Court as an institution.

            I’ve got to say, Mitch McConnell killed any respect I had for the institutional legitimacy of the court after whole Merrick Garland thing. I wonder how many people felt the same way.

          • Brad says:

            Alphonse wrote pretty much what I would have. Note that it isn’t a defense of that position just a description.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            @Chalid: How would you have felt if the Congress had voted on Garland, and voted “no”?

          • Matt M says:

            I wonder how many people felt the same way.

            About half, I’d guess.

            But don’t worry, the other side will feel that way too when the political parties in power change.

      • Matt M says:

        Agreed. If Roberts was willing to join the left on health care, what makes anyone think he won’t do the same for abortion?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          See, the thing is, the decision on the ACA was about as nakedly political a decision as you are going to see outside of Bush v. Gore. It seems to me that it’s not to Roberts’ credit that he only stuck the knife in part way.

          • John Schilling says:

            No, but it does have predictive value w/re how deeply the knife will go into Roe v. Wade.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think Roberts is perfectly happy to make the right to abortion so small that it can be drowned in a bathtub. As long as there is a nominal right, he will consider stare decisis to be satisfied, no matter how actually unavailable abortion becomes in states whose legislatures are controlled by those with antipathy to the right to choose.

          • John Schilling says:

            But the ACA hasn’t yet been drowned in a bathtub, in spite of obvious judicial avenues to that presumably desired end.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            You seem to be misinterpreting what I am saying.

            The ACA rested on much firmer footing, constitutionally, than the right to choose. Broadly, the case against the ACA was seen as essentially a joke.

            But Roberts still couldn’t vote down the case without inventing something to hand to the right wing opponents.

            This does not give me any confidence that he won’t simply follow the same pattern, especially when we already know that his belief, as a lawyer and a person if not member of the Supreme Court, is that Roe should be overturned.

          • Alphonse says:

            HBC,

            Perhaps this is because we were familiar with it from different angles, but I don’t think the ACA case was generally seen as a joke. The legal argument certainly wasn’t a slam dunk, but it wasn’t unreasonable. Congress has expansive Commerce Clause power, but upholding the ACA under it would have represented eliminating pretty much the last constraints. The majority agreed with this and said the ACA could not be justified under the Commerce Clause, which was the theory based upon which it was enacted.

            Using Congress’ Tax and Spend power to affirm the law was a clever dodge. But it wasn’t clever because it was easy to reach a result that upheld the law.

            There were some later cases challenging specific portions of the ACA that were more longshots, so perhaps that’s what you’re referring to. The challenge in NFIB v. Sebelius, however, was not a “joke.”

          • Brad says:

            @Alphonse
            Oh come on, what last constraints after Wikard and Raich? If Robert’s III-A had held that those cases should be overruled I could have respected it quite a bit. But as written it is a disgrace.

            The reasoning used to strike down the medicaid example is likewise well described as a joke.

          • Alphonse says:

            Brad,

            The distinction between economic activity and economic non-activity. Granted, you don’t have to find that distinction persuasive, but it is a decently workable distinction and one that would put Wickard on one side of the line and the ACA on the other. Dissolving that distinction would also grant the federal government something essentially indistinguishable from a general police power (and the absence of a general police power in the federal government’s authority is a basic principle). Lopez already represented the Court stepping back from some of the more expansive conceptions of the Commerce Clause, so making an activity vs. non-activity distinction was hardly a novel point.

            The Medicaid portion was reasonably predictable in terms of legal analysis. South Dakota v. Dole prohibited Congress from attaching coercive conditions to funding grants made under its Spending Power. The ACA’s Medicaid portions placed incredible pressure on the states. Unless the Court interpreted “coercive” to mean “states literally can’t say no,” in which case the doctrine is worthless since it would never apply, then the ACA Medicaid expansion was at minimum near the outer edge of what could be acceptable, which I don’t think makes striking it down a “joke.”

        • Walter says:

          It is always a treat to realize how different the mindsets of different parties/tribes are.

          For a conservative this question reads something like “If someone is willing to jaywalk, what makes you think they won’t kill people and eat their bodies?”

          Like, Roberts was appointed by a republican. Presumably beforehand they pulled him aside and were like “So… if you ever get the chance, you’ll stop them from slaughtering babies, right?” , and he gave them the serious, close mouthed nod that is deniable but means “obviously”.

          To put it another way, ‘join the left on health care’ is working with them, ‘join the left on abortion’ is just ‘join the left’, full stop. It is the only important moral issue to about a third of the Republican party. You don’t mess with the ladies of the pro life movement.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Predicated on Trump getting his first nominee confirmed, what odds do you give that SCOTUS will roll back the Roe-Wade 24 weeks time limit? How about rolling it back quite substantially?

      Others have mentioned that Planned Parenthood v. Casey already revised the Roe v. Wade trimester system substantially in favor of a viability standard. That said, I put very low odds on a substantial revision to the core findings of Casey, probably less than 5%. By my count, there’s only one firm vote on the Court currently to overturn Casey (Thomas), and one potential-but-unlikely vote (Gorsuch). Every judge on the court has now ruled on an abortion case, and only Thomas has written or joined in an opinion expressing an inclination to overturn Casey. Gorsuch is still an open question to a degree because the only abortion case he’s ruled on (the recent ruling about crisis pregnancy centers) was tangential to the core findings of Casey, but I’m counting him as unlikely because in his confirmation hearings he emphasized that he puts a lot of weight on the stare decisis value of Roe and Casey.

      Roberts and Alito both said similar things in their confirmation hearings, and both of them have ruled on a case that applied the Casey precedents (Gonzales v. Carhart). In that case, Roberts and Alito joined in full Kennedy’s majority opinion which upheld the statute in question (a federal ban on certain late-term abortion procedures) on basis of an argument that it wasn’t disallowed by standards established under Casey. Thomas wrote a concurrence expressing reservations about the validity of Casey, which Scalia joined, but Roberts and Alito both declined to join.

      I’d expect Kennedy’s replacement and any future supreme court appointment made by Trump and confirmed by a Republican Senate to be ideologically similar to Alito or Gorsuch. Thomas is really an outlier in terms of his willingness to reconsider major precedents (*), enough so that I doubt we’ll get another justice in the same mold. And even if I’ve read Gorsuch wrong and Kennedy’s replacement also defies my expectations, that’s three votes to overturn, and I very much doubt that both Ginsburg and Breyer will both leave the court before Democrats regain control of at least one of the Senate and the White House.

      (*) The heart of this is that he rejects the substantive due process doctrine entirely, instead favoring a doctrine rooted in the privileges and immunities clause of the 14th amendment to cover similar ground. This has a fair amount going for it from a theoretical perspective, but putting it into practice would require revising just about every individual liberties precedent from the past 60 years. Just about everyone other than Thomas is unwilling to go that far.

    • littskad says:

      I suspect that affirmative action (among generally left-supported issues) will be in more immediate trouble than either Roe or Obergefell.

      • Alphonse says:

        I completely agree with this. Kennedy’s vote was decisive in Fisher II, and I would be shocked if his replacement didn’t fall into the Roberts/Alito/Thomas camp on the next go around.

        The ongoing case against Harvard also provides a particularly attractive vehicle for the Court to completely reconsider allowing affirmative action (NYT article). When that case, or another similar to it, reaches the Court, I think the minimum we’ll see is a substantial contraction in what affirmative action policies are permitted, and we may see the complete prohibition of race-based affirmative action.

        • Aapje says:

          That would be great (and ironically very classically liberal).

        • albatross11 says:

          I’d like to see affirmative action ended (I’m not sure the SC is the place to do that, though–I think the SC makes policy way too often for an appointed body). And it seems likely that it will be ended or further limited, given the sequence of previous rulings that have basically required universities doing it to pretend they’re doing some more wholistic thing while still, in effect, keeping a quota for various minorities.

          On the other hand, public support for affirmative action in education is pretty widespread and has increased over time. (I assumed the opposite till I looked for some polling data.)
          Pew Center numbers.

          • Alphonse says:

            I generally agree that the Supreme Court should be much less involved in political decisions. Of course, complaints about an “activist Court” are hardly new, but I do think they still have a lot of merit.

            That said, affirmative action doesn’t strike me as an area where the Court need feel that restraint too strongly. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t have an exception for race-based classifications that help minorities, and I don’t think the Court’s precedents should either. Even for proponents of affirmative action, I think it’s fairly clear that affirmative action is an in-bounds legal debate as a matter of constitutional law (whereas it’s a real struggle to ground, say, Obergefell, in the text of the Constitution).

            Ending affirmative action is also reasonably consistent with stare decisis. The stated justification for permitting such race-based actions by the government has primarily been to ameliorate past harms, and the Court has indicated that’s a time-limited basis. Affirmative action isn’t supposed to run forever. I think the evidence is also reasonably clear that giving universities a blank check to discriminate in the name of “diversity” will lead to aggressively illegal conduct unless the federal courts police them constantly (as demonstrated by the ongoing Harvard case and even a passing familiarity with admissions at competitive institutions of higher learning). My preference would be to recognize that whatever positive integration results affirmative action could achieve have largely been accomplished, and that at this point “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

          • Matt M says:

            On the other hand, public support for affirmative action in education is pretty widespread and has increased over time.

            Interesting. I would have assumed the opposite as well.

            I feel like the Harvard case has the potential to overturn this, if not legally (I have no idea what the court is going to decide) than at least in the realm of popular opinion. The main difference today is that it’s not unsympathetic hetero-white males claiming “reverse discrimination,” the victims are much more sympathetic hard-working Asian students.

            Regardless of what the court does, Harvard is backed into a corner where it’s going to have to go into public court and defend the notion that it’s “personality assessment” accurately concludes that on average, Asians just have worse personalities than whites, who have worse personalities than Hispanics, who have worse personalities than blacks.

            The concept of “increasing diversity” is popular, particularly when you don’t explicitly make people aware that the way to do this is to punish more qualified (but less diverse) people. This was fine when the victims were assumed to all be evil white men. But once you start getting more sympathetic victims… I think opinion is about to sour on the entire enterprise.

          • Iain says:

            I think it’s fascinating that we’ve somehow decided that the Harvard mess is all the fault of affirmative action, when AA is really just a relatively minor part of the picture.

            In 2013, Asians made up 19% of Harvard admissions. If admission was purely based on grades, that would have been 43%. If you take athletics and legacy applicants into account, that number drops to 31%, and the proportion of white applicants goes up. (Based on the percentage of Harvard’s admissions that are legacy applicants vs athletes, roughly three-quarters of that effect is from legacy admissions.) Taking extra-curriculars and the infamous “personal ratings” into account lowers the number further, to 26% — again, to the benefit of white applicants. (I haven’t found any evidence to show that Hispanic or black applicants get an advantage over Asian applicants at this point. If somebody has a source, I’m open to correction.)

            Only the last 8% gap is the result of affirmative action. The personal ratings that everybody’s angry about are a separate component. Somehow, though, a leaked report showing that Asian applicants are discriminated against relative to equally qualified white applicants has become a justification for ending affirmative action.

            (The fact that the exact same thing happened a century ago, with Jews in the place of Asians, should also cast doubt on the idea that affirmative action is the culprit here.)

          • Matt M says:

            Iain,

            I’m not sure about the legal definition of AA. I’m not really interested, to be honest.

            As far as I’m concerned, this mess at Harvard is an indictment on the “diversity as a terminal value” mindset. Which is utterly ubiquitous at every major university, and most major employers.

            Like I said, I have no idea what the legal outcome of this case will be in terms of what specific admission practices will or won’t continue to be legal. But I think that’s almost beside the point. The more we put cases like this in the public spotlight, the more scrutiny that is applied to “diversity” programs in general, the more the public will become aware of the fact that “promoting diversity” means, in a very real and practical sense, denying opportunities to well-deserving people, many of whom aren’t even the hated white-man.

            I’m not confident the public is interested in that sort of thing, whether it manifests itself as AA, admission quotas, personality assessments, whatever.

          • johansenindustries says:

            @Iain

            We live in a different time from then, yet somehow Harvard has gotten away with discriminating hugely against Asians? How? perhaps, times have not changed as much as thought, but I think it is obvious to a lot of people that Harvard got away with racial discrimination because we permit racial discrimination in affirmative action.

          • Alphonse says:

            Iain,

            Without getting into all the details, it isn’t really accurate to treat the “personal ratings” as distinct from the broader affirmative action program run at Harvard. The Asian applicants score just as well on the personal ratings by teachers and administrators at their schools and by the Harvard alumni who actually interview them in person. The only people who give the Asian applicants lower “personal ratings” are the admissions officials at Harvard, who never meet them. And the only metric that predicts those lower ratings is race. The plaintiffs allege that the “personal ratings” are just a thinly veiled way of applying a minus factor to Asian applicants, and there’s little in the record to dispute that claim (even if it hasn’t been conclusively proven, yet).

            Harvard’s insistence on increasing the admission of favored minority groups also explains the entire system. If Harvard wants to use affirmative action to boost a large number African American and Hispanic applicants into the student body (which it clearly does), then it has to pull those slots from somewhere. Either those seats get taken away from Asians (as in the status quo) or from white students, with no caps on Asians, in which case the number of whites admitted would fall dramatically.

            I think Harvard’s experience with Jewish applicants supports the plaintiffs quite nicely. Harvard built its admissions system with the goal of not letting in too many undesirables who would otherwise qualify. In the early twentieth century, the undesirables were Jews. In the early twenty-first century, the undesirables are Asians.

            Granted, the discrimination against Asians is not solely because of affirmative action. It seems reasonably likely that Harvard would be denying qualified Asian applicants for spurious “personal ratings” reasons even if race-based affirmative action were entirely illegal. But the discrimination would be less severe – Harvard admits many otherwise unqualified African American and Hispanic students because of their race, and those seats have to come from somewhere. For the most part, it appears that those seats get taken away from much more qualified Asian applicants. I expect that most people will look pretty disfavorably upon that as that gains more publicity.

            Finally, as others have said, I think the main reason Harvard can get away with this kind of nonsense is because race-based affirmative action is legal. End the permissibility of that, and you make these kinds of schemes much harder to operate (not impossible, but much, much more difficult).

          • albatross11 says:

            The way it looks to me is:

            a. Harvard manages its admissions to get a desired racial mix.

            b. Different races perform differently in school and on standardized tests, on average.

            c. The specific mix they want is the result of a political / social discussion. I

            d. There is basically no chance that the racial mix they’d get by race-blind admissions happens to be the same as the result of that political process.

            e. The only way Harvard can get its desired racial mix is thus to apply different standards to different racial groups.

            f. It’s politically acceptable (IMO for dumb reasons) to discriminate against whites in admissions, but not to discriminate against nonwhites.

            g. Asians outperform whites in grades and test scores (and in intellectual performance in general) on average.

            h. Thus, Harvard, in order to get their desired racial mix, has had to discriminate against Asians. Now that this has become visible, they’ve got a problem, because while discriminating against whites is okay, discriminating against Asians really isn’t.

            I think there are three ways out for Harvard:

            1. They somehow tweak their admissions scheme to be more opaque / plausibly deniable while still getting their desired racial mix.

            2. They stop discriminating against Asians. They will then have lots of Asians being admitted, and those places will have to come from somewhere. That breaks down to two further sub-choices:

            2a. They maintain current levels of black and hispanic admissions, and take the seats from whites. The admissions requirements for whites go up, for Asians they go down, and fewer whites are let in.

            2b. They abandon the whole racial-mix idea and more-or-less go with student merit.

            In practice, I predict that (1) is the most likely outcome (add epicycles to the model until it just happens by random chance that Asians with 1600 SATs and perfect grades in their four AP courses/year just aren’t as good Harvard material as blacks with 1400 SATs and good-but-not-perfect grades). But if we go down (2), I think we’ll get (2a). And I think this will become another point of culture war tension, with a lot of ink spilled to explain why smart middle-class white kids should be okay with not getting to go to Harvard so that we can keep getting the benefits of having Harvard get enough black and hispanic students, and lots of whites being pretty resentful about it.

          • albatross11 says:

            As an aside, it’s worth noting that admissions by race are inherently a zero-sum game–assuming next year’s Harvard class is the same size as last year’s, more Asians getting in means fewer of some other group getting in.

            In general, taking seats from whites and giving them to Asians is likely to be more politically and legally acceptable than taking them from blacks/hispanics and giving them to Asians (which is mostly what will happen if you go to race-blind admissions).

            But I think the long-term political consequences of doing that will not be anything that the sort of people who value affirmative action programs will like. I think if you want to encourage whites at the high end of wealth and intelligence and education to start thinking in terms of white racial interests, this is pretty much the perfect issue to do that on. If, on the other hand, you think racial identity politics are poison (as I do), then this is about the worst policy you can imagine.

            Further, in 1990 you could sort-of keep the raw zero-sum nature of the thing out of the public consciousness, because most respectable media sources were very careful in how they covered the issue to avoid giving the wrong sort of people cover. But in 2018, that’s not going to work at all–every kid applying to an Ivy League university is going to know about this, and so will their parents.

          • lvlln says:

            I wonder if, in the long run, affirmative action proponents will just bite the bullet and make the categorization into Whites-and-Asians and not-Whites-and-Asians for groups that it’s OK to discriminate against and for, respectively. I’ve been sensing a sort of shift like this bubbling for a few years as the theory has had to get in contact with reality, but it also seems possible to me that it’s the sort of thing that might always just keep bubbling without ever producing an actual shift. I think this Harvard lawsuit might be a high volatility event that could shift things really hard in some direction. There’s also the recent Google lawsuit by a former recruiter contending that they were explicitly told to discriminate against white and Asian men.

          • johansenindustries says:

            @lvlln

            Wuith the Chinese railroads and the Japanese camps, I think one can only discrimate against Asians in favour of Hispanics by saying some frank things about hispanics.

          • Alphonse says:

            lvlln

            That change already happened, some time ago, at least in most admissions arenas which I am familiar with. For law school, the relevant criteria isn’t “minority” or “non-white” but “under-represented-minority” (commonly abbreviated “URM”). The general understanding was that affirmative action wasn’t white applicants versus non-white applicants, but URMs getting boosted over non-URMs.

            Of course, African-American URMs still got a bit of an extra boost, but the basic division (URM vs. non-URM) was quite clear. Harvard’s admissions appear to pretty much follow this model. Asians just get screwed twice, since admissions counselors don’t want to let too many of the merit-based slots go to Asians such that whites are getting too obviously excluded, so the admission standards for whites get lowered some as well (even if remaining much higher than for URMs).

            Back in the day when affirmative action was mostly about boosting non-white applicants over white applicants, the proponents could at least claim that it was about correcting for historical wrongs or some such. But that’s a much harder line to advance when you’re disadvantaging Asian students, which is why the opponents of affirmative action are focusing on these types of cases.

            I think the political consequences will be pretty much as albatross11 predicts. Either affirmative action will be allowed to finally die, and explicit discrimination on the basis of race will diminish in influence, or the groups who are disadvantaged under the current system will start to identify that way and organize (even more than at present).

          • Aapje says:

            @Alphonse

            It seems to me that greater AA discrimination against Asians than against whites strongly undermines the claim that poor qualifications reflect past harms. After all, Asians get more AA discrimination because they are more qualified than whites, while in the past, Asians obviously got more discrimination than whites. So not only did Asians catch up with whites, they surpassed them.

            It seems to me that the best person to challenge AA in front of the supreme court would be an Asian person, preferably one who can show evidence for racial discrimination against their ancestors.

            @Iain

            I consider legacy and athlete admissions to be absurd elements of the US college system…however, AFAIK there is no (agreed upon) constitutional prohibition against favoring the elite or athletes, while it is agreed that it (normally) prohibits favoring one race over the other.

            So AA is a constitutional issue, while legacy and athlete admissions are an issue on which the administration and/or Congress and/or colleges have the legal freedom to create the policy or laws they desire.

          • quanta413 says:

            @lvlln

            I wonder if, in the long run, affirmative action proponents will just bite the bullet and make the categorization into Whites-and-Asians and not-Whites-and-Asians for groups that it’s OK to discriminate against and for, respectively.

            This is already true in fact although not openly stated. The long run looks like it’s arriving in NYC to me though. When Richard Carranza said, “I just don’t buy into the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools” he wasn’t talking about whites. He was talking about Asians.

          • Brad says:

            Regardless of what the court does, Harvard is backed into a corner where it’s going to have to go into public court and defend the notion that it’s “personality assessment” accurately concludes that on average, Asians just have worse personalities than whites, who have worse personalities than Hispanics, who have worse personalities than blacks.

            I agree this is going to be a tough sell to the general public, but I would think the audience that would be most receptive to it would be the one that already likes to talk about psychological differences and race.

          • quanta413 says:

            I agree this is going to be a tough sell to the general public, but I would think the audience that would be most receptive to it would be the one that already likes to talk about psychological differences and race.

            It’s too bad that personality constructs are relatively worthless for predicting anything important. And that it’s a lot easier to fake a personality on paper than most things.

            I mean the following sincerely-

            It really would be nice if there were meaningful objective assessments of personality that helped people sort themselves/ helped institutions sort people into good career paths. And it would be even more convenient if these measures just happened to somehow balance out the disparities found in other measures.

            But if we were looking at delaying gratification or something, Asians probably do better at the marshmallow test too.

          • Alphonse says:

            Aapje,

            You’re exactly correct, which I think is why we’re starting to see a shift by anti-affirmative action groups toward using Asian plaintiffs. Foreclosing the argument that the affirmative action program is justified to remedy past discrimination is one of the particularly attractive aspects of the case against Harvard (for opponents of affirmative action).

            Brad,

            Even if you’re right about the audience most likely to be receptive, those aren’t the people Harvard needs to persuade – I expect the proponents of such views largely disfavor affirmative action already (at least as it exists in modern America). In any case, whatever one thinks of the accuracy of such stereotypes, Harvard’s program seems like a pernicious way of reaching them. It’s worth reiterating that none of the people who actually meet the Asian students rate them worse in terms of personality traits – not their teachers and not the Harvard alumni interviewers who talk to them in person. The only people who give them worse ratings are the Harvard admissions administrators, which is why it ends up looking like a less than subtle dummy variable for penalizing Asian applicants on the basis of their race.

            quanta413,

            Note that Harvard would be stuck in the unenviable position of arguing that not only can personality be meaningfully measured despite people’s attempts to fake it, but that it’s easier to fake in person than on paper, since the people who meet the Asian applicants in person don’t believe they have worse personalities. I think that’s pretty much an impossible sell.

          • I don’t think so.

            Non-discrimination law is part of modern liberalism, not classical liberalism, since it’s a sharp restriction on freedom of association, contract, etc. In my view, Harvard should be free to discriminate in its admissions any way it wants, including the way it does. Affirmative action should be illegal only for state schools.

            There would be a certain pleasure in seeing leftish schools hoist by their own petard, but that’s not coming from my classical liberal views.

          • The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t have an exception for race-based classifications that help minorities

            Harvard isn’t a state actor. Rules against private discrimination come from legislation, not the constitution.

          • Alphonse says:

            David Friedman,

            You are certainly correct that Harvard is not a state actor and therefore is not directly subject to the Constitution. My commentary on that point was imprecise.

            My understanding is that private universities largely end up operating under the same rules as state institutions with respect to this issue, however, so long as they accept federal funds. Since virtually every college and university in the country accepts federal funds, there isn’t much difference on the ground. I think the legal theories against Harvard are pretty much the same as those against similar state universities, although you are correct that the route to get to that point is more circuitous.

            (I would also prefer a system where the federal government is pretty much entirely removed from the realm of higher education – no guaranteed federal student loans, etc. – but we’re a long way away from that point, and so long as we have this system, I’d prefer to have it without the government providing funding to universities that discriminate on the basis of race.)

            I’m pretty sympathetic to the view that private entities should be able to discriminate how they please (e.g. I am sympathetic to the plaintiffs in Masterpiece Cakeshop), but if we’re going to require private actors to refrain from discriminating on the basis of race in any area, I think higher education seems like one of the more reasonable ones to apply anti-discrimination rules to both public and private conduct.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some genetic and cultural personality differences across racial groups in the US. I’d certainly be interested in any research along these lines. And I’d be very happy to see it discussed in public, if, say, Harvard would like to make a defense based on racial differences in personality test scores.

            However, I very much doubt that would explain the pattern that has appeared in news stories w.r.t. Asian applicants to Harvard, where, as I understand it, the people doing the in-person interviews rated Asians as having about the same personality as anyone else, whereas people in the back office who hadn’t met the applicants rated Asians extra low on personality, in a way that just happened to justify making it much harder for Asians than whites to qualify for admission.

          • johan_larson says:

            What I don’t understand in this case is Harvard’s motivation in keeping the number of Asians down. It makes sense to me that they would try to bring up the numbers of various mistreated minorities. Trying to compensate for past wrongs has a certain nobility to it. But why worry about the balance of whites and Asians at all?

            I work in software, where the workforces tend to skew heavily Asian, both south and east, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone complain about there being too many of them. Just saying such a thing would be deeply suspect. Critics tend to focus on under-representation by blacks, Latinos, and women.

            The only way this makes any sense to me at all is that Harvard, in an effort to raise the number of blacks and Latinos it recruits, implemented various rules and practices that inadvertently affected Asians more than whites. But that doesn’t seem to be what happened. So I am left puzzled.

          • Brad says:

            My first instinct would be to follow the money.

          • quanta413 says:

            I think Brad may be correct.

            In the sense that “Harvard alumni who donate don’t want to see a campus that’s 50% Asian because these alumni are subtly racist” or “rich white people are subtly racist and won’t want to go to Harvard as much if it becomes 50% Asian”. I think it likely is the Jewish admissions fiasco all over again.

            But given the size of Harvard’s endowment, this may be the equivalent of Jeff Bezos deciding he needs to turn tricks to increase his income.

            And affirmative action towards other minorities obviously doesn’t explain the results, since Harvard is also easier on white applicants than on Asian applicants.

          • Aapje says:

            @johan_larson

            It seems to me that slavery caused a special feeling of guilt towards black people that doesn’t exist towards Asians. Furthermore, Asians severely muck up the narrative that is used to explain why black people are still doing so poorly.

            So ironically, it would then minimize cognitive dissonance to harm Asians until black people manage to get proportionate access on merit.

            @Brad

            That may explain discriminating in favor of whites at the expense of Asians*, but not discriminating in favor of black people.

            * Are Asians much less likely to donate to their former university? The statistics suggest that they have the income to donate, but it may not be part of their culture as much as for white people.

          • Brad says:

            @Quanta413
            I didn’t go to Harvard but my alma mater dear has 10 figures in the bank and that doesn’t stop them from obsessively fund raising.

            Charities in general and universities in particular have serious principal-agent problems that lead them to be as money hungry as any openly for profit company.

          • Protagoras says:

            The goal of Harvard admissions is not to have the most academically impressive student body, it is to have a student body consisting of the future leaders of America. This is correlated with academic success, but far from perfectly. I do not know if Harvard is correct that academically successful Asians are less likely to be part of their intended target group than academically successful members of other ethnic groups, but such a belief (or a more complicated set of beliefs with the same consequences) is surely responsible for their policies.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I work in software, where the workforces tend to skew heavily Asian, both south and east, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone complain about there being too many of them.

            I have, both put that way and complaining about H1-B (and it’s not European H1-Bs they’re talking about). Much more in the lower-tier business software and IT world than Silicon Valley tech, and especially in consulting. There are both good and bad reasons for this.

            However, when the usual “diversity” pushers complain about too many Asians in tech, they usually phrase it as “too many whites” or “too many white males” (whereas if you look at the numbers, whites are underrepresented), or by complaining about too few “marginalized people” or “URMs” (underrepresented minorities)

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Brad

            They aren’t sitting on the endowment; a lot is invested. They gotta keep hustling. I think it’s different in the US, because y’all care more about university athletics, but in Canada the highest-paid person on campus is frequently the investment advisor, and we don’t have anywhere as rich as the Ivies – the best and richest Canadian institutions are public universities; there’s a couple that are on par with the best American public universities.

          • Brad says:

            Right. In the bank was proverbial. Though now that you bring it up, some universities are way out of their league. Cooper Union was essentially destroyed by hubris on the part of the president / board which enabled them to be conned by Wall Street bankers.

          • I didn’t go to Harvard but my alma mater dear has 10 figures in the bank and that doesn’t stop them from obsessively fund raising.

            I did go to Harvard, and I still get fund raising messages from them. There are few charities I am less likely to donate to.

          • gbdub says:

            Interesting conspiratorial theory I saw regarding Asian admissions – it’s not that over representation of Asians vs. whites is per se a problem, it’s that Asian students heavily self select into hard sciences and engineering programs. Letting in too many would gut the student populations of social science and humanities departments, so in some sense this is a power play by those departments to keep their budgets and influence.

          • Brad says:

            If that’s the issue, I don’t see what the problem is with doing it openly. Put the STEM subjects into the engineering school, have separate admissions, and not let students transfer between schools.

          • Education Hero says:

            This would draw more attention towards the even stronger disparate impact among STEM majors.

            Preventing transfers would also create problems given the enormous efforts to increase women and URMs in STEM subjects; universities would either have to cut back on those recruitment efforts or dropout rates among those demographics would increase in the absence of the ability to transfer out.

            Both of these would result in the sort of scrutiny and ideological crises that the education system prefers to avoid.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            Charities in general and universities in particular have serious principal-agent problems that lead them to be as money hungry as any openly for profit company.

            I think you’ve pretty much nailed it. To go into more detail, I think it’s the same problem companies experience with CEOs who may be incentivized to boost short-term metrics at the expense of the long-term.

            In the long run of a couple generations, I don’t think it would hurt Harvard’s prestige and fiscal position to admit more Asians. But in the short run, it’s very plausible. So risking some long term institutional reputation looks good to whoever’s in charge, because Harvard has so much of that built up they could lose a lot of it before the problem became obvious. And they aren’t going to get blamed for the loss of reputation. They’ll be long gone.

          • Aapje says:

            @Education Hero

            Women have been doing better than men at colleges and if the same thing is true for Asians, would’t admitting more Asians be the easiest way to get more women in STEM?

          • Education Hero says:

            Women have been doing better than men at colleges and if the same thing is true for Asians, would’t admitting more Asians be the easiest way to get more women in STEM?

            Asian-American women are actually less likely to go into STEM relative to Asian-American men than American women are relative to American men, despite the opposite trend when comparing American women to Asian women from Asian countries. This appears consistent with the fact that women from more egalitarian societies are actually less likely to go into STEM (likely because reduced economic pressures facilitates women following their sex-linked preferences). Thus, admitting more Asian-American students would actually magnify the disparity between male and female STEM students.

            My anecdotal experiences as an educational consultant strongly corroborate that even among Silicon Valley students, Asian-American girls rarely pursue STEM majors. I’ve also crunched some of the numbers for you below.

            Using the latest (2014-2015) data available for bachelor’s degrees conferred to females and males, we can do a few calculations (with a few assumptions such as disregarding differences with foreign student demographics), to see through the deliberately opaque presentation of data:

            – Females represent 57% (1,082,276 / 1,894,945) of college graduates.
            – Males represent 43% (812,669 / 1,894,945) of college graduates.

            – Asians represent 6.8% (128,960 / 1,894,945) of college graduates, (despite being 5.6% of the US population).
            – Asian females represent 6.5% (70,079 / 1,082,276) of college graduates.
            – Asian males represent 7.2% (58,881 / 812,669) of college graduates.

            Disregarding the life sciences, health professions, and psychology degrees commonly used to pad STEM statistics, we can see that:

            – Females represent 39% (119,876 / 308,028) of STEM college graduates.
            – Males represent 61% (188,152 / 308,028) of STEM college graduates.

            – Asian females represent 5.3% (16,282 / 308,028) of STEM college graduates.
            – Asian males represent 8.1% (24,996 / 308,028) of STEM college graduates.

            – Male college graduates are 1.4x more likely to graduate with a STEM degree than female college graduates.
            – Asian male college graduates are 1.8x more likely to graduate with a STEM degree than Asian female college graduates.

          • Brad says:

            @Education Hero

            This would draw more attention towards the even stronger disparate impact among STEM majors.

            Preventing transfers would also create problems given the enormous efforts to increase women and URMs in STEM subjects; universities would either have to cut back on those recruitment efforts or dropout rates among those demographics would increase in the absence of the ability to transfer out.

            Both of these would result in the sort of scrutiny and ideological crises that the education system prefers to avoid.

            Thanks for the response.

            I agree that there are no pain free options here (from the perspective of college administrators).

            However while some (many?) on SSC that seem to strongly think that colleges ought to run admissions with the sole aim of achieving a class with the highest average SAT score possible, I think outside SSC most would think that it is perfectly legitimate for Harvard or Yale to want to have English and History majors instead of transforming themselves into MIT and CalTech because the kids with the highest SATs disproportionately don’t want to study English or History. I think relatively few people across the political spectrum would see attempting to achieve such a distribution of majors be a stalking horse for discriminating against Asians.

            So going back to what gbdub if the real problem is skewed majors it makes more sense to acknowledge that and put solutions in place that directly go to it then to secretly discriminate against Asians in hopes of indirectly fixing that problem, given that almost everyone is going to be more offended by the latter than the former.

          • Brad says:

            I thought about it some more and making the anti-transfer rule asymmetrical solves most of the problems. The original problem is that the university wanted sufficient liberal arts and social sciences majors. In order to ensure that you can have separate admissions for STEM and the liberal arts and social sciences sub-schools. Then the issue becomes people that want to game the system by applying to the sub-school that they don’t really intend to graduate from. So you ban transfers. Then as EH points out you have the problem of people that can’t hack physics and are forced to drop out of the whole university. But people moving from STEM to liberals arts or social sciences aren’t an issue for the problem at hand. On the contrary. So the schools only need to be transfers in the other direction — to the STEM sub-school, not from it.

            With that solution you have sufficient English and History majors and no elevated drop out rate. Admittedly you still have the “problem” of demographic differences between the sub-schools, but it isn’t like there’s any solution for the analogous problem now.

          • Education Hero says:

            However while some (many?) on SSC that seem to strongly think that colleges ought to run admissions with the sole aim of achieving a class with the highest average SAT score possible, I think outside SSC most would think that it is perfectly legitimate for Harvard or Yale to want to have English and History majors instead of transforming themselves into MIT and CalTech because the kids with the highest SATs disproportionately don’t want to study English or History.

            Although the given example of majors is a weaker one (see the last portion of this post below), I agree that colleges have a compelling interest to select students for non-academic factors (such as expected future influence and donations, which do not correlate as strongly with the test scores of Asian applicants). Moreover, I would support their freedom of association regardless. The complaint about affirmative action, however, is that it is neither applied transparently nor consistently.

            It is not the case that admissions committees use other variables to predict success and Asians simply don’t measure up on those variables (although this would probably be true); instead, admissions committees functionally use race as a minus factor to achieve their desired demographics. Colleges certainly don’t acknowledge that they have a compelling reason to discriminate because Asian students tend not to achieve future success proportionate with their high academic performance. Instead, affirmative action purports to correct historical discrimination against disadvantaged groups, which clearly isn’t true when you consider Asians. All of this blatant dishonesty would provoke incredible scrutiny in the case of any favored minority group.

            Further, no one would dare to apply these policies or arguments to favored minorities. Colleges aren’t permitted to discriminate against Jewish students because they want fewer business majors, nor have fewer women’s sports because they want a certain distribution of athletes. Businesses aren’t permitted to make less than a Herculean effort to recruit favored minorities, let alone attempt to justified disparate impact on the ground that they want a certain distribution of technical to non-technical jobs. Sports teams can’t mount efforts to recruit less qualified Asian athletes on the grounds that this would benefit them financially by bringing in Asian fans.

            I think relatively few people across the political spectrum would see attempting to achieve such a distribution of majors be a stalking horse for discriminating against Asians.

            Yes, but only because Asians are not a favored class. If Black, Hispanic, or female applicants were passed over in favor of less-qualified White, Asian, or male applicants to achieve a particular distribution of majors, there would be significant social, political, and legal backlash. Cf. the popular tendency to see any explanation for disparate impact as a thinly-veiled excuse for discrimination.

            So going back to what gbdub if the real problem is skewed majors it makes more sense to acknowledge that and put solutions in place that directly go to it then to secretly discriminate against Asians in hopes of indirectly fixing that problem, given that almost everyone is going to be more offended by the latter than the former.

            Skewed majors are probably only a small part of why colleges discriminate against Asians. After all, colleges could easily accept more Asian non-STEM students, but in practice they discriminate against these students as well, if not as heavily as they do with the Asian STEM students.

          • quanta413 says:

            Even assuming the disparity is entirely due to STEM/non-STEM differences (which I highly doubt), splitting admissions by major would probably still result in having more Asians compared to the current plan because people respond to incentives.

            A Harvard degree in any major is still a big deal. If Harvard is explicit about splitting admissions into STEM and non-STEM people will notice one of these is easier to get into and some Asians will respond by switching from STEM to non-STEM. There may be a few years of breathing room, but with the Asian population of the U.S. growing proportionally to the total population it’s not gonna last. With high schoolers as applicants, the qualifications for college admission are largely the same for most majors (sans things like music performance or composition) so it hardly makes any difference.

          • albatross11 says:

            You could solve that problem by simply limiting the number of seats in the STEM programs.

          • quanta413 says:

            You could solve that problem by simply limiting the number of seats in the STEM programs.

            What does that solve?

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m not at all saying I think colleges should only select on maximum test scores. I am saying that I’m broadly okay with two different sets of rules for society:

            a. Private organizations (companies, universities, etc.) may discriminate as they see fit, for any reason or none. Freedom of association for all, and let the chips fall where they may.

            b. Private organizations (companies, universities, etc.) may not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation or identity, etc. Antidiscrimination law for all, and let the chips fall where they may.

            Either of these rulesets is acceptable to me, but I’d like us to choose one and stick with it. What is unacceptable to me, as a matter of justice and consistency, is a situation in which it is acceptable (and maybe mandatory) to discriminate against people who look like me and my kids, but forbidden to discriminate against people who don’t look like me and my kids.

            If Harvard can discriminate against Asians and (to a lesser extent) against whites, to ensure enough blacks and hispanics, and Google can discriminate against white and Asian men in hiring, then Wal-Mart can decide that only married WASP men with gray in their hair will become store managers. Freedom works pretty well, and irrational discrimination doesn’t pay, so I think the result of this will be very little actual discrimination. On the other hand, I definitely see the case for antidiscrimination law continuing for the forseeable future. But it should apply consistently, not selectively to favored groups.

          • Brad says:

            @albatross11
            I don’t think colleges ought to discriminate against Asians or be legally allowed to discriminate against Asians. Nor should they be allowed to get away with thin pretexts to the same end–which is what this Harvard personality thing looks like to me.

            But on the other hand I think they have zero obligation–moral or legal–to matriculate a class in keeping with the dominant monomanical view here of what constitutes “merit”. Imposing such a rule is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

            @quanta413

            Even assuming the disparity is entirely due to STEM/non-STEM differences (which I highly doubt), splitting admissions by major would probably still result in having more Asians compared to the current plan because people respond to incentives.

            gbdub posited that the discrimination against Asians was motivated, at least in large part, by a desire for non-STEM majors. What I laid out solves that problem.

            You can certainly disagree with his premise, but it seems like you are just talking past it instead of explicitly arguing against it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Brad

            There’s various things a school can select for. However, intentional vagueness in what the element of “character” or “leadership” or whatever is, seems designed to provide a smokescreen for some kind of discrimination, or at least to enable it. In general, vague criteria are a strong adjunct to discrimination.

          • Aapje says:

            @Education Hero

            Thanks for doing the calculation, very interesting and unexpected! Perhaps the Asian women that do go into STEM go into IT relatively often, leading to my misperception. However, I don’t understand your reasoning why Asian women would choose STEM less than white women. It seems to me that Asians have a more traditional culture than whites, so one would then expect more Asian women to choose STEM.

            Perhaps Asian women are so desired on the dating market, including by white men, that they can pick the most providery men and thus have less need for a high personal income than white women?

            @gbdub & Brad

            If Harvard et al are trying to get more people to study History and English, rather than Computer Science and such, then I would argue that they are evil.

            There is already a surplus of college graduates in those fields compared to the available jobs, while STEM is mostly begging for more well-educated graduates. Without that discrimination, more people would have a good income and less stress, the fields that drive economic growth would do better, etc. So if they are doing that, they are harming both individuals and the US as a whole.

            Finally, I think it is immoral for Harvard et al not to openly say what their actual goals are, so society can decide whether they like this.

          • Brad says:

            That’s frankly a really stupid comment. Harvard’s entering class is something like 3000 people. There’s more than 3000 18 year olds every year that want to study liberal arts and the social sciences. Picking some them for their matriculating class rather than filing the entire class with people that want to study STEM isn’t creating English and History majors out of whole cloth, isn’t harming those students, and isn’t harming the United States.

            If Harvard has some stand alone moral obligation to train as many people as possible in STEM and straying from that obligation to do anything else is evil, then you have a moral obligation to be out there educating people in STEM instead of writing so many comments here. So why aren’t you?

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            gbdub posited that the discrimination against Asians was motivated, at least in large part, by a desire for non-STEM majors. What I laid out solves that problem.

            You can certainly disagree with his premise, but it seems like you are just talking past it instead of explicitly arguing against it.

            Sure. That’s not the world we live in. I’ll elaborate. If this was the problem, Harvard could have done what Berkeley did in the 1970s when its admissions numbers led it to be afraid of being sued based on the claim that it was discriminating against women for graduate program admissions. Note Berkeley was never actually sued as far as I can find; this was just due diligence. Just release enough information on admits by major, race, and qualifications to prove that it’s actually all just Simpson’s paradox and Asians are equally likely to be admitted into any given program given qualifications. Then the government case would fall apart, and we could all have a good laugh.

            On top of that, gbdubs explanation for the disparity totally fails to explain the voodoo magic by which Asian candidates have personality scores that drop on paper but not in person.

            So you aren’t actually solving Harvard’s real problem which is that their short term incentives are to maintain a certain racial composition. You’re just reassigning a few Asians from STEM to non-STEM. Which doesn’t really change anything.

            But on the other hand I think they have zero obligation–moral or legal–to matriculate a class in keeping with the dominant monomanical view here of what constitutes “merit”.

            The constant tacit assumption that Asians are somehow inferior at some unspecified criteria is unfounded. The people who actually interview candidates don’t give Asians worse personality scores. Give a criteria and provide some proof.

            I highly doubt there are enough student athletes at Harvard to really shift the numbers much here.

            @Aapje

            It’s ridiculously over the top to say that Harvard wanting some English majors is evil. Harvard majors in anything do well later in life. There could be a Harvard major in underwater basketweaving and that’d still be viewed as a plus with a lot of employers. The degree is mostly signalling anyways.

          • Brad says:

            @quanta413

            But on the other hand I think they have zero obligation–moral or legal–to matriculate a class in keeping with the dominant monomanical view here of what constitutes “merit”.

            The constant tacit assumption that Asians are somehow inferior at some unspecified criteria is unfounded. The people who actually interview candidates don’t give Asians worse personality scores. Give a criteria and provide some proof.

            I highly doubt there are enough student athletes at Harvard to really shift the numbers much here.

            I don’t think I made that assumption, tacitly or otherwise, anywhere. I specifically said that I thought Harvard’s personality thing was a likely a thin pretext for racial discrimination which I think is both wrong and ought be a illegal.

            That doesn’t mean I think they have an obligation to publish criteria that you and dndnrsn think are sufficiently objective. I don’t think colleges in general have an obligation to open themselves up anymore than they already are to gaming.

            The current legal framework seems entirely reasonable to me. Show intentional discrimination *or* show a disparate impact, in which case the burden shifts to the school to demonstrate a non discriminatory, bona fide educational purpose for the rule.

            Based on the, admittedly relatively small amount, reading I’ve done so far the Harvard plaintiff’s have a decent case on both prongs. And if Harvard is adjudicated a discriminator it might well be reasonable as part of judgement against them to limit the discretion they are allowed for a time given that they would have been found to have abused it. But that’s not the same thing as saying that colleges in general should or should be forced to publish “objective” admissions criteria.

            Finally, with respect, the tail end of your post seems to be edging dangerously close to racial supremacy. You seem to be claiming that any reasonable criteria would produce a class that’s disproportionately Asian as compared to the overall population of the United States. Am I missing something?

          • Aapje says:

            @quanta413

            Perhaps I took it too far. Yet it seems to me that Harvard is a model for many lesser universities. Will the basketweaving/English majors at Evergreen find jobs that easily?

          • albatross11 says:

            quanta413:

            If the justification for establishing higher entrance requirements for Asians than for everyone else is that the Asians will all want to major in STEM fields and nobody will take History anymore, then limiting the number of seats in those fields (or raising standards for staying in those fields) will solve the problem.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            I don’t object to Harvard selecting students with some more complicated scheme than just looking at SAT scores and grades, but I do suspect that more complicated schemes are often ways to obscure racial discrimination done in order to get the desired racial mix of students. I also strongly suspect that SAT scores are much harder to game than most of the other stuff that admissions departments use (essays, resume-building activities, etc.)

            That is, you can improve your SAT scores a little with minimal test prep, or a bit more with lots and lots of test prep. And that’s a way for your parents’ money to improve your chances of getting into a top school. But another way for your parents’ money to improve your chances is to have a great-looking transcript because the private school you were sent to knows exactly what the top schools are looking for and makes sure they see it. And another way is to make sure you get lots of resume-building activities because your parents can pay for you to have them, or your stay-at-home mom with an MBA can help you organize them.

            My guess, which I’ll admit isn’t all that well-informed, is that test scores are probably about the least gameable thing the admissions officers see for most students. That’s not true for a kid who’s published an academic paper in a real journal, or won a serious math or science competition (admittedly, that kind of kid does apply to places like Harvard), but I think it’s true for a lot of the stuff that goes into the application package.

            [ETA]
            That makes me suspect that the more holistic the admissions criteria are, the more opportunity there is for the requirements to be gamed, and for the biases of the admissions officers or the school to come out. And as I understand it, standardized testing for college admissions was a *huge* step forward for social mobility.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            Most fun first.

            Finally, with respect, the tail end of your post seems to be edging dangerously close to racial supremacy. You seem to be claiming that any reasonable criteria would produce a class that’s disproportionately Asian as compared to the overall population of the United States. Am I missing something?

            You’ve caught me. I’m a white-presenting agent for a Chinese government troll farm laying down FUD for a Manchurian takeover of U.S. institutions.

            Well, nice try anyways.

            But I don’t think grades or test scores determine moral or legal worth. They are merely good indicators of academic ability. Harvard is primarily a hedge fund school. Is it racial supremacy when I claim that a fair criterion for NBA basketball players leads to a disproportionately African-American population compared to the whole U.S.? Please note I’m asking a question about a claim I am making. I’m pretty sure that claim is true. And this outcome is good. But no one would think I’m a black supremacist for thinking this.

            Obviously, Harvard could pick a criteria like height and have a very different student population in every way. It could decide it wants to focus on college athletics or the glorious proletarian revolution or painting, but it doesn’t and it won’t.

            The idea that it’s “racial supremacy” that almost any reasonable criteria a school in the liberal arts and sciences (or engineering) could come up with will lead to Asian over-representation is nonsense. Asians are over-represented at Harvard relative to their demographic share of the entire U.S. already. And you also believe that it looks like there is a case against Harvard for discrimination against Asians not that Harvard is an agent of Asian supremacy.

            More fun later maybe.

          • Brad says:

            @albatross11
            I agree that SAT scores aren’t especially game-able. But, to steal an argument from the late Scalia, neither is a lottery. A perfectly non-game-able criteria that doesn’t actually produce the outcome you want is useless. And there’s nothing at all wrong with a wanting outcomes other than highest average SAT score. “Not too many Asians” is not one of those things that there’s nothing wrong with wanting, that’s quite wrong, but after eliminating that we are still left with a near infinite multidimensional space of legitimate preferences.

          • I don’t think colleges in general have an obligation to open themselves up anymore than they already are to gaming.

            At a slight tangent …

            If colleges really want to defend against gaming, there is one pretty simple thing they could do–make sure that the essay an applicant submits is actually written by him. That makes sense given that writing ability is a valuable skill for a college student and one very poorly tested at present.

            Many applicants visit the school they are applying to. Provide them with an hour in a room with a word processor and a list of essay topics. For ones that don’t visit, arrange the equivalent monitored by an alumnus living near them. If many schools were doing this, someone would set up locations in every major city for monitored essay writing, serving any school that wanted to use them.

            So far as I know, no school does that. That means that the essay submitted could be written entirely by the student, could be written by the student and heavily edited by someone familiar with what schools want, could be entirely written by someone else.

          • Aapje says:

            It’s a bit weird to see someone who argues against racial discrimination be accused of racial supremacism, for possibly believing in Humanoid Biodiversité. If they don’t seek to advantage a racial group, then there is no discrimination, so at most one can then argue that this person mistakes discrimination for innate differences and thereby blocks remedies for the former.

            In that case, doesn’t it work better to offer evidence that the former hypothesis is correct, rather than try to shame someone for believing in the wrong hypothesis?

          • Matt M says:

            If the justification for establishing higher entrance requirements for Asians than for everyone else is that the Asians will all want to major in STEM fields and nobody will take History anymore, then limiting the number of seats in those fields (or raising standards for staying in those fields) will solve the problem.

            Right.

            It seems very bizarre, and a poor strategic decision, to use racial quotas as a proxy for ensuring the true goal of field of study quotas. If what you want is to ensure you have X number of students majoring in specific individual fields, you could easily simply make admission decisions at the major-level, rather than at the university-level. And from a PR perspective, nobody would get up in arms about that. Harvard could then, correctly, claim that it’s relative lack of Asian students is due to the choices of Asian students to all pick popular majors.

          • Brad says:

            @DavidFriedman
            Doesn’t Oxbridge do that? Or at least some colleges within it? Although the questions, as I understand it, are not saccharine like those used in American university admissions.

          • Matt M says:

            My guess, which I’ll admit isn’t all that well-informed, is that test scores are probably about the least gameable thing the admissions officers see for most students.

            Slight disagree.

            To the extent that the SAT and various other tests are rough approximates for IQ tests, then yes, studying can only take you so far and not studying can only punish you so much.

            That said, in the short term it’s probably the most “gameable” major admissions criteria that exists. The only other one I can find that comes close is essays – and as far as I know, essays aren’t really considered that strongly in most cases.

            Consider a hypothetical high-school junior. They go to a mediocre public school – a decision made by their parents that they cannot affect. They got poor grades in their freshman and sophomore year. They haven’t yet signed up for any extra-curricular activities of note. What can they do – in the next year and a half – to dramatically improve their shot at getting admitted to a good school?

            Cram for the freaking test! Your GPA is already halfway determined. Suddenly deciding to become good enough to make a sports or band or debate team isn’t likely to work. Your biggest “bang for the buck” in effort to reward ratio is definitely test prep. And you can control it. There’s tons of free test prep materials available online and in libraries. Are these materials equally as good as $1000/hr private tutor sessions that we assume every Chinese student has access to? Maybe not. But it’s definitely your best prospect for improving your odds quickly even with little to no support from anyone else.

          • CatCube says:

            @David Friedman

            My understanding is that such test centers exist and are available for contracting. Pearson VUE is the one that I know of, but I don’t know if any other companies compete with them. Their video on the website details their security measures for a testing center.

            They’re used by the NCEES for the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam, and I believe the PE exam is moving to their computer-based system.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yet it seems to me that Harvard is a model for many lesser universities.

            Harvard is qualitatively different than lesser universities, in a matter that is rather important here.

            “Lesser” universities, and in this context that may include even MIT and Caltech, provide some combination of specialized knowledge, skills development, and the signal “this person is intelligent and conscientious”.

            Harvard and Yale, provide some of that plus the additional signal, “This person has been selected as one of the American Nomenklatura“, and the opportunity to build a personal and professional network among the same.

            For reasons beyond Harvard’s control, the future cultural, political, and economic elite of the United States of America are not broadly perceived as being 40% Asian. And the value of a Harvard degree, to most of its traditional customers, is marginally diminished by every student for which the expectation is that they will probably go back to China or Japan to manage a business there, or become a Silicon Valley techbro handling the boringly computational side of the intertube economy. And that expectation doesn’t have to be accurate.

            Even for the Asian customers of a Harvard or Yale degree, I suspect a big part of the value proposition is hobnobbing with Future Rich And Powerful White Dudes rather than their fellow Asians or Asian-Americans. They can go to MIT for that.

          • Education Hero says:

            @Aapje

            I may not have expressed myself sufficiently clearly in my long post.

            To clarify, Asian women actually do go into STEM more often than American women in general. However, the gender disparity in STEM is greater among Asian-Americans than among Americans in general. To put it another way, Asian men go into STEM by a much larger margin relative to American men in general, than Asian women do relative to American women in general.

            Thus, the counter-intuitive result is that more Asian-American enrollment will actually magnify the gender gap in STEM, even though Asian-American women are more likely to go into STEM than American women.

          • For reasons beyond Harvard’s control, the future cultural, political, and economic elite of the United States of America are not broadly perceived as being 40% Asian.

            How much is that also the explanation of the earlier discrimination against Jews, implemented in part by promoting geographical diversity?

          • Aapje says:

            @Education Hero

            That makes sense, thanks.

            @John Schilling

            Why is it OK for there to be a over-representation of Jews, but not of Asians? Is that an actual choice that is being made, which would be racially discriminatory; or does Harvard forget that Jews exist because it is much harder to visually identify a Jew than an person of Asian descent?

            For reasons beyond Harvard’s control, the future cultural, political, and economic elite of the United States of America are not broadly perceived as being 40% Asian.

            Ah, just racial discrimination then. How is this meaningfully different from people who don’t want the elite to be disproportionately Jewish?

            And the value of a Harvard degree, to most of its traditional customers, is marginally diminished by every student for which the expectation is that they will probably go back to China or Japan to manage a business there

            Is it actually particularly common for Asians to go back to China/Japan? Or is this a false stereotype?

            What about Asian-Americans? They are born in the US and my perception is that they don’t migrate to China in large numbers.

            or become a Silicon Valley techbro handling the boringly computational side of the intertube economy.

            Silicon Valley is where a lot of innovation and money is…

            If the expectation is that Harvard graduates become leaders in their field, why would this not be true for Asian Harvard graduates in tech?

            Ellen Pao did become CEO of Reddit before she sabotaged herself by acting/being crazy. If Harvard actually teaches leadership skills, then why would Harvard graduates not be more likely to get into leadership positions, rather than be programmers?

            The thing is: because of the secrecy, there is little public debate with actual data to corroborate any of this. So why would I believe that this is anything more than: ‘I hate the slanty eyed’?

          • John Schilling says:

            Why is it OK for there to be a over-representation of Jews, but not of Asians? Is that an actual choice that is being made, which would be racially discriminatory; or does Harvard forget that Jews exist because it is much harder to visually identify a Jew than an person of Asian descent?

            You won’t find the word “OK” anywhere in my comment, nor I think anything that would be taken for a synonym. But for the sake of understanding Harvard’s behavior, and hoping we don’t have to do the thing where trying to understand someone is automatically taken as an endorsement:

            Jews are distinctly overrepresented in the American Elite as it is traditionally understood. 33% of Supreme Court justices are Jewish, 8% of Fortune 500 CEOs, even 2% of Congressmen, vs. less than one percent of the population. And at this point, pretty much only the almost-literal-Nazis have any problem with that. If Jews came with yellow badges permanently affixed to their right arm for easy identification, Harvard’s selling point of “look, see, Future Leaders of America right here!” would be enhanced by making sure they enrolled an extra dose of clearly identifiable Jewishness.

            Asians make up about 6% of the US population. And 2% of the ranks of Congress, 2% of Fortune-500 CEOs, zero Supreme Court justices ever, etc. Maybe that’s down to “just racial discrimination”, but if your goal is to hobnob with the Future Leaders of America and the group you’re hanging out with is 20% Asian, you’re either making a long-odds progressive bet on the future or you’re doing it wrong. And if you’re looking for someone to be on the leading edge of progressivism, an institution that predates the reign of Oliver Cromwell probably isn’t going to be the one.

            Silicon Valley is where a lot of innovation and money is…

            Yes, but Harvard’s customers only care about the “money” part, and won’t even admit to that much.

            And in Silicon Valley, it’s disproportionately the Asians who write the innovative code and the White people (including Jewish ones) who handle the money. And tell the disproportionately-Asian STEM nerds what is or is not an acceptable sort of innovation for them to make, and get invited to the table where the rest of the Elite get to make the big decisions.

            The thing where Silicon Valley’s success changed the rules so now the Elite want to hang out with the STEM nerds who are going to change the world, no, that was always only a lie and you should never have fallen for it. Harvard certainly hasn’t.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            By that logic they should discriminate against blacks, instead of in favor of them, since black people make up 13% of the population, but a smaller percentage of the leaders.

            I don’t see how there is a consistent policy, not based on illogical dislike of specific groups, which can explain their behavior, based on the facts.

            Now, that doesn’t mean that I am accusing them of being intentionally racist, because a strong misperception of the facts seems quite common.

          • Lillian says:

            Blacks are 9% of Congress, 1/9th of the Supreme Court, and 14% of US Federal District Court Justices. Compared to Asians who are 2%, 0/9, and 3%. So if Harvard is optimizing for the future leaders of America, they absolutely will want a significant fraction of their student body to be black. Currently they seem to be comfortable with that fraction being 9%, which sounds about right given the above figures. If they weren’t discriminating in favour of blacks, the student body would be only 1% black, which is much too low for Harvard’s purposes.

          • Aapje says:

            @Lillian

            That seems logically consistent then, although it still is inconsistent with dominant left-wing beliefs, so it’s still hard to believe.

    • Garrett says:

      I doubt that there’s going to be any major changes. But the core of Roe. v. Wade is pretty much untenable.

      Many people think that the decision went something along the lines of:
      Constitution + judges we like = legal abortion.

      Instead, it’s more like:
      Constitution + judges we like = “Right to Privacy”, which as applied = legal abortion.

      Now, creating the name for a right out of abstract principles as a way to solve a class of judicial problems isn’t that big of a surprise. “Freedom of Association” comes up occasionally, despite not actually being mentioned in the text. Outside of a few cases like public accommodations law, this doesn’t really conflict with anything else and so isn’t that controversial.

      Looking instead at a “Right to Privacy”, however, is pretty much incompatible with a whole pile of our bureaucratic and legal system. Were this to be held as a real right, the Court would have to strike down a whole pile of law. At the top of my head:
      * Marking anything as a Schedule I drug (if my doctor and I can choose abortion, why can’t we choose heroin?).
      * Reporting of cash transactions over $10,000.
      * Probably most provisions of the Internal Revenue Code because it requires divulging private information. * Firearms registration requirements.

      Then you can start getting into the “out-there” category, like arguing that domestic abuse shouldn’t be a crime because it’s occurring in the privacy of the home, etc.

      Alternatively, the “Right to Privacy” as constructed in Roe. v. Wade can be discarded. But then we’re left with a question over abortion. The Court could still strike down any Federal abortion restriction as outside of the power of the Federal legislature, applying breaks to the abuse of the Commerce Clause. But that conflicts with Gonzales v Raich. And all it would do would be to punt the issue to the States.

      In-practice, I don’t think that would go anywhere – I suspect a lot of the current work on State abortion laws is an attempt to “get back” at the Federal government rather than because it’s a serious policy issue which has been considered by the populace of the States.

      • Randy M says:

        Alternatively, the “Right to Privacy” as constructed in Roe. v. Wade can be discarded. But then we’re left with a question over abortion. The Court could still strike down any Federal abortion restriction as outside of the power of the Federal legislature, applying breaks to the abuse of the Commerce Clause. But that conflicts with Gonzales v Raich. And all it would do would be to punt the issue to the States.

        That seems like a pretty great compromise to me.

        • albatross11 says:

          It’s always seemed to me that Roe v Wade was a pretty classic example of the SC deciding what policy they preferred, and finding an argument to get there. Which seems pretty fundamentally wrongheaded to me–the SC is a group of unelected lifetime-appointed people, immune from feedback from voters by design (and for very good reason!). They are a wonderful place to put our “make sure the elected officials don’t trample on the constitution to chase votes” function, but a really lousy place to put our “decide what policies we shall pursue as a nation” function.

          I wish there were some way to get ourselves out of the pattern of having the SC effectively make policy. For example, I think we’d live in a better world if gay marriage had come about from normal democratic mechanisms. A much narrower ruling just saying that states have to recognize each others’ marriages wouldn’t have been a huge policy shift, but would have been within the scope of what I think of as the proper role for the SC.

          Long term, I kind-of suspect that the expansion of the role of the SC is partly a result of the dysfunctionality of Congress. (The expansion of executive power is, IMO, both a symptom and a result of Congress not working very well.)

          • Brad says:

            The constitution makes Congress dysfunctional. Partly deliberately and partly though poor design choices. It’s a good litmus test to see who is blinded by reverence to watch who defends the Constitution even when it is so clearly harmful as in cases like this.

          • Lillian says:

            The framers of the Constitution deliberately designed a legislature that interfaces poorly with political parties in the hopes that there would be no political parties. What they actually got, pretty much immediately, was both political parties and a legislature that interfaced poorly with them. This is however not an insurmountable problem, historically speaking Congress has come up with various norms and traditions intended to patch the problem, with varying degrees of success.

            The issue we’re having now is that the latest set of these norms and tradition are breaking down, and nothing is rising up to replace them. Worse, it’s an iterative problem, as more unwritten rules are broken for the sake of political gain, the greater the willingness to break further ones. In game theory terms, we are stuck in a slow moving defect cycle.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The constitution makes Congress dysfunctional

            Congressmen (and Congresswomen) make Congress dysfunctional. Without some form of oversight you are one bad election cycle away (or 10) from “Hey, lets pass a low to ensure all current Congressmen have great job security”, or “Lets restrict the speech of our political opponents because lets say ‘Communism'”.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbits9

            Yet there are countries without a supreme court (cough**Netherlands**cough), that have not become communist and where politicians don’t have that much job security.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Yet there are countries without a supreme court (cough**Netherlands**cough), that have not become communist and where politicians don’t have that much job security.

            And those countries almost all (all?) have some person or group in power with the ability to effectively veto any legislation.

      • Lillian says:

        Looking instead at a “Right to Privacy”, however, is pretty much incompatible with a whole pile of our bureaucratic and legal system. Were this to be held as a real right, the Court would have to strike down a whole pile of law. At the top of my head:
        * Marking anything as a Schedule I drug (if my doctor and I can choose abortion, why can’t we choose heroin?).
        * Reporting of cash transactions over $10,000.
        * Probably most provisions of the Internal Revenue Code because it requires divulging private information.
        * Firearms registration requirements.

        To me this sounds like a great endorsement for enshrining the the right to privacy into law. Most of the things in that list are things i’m in favour of. The war on drugs and the scheduling system are a dumpster fire and ought to be discarded in their entirely and not replaced. Reporting of cash transactions of $10 000 hurts innocent people much more than it hurts criminals. Especially since making cash transactions under $10 000 is also illegal if the government suspects you’ve structured them such as to avoid the limit, so you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Firearms registration has historically been a way to impose restrictions on people’s 2nd Amendment rights, and i am therefore very suspicious of it. So yeah not seeing the downside for these.

        The Internal Revenue Code is more complicated in that i’m not opposed to its existence though i do not like its current form. However, i expect it would survive relatively intact given that the Court’s ruling would have to be compatible with Article I, Section 8.1 and the 16th Amendment of the Constitution, both of which give Congress the power to impose taxes.

        • beleester says:

          Reporting of cash transactions of $10 000 hurts innocent people much more than it hurts criminals.

          Can you explain this a bit more? Is there a common, legal use case where people need to transfer >$10,000 in cash and it’s very important that nobody in the government hear about it?

          • Lillian says:

            It’s not that it’s very important that the government not hear about it, it’s that the government regularly abuses the Bank Secrecy Act to seize and keep the assets of innocent people. Which i guess is a reason why it’s important that the government not hear about it.

            A better question is what’s so important that the government know about every cash transfer above a certain size. Most of the illegal commerce that this law is intended to go after – drugs, gambling, prostitution – are things i strongly believe ought to be legal. As far as i’m concerned, going after people for what they choose to do with their persons and their money is nothing short of tyranny.

      • Probably most provisions of the Internal Revenue Code because it requires divulging private information.

        Adam Smith argued that an income tax or a wealth tax was not a realistic alternative because no free people would put up with the violation of privacy it would require.

  6. DavidS says:

    Any views on Kenan Malik in general or this piece in particular? Not sure if he’s great or I’m overexcited by finding someone who is pro free speech and open debate, on the left, and willing to talk about the more contentious issues. But those things aside it does seem to explain some things helpfully e.g. That races can differ on average but this doesn’t mean our categories of race break humanity down in a logical way biologically

    ttps://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/why-both-sides-are-wrong-in-the-race-debate/

    • quanta413 says:

      While he is more accurate than most, Malik is kind of rambling so it’s not clear to me what’s he for exactly.

      Malik is wrong that scientific terminology has to be precise or that the system used to define species is precise, accurate, and a true reflection of reality. Even if he had been more concise and clear about what he was arguing for, this still would have given me a lot of pause about his other arguments.

      Science isn’t always precise. The concept(s) of species suffers exactly the same problems as the concept of race. It’s fuzzy, imprecise, ill-defined, has many inconsistent definitions, etc. Are species defined by morphological differences? Paleontologists sometimes use a “morphological species” definition because that’s all the data they have to work with. Sometimes two fossils are mistakenly thought to be separate species but then turn out not to be when more fossils are dug up. Are species defined by the ability to interbreed? In that case, the species relationship isn’t transitive. There exist some gull populations far north where population A breeds with B and B with C and C with D but not A with D even though A and D live right next to each other. It’s basically a cline of variation on a circle. Is species defined by genetic similarity? No. Bacteria of the same “species” can share a smaller percent of their genome than chimps and humans.

      The principle that works best for organizing things is to try to make sure that where life has an ancestry structure that’s tree like (which is almost all of life now) that a species (and other higher taxonomic units) doesn’t include only parts of two separate branches of the tree of life. See cladistics. This doesn’t cleave reality at the joints perfectly, but it doesn’t violate the best organizing principle we have for understanding natural history (evolution). This organizing principle does run into issues when we get to tiny sexually reproducing branches of the tree of life because your ancestry isn’t really a tree. Since animals that reproduce sexually have two parents etc., there can be complicated interconnections. With sex, you get weird things like the gulls mentioned above. It gets less useful and more fuzzy as a lone organizing principle if you want to define subspecies (which is a level of difference a lot like race).

      So basically, the race realists who want to define races in terms of inbred family groups have the most biologically defensible idea although that idea of race should be understood to be pretty fuzzy. You’re making categories by basically drawing shapes around parts of an interlinked tree-ish structure, where branches can merge at any time. This definition might not always divide things up the way people care about.

      We could invent an entirely new word to mean “populations with mostly distinct ancestry that are genetically different enough in some way that someone would care”, but it wouldn’t change much. For cultural affiliations, the government uses the term ethnicity, so we’ve already got a good term for people sharing language, beliefs, etc. even when those people are less genetically related than randomly selected humans.

    • fion says:

      I thought a lot of the points he made were good, but found the piece distractingly long and rambly. Not surprising given that it’s a (albeit edited) transcript of a talk. I think it would benefit from being re-written into a proper article.

    • albatross11 says:

      All models lie; some models are useful.

      It’s certainly true that social categories of race are fuzzy and imprecise. But they’re still quite useful for many purposes. Your doctor should pay attention to your race when diagnosing and treating some illnesses–declaring the concept of race meaningless would make him less good at those jobs. Based on what we can observe in the past, if you want to predict how the grandchildren of some immigrant population to the US will do in school, race (a fuzzy and imprecise category we can all agree isn’t all that great) will help you make better predictions. Observationally, some Olympic events seem to be dominated by people from the same racial group[1] in ways that are hard, but not impossible, to explain by cultural factors. Observationally, the population of Eastern European Jews[2] (like 20 million people mostly spread out over a couple dozen countries) has more Nobel prizes and Fields medals than whole large countries and continents. Observationally, populations derived from sub-Saharan Africa seem to be doing pretty badly relative to everyone else, whether in countries where they’re the whole population or in countries where they’re a minority[3].

      If you want to make correct predictions about the world, right now, race is a highly useful category to include. Finer gradations than are usually thought of as race are often even more useful, if they’re available. And maybe what we’d really like is a DNA test, but that’s not always available and doesn’t really work for talking about large amorphous groups (“which kids in Portland, Oregon will get at least a 3 in AP Calculus?”).

      IMO, the strongest reason to want to discard race as a concept in science is that it imports a bunch of assumptions that may not be correct in many cases. But the reason to retain it is that there are a lot of cases where it’s imparting useful information that’s cheaply available, even though it’s imprecise and fuzzy as a concept. There are places where it makes a big difference. ISTM that the right answer here is to know the limitations of “race” as a category and take them into consideration when you’re using it. And it sure seems to me that a lot of the push to eliminate race as a category with any scientific meaning is ideological in origin–the desire to win some political/social battles by defining what is and isn’t scientific.

      [1] On the other hand, this also shows a problem with broad racial categories: Blacks dominate distance and sprinting events, but they’re different groups of blacks, derived from different source populations in different parts of Africa.

      [2] Again, not obviously a race, but genetically and culturally distinct enough to matter for making good predictions. Similarly, I suspect there are caste/jati differences among Indians that are as big a deal as the difference between Europeans and Ashkenazi Jews, but I don’t know enough about Indian society to be sure.

      [3] Though in this case, there are some pretty big historical differences in how those folks were treated that may account for some or all of the observed differences.

  7. Erusian says:

    With the last thread, we spent a lot of time bagging on Piketty. And, to be fair, I think he deserved it. I don’t think all left-wing economics is bunk though. So, who wants to talk about the things left-wing economists get right or right-wing economists get wrong?

    • Brad says:

      I’m convinced that MMT is basically correct. It may be in governments’ interest to pretend that money spent must be raised or borrowed but that’s not how it “really” works.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Are MMTers considered leftist? Do they consider themselves leftist?

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        That really only works for 1st world countries. The US may be able to print money with reckless abandon, but when Argentina tries it, you end up with 20%+ inflation rate.

        • Brad says:

          I think you are somewhat mischaracterizing the theory, or at least portraying a version of it pushed by enthusiastic but ignorant boosters.

          I take the most basic conclusions of it to be:
          1) the constraint on money creation is inflation–not anything else, and
          2) no economic theory (including MMT) currently has a good model for predicting inflation rates, so policy makers should observe it empirically and react accordingly instead of trying to use various purportedly predictive proxies

          I don’t think anyone denies that net money creation should be reined in or reversed in the face of observed inflation.

          • John Schilling says:

            no economic theory (including MMT) currently has a good model for predicting inflation rates, so policy makers should observe it empirically and react accordingly

            This assumes that empirical observation is a good model for predicting inflation rates, which is increasingly unlikely to be the case as you depart from boringly conservative economic policies.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            If would think that the people would have given up on this idea after the Fed and the Treasury managed to successfully pull off everything they did post 2008.

            Certainly printing money can lead to inflation, there are too many examples of this to deny it. But at some point the cries of “this will surely cause inflation” should start to seem ridiculous. Fear of large numbers seems to play a part as well. Everyone loves to report things in nominal dollars, which really does no one any favors.

      • cassander says:

        I think this depends on the version of MMT you’re talking about. There is a version I hear that amounts to “Debts don’t matter if they’re issued in your own currency because a currency issuer can never go bankrupt.” This is technically accurate in the sense that the US government can never run out of dollars, but that doesn’t mean the government can’t run out of purchasing power. The consequences of defaulting on debts are effectively identical to those of printing money to cover those debts. The former means paying people pennies on the dollar, the later means paying them in dollars that are worth pennies.

      • Cliff says:

        Is MMT the same as Market Monetarism? Because I’m definitely persuaded of the latter but it doesn’t seem to fit with your conclusion (central bank magically creates free stuff?) or left-wing ideology, so I guess not.

    • Aapje says:

      @Erusian

      The idea that lowering income tax will increase government revenue. The economists who argue for that seem especially popular among Republicans.

      Now, you don’t even need a leftist economist to debunk that, but a right-libertarian one is sufficient. He is opposing very high taxes in that article, but he accepts that current taxation levels are below the revenue maximizing point. He just argues that the government should not maximize revenue, but the GDP, which he equates with quality of life, which is a subjective/debatable claim.

      Interestingly, the implication of the Laffer curve being different between nations and for different kinds of taxes is that there is no optimal level of income taxes in general, but that the specific taxes, policies, culture and/or other things matter to what extent the taxes suppress the GDP.

      For example, I think that people are less prone to feel that taxation is unfair in a Nordic Model where a considerable part of the government spending benefits everyone, not just the poorer people.

      • John Schilling says:

        The idea that lowering income tax will increase government revenue. The economists who argue for that seem especially popular among Republicans.

        Agreed, at least in the short term. The Laffer Curve is unambiguously true, but it’s virtually impossible to stray onto the right side of it without promptly falling off the cliff into total fiscal or economic collapse. So if you’re in a society that’s not yet in the abyss(*), you’re almost certainly on the part of the curve where if you reduce taxes you reduce government revenue at least a little bit.

        You may still be in the relatively flat area where any increase in taxes risks finding that cliff, and where reducing taxes reduces state revenue only a little while massively increasing private wealth, so there’s still an argument for lowering taxes. But you have to either cut spending or expect an increase in next year’s budget deficit. We’re looking at you, Kansas.

        * If you are in the abyss, the point is moot because you can’t pay for honest tax collectors any more.

        • Cliff says:

          I don’t think you fall off a cliff. Wasn’t the 80% tax rate of the U.S. on the right side? And the 75% rate in France? Wasn’t Piketty explicitly arguing for a tax rate on the right side of the laffer curve?

          • Aapje says:

            Revenue falls off a cliff when you tax everyone at that rate. If you merely tax a small elite at that rate, you only lose a fraction.

            Furthermore, those people will start evading taxes if they can, so their effective tax rate is likely to be less than the official tax rate.

          • John Schilling says:

            As Aapje notes, those rates were a polite fiction that basically said “do something we like with your bags of money, or hide them out of our sight, we won’t be looking too hard”. Government revenues as a fraction of GDP, which are a pretty good proxy for average tax rates actually paid, stayed at or below 20%.

          • fion says:

            Cliff says:

            I don’t think you fall off a cliff.

            Well you’re the expert!

        • cassander says:

          Let’s not repeat myths about what happened in Kansas. Despite popular reporting, kansas did absolutely nothing radical, and suffered no radical consequences. Kansas had budget deficits, at the peak, of less than four hundred million in state that had a cash balance of almost 800 million,and which spends 18 billion a year. Just counting general fund (with is only 1/3 of the kansas budget) revenues were above pre-cut peaks within 4-5 years of brownback’s supposed massive cuts, and spending basically only went up. There was no grand experiment in Kansas, there were some really very modest tax cuts that shockingly produced deficits when combined with spending increases and which got blown way out of proportion by innumerate reporters ideologically pre-disposed to love writing stories about how tax cuts are terrible.

      • Cliff says:

        Taxes are much less progressive in a Nordic model. For many EU countries, top tax rate is quite similar with the U.S.

      • He just argues that the government should not maximize revenue, but the GDP, which he equates with quality of life, which is a subjective/debatable claim.

        GDP may be a poor measure, but if a large increase in tax rates results in a tiny increase in revenue, it’s pretty obviously bad thing.

        I don’t think many economists believe that tax rates are usually above the revenue maximizing level, although it’s obviously possible for them to be. Adam Smith discussed that in the context of customs duties so high that everything got smuggled and Ibn Khaldun mentioned the idea of higher taxes producing less revenue long before Smith.

        • Alphonse says:

          Adam Smith discussed that in the context of customs duties so high that everything got smuggled

          To extend on this point, I recall a recent discussion here where it was pointed out that it can be hard to compare relative tariff burdens between countries, since high enough tariffs just kill the trade altogether, which can then be excluded from the measurements.

          E.g. if you put a 5% tariff on cars imported from another country, you probably won’t kill the importation market altogether, so observers have a fair amount of data with which to analyze the tariff. But if you put a 200% tariff on cars imported from another country, then you’ll probably get zero cars imported, which can end up making it appear that the tariff doesn’t impose any costs.

          I expect people would notice that problem if they looked carefully at each individual tariff, but that it will be easy for individual items to get lost in the mix of complex tariff regimes. I recall someone here saying that Canada, for instance, exempts a certain amount of a specific good (milk?) when imported from the US, with an extremely high tariff on any overage. That makes it look like the tariff isn’t imposing costs, since no one will do any importation beyond the exempted amount.

  8. dick says:

    Does this comment section have an atypical shared definition of “leftist”? As someone who’s relatively new to the comments, this is the most discordant thing I’ve noticed – “leftist” being used as if it were a specific group with a shared ideology, rather than a broad swath of humanity that includes a variety of conflicting ideologies. My bias, coming in here, was to assume that the sort of people who read a lot of Scott Alexander essays would eschew broad statements about vague group nouns, or at least aspire to, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      We’re highly educated contrarians. Those of us who don’t subscribe to an ideology within the narrow Overton Window (Overton Slit?) accepted by university administrators would lump that set of ideologies as “the left”, since it’s obviously not “the right.”

      • dick says:

        That doesn’t answer my question. Does “leftist” include everyone from Mao to Bernie to Stalin to JFK, or doesn’t it? I try not to say things like, “Leftists tend to…” or “Conservatives tend to…” but that’s because I value clarity and constructive dialogue, not because of my political opinions.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Mao to Stalin to Bernie. College-approved opinions. JFK would be centrist.

          • dndnrsn says:

            You don’t find many actual Stalinists on college campuses. Mao is more popular for a few reasons. Bernie is a social democrat by most standards; whether social democrats are leftists depends on who you ask.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            My impression is that “social democrat” kind of smears across the spectrum in Western Europe. What distinguishes France’s Socialists from the Front Nationale is Culture War, not social intervention in the economy.
            Here in America, it’s to the left of Hillary Clinton.

        • Deiseach says:

          When I say “leftist”, I do mean “a broad range of people from the left-of-centre huddling down in the very middle all the way out to the ‘Enver Hoxha was the only true communist’ types” and not one monolithic entity that marches in lockstep and holds the same opinions on the same topics.

          But when I see people talking about “the right”, they do seem to regard it as one big monolithic bloc of same talking, same thinking, same goose-stepping marching in unison, and whether you call them “Republicans” or “Nazis” it’s the same thing.

          Which is really damn irritating when you’re a Republican but not an American Republican!

          • Matt M says:

            My own personal heuristic for whether or not someone is a “leftist” is how they answer the following question:

            Do you think the fact that some people are very rich and other people are very poor is a problem that government should attempt to solve?

          • fion says:

            @Matt M

            That’s an interesting heuristic, but I feel as though it’s a lot broader than most people’s use. In the UK, I think about 80% of the Conservative Party are “leftists” by your heuristic.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            Is that relative to the current level of redistribution or compared to a situation with no redistribution at all?

            As Fion argues, if it’s the latter then nearly everyone is leftist. If it is the former, then it’s little more than a statement on where you stand relative to the status quo. The exact same person can then be a leftist in the US and a rightist in Sweden.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Do you think the fact that some people are very rich and other people are very poor is a problem that government should attempt to solve?

            As others have pointed out, this is almost certainly too broad: If I’m reading it right, this recent paper suggests that “substantial minorities” of Republicans support the proposition that “Government should reduce differences in income between rich and poor people”. Presumably these people should not count as the left.

          • albatross11 says:

            Aapje:

            +1

            I think it’s useful to distinguish between political beliefs that are about the endpoints (what does your ideal society look like?) and beliefs that are about direction (given what our society looks like, which way should we move things?)

            Put me in the US in 1900, and I’ll be a radical feminist, civil-rights extremist, crazy tree-hugger who thinks the government should care about pollution beyond nuissance law, etc. But here in the modern 2018 US, none of those labels really apply.

          • John Schilling says:

            Maybe it works better if we take out the very poor people (which everyone agrees is a problem) and just ask, “Do you think the fact that some people are very rich is a problem that the government should attempt to solve?”

            Or perhaps use “unreasonably” instead of “very”. Most people will at least wonder what’s inherently unreasonable about being rich and balk at the proposition; a “leftist” will implicitly invoke all the unstated very poor people and blame that on the unreasonably rich.

            At least I think so, but I haven’t thought about this one very much.

          • Matt M says:

            There’s a lot to address in the replies here – but I’ll go for a few things.

            1. IMO, the point of emphasis in my statement isn’t the “very rich” part, but the “government should solve” part (which certainly implies re-distribution). The point is to identify, via direct example, those who see economic equality as a terminal goal, as opposed to those who do not see it as such. That is, in my opinion, the major and most significant difference between left and right. If you see a really rich person and a really poor person, and your reaction is that this is morally wrong and that someone should do something about it I consider you a leftist. Period. If your reaction is that it’s wrong, but intervention is not appropriate, or that it’s not wrong at all, I consider you on the right.

            2. The fact that this may imply that 80% of people are leftists does not concern me. Perhaps that is, in fact, the actual proportion of leftists in society. I personally believe that to be about right. I think a whole lot of people who are conventionally thought to be “right-wing” are actually economic leftists.

            3. I’m not certain that seemingly quite different leftists actually disagree on the endpoints at all. I don’t think Hillary Clinton and Chairman Mao have significantly different concepts of what the ideal society actually looks like. I think they have tactical disagreements on how to best achieve that society, and they have moral disagreements on what tactics are acceptable in order to bring it about. But I remain almost wholly unconvinced that even moderate U.S. democrats have any particular moral respect for free trade, private property, freedom of association, etc. If you gave Hillary the opportunity to flip a switch that would transform the world into a fully Marxist society without any violent revolutions or concentration camps or whatever, I think she flips it. I don’t think she hesitates and says “Wait a minute, state-owned farming has proven to be a bad idea!” Anyone who has come to realize that state-owned farming is a bad idea is already basically out of the leftist category in the first place.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Period. If your reaction is that it’s wrong, but intervention is not appropriate, or that it’s not wrong at all, I consider you on the right.

            In the paper I referenced, people were asked to rate their agreement with the proposition “Government should reduce differences in income between rich and poor people” from 1-100. Do you have a sense (even a rough one, I don’t need a hard cut-off) of where you would draw the line for someone to be a leftist? Is any answer higher than 1 sufficient?

            The fact that this may imply that 80% of people are leftists does not concern me. Perhaps that is, in fact, the actual proportion of leftists in society. I personally believe that to be about right. I think a whole lot of people who are conventionally thought to be “right-wing” are actually economic leftists.

            Well, surely the issue is whether “economic leftism” is necessary and/or sufficient to be a leftist. We might suppose that someone can be an economic leftist and a cultural rightist or vice-versa; whether such a person is then a “leftist” simpliciter will have consequences for the sorts of judgments one can make about the class “leftist” without being too general.

            Finally, if you concede that 80% of humanity can be leftists, then I think you should agree with the original poster that ““leftist” being used as if it were a specific group with a shared ideology, rather than a broad swath of humanity that includes a variety of conflicting ideologies” is a pretty useless term; it is almost impossible for me to imagine that the term “leftist” as you define it can be useful for non-trivial generalizations about the group as a whole.

          • Matt M says:

            Eugene,

            1. It makes little sense to me to use a 100 point scale for that particular question. As a result, it’s hard for me to answer. That’s why in my framing, I simply ask yes or no – leaving it up to the respondent to decide their own cut-off, whether it’s 1 or whether it’s 10 or whether it’s 50 or whatever.

            2. I focus on economic left/right because I think that’s the only area where there is a consistent and logical framework in play. Cultural issues are just a downright mess with no sensible overall framework to use at all. Being a “cultural leftist” simply means “agreeing with the majority of economic leftists on most cultural issues.” I think it’s simpler to just strip the cultural stuff out and define left/right in economic terms. Yes, this can be problematic in terms of trying to describe say, anarcho-socialists or other incredibly fringe groups, but so be it.

            3. Once again, I see no point in focusing on the size of the group. If the criticism of “leftist” as a term is that it’s not nuanced enough to define very small groups of people, then fine. I agree. But it’s not intended to do that. Is “Christian” a problematic term? Does it not fully capture the nuances of differences in beliefs, doctrine, and practice between Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Calvinists, Orthodox? It surely doesn’t, but it does separate people based on one simple and essential question: Do you believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, died for our sins, and was resurrected? (please rate your belief on this on a scale of 1-100 – just kidding!)

          • quaelegit says:

            @ Matt’s Christian example —

            I think if “Christians” were regularly discussed here in a negative light an no one pointed out that this covers a really wide range of beliefs and is obscuring important differences between, e.g. Roman Catholics, Lutherans, U.S. Evangelicals, and Mennonites, that would be a problem.

            Instead, when Christians are discussed on here people are usually very good about being specific about which group they are discussing.

          • a reader says:

            Judging by Matt’s question:

            “Do you think the fact that some people are very rich and other people are very poor is a problem that government should attempt to solve?”

            I am a leftist too – like everybody here…

            If some people really are very poor – that meaning lacking their basic needs, for example having malnourished children – I thing that really is a problem that justifies some kind of governmental intervention.

            But if the difference between “poor people” and “rich people” is that poor people have less cool (older) cars, TVs and smartphones than rich people – I think that is the case of some “poor people” in the West – I don’t think that justifies more government interventions. So, by John Schilling’s modified variant, I suppose I’m not a leftist.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            1. It makes little sense to me to use a 100 point scale for that particular question. As a result, it’s hard for me to answer. That’s why in my framing, I simply ask yes or no – leaving it up to the respondent to decide their own cut-off, whether it’s 1 or whether it’s 10 or whether it’s 50 or whatever.

            2. I focus on economic left/right because I think that’s the only area where there is a consistent and logical framework in play. Cultural issues are just a downright mess with no sensible overall framework to use at all. Being a “cultural leftist” simply means “agreeing with the majority of economic leftists on most cultural issues.” I think it’s simpler to just strip the cultural stuff out and define left/right in economic terms. Yes, this can be problematic in terms of trying to describe say, anarcho-socialists or other incredibly fringe groups, but so be it.

            3. Once again, I see no point in focusing on the size of the group. If the criticism of “leftist” as a term is that it’s not nuanced enough to define very small groups of people, then fine. I agree. But it’s not intended to do that. Is “Christian” a problematic term? Does it not fully capture the nuances of differences in beliefs, doctrine, and practice between Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Calvinists, Orthodox? It surely doesn’t, but it does separate people based on one simple and essential question: Do you believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, died for our sins, and was resurrected? (please rate your belief on this on a scale of 1-100 – just kidding!)

            I’ll begin by addressing the Christian analogy. First of all, Christians comprise roughly 31% of the world’s population–so your proposed group of leftists is, by your own estimation, twice as big, which presumably means it’s twice as hard to generalize about. But the point stands: it is certainly meaningful to judge membership in a group with a yes/no question. The question is, is it useful? Does it tell us much about membership in that group? Do you think there are statements more general than “Christians believe in Jesus Christ” that can be made of the group “Christians” without further qualification?

            This question is especially pertinent if we leave your central examples of Christianity and ask about Gnosticism, Jews for Jesus, The Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, Positive Christianity, Theosophy, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, etc., etc.

            Would it sound reasonable to you for someone to say, “I’m not certain that seemingly quite different Christians actually disagree on the endpoints at all”, and say that Torquemada, Hong Xiuquan, and Mother Theresa are in basic agreement on the important things, and only disagree on matters of emphasis, or tactics?
            As a reminder, Christians are a group half as big, by your estimation, as leftists. I see no reason why you shouldn’t think that leftists should admit some non-trivial proportion of the variety exhibited by Christians.

            As to numerical rating, I agree without an operational meaning it’s hard to know what the numbers mean, but as an example they can represent priority of an issue–so someone who believes the government has an interest in redistribution but attaches very little importance to this, and only enters into political coalitions with voters who share other preferences and are economic rightists–that person might be a leftist by your reckoning, but they shouldn’t count as much of one. They will take no action to advance economic leftism, and will enable others to roll it back.

            Finally, whether or not you think economics is the only important dimension, other people often do not (I would guess, though don’t have any evidence, that culture is more a driver of political attachment than economics); if you include as “leftists” people who don’t consider themselves leftists, it will be very hard to generalize about the group; you argue that “cultural leftism” is just the cultural beliefs shared by economic leftists, but that only makes sense if such a set of cultural beliefs exists–the whole point of the argument is that they almost certainly do not. Hence, generalizing about “leftists” defined in your way is almost certain to miss a huge amount of variation.

          • Aapje says:

            @a reader

            But if the difference between “poor people” and “rich people” is that poor people have less cool (older) cars, TVs and smartphones than rich people

            Isn’t the real debate between those who want to heavily tax the rich and those who want to minimize their taxes, on whether the positive externalities of rich people’s spending outweigh the negative externalities?

          • This definition of left and right leaves out the possibility that someone might be against government redistribution on the grounds that much of it will go to rich people, sometimes from poor people, and that there will be large dead weight costs.

            One problem with a lot of political argument is that it is put in terms of whether you favor the objectives of some policy, not whether you favor the policy–it ignores the possibility that policies may have different consequences than claimed by their supporters.

            An example is the minarchist/anarchist controversy among libertarians. Minarchists tend to state their position in terms of what they want the state to do, what laws they want passed. That assumes that a state set up in the way they want will act in the way they want, a somewhat odd assumption for libertarians to make.

          • Incurian says:

            Hence, generalizing … is almost certain to miss a huge amount of variation.

            Yup.

    • Erusian says:

      I try not to use it as anything but a broad term. But sometimes the broad term is an easy way to bypass decision making about specific groups who definitely exist but whose borders are irrelevant to the point. I made a comment in the last thread about how Piketty was basically mythmaking for a section of the Left. I couldn’t easily tell you with pinpoint precision what parts of the left. If you concede that this group exists, though, that’s sort of irrelevant until someone starts discussing which parts of the left.

      • dick says:

        Agreed, I was not complaining about your comment. But to be fair, that comment wasn’t exactly making a controversial claim – your conclusion was essentially, “if you assume Piketty is correct, then the beliefs of the people who agree with Piketty start to look pretty believable!”.

        More generally, I think that broad assertions about group nouns tend to be bad except when they’re axiomatic, and your comment was the latter. It’s the former kind that I’m complaining about, and not just in the “someone said something mean about me” sense, in the “not contributing to a useful and constructive argument” sense.

    • fion says:

      This is a good question. I sometimes get a bit confused about what people here mean when they say ‘leftist’ but I guess I put some of that down to folk here mostly being American. (Your left is our centre and that sort of thing…)

      I suspect you’re right that there’s a bit of outgroup homogeneity bias where most people here aren’t leftists so people on the left look more similar than they really are. As for your point about trying to eschew broad and vague characterisations of groups… Perhaps to be charitable to the commenters we could say that different discussions call for different levels of precision. Sometimes it’s very important to distinguish between the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front, but other times they can be grouped together without losing much of the point.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Yes. One of my major beefs here is that “leftist” gets used broadly to mean “everybody on the left” – while this is one colloquial meaning, a better definition is “communists, anarchists, and anyone who uses ‘liberal’ as a snarl word from the left rather than the right.” Further, you identify this also, the comment section here tends to see norms of charity and precision fall to pieces when the left is discussed.

      • Randy M says:

        “leftist” gets used broadly to mean “everybody on the left”

        … Can you suggest another term to mean “everybody* on the left”?
        Fill in the blank:” _______ usually support higher minimum wages and often worry about the effects of prejudice.”

        *I don’t think anyone ever says anything about every anything, really; generalities are known to admit exceptions.

        (Yes, including that statement)

        • dndnrsn says:

          “Left-wingers” works just fine. I don’t talk about “rightists” to refer to all right-wingers, because besides “rightist” being an unusual word, lumping together mainstream conservatives with authoritarian conservatives with fascists involves an enormous deal of historical ignorance. Likewise, lumping together Democrats (who would be considered on the right if you plunked them down in most western countries) and revolutionary communists ignores that there’s a lot separating them.

          • Randy M says:

            “left-winger” okay, if you like. I thought leftist, in addition to being more succinct and a near synonym, was more value neutral–probably because it’s used in formulations like “crazy wingnut” and so on. I’ll stand corrected, although miss the virtue of brevity.

            Likewise, lumping together Democrats (who would be considered on the right if you plunked them down in most western countries) and revolutionary communists ignores that there’s a lot separating them.

            Sure, and for a lot of contexts it would be absurd, and for some few others reasonable.

          • John Schilling says:

            Help me out here. I’m literally not seeing a difference between “left-winger” and “leftist”, or the basis for being upset that one term is being used in place of the other. What roughly defines the set of people who are “left-wingers” but are not “leftists”?

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            Help me out here. I’m literally not seeing a difference between “left-winger” and “leftist”, or the basis for being upset that one term is being used in place of the other. What roughly defines the set of people who are “left-wingers” but are not “leftists”?

            Neither is a rigorously-defined term, but I think that if you say “left-wingers” you’re likely to be talking both about liberals and about the people I think of as “leftists”, who often use “liberal” as a perjorative.

            To pick some well-known rationalist examples, I would tend to refer to unitofcairing and Scott Aaronson as left-wing, but not as leftists.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M

            It’s a near-synonym by some colloquial definitions, but by other definitions, often a bit less colloquial, it’s a different thing. All liberals are left-wingers, all leftists are left-wingers, but not all left-wingers are either, and liberals are not leftists. The use of “leftist” to generally mean left-wingers seems kind of an American English thing, maybe?

            @John Schilling

            The majority of American left-wingers are liberals, with some people you could count as social democrats in most first-world countries. Liberals never minded capital that much, and social democrats have made their peace with it. Leftists tend to dislike capital and want to really change the way that production of resources works. The liberal would, these days, tax the owner of the farm and use the money to pay for a social safety net, etc. The social democrat of today would go further and tax more, to have public funding of more comprehensive cradle-to-grave social programs, etc. Depending on which kind of leftist you’re dealing with, they’d have different answers, but most of their answers end with the landowner no longer owning the land, at least not fully.

            Some count social democrats as leftists, and they often started off as leftists, but got considerably more moderate as they actually gained power. People who identify as leftists usually have a grudge against the social democrats for not supporting various revolutionary attempts.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Well, what’s going on is that Marxism empirically failed. Leftists became anti-anti-Communists rather than Communists and pinkos. Foucault is the pivotal figure here. In 1979, the left acted as cheerleaders for the Soviet war against Islam in Afghanistan. After 1979, they slowly came to agree with him in being pro-Islam and in favor of skimming the productivity of markets rather than command economies.
            If you say “McCarthy” with a smile to a member of the Blue (Wo)Man Group, you expect to be attacked, but it would be an error to conclude from that data point that they’re Stalinist.

          • moscanarius says:

            OK, I may be losing something on translation, but aren’t “Leftist” and “Left-winger” essentially the same thing? They are both terms we would use to lump together people from USA Democrats to Communists, even though there is a distance between them (because there are also some characteristics that differentiate them from the Right, which is also a lumping up of people with different views).

            Rightist is a clumsy word that may be a bit ambiguous (“right-winger” or “defender of Rights”?), but I see nothing of sort in Leftist. Does it have some pejorative sense in the US that Left-winger does not?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @moscanarius

            It’s not pejorative, but it creates confusion when used to describe everyone from US Democrats to actual communists, to say the least. It also makes equivocation impossible to avoid. Talking about what “the leftists” want makes it seem like the Democrats and actual communists are some kind of good-cop bad-cop scenario, which is pretty inaccurate.

          • fion says:

            …makes it seem like the Democrats and actual communists are some kind of good-cop bad-cop scenario

            We should totally try this!

          • Randy M says:

            Help me out here. I’m literally not seeing a difference between “left-winger” and “leftist”

            If it makes you feel better, neither does google:

            left·ist
            noun
            1.
            a person with left-wing political views.

            Or maybe dndrsn is saying left-wingers don’t have left-wing political views, but merely align with those who do for political reasons? Which is quite confusing.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The definition you get through Google is the colloquial American definition. But someone who calls themself a “leftist” is signalling more than “left-winger.”

          • Dan L says:

            @John Schilling

            This, mostly. Equating contingent support with ideological commitment isn’t that far from sneaking in a presumption that a group is definitionally irrational.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s not pejorative, but it creates confusion when used to describe everyone from US Democrats to actual communists, to say the least.

            The difference between US Democrats and actual communists is primarily not a difference in type, but rather a difference in degree.

            If someone hands me a cup of coffee, I might describe it as “hot.” If someone asked me to characterize the temperature on the surface of the sun, I might also describe it as “hot.” This does not make “hot” a useless concept. The coffee is hot compared to other liquids you typically drink, the sun is hot compared to the atmosphere of celestial bodies you are used to standing on.

            Conversely, Barack Obama is leftist compared to the typical US Presidential nominee, while Fidel Castro is leftist compared to the typical violent revolutionary.

            I don’t necessarily see a problem here.

          • johansenindustries says:

            Is Fidel to the left of typical violent revolutionary?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Matt M

            Is the difference between Pinochet and the average Republican a difference of degree, not kind?

          • John Schilling says:

            I get the difference between “liberal” and “leftist”, at least in a fuzzy-bordered sense. But it is my experience that colloquial American usage of “left-wing” matches much closer with “leftist” than with “liberal”.

          • Matt M says:

            Is the difference between Pinochet and the average Republican a difference of degree, not kind?

            Maybe? I don’t really know much about Pinochet. I’d suspect probably this is mainly accurate, so long as we exclude explicitly libertarian-leaning Republicans.

            Based on what I do know, I’d be fine lumping George W Bush and Pinochet into the same general category that way, sure. But not Ron Paul.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think you are falling victim to outgroup homogeneity bias. It’s not a difference in degree between “tax the factory owner more, and pay out more welfare” and “take the factory away from the owner and run it as a collective or through the state or something.”

            The factory owner might piss and moan about higher taxes and more government regulation, and might consider that tantamount to the means of production getting seized, but really, it’s not. The swing of modern liberalism and social democracy leads to annoyed factory owners who maybe make less money; communism leads to factory owners dead or in exile.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s not a difference in degree between “tax the factory owner more, and pay out more welfare” and “take the factory away from the owner and run it as a collective or through the state or something.”

            Isn’t it though?

            Is the difference between a 99% tax and a 100% tax all that significant?

            At what level of taxation do we suddenly flip from degree to type?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Because “100% tax and then it’s parcelled back to you in various ways” is still different from “you better hope you can flee before you are seized by the secret police; maybe you can fit some diamonds and US dollars in your underpants, but you sure ain’t gettin’ that factory back.”Communism has thus far only come to power through revolutions or foreign imposition, and so hasn’t really done much boiling the frog. “Kill the landlords and collectivize the farms” are fairly early steps.

          • Matt M says:

            Because “100% tax and then it’s parcelled back to you in various ways” is still different from “you better hope you can flee before you are seized by the secret police; maybe you can fit some diamonds and US dollars in your underpants, but you sure ain’t gettin’ that factory back.”

            You can take someone’s factory from them without killing them – and the method for doing so is the same method as for taking 99% of the income their factory produces without killing them. To me, the question of “whether it’s appropriate to kill them or not” is a separate question – of degree. It’s not a question of what the end-state should be (the state gets the factory) but rather of how far one is willing to go to achieve the end-state.

            Communism has thus far only come to power through revolutions or foreign imposition, and so hasn’t really done much boiling the frog. “Kill the landlords and collectivize the farms” are fairly early steps.

            In the case of farming, you may very well be right. But history is full of plenty of nationalizations of entire industries, as well as specific assets, that proceeded without large-scale violence. They managed to get Suzette Kelo’s house without killing her, didn’t they? If she would have had some guns and told them to fuck-off, would they have given up? Let’s go ask one of the Branch Dividians – oh wait! Did that take place under a full communist regime? Or under a Clinton?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Look, if you think that the path that liberalism in the US or social democracy elsewhere has taken, is just a slow way of taking the factory, I don’t know what to tell you. Social democracy gets you to Scandinavia or Britain back when Labour was actually social democratic or whatever.

            Kelo was not the means of production being sized by the vanguard of the revolution or whatever. It’s eminent domain used to take something from one private entity, and give to another, ostensibly for economy development. I’m not sure what the Branch Davidians have to do with revolution or nationalization of resources. They were a cult that was accused of child abuse and illegal weapon modification; the response by the government was bungled in several ways and it led to a bunch of people getting killed by the government.

          • a reader says:

            @johansenindustries:

            Is Fidel to the left of typical violent revolutionary?

            Fidel Castro wasn’t actually very leftist before the influence of Che Guevara – more like center-left. If he didn’t meet and associate with Che Guevara, he would have been probably a “normal” Latin-American dictator, maybe like Peron in Argentina. There is on Youtube an interview from his first days in power, when Fidel Castro says – in English! – that he doesn’t want communism and that there will be free elections.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5xRho3TauQ

            Che Guevara, who had a great charisma and acquired a great influence on him, pushed him gradually to the left, until Fidel Castro understood that the power of a communist dictator is substantially greater that of a “normal” dictator – and from then on, he became a convinced communist.

          • moscanarius says:

            @dndnrsn

            I just don’t see how this confusion would be dropped by saying “left-winger”. Sounds just the same to me.

            Talking about what “the leftists” want makes it seem like the Democrats and actual communists are some kind of good-cop bad-cop scenario, which is pretty inaccurate.

            I’m not so sure of that, but even if you are right… who are communists more likely to support, the Democrats or the Republicans? Which part is more willing to concede to (some) of their demands?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @moscanarius

            “Left-winger” means everyone on the left, “leftist” is best used to describe people who have a particular view of who should control the means of production, generally. (It gets a bit complicated when you add anarchists.)

            Historically, the conservatives cooperated more with fascists, where fascists actually got power (as opposed to where authoritarian conservatives coopted or suppressed them, or where they never got a whiff of power in the first place), than the liberals and social democrats did with the communists. Communists are often rather bad at getting power through the system – they won’t bargain with more moderate left-wingers, or those won’t bargain with them, or either.

            Where communists do get power, it’s usually through revolution, in which case it’s not going to be about who concedes with what demands: both communism and fascism only get a serious chance at getting power when things are already not in good shape. But communism is either total or near-total collapse and the communists seizing power, historically, or in some cases foreign invasion (or “liberation” in the case of Eastern Europe in WWII, etc). In the two cases where unarguable fascists have taken power, it was more conservatives thinking they could control a fascist coalition partner to keep the communists out.

          • I think part of the problem in this discussion is not distinguishing between different ways in which people can be similar. If the distinguishing characteristic of Pinochet is that he seized power in a military coup and then killed a significant number of his opponents, then he is no closer to Republicans than to Democrats but is closer to communists than to either.

            If his distinguishing characteristic is that he implemented economic policies that were considerably more pro-market than those of the government he replaced, then he is more like Republicans than Democrats.

            Similarly, if the distinguishing characteristic of communists is that they seize power by force and murder lots of people, then they are similar to neither Republicans nor Democrats. If it is that they want economic decisions made by the state, on the other hand, then they are like Democrats but go much farther in the same direction.

            So far as “leftist” being a pejorative term, I think it’s the other way around. The people who most care about the distinction between leftist, left-winger, and liberal are the leftists.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It’s not that it’s pejorative, it’s that using it flattens out reality. It leads some people to a state of mind where “the leftists” have this grand plan and they’re all part of a coalition. It echoes the sentiment some people on the left have, where the conservatives are just the friendly face of fascism. It isn’t more correct when one side thinks this rather than the other.

        • Dan L says:

          @Randy M

          Fill in the blank:” _______ usually support higher minimum wages and often worry about the effects of prejudice.”

          I’m going to cheekily assume I can take a slim majority as constituting usually, and suggest “Republicans”. I’ll echo dndnrsn here in saying “left-winger” works better, because it casts the Left/Right divide as the conflict between political alliances it actually is, rather than a fundamental disagreement over ideology or even policy.

        • dick says:

          Can you suggest another term to mean “everybody* on the left”?

          That’s what I think “leftist” means, I just don’t find many reasons to use it. What can you say about a group that includes Hillary Clinton and Chairman Mao and Jesus Christ and a couple billion other people that isn’t either wrong or tautological? It’s just not a very useful label to use in a fair, constructive, mutually respectful debate.

          In an unfair, unproductive, and mean-spirited debate on the other hand, vague group nouns are great! You can find something nasty about a subset of leftists and ascribe it to “leftists”. You can construct a motte-and-bailey, varying your definition of “leftist” as needed. You can make subtle jabs at the outgroup to recenter your ingroup’s opinion of them.

          Or, possibly worst of all, you can just say something that’s true for some definitions of leftist and false for others (“Leftists want to censor the internet!”) and then abandon the forum, never to return, leaving a pointless and unproductive semantic argument in your wake over what “leftist” really means. And in my opinion, arguing semantics over the internet is The Worst Thing In The World, so, I think of the value of narrow and precise labels and clear language as being self-evident, and I imagined that the sort of people who’ve read “weak men as superweapons” and “how an algorithm feels from the inside” and “i can tolerate anything except the outgroup” would already be with me on that. In fact, I’m super surprised that there’s not a norm around using “blue tribe” to mean “everyone generally on the left” since it was invented for that purpose, as opposed to “leftist” which could mean one thing to an academic and another to a US blogger and another to a Persian retiree and so forth.

          • moscanarius says:

            What can you say about a group that includes Hillary Clinton and Chairman Mao and Jesus Christ and a couple billion other people that isn’t either wrong or tautological?

            If these people form a loosely bound confederation willing to put their internal disputes on hold to fight that other loosely bound confederation known as The Right, the terms can be useful even if not super-precise.

            (that is, after we finish debating the boundary between them)

          • JulieK says:

            I don’t think what terminology we use matters so much; the problem is our habit of getting into stupid arguments along the lines of “Who is a bigger danger to free speech, leftists or rightists?” Substituting some other broad term for “leftist” in the previous sentence is not going to help much.

          • Aapje says:

            “Who is a bigger danger to free speech, leftists or rightists?”

            Yes.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @moscanarius

            Have they?

          • johansenindustries says:

            ‘What can you say about a group that includes Hillary Clinton and Chairman Mao and Jesus Christ and a couple billion other people that isn’t either wrong or tautological’

            Nothing very much hence the desire of a word like ‘left-winger’ or ‘leftist’ so we discuss the group that includes Hillary Clinton, Chairman Mao and a couple of billion other people.

            As mentioned before no category is perfect, but it seems to me that although the hard left and liberals differ on some issues (I can only think of ‘ought liberals be shot’ at the moment, but I expect there are others) for most issues* if you were tell me a handful of his positions people would be able to say if the person was a ‘liberal or hard left’ but not which.

            * Is there much of an attitude on the hard left of actually being against liberal-supported policies like higher minimum wage? My prejudice is that even if one did say ‘that’s not enough we need to overthrow the system’ that come a public referendum, they’d shuffle in and put a check next to ‘yes’.

          • moscanarius says:

            @dndnrsn

            Jesus? Certainly not 😉

            Are people who support Hillary more likely to support those who support the set of (Mao, Bernie, Fidel, Chavez, Morales) than the set of (Pinochet, Stroesser, Salazar, Franco)? Yes.

            I (think I) get what you mean: Left and Right are both not homogenous, and there is more variation within the groups than between them. Which is true, but does not make the grouping useless. Within the group, as diverse as they may be, they still display more solidarity towards the radicals labelled as “Left” than to those labelled as “Right”.

            The labels are not perfect, and if one keeps only them in mind (without also thinking about more-or-less orthogonal authoritarianism, degree of respect for law, compassion, etc) they can be misleading. But that can be said of many other labels commonly used in these discussions, which nobody would try to throw away. We talk about countries as “the West” and “MENA”, even though the groupings are imperfect and debatable and the countries are diverse, for example.

          • dndnrsn says:

            But that can be accomplished with “left-winger” and “right-winger”; broadly, everyone on the left shares some sort of levelling instinct. I would prefer to live in a society where Joe Average has a decent standard of living and I think it’s fine to tax and spend if it accomplishes that. I also worry about the impact of some people being insanely rich. But I don’t have a problem with some guy owning the factory and him being rich, as long as the factory is regulated, the workers have it decent, people aren’t starving on the streets, the factory owner isn’t completely cut off from the rest of society by his vast wealth, whatever.

      • Can you give a simple descriptions of different sorts of leftists, beyond more and less extreme? To me, liberals (modern American sense) come across as slightly watered down social democrats. What are the categories on the left that can’t be fitted into that sort of pattern?

        In the case of the right, one obvious division is libertarian vs traditionalist. Some libertarians are more extreme than others—anarcho-capitalists vs minarchists vs limited state classical liberals—but all of those differ from traditionalists in the same way, just with varying degrees. On some issues, such as drug laws or immigration or the draft, libertarians are more like people on the left than like other people on the right.

        What do you see as well defined divisions of that sort on the left? Freedom of speech liberals, the traditional ACLU position, vs Antifa leftists?

        • dndnrsn says:

          You could draw the line at whether their attitude towards rich people owning factories is degrees of “tax the factory” or degrees of “take the factory away from them” to be really crude.

          The traditional ACLU position is exactly the sort of thing that leftists and non-leftists tend to disagree over. The leftist cluster tends to view laws that, as written, protect everyone equally, serve to protect the bad guys and the interests of the powers that be. Liberals, social democrats, etc tend to view those laws as important to uphold and that if there’s a problem it can be solved with being more fair in interpreting the law equally for everyone. If some group has to be treated better, it should be dealt with by little patches.
          Leftists are far more likely to want to have radical change where the existing order is really smashed up. Liberals and modern social democrats tend to be reformist.

          Something I think is common is leftist rhetoric with social democrat or liberal substance. American free speech discourse is a lot more absolutist due to the text – American free speech advocates would be foolish to give ground on the 1st. Canada has much less robust free speech laws, we have hate speech laws, but consider that a certain controversial Canadian prof who will remain nameless is fine with prohibited speech in the sense of Canadian hate speech laws, last I checked.

          • IrishDude says:

            a certain controversial Canadian prof who will remain nameless is fine with prohibited speech in the sense of Canadian hate speech laws

            Having watched some recent interviews of his, he opposes hate speech laws, but less vociferously than laws that he feels compel speech. In particular, though he acknowledges downsides of hate speech, he notes that state regulation of hate speech also has downsides and considers them worse.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            He’s also suing people for associating him with evil people, even though he associates his outgroup with evil people.

            I get that no one likes being associated with evil people, but I lost a lot of the free-speech cred I had for him for that.

          • albatross11 says:

            Edward Scissorhands:

            I think most (but not all) free-speech advocates still support libel laws, and I don’t think that’s inherently contradictory. (Though there’s a point at which libel/slander laws become a means for wealthy people to censor some kinds of speech, that’s an issue that someone like Ken of Popehat thinks a lot about, and also that judges and legal scholars in the US have thought a lot about.)

          • Nick says:

            It’s also possible Peterson’s changed his views on prohibited speech. We’ve been back and forth here several times trying to figure out his views on using trans folk’s pronouns—for all that he claims to be very precise about what he says, it’s hard sometimes to fit it all together.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Nick

            We’ve been back and forth here several times trying to figure out his views on using trans folk’s pronouns—for all that he claims to be very precise about what he says, it’s hard sometimes to fit it all together.

            In this clip his position seems pretty clear. He opposes laws that compel speech. When it comes to addressing trans by their preferred pronouns:

            Bari Weiss: You are often characterized, at least in the mainstream press, as being transphobic. If you had a student come to you and said and they said to you I was born female I now identify as male I want to go I want you to call me by male pronouns would you say yes for that?

            Jordan Peterson: Well it would depend on the student and the context and why I thought they were asking me and what I believe their demand actually characterized in all of that. Because that can be done in a way that’s genuine and acceptable in a way that’s manipulative and unacceptable. And if it was genuine and acceptable then I’d have no problem with it and if it was manipulative and unacceptable then not a chance.

            So and you might think well who am I to judge? Well first of all I am a clinical psychologist and I’ve talked to people for about 25,000 hours and so and I’m responsible for judging how I’m going to use my words. I judge it the same way that I judge all the interactions that I have with people which is to the best of my ability and characterized by all the errors that I’m prone to. So you know I’m not saying that my judgment would be unerring but I have to live with the consequences. So I’m willing to accept the responsibility.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            They compared him to Adolf Hitler. That sucks, and it’s stupid, but free speech means I get to call you Hitler and you get to call me Hitler.

            It’s Canada, where hurting someone’s feelings is illegal[1], so he has a good chance of winning. But it’s bullshit from a free-speech perspective.

            If you gave me this quote and told me it was from a SJW, with just a few noun substitutions, I would totally say that it’s in violation of free speech.

            So I think this is a warning, let’s say, to other careless administrators and professors who allow their ideological presuppositions to get the best of them to be a bit more careful with what they say and do.

            or his lawyer

            These are professors and head of gender equity studies making comments that are atrocious about Dr. Peterson who is one of if not Canada’s most prominent intellectuals.

            [1] I exaggerate a bit.

          • Iain says:

            @IrishDude:

            But see also the follow-up discussion Peterson has with John McWhorter about how you can tell whether a demand is genuine, as transcribed near the bottom of this article from Conor Friedersdorf. Friedersdorf’s summary:

            I agree with McWhorter that Peterson was talking around his question—Peterson neither withdrew the claim that he possessed psychological expertise relevant to the matter at hand, nor clarified its nature in any sort of persuasive manner, nor articulated any reason to conclude that being manipulated into pronoun usage by a student falsely claiming to be trans is a likely or harmful event. Peterson’s posture seems more like misplaced stubbornness than anything else.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Iain
            Well, I basically agree with this youtube comment from a video of the interview (never thought I’d say that!):

            “Firstly, Peterson did answer eventually – the devil’s in the details. There aren’t any given psychological ‘tools’ because the variance from person to person is practically infinite. How do you apply a general tool in situational contexts? There’s a concept in psychotherapy termed by Irvin D. Yalom – “Create a new therapy for each patient”. Whilst this is not necessarily the case, the point is that each person has their own unique set of problems, personality, experiences and so on. So when you try one intervention which works on one person, it might fail on the next or work to a lesser degree because of the variance from person to person.

            As a result, any psychological ‘tool’ to help identify genuine pronoun users from attention-seeking SJW quite simply isn’t demonstratably accurate to any real degree. You notice multiple signals simultaneously – body language, tone of voice, facial expression and so on – but there isn’t really a universal application that is accurate to everyone. You interpret them subjectively and reach a conclusion of your own.

            Psychological ‘tools’ in the sense that the linguist is asking for is susceptible to the risk of over-generalizing. Peterson is fine accepting the responsibility for his judgement, but he doesn’t really want to give people things from the discipline that are very easily misapplied (even by professionals). It’s extremely easy to misuse so honestly speaking, I definitely understand why Peterson would also be hesitant to talk about specific ‘tools’ had they even existed. People are very ignorant to how clinical psychology works, so it’s very understandable that people think that there are specific ‘tools’ and ‘techniques’ like a surgeon uses, but actually therapists often try to avoid confining their clients within a box which has an ‘appropriate treatment’ which will sometimes limit the therapeutic process.

            Finally, there’s also the fact that this fine-honed sense of other people comes from years and years of clinical experience AND THERE’S NO SUBSTITUTE FOR IT. Honestly. The theories you study are worthless when you’re actually confronted with the patient and suddenly everything you’ve learnt from a textbook goes out the window. Yes, you can learn theories and case examples, etc, but, as I said, people are infinitely variable. What applies in one case may not apply to another even if they are similar. Thus, there is no replacement short of actually conducting a clinical practice yourself. And even seasoned therapists with decades of experience will commit even basic errors.”

            Note also that Peterson says in the video that so far, he has never denied a request to use a trans person’s preferred pronoun. He just wants to reserve the right to do so in the future, if his judgment suspects manipulative behavior.

          • Nick says:

            IrishDude, my point was that it’s not easy to fit everything he’s said together. Of course one comment at one time is going to say one thing, but how do you put that up against what he’s said elsewhere?

            Douglas Knight and I went back and forth on this a few months ago, and we weren’t entirely sure by the end. Douglas can weigh in if he’s more certain now; I think he has once before, but I can’t find it.

          • Iain says:

            To my mind, the key phrase in Friedersdorf summary is “…nor articulated any reason to conclude that being manipulated into pronoun usage by a student falsely claiming to be trans is a likely or harmful event.” In that light, Peterson’s big claims about his ability to handle a situation in which he’s admittedly never found himself aren’t a point in his favour.

            McWhorter’s being very Socratic here, and letting the audience work out the conclusions. Unpacking his argument more explicitly: Peterson claims that some people make pronoun requests in a “genuine and acceptable” way, and some people make pronoun requests in a “manipulative and unacceptable” way. McWhorter agrees that this is, in his experience, probably true — but that he consistently errs on the side of assuming people are asking in good faith, because he can’t be certain and the harms of getting it wrong are higher on one side.

            How, he asks, do you reach a level of confidence where you are so certain that your interlocutor is full of shit that the potential emotional costs of misgendering them are outweighed by the costs you pay by saying “they”? What are Peterson’s tricks? Can other people attain the same level of confidence? Peterson is not just arguing for his own conscience — he’s arguing about what the law should be. If these situations are so rare that even Pterson, a brilliant clinical psychologist, has never seen a situation that would justify refusing to use somebody’s pronouns, and he can’t give any advice on how we mere mortals should assess that situation, then maybe the risk that somebody somewhere gets away with being called “them” does not justify Peterson’s Martin Luther act.

            Peterson tries to circumvent the questions about his expertise by saying that he’s not guaranteeing that he’s right:

            I would be comfortable in making the judgment and taking the consequential risk. I’m not saying I would be correct. That’s not the same thing at all. I’m willing to suffer the consequences of my error. That’s not the same as being right. And so if I feel a student is manipulating me I’m not going to go along with it. I might be wrong about that and hurt someone who is genuinely asking me for something that they need. But I’m also, what would you say, sensitive to the error of allowing manipulation to go unchecked.

            This is, in one sense, quite admirable. At the same time, though, proclaiming your willingness to suffer the consequences of your error is more impressive when you aren’t campaigning against the system that would impose said consequences. What consequences is he actually willing to suffer?

          • IrishDude says:

            @Nick

            Of course one comment at one time is going to say one thing, but how do you put that up against what he’s said elsewhere?

            If you provide a specific quote of his that seems to contradict what I provided we can discuss, but the quote I provide is consistent with the view I’ve seen him espouse on other occasions: he’s opposed to compelled speech but open to pronoun requests on a case-by-case basis, using his judgment of which requests he considers good faith or not.

          • Nick says:

            If you provide a specific quote of his that seems to contradict what I provided we can discuss, but the quote I provide is consistent with the view I’ve seen him espouse on other occasions: he’s opposed to compelled speech but open to pronoun requests on a case-by-case basis, using his judgment of which requests he considers good faith or not.

            Did you click the link to the old thread? It’s a few posts down before I quote him, but I do:

            Newscaster: But would you use alternate pronouns if a student asked you to?
            Peterson: I think I’ve made my position on that clear already.
            ….
            Newscaster: Would you use alternate pronouns?
            Peterson: No.
            Newscaster: And why not?
            Peterson: Because I don’t believe that other people have the right to determine what language I use, especially when it’s being backed by punitive legislation, and when the words that are being required at the constructions—they are artificial constructions of people I regard as radical ideologues whose viewpoint I do not share.

            This sounds like a hard no. If this were the only quote from Peterson you’d heard, I think you could reasonably conclude he wouldn’t use them at all, which is in complete contradiction to what you’ve quoted. Now, we speculated after that that by “alternate pronoun” he just means neologisms like “ze/zir” and not “pronoun alternative to what the person looks like,” but that’s surely not obvious from the context.

            Another one from that post:

            … I regard these made-up pronouns, all of them, as the neologisms of radical PC authoritarians….

            If this were all you’d heard from Peterson, you might reasonably conclude he has a big problem with made-up pronouns, and you wouldn’t have any idea how he feels about other requests. Again, maybe this can be made consonant with the rest of what he’s said, but 1) he’s obviously not just saying the same thing every time, and 2) you do have to sit down with all the quotes and work out what his view really is. And that’s not even getting into the possibility his views have evolved over time, if you find it impossible to reconcile it all.

          • toastengineer says:

            Semi-devils advocate; isn’t JP comparing folks to Soviets and folks comparing him to a neo-nazi substantively different libel-wise, because a ton of people literally believe it when people say he is one?

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m not a particular fan of Peterson (but I haven’t read/listened to/watched much by him, so maybe I’m missing the boat), but I thought the specific issue that raised this discussion was a law that Peterson believed would require him, by law, to use someone else’s desired pronouns. And I can absolutely understand a willingness to do something as a courtesy combined with an unwillingness to have that same courtesy imposed by force of law.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Iain
            From my recollection, Friersdorf’s quote ““…nor articulated any reason to conclude that being manipulated into pronoun usage by a student falsely claiming to be trans is a likely or harmful event.” didn’t reflect a question from McWhorter (I think it was Weiss’ question amidst the questions coming from McWhorter?), as McWhorter’s question seemed to me to more directly probe Peterson’s claim that his extensive clinical psychology experience informed his judgment of when a request might be good-faith or manipulative, and whether Peterson could share his ‘tools’ so everyone else could have that informed judgment. To which Peterson’s response that the devil’s in the details seemed reasonable to me. I’d be interested in a long form conversation between the two where they could more deeply discuss this and other issues.

            In that light, Peterson’s big claims about his ability to handle a situation in which he’s admittedly never found himself aren’t a point in his favour.

            Pretty much every situation someone finds themselves in is one they haven’t encountered before, as context always changes slightly. Instead, people use similar prior experiences to inform their judgment, and in Peterson’s case this would be his thousands of hours of clinical psychology experience that inform his judgment of whether someone is being genuine or manipulative. Just because that experience of detecting manipulation might not have occurred in a context of a trans person asking for a preferred pronoun yet, doesn’t mean his prior experience won’t be useful at some point in the future. The point for Peterson is that he wants to retain his right to use his own judgment rather than have the state impose on him to compel particular speech.

            If these situations are so rare that even Pterson, a brilliant clinical psychologist, has never seen a situation that would justify refusing to use somebody’s pronouns, and he can’t give any advice on how we mere mortals should assess that situation, then maybe the risk that somebody somewhere gets away with being called “them” does not justify Peterson’s Martin Luther act.

            The use of nuclear weapons is extremely rare but their existence changes the calculus of actions around the world. A decision to disarm yourself, because you’re unlikely to use nuclear weapons, will have an impact and not necessarily in a positive way.

            A policy to always use a person’s preferred pronoun has the potential for negative consequences, and retaining the right to not use a pronoun, even if this right is rarely used, seems to me a good protection against manipulative behavior.

            At the same time, though, proclaiming your willingness to suffer the consequences of your error is more impressive when you aren’t campaigning against the system that would impose said consequences. What consequences is he actually willing to suffer?

            The State is only one system that doles out consequences, social judgment is another. Peterson is opposed to the first system and seems open to the second, should he err in his judgment.

          • lvlln says:

            If these situations are so rare that even Pterson, a brilliant clinical psychologist, has never seen a situation that would justify refusing to use somebody’s pronouns, and he can’t give any advice on how we mere mortals should assess that situation, then maybe the risk that somebody somewhere gets away with being called “them” does not justify Peterson’s Martin Luther act.

            The risk isn’t “somebody somewhere gets away with being called ‘them'” – I don’t believe Peterson has ever said anything that indicates that he has anything against someone “being called ‘them.'” The risk is somebody somewhere being legally compelled to call someone else “them” when they don’t want to, for any reason whatsoever. It doesn’t matter if literally every time he’s asked to, he concedes to using someone’s preferred pronouns, the point is that he gets to make that choice. And if he suddenly has an aneurysm or some cosmic particle randomly hits his brain and causes him to refuse someone’s preferred pronoun in the future, he should be free to act on that decision and face the social consequences of doing so, without the government stepping in.

            This is, in one sense, quite admirable. At the same time, though, proclaiming your willingness to suffer the consequences of your error is more impressive when you aren’t campaigning against the system that would impose said consequences. What consequences is he actually willing to suffer?

            He’s not campaigning against the system that would impose said consequences. He’s campaigning against the system that would impose legal consequences, which are distinct from the system that imposes social consequences, which unavoidably emerge in any social interaction involving 2 or more individuals. Of course, it’s understandable how if one sees the world in terms of power differentials between groups rather than in terms of individuals, that one might not be satisfied with the social “consequences” he would face in this situation and thus want legal recourse.

            (Aside: I personally don’t think this distinction is as much as people tend to make it out to be; punishing someone socially – including merely avoiding contact with them – for having bad opinions is almost as reprehensible as punishing them legally in my view – but I accept that reasonable people find this distinction very important)

            Given his perspective, it seems pretty clear to me that his lawsuit against Rambukkana is very hypocritical, and if there’s anything that his detractors should hammer him on, it’s this lawsuit. Not that being a hypocrite weakens his prior arguments about compelled speech, but it certainly discredits him as a principled defender of free speech going forward. I mean, I guess I’m open to an argument for how what Rambukkana said is libel, but the idea that comparing someone to Hitler (an opinion) in what he thought was a private conversation (not meant to defame) could come anywhere close to libel seems so absurd that I wouldn’t know where to start in making such an argument. Which I guess makes me really curious as to what his lawyer will come up with. Also, I’m not familiar with Canadian law.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Nick

            Peterson: … I regard these made-up pronouns, all of them, as the neologisms of radical PC authoritarians….

            Nick: If this were all you’d heard from Peterson, you might reasonably conclude he has a big problem with made-up pronouns, and you wouldn’t have any idea how he feels about other requests.

            I don’t see an issue if from one quote you only know how he feels about one issue, and not another related issue. And I don’t see anything from the two quotes you linked that contradict the quote of Peterson’s I posted.

            From your quotes, he seems opposed to alternate pronouns and neologisms, and as I further watched the link you posted he talked about ‘otherkins‘ and how some people wanted to be referred to as “worm-self”. He probably has a strong presumption that requests to use these particular pronouns aren’t in good faith, as opposed to a trans woman asking to be called “her/she” which is more likely in good-faith.

            He also seems to be more highly sensitive to other pronouns like zie/zir that he seems to think are linked to radical political activism and power plays.

            1) he’s obviously not just saying the same thing every time,

            Right, he seems to address some aspects of the issues in some interviews and other aspects in others, so depending on what issue he’s addressing he’ll have different things to say.

            2) you do have to sit down with all the quotes and work out what his view really is.

            As you do with anybody. Give someone a sentence and you’ll know a tiny bit about their views. Give them a paragraph and you’ll know more. Give them wide-ranging long form interviews across time and you’ll really start to understand the nuance of their views.

            This is why I like Joe Rogan’s long-form podcasts that go 3 hours and don’t like news interviews that last 5 minutes. You miss tons of nuance and context without asking lots of probing follow-up questions and giving people time to elaborate their answers.

            And that’s not even getting into the possibility his views have evolved over time, if you find it impossible to reconcile it all.

            This is certainly possible! Since I’ve followed him his position has seemed consistent to me, but it’s possible I missed some growth in his views or it’s possible he had different views before I started following him.

          • IrishDude says:

            @lvlln

            I mean, I guess I’m open to an argument for how what Rambukkana said is libel, but the idea that comparing someone to Hitler (an opinion) in what he thought was a private conversation (not meant to defame) could come anywhere close to libel seems so absurd that I wouldn’t know where to start in making such an argument.

            Agree, particularly your point about the absurdity of private conversation bring considered libelous. I’m always interested in hearing more details, but on the face of it the libel suit seems poor form.

          • Nick says:

            IrishDude,

            First, thanks for engaging with me on this. If I sound annoyed with you here, sorry and I’m really not. I’m more annoyed with myself for bringing this up again and starting this argument all over again. And sorry again, but post is in the same semi-exasperated tone, because I’ve written all this now and I’m not rewriting….

            I don’t see an issue if from one quote you only know how he feels about one issue, and not another related issue. And I don’t see anything from the two quotes you linked that contradict the quote of Peterson’s I posted.

            Okay, but the line between using regular pronouns vs “made up” pronoun is one drawn by Peterson, not by us. Sure, we might agree with him when we hear where and why he’s drawing this line, but it’s not as though if we hear him say he’d honor a request he thought was genuine we would conclude “Ah, of course, Peterson is here only talking about ordinary pronouns like he and she and not singular they or ze/zir.” So I don’t think we can just say one statement was about one issue and the other was about a related issue. They are, viewed from an uninformed lens, just the same issue.

            Let’s look at another case, which was also brought up in that thread: the channel 4 interview with Cathy Newman. There the exchange goes:

            Newman: You have voluntary, … You have voluntarily come into the studio and agreed to be questioned. A trans-person in your class, has come to your class and said they want to be called “she”.
            Peterson: That’s never happened. And I would call them “she”.
            Newman: So you would? So you’ve kind of changed your tune a little bit, …
            Peterson: No. No. I said that right from the beginning. What I said at the beginning, was that I was not going to cede the linguistic territory to radical leftists. Regardless of whether, or not, it was put in law. That’s what I said.

            Now again, since you’ve heard a lot from Peterson on this, you can hear this and say, “Ah, Cathy’s example used ‘she.’ See, Peterson was just being precise, and if you drew a conclusion to pronouns like ze/zir you’ve misinterpreted him.” Well, how the hell am I supposed to know I’m misinterpreting him? I didn’t know I was supposed to distinguish the two. How could I know, when he doesn’t even bring it up there? Was all that stuff at the end there about “ceding the linguistic territory” about the neologisms, or is it just about the acceptability of demanding she instead of he?

            As you do with anybody. Give someone a sentence and you’ll know a tiny bit about their views. Give them a paragraph and you’ll know more. Give them wide-ranging long form interviews across time and you’ll really start to understand the nuance of their views.

            This is why I like Joe Rogan’s long-form podcasts that go 3 hours and don’t like news interviews that last 5 minutes. You miss tons of nuance and context without asking lots of probing follow-up questions and giving people time to elaborate their answers.

            I agree that if Peterson had just fifteen seconds or something to speak it wouldn’t be fair to assume that was the entirety of his views, and longer interviews are definitely better. But you started by posting a 75 minute interview and Q&A, and then a clip from a 90 minute conversation at the Aspen Institute, and meanwhile in that old thread I linked to a TV discussion that was only a few minutes long, but also an interview that was 30 minutes long. So on the one hand, okay, maybe my first TV discussion link wasn’t an appropriate place to expect to get the totality of Peterson’s views. But surely in that 30 minute channel 4 interview Peterson’s got the time to be more clear about his views, maybe say something like “Now saying I would call her ‘she’ doesn’t mean I would call her ‘ze’ or ‘xe,’ I won’t use made-up pronouns” instead of (presumably) only gesturing in that direction with stuff about ceding the linguistic territory to radical leftists, or even just mention his distinction between genuine and manipulative requests, which also don’t come up there. Or in either of those more than hour long interviews he can clarify that he’s not going to use made-up pronouns.

            Peterson’s frustrating habit, if I were to diagnose it, is assuming that precision in one context is all he is required to do to be understood. It’s emphatically not. Even for well intentioned, sympathetic people like us who know how to read and to apply the principle of charity, it’s remarkably easy to misunderstand him, as the thread I linked earlier should demonstrate: Aapje, Douglas, and I all have different readings. The obvious solution to this sort of problem, as used by everyone else in the world, is to preempt and rebut common misunderstandings. Peterson never seems to do this.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Nick
            Our discussion seems civil to me so no worries. 🙂

            The obvious solution to this sort of problem, as used by everyone else in the world, is to preempt and rebut common misunderstandings. Peterson never seems to do this.

            It seems to me that Peterson finds certain aspects of the trans pronoun issue most salient (compelled speech, power plays by radical activists) and, in shorter form interviews focuses sharply on those aspects. In longer form interviews with probing questions from the audience, he discusses his nuanced view on other aspects (e.g., how do you decide when to use the preferred pronoun?).

            I can understand why someone with an uninformed opinion might not understand context (like what a neologism is) when trying to interpret Peterson’s views, or why an informed person might not understand all aspects of his view from his responses in one particular interview, but that just doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. While I might appreciate Peterson writing an essay on the topic that discusses all the nuances of his views, or providing comprehensive responses within an interview, I don’t think he has any obligation to do so. And no matter what he says or writes, there’s likely to be someone out there that doesn’t feel he addressed some aspect that seems important to them.

            I think a reasonable person interested in good faith understanding of his views can look at a few interviews and get a pretty good idea of where he generally stands on trans pronouns, though of course on a complex topic there’s always room for misunderstanding and it’s possible that my interpretation of him is incorrect.

          • Brad says:

            While I might appreciate Peterson writing an essay on the topic

            On any topic whatsoever as far as I’m concerned.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Brad

            Sorry, we’re back to oral tradition as normative.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nick

            I think that Peterson has the issue that he likes to reason out things afresh, making him somewhat inconsistent.

            @Brad

            Perhaps an article on the mating rituals of the north american wasp.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Brad

            On any topic whatsoever as far as I’m concerned.

            He’s written two books, which are extended essays on topics that he finds important.

            Here’s a shorter essay called “Peacemaking among higher-order primates” I found by googling. I haven’t read it so can’t attest to its quality, but it satisfies your request for him to write an essay on “any topic whatsoever”.

            I’ve got a tab open of a journal article of his entitled “Neuropsychology of Motivation for Group Aggression and Mythology” that I have yet to read, but you might find also satisfies your request.

            @dndnrsn

            Sorry, we’re back to oral tradition as normative.

            Peterson has interesting thoughts on podcasts/youtube/etc., considering them doing for the spoken word what Gutenberg’s press did for the written word. He finds this new medium particularly appealing because, unlike the written word, people can do other things while absorbing information transmitted orally. You can commute, do dishes, and cut grass while listening to a podcast, allowing the every day person an opportunity to learn new things without having to give up any of their other normal activities; it’s a powerful new technology for transmitting ideas that he’s keen to exploit.

          • Brad says:

            I suppose technically correct is still the best kind of correct.

            That aside I strenuously disagree about the value of podcasts, and even worse, talking head youtube videos. Beyond aesthetics and efficiency, as discussed a couple of open threads ago, I find the insistence on mediums where charisma is an important factor to be suspicious.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Brad

            I suppose technically correct is still the best kind of correct.

            If you’re interested in his written thoughts on topics, you’ve got hundreds of pages of material out there in two books, many scientific journal articles that evaluate evidence on psychological phenomena and articulate his conclusions, and at least one essay tackling his pet subject on how groups with differing values can coexist peacefully. Yet you still seem dissatisfied, which, I guess is okay but doesn’t make complete sense to me.

            If you want more writings from him, here’s his blog which has short writings from him and transcripts of his audio interviews.

            That aside I strenuously disagree about the value of podcasts, and even worse, talking head youtube videos.

            There’s all kinds of podcasts and youtube videos out there, from cat videos and RPG podcasts to complete college video lecture series on youtube and historical analysis podcasts. For those interested in using the audio format to educate themselves when they’d otherwise be zoning out on hour commutes, the existence of interesting and informative audio on just about any subject is a modern wonder.

            I find the insistence on mediums where charisma is an important factor to be suspicious.

            This critique seems misplaced, as it seems to imply that charisma isn’t an important factor in writing. The visual medium, from pictures to text, is full of opportunity to use emotional persuasion. Anyways, there’s no ‘insistence’ on oral mediums, just a note that modern technology has made it an additional avenue to absorb information that has a unique positive characteristic (you can listen and learn while washing dishes).

    • ilikekittycat says:

      The standard for left here is something like “how closely it resembles the opinion of the privileged Yale student Hillary voting purple hair SWPL SJW” and you get more “moderate” the more you disagree with that sort of person. Including an argument from Marx or Lenin etc. is generally less provocative than unironically agreeing with Lena Dunham or talking about privilege theory

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I don’t remember much Leninism here, but I bet people are more willing to listen to Marx than SJWs because he was so analytical.

      • Dan L says:

        “how closely it resembles the opinion of the privileged Yale student Hillary voting purple hair SWPL SJW”

        Bit of a tangent, but I have the suspicion that said stereotype would be less common at more prestigious universities. That goes for the critical-theory-professor archetype, too. I’d love to see some data one way or the other.

        • Aapje says:

          I have no solid data, but an interesting exercise when encountering one of the more extreme critical-theory professors is to look them up on Rate My Professor. I’ve found that their ratings are generally quite poor (and reading the comment entertaining).

          Suzanna Walters (of the WaPo piece on hating men). Multiple raters make statements like: “Do you want a good grade in her class? Then, agreeing with her is mandatory.”

          George Ciccariello-Maher (of the “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide” tweet). Multiple raters call him disrespectful and rude.

          So (extreme) critical-theory ideology may result in and/or attract the kind of people who are poor at teaching. The more prestigious universities may not be willing to tolerate this.

          PS. It’s interesting to contrast these ratings with SJ-critical firebrands, like Jordan Peterson and Bret Weinstein.

          • a reader says:

            Or with Jonathan Haidt, the founder of “Heterodox Academy” (that tries to protect freedom of thought in universities).

            Suzanna Walters – 1.7 (most ratings Awful, 1 Poor and 1 Awesome)

            George Ciccariello-Maher – 1.0 (all ratings Awful)

            Jonathan Haidt – 4.5 (most ratings Awesome or Good, although a few raters say he is too “arrogant” or “cocky”)

          • brmic says:

            ermh *headdesk*?!!
            (1) Your sample size sucks
            (2) Your measurement sucks (both in terms of distortions through fame/attention, i.e. you’d have to use pre-prominence data and in terms of these rate-your-X site generally having poor reliability and known biases and thrid in the raters not being the same people)
            (3) Your theory sucks (at best something like critical theory ~> classroom behaviour ~> ratings, with maybe a sideorder of ‘personality type’ somewhere in there. Massively underspecified, not paying rent in experience at all)
            (4) You have a forking paths problem. At the very least in that an opposite finding could have gone unreported (Not accusing you of dishonesty at all. But this is the sort of cutesy finding which people in general report and repeat when it comes out in line with their biases and conversely are likely to dismiss as semi-serious, flawed attempt not work reporting/repeating, when it doesn’t allign with their biases) and that theory is sufficiently weak that an opposite finding could have been explained as (i) caused by pre-selection of students, (ii) preaching to the choir (iii) data for Peterson and Weinstein corrupted by SJW etc. Also, subject removals/inclusions on non-pre-registered grounds.

            In short, yes, this is totally uninformative and a waste of everyone’s time. If the above is not convincing, consider what it would take to fix the flaws in data collection and measurement, imagine spending 2-6 weeks on the project and whether, given an unchanged theory you’d then consider the result worth anything.

          • Aapje says:

            @brmic

            1. It’s a hypothesis, not a theory
            2. I added quite a bit of caveats and assume that most people here are wise enough to not believe that my hypothesis has strong evidence for it
            3. It was mostly intended as a bit of levity

            PS. FYI, I didn’t cherry pick. The four people that I presented are the first 4 that I came up with and the only ones that I looked up.
            PS2. It is possible that Peterson and Weinstein have non-student fans that leave ratings despite not taking their classes.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If one is assessing a professor who has become heavily involved in the Culture Wars, one should probably make the cutoff for prof-rating sites before they became involved – so, for example, cutting out Peterson reviews from after he got in the news (in which case, what you’ll see is a lot of undergrads who really liked his intro to psych or whatever course).

          • Nick says:

            You can filter out the noise from fans/haters by only looking at the data before they got famous and then run the numbers again yourself. It’s really annoying, but it’s doable.

            Walters, for instance, has four reviews from the last few weeks, all after her Washington Post article, and three reviews from 2013. The three from 2013 are awful, awesome, and poor.

            Edit: Dammit, dndnrsn beat me to it.

          • a reader says:

            The 4 most recent ratings of Suzanna Walters are probably not genuine: they appeared this month, after her article about men-hating in Washington Post, and 3 of them are very short. But the other 3 seem genuine – they are from 2013, long before the scandal – and they are more bad than good: 1 Poor, 1 Awesome and 1 Awful. And the ratings of George Ciccariello-Maher seem genuine, they appeared along 2017, long after his “white genocide” tweet from December 2016. and most are quite long and informative.

            3 more data points for the most extreme SJW professors:

            Jessie Daniels 4.2 (many Awesome)

            Jessie Daniels wrote on twitter:

            White people: do you own your home? When you die, where’s wealth in that house going? If it’s your children, you’re reproducing IneQ
            […]
            Part of what I’ve learned is that the white-nuclear family is one of the most powerful forces supporting white supremacy
            […]
            I mean, if you’re a white person who says they’ve engaged in dismantling white supremacy, but +
            you’re forming a white family + reproducing white children that “you want the best for” – how is that helping + not part of the problem?”

            Piper Harron 3.5 (1 Average, 1 Good)

            Piper Harron proposed that:

            If you are a white cis man (meaning you identify as male and you were assigned male at birth) you almost certainly should resign from your position of power. That’s right, please quit. Too difficult? Well, as a first step, at least get off your hiring committee, your curriculum committee, and make sure you’re replaced by a woman of color or trans person.

            Rochelle Gutierrez 2.8 (very divisive – quite as many Awesome as Awful)

            Rochelle Gutierrez wrote that:

            On many levels, mathematics itself operates as Whiteness. Who gets credit for doing and developing mathematics, who is capable in mathematics, and who is seen as part of the mathematical community is generally viewed as White […]
            curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.

            Afaik, those professors kept their jobs and didn’t have to confront angry mobs of students, like Bret Weinstein.

          • albatross11 says:

            I agree with brmic: I doubt we can learn very much about anything from this data. Even restricting it to pre-internet-fame data, I doubt this teaches us much.

          • Cliff says:

            Well, most of these SJW people are infamous for writing terrible crap and the right-wing people you mention (actually not sure how right-wing they are really) are famous for being brilliant thinkers, so it hardly seems a fair comparison.

          • Aapje says:

            @Cliff

            Can you come up with examples of SJ-critical professors who are crappy and who were at the center of controversy?

            Due to the current situation in academia, I would expect SJ-critical professors to be far more wary about speaking out, leading to a selection effect.

            PS. My comparison was not left- vs right-wing, but pro-SJ vs SJ-critical. I would argue that the latter distinction doesn’t map cleanly on the former, but that the currently dominant left- and right-wing narratives are pro-SJ and SJ-critical, respectively.

            PS 2. I don’t rate Camille Paglia that highly as a thinker and she has a 3.5 rating as a professor (what is that? mediocre or decent?)

          • Protagoras says:

            The research tends to find a negative correlation between student evaluations and teaching effectiveness. So while it’s interesting that the conservatives are more popular with their students (may indicate that some assumptions about what students are like on average are wrong), it probably doesn’t show what a lot of people here seem to be suggesting it would show.

        • BBA says:

          For that matter, in my mind the stereotypical “purple hair SWPL SJW” either voted for Jill Stein or rejects voting altogether as participating in an inherently corrupt, patriarchal system.

    • Dan L says:

      I remarked on this yesterday in a different thread, so I feel like it might be worth restating my complaint here: that “Leftist” as it’s often used here is a case of sloppily grouping over a century’s worth of ideology and political alliances under the same label. It’s an even more egregious form of the “Statist” label Scott criticizes in the opening of the Anti-Libertarian FAQ.

    • Brad says:

      I haven’t been participating much in the last few months but on the basis of the prior couple of years, all and anyone left of center-right on social issues is part of the homogenous hated outgroup and any of Scott’s writings on steelmanning or charity or so on are totally disregarded. You can see some of that in some of the terrible responses you query has already generated.

      It’s pretty exasperating.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      The reason you can’t figure out what the definition of “leftist” is here is because it’s more often than not just being employed as a boo light. The most frequent type of commenter here is “people who really don’t like feminists and other people who are SJWs”. Even the people who are ostensibly left of center are far more left-libertarian than center-left.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      Does describing oneself as an “ist” make one feel a part of a group? I suppose that’s useful when you need to vote in a coalition. But why elsewhere?

    • quanta413 says:

      It’s a uselessly vague grouping most of the time.

      I was surprised how strong the reaction against Piketty was since economics is normally less of a nerve here, but a lot of the commenters were not the ones I usually see. I think the signal to noise ratio was worse than usual although some of the signals were pretty good.

      In a more typical thread averaging across commenters, there’s a strong net dislike for typical social justice things here but not as much argument about economics. I suspect this is partly because a lot of the people here disagree with SJ but live in communities where it’s a strong ideology. You could think of SSC as partly functioning as argument club but partly functioning as safe space for nerds who are near to but are the outgroup of social justice. Even a significant chunk of “leftists” here have only a sort of half-hearted love for typical social justice.

      • Randy M says:

        I was surprised how strong the reaction against Piketty was since economics is normally less of a nerve here

        But bad statistics is definitely a nerve. I don’t know if those accusations are correct or even objectively raised, but it seemed that a lot of the objections were about him doing the math wrong rather than making unwarranted conclusions. That’s very much the kind of thing that will get objections around here.

        • quanta413 says:

          I did not find the claims of bad statistics that convincing. Even if Piketty made mistakes, they weren’t egregiously bad. They were more inside baseball empirical issues than outright mathematical mispractice.

          Except maybe his claim that there are a horde of undetected super-rich heirs. That’s less statistical malpractice than conspiracy theory though.

        • J Mann says:

          As with leftists, let’s not inappropriately conflate different types of Piketty critics. IMHO, there were two relevant groups of reactions to Piketty.

          1) People who found at least one of the points Scott summarized implausible or unsupported and challenged that point, and:

          2) People who were surprised or outraged that anyone is still taking Piketty seriously after some critics found what they asserted were bad-faith inaccuracies in the book.

          IMHO, Group 1 was much larger, and is pretty typical for this forum. If you assert a statement of fact, someone is bound to show up and want to discuss whether that fact is accurate.

    • albatross11 says:

      I think there’s an interesting parallel between this and the “is race a valid scientific concept” discussion above. In both cases, “left/right” are fuzzy categories that lose a huge amount of resolution, and yet are sometimes useful for describing or predicting things.

    • J Mann says:

      Does this comment section have an atypical shared definition of “leftist”? As someone who’s relatively new to the comments, this is the most discordant thing I’ve noticed – “leftist” being used as if it were a specific group with a shared ideology, rather than a broad swath of humanity that includes a variety of conflicting ideologies.

      I think that’s a problem with any group. “Libertarians” or “Alt-righters” or “Communists” or “Taylor Swift fans” are just buckets of people with different opinions. Sometimes, people make the mistake of actually assuming that all the people in one bucket actually hold a coherent opinion, but more often, I think that it’s just loose speech.

      Generally, IMHO, if someone says something like “leftists are comfortable chasing people off campus for disagreeing with them”, they really mean “many leftists” or “apparently a lot more leftists than non-leftists,” but I agree more precision would be good.

    • ana53294 says:

      Don’t a lot of the proposed definitions for “leftist” include the pope?
      Sure, he is pro-life, anti gay marriage and does not support divorce (although he does try to reapproach divorced people to the church). But other than that, he does try to support the poor, the immigrants, and he does acknowledge our responsibility to the environment.
      It is my understanding that there are several pro-life Democrats, Obama was not too keen on gay marriage in 2008, and most people don’t like divorce, even if they think it should be legal.
      I can’t say about pope (ex-pope?) Benedict XVI, because he wasn’t there for long, but John Paul II was definitely leftist if being pro-refugees, poor people and anti-war is being leftist.

    • Viliam says:

      As a first approximation, how about defining “leftist” as a person who, if they lived half century ago, would post blogs about Soviet Union being a paradise on Earth, and all rumors about communist death camps being merely American propaganda.

      Trying to find a similar example today… I guess something like “white people have never been slaves / only white people owned slaves”, “Islam respects women”, etc. Something not merely wrong, but aggressively the exact opposite of reality; aimed against the western civilization. — Which does not imply that those people do it knowingly; most of them truly believe it, and feel morally superior to muggles because of that belief.

      It is not 100% correct, but I suspect that as a first approximation it fits better than what most people would propose as a definition.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        As a first approximation, how about defining “leftist” as a person who, if they lived half century ago, would post blogs about Soviet Union being a paradise on Earth, and all rumors about communist death camps being merely American propaganda.

        Probably the biggest difficulty here is that it’s a completely counterfactual criterion. I would like to believe that I wouldn’t have believed Communist propaganda, but how do I know? This also seems insanely restrictive: a Trotskyist in 1968 could have believed every bad thing about the USSR, and so by your criterion would not be a leftist.

      • cassander says:

        how about a person who, 5 years ago, praised Hugo Chavez’ economic agenda? That seems to require a lot fewer hypotheticals.

      • As a first approximation, how about defining “leftist” as a person who, if they lived half century ago, would post blogs about Soviet Union being a paradise on Earth, and all rumors about communist death camps being merely American propaganda.

        That doesn’t work for two reasons. First, only a small minority would have seen the Soviet Union as a paradise on Earth, although a sizable number would have seen it as something more attractive than it was—an imperfect attempt at building a better society. Second, a large number, although perhaps a minority, of left of center people then were critical of the communist societies, Orwell being a notable example a little earlier.

      • dndnrsn says:

        @Viliam

        Historical quibble: gulags were concentration camps, not death camps. People were worked until they died of starvation/disease/the elements, but there was a continuous prisoner population. Death camps didn’t have this – the only prisoners kept alive were the ones forced to do stuff like deal with the bodies (they were generally later killed themselves) and most people who were shipped there were killed fairly quickly upon arrival.

        • Viliam says:

          Yeah, it’s not exactly the same.

          Death camp: You have 10000 prisoners. You try to kill them all during this month, because the next month you get 10000 new prisoners to kill.

          Gulag: You have 20000 prisoners (and food for 10000). You try to work to death half of them during this month, because the next month you get 10000 more prisoners (and no more food).

          And, technically, the prisoners in gulag are there for limited time, so if they survive enough rounds of elimination, in theory after 10 years they are allowed to go home. (In practice, after 10 years they will get 10 more years and stay where they are, because we do not want to spread the information about gulags to the average population. Also, slave labor is convenient for the socialist economy.)

    • Walter says:

      I use it as a synonym for “progressive”. To me, if your primary motive is reducing suffering, you are ultimately on the left. If it is reducing unfairness, you will end up on the right. The sorting process may be longer than the human lifespan tho.

      • yodelyak says:

        @Walter
        I can’t fit “primary motive” in my model for people at all. That’s not how we work.
        I do think people on the right are more likely to have a strong “disgust” reaction. Libertarians are outliers on the right because they are right-leaning, but don’t have that disgust reaction.

        Toward the original post, I see “left” and “leftist” as ambiguous terms, and immediately look for more contextual clues to indicate what’s meant. It can mean something very similar to “anti-fa” or “marxist” where the struggle–and the only struggle–is between labor and capital. Or it can just mean people who currently own/project an identity that puts them on the leftward side of many issues, such as being pro-choice or anti-death penalty or favor state-funding of [anything but the military]. I think if you want to understand what’s different about the SSC commentariat compared to other commenters, I think the fact that we’re relatively good at noticing ambiguity might be a good thing. This is the sort of place where people start by acknowledging that the rest of the world needs to be more libertarian, but that the sort of people who read anti-libertarian FAQs do, in fact, generally need to be less libertarian.

  9. bean says:

    Naval Gazing returns to fire control with a discussion of methods of rangefinding.

  10. fion says:

    Silly hypothetical:

    What would be the most good you could do if you had the ability to travel back in time 24 hours?

    I’m using the model of time travel where you stay in your body but have the future-you’s memories (like About Time or Prince of Persia). But you can only go 24 hours (or less) and you can’t take anything back with you except what you remember. You can do it repeatedly, but not to get back earlier than 24 hours. (If you don’t see what I mean by this, it’s effectively a 24 hour cool-down. You could live the same day again and again, but you could never go back to the day before yesterday.)

    The best I’ve come up with is making lots of money by ‘predicting’ the stock market and then donating to charity. But how quickly could you get rich? What’s the maximum return you could expect to get on your investments if you know which things are going up or down in the next 24 hours? I don’t really know enough about the stock market to answer this.

    Any better/more inventive ideas?

    • hls2003 says:

      You’d do much better with lotteries and other gambling mechanisms than the stock market, in a 24-hour period.

      • fion says:

        What about winning the lottery once and then investing your winnings? As Gobbobobble notes, winning the lottery multiple times will draw attention to yourself immediately, which might be a bad thing.

        Online gambling might be a good way to stay anonymous and also win a lot…

        • Protagoras says:

          I assume that like casinos, online gambling establishments consider consistent winning as conclusive evidence that cheating is going on, and have some methods of detecting and stopping such consistent winners.

          • fion says:

            But unlike casinos, I’d expect it to be fairly trivial to set up a new account and win again. Also unlike casinos, less risk of physical harm… but then maybe I’ve watched too many movies.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This is a question I have thought about a lot, for a long time. Like, at least 3 decades:

        Even if you go back in time and try to change as little as possible, will the lottery still pick the same numbers?

        I think sports gambling is less likely to be affected by the tiny changes you do in your day.

        • fion says:

          Are you saying the air I move when I walk around has a chaotic effect on the machine that tumbles up the little balls in such a way as to effectively re-randomise it every time I rewind? I’m not sure I have an answer to that. Maybe? I guess it’d be the first thing I’d find out.

          Or did you mean something else?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Basically, yeah. I suspect the lotto machines are so random and so chaotic that they wouldn’t end up in the same position, based on your movements. Something based on radioactive decay, ironically, might be more predictable to a time traveller, although obviously we don’t know that.

            I go back and forth on this every few years.

          • fion says:

            I go back and forth on this every few years.

            :O

            (Your secret is safe with me.)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If I were to time travel to play the lotto numbers, here is the strategy.

            1. Pick a lotto as far from you as physically possible (while still legal to collect your winnings).
            2. Travel to the latest possible time to buy tickets. If the drawing is at 8:30pm and ticket selling cuts of at 8:00pm (it’s like they are defending against time travelers!), you would want to ‘beam in’ around 7:40.
            3. Hire someone to buy tickets for you. They should be physically far from you and physically far from the ball machine.
            4. Email or text them a list of numbers to bet. A list of 5 sets of numbers can provide you some noise.
            5. Have him drop the tickets into an overnight FedEx store before the drawing.
            6. You sit as still as possible for this entire thing.

          • albatross11 says:

            How do you imagine the changes caused by your time travel affecting the lotto draw or the stock market or the outcome of a sporting event? I’d expect that to happen from chaotic effects on the atmosphere eventually, but that should take a longish time to have a big effect.

            I think the Powerball lottery drawing happens somewhere on the East Coast, but a little Googling to find out for sure mainly netted me lots of state lottery sites and articles about how to pick winning numbers. If so, why not go back 24 hours in Southern California, where atmospheric changes will presumably not be able to reach the drawing site for quite awhile? Ideally, go back just before the deadline for buying a winning lottery ticket.

            Sports betting is even better, since I’m pretty sure you can bet on events on the other side of the globe. No way are any changes you make by placing a bet in Australia going to reach the site of the next Superbowl in less than 24 hours.

            I’m sure there are plenty of other chaotic unpredictable things going on, but probably also with low probability of changing an event like this within 24 hours. (Like, your bet slightly effects the gambling market/odds offered, but that probably doesn’t have time to change the behavior of the winning team in the Superbowl or the winner of today’s World Cup match or the next Powerball drawing or whatever.)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I think that sporting events are much less likely to change if I time travel, at least at any significant level. The pitcher might throw the ball a little higher but the batter will swing a little higher and it’s still a homerun whether he hits it 452 feet or 453 feet.

          • Matt M says:

            And keep in mind, even if you DO change the outcome of the sporting event… you can just travel back and then not place that bet anymore and bet on a different one.

            This only presents a problem if you think that you will end up changing the outcome of every bettable sporting event. Which is not plausible.

          • actinide meta says:

            I think the “chaoticness” of a lottery machine can be roughly quantified. I’m imagining something like an air blower machine, where a lot of little balls are bouncing off each other every ~100ms for tens of seconds. (I will make up a lot of specific numbers for my back of the envelope calculation, but the bottom line result is extremely robust to the choice of all these numbers. If there’s a problem with this line of reasoning, it’s conceptual rather than quantitative.)

            When two spheres bounce off each other elastically, a difference in the direction of travel of either sphere is roughly doubled – a 1 degree delta becomes a 2 degree delta. After a second collision, a 4 degree difference. The lottery machine does hundreds of successive collisions of each ball.

            A 1 gram object on the other side of the Earth (from the lotto machine) produces a gravitational acceleration on a lotto ball (or anything else nearby) of 4 x 10^-28 m/s^2. Shifting the 1 gram object 1mm farther away from the lotto ball changes this acceleration by 6 x 10^-38 m/s^2. After a typical free path of 100ms, the velocity of the lotto ball will be affected by 6 x 10^-39 m/s. Let’s say that shifts the direction of the lotto ball by about 10^-40 radians. After 13.2 seconds (132 collisions per ball, multiplying this angular delta by a factor of 2^132) we expect this to have completely randomized the motion of balls in the machine.

            Basically, when comparing an exponentially growing effect with merely linear or quadratic effects, the exponential always wins.

            The real situation is undoubtedly “worse” than this. All highly chaotic systems in the vicinity of Earth are interacting gravitationally at the speed of light. I expect that moving a single atom anywhere will, well within a minute, have completely randomized all of them. And this is all assuming a classical, deterministic physics – subjectively nondeterministic quantum effects presumably randomize all of these systems quickly no matter what you do or don’t change.

            If your model of time travel is a consistent one – e.g. “worlds” in which time travel works consistently are postselected from the wavefunction – you might be able to predict lotto numbers with a time machine. But in the type of inconsistent model you are imagining, no way. Everything that’s chaotically random will diverge from your “memories”.

          • Colonel Hapablap says:

            Now that was an interesting post, Actinide. Reminds me a bit of David Deutch’s Beginnings of Infinity which I’m currently trying to read.

          • fion says:

            @actinide meta

            Thanks for your comment. That’s a really striking conclusion. Like, nevermind whether your body is close to the machine, or whether it’s an hour or ten hours between you buying your ticket and the draw… if your reasoning is correct then me lifting my finger on the other side of the world as the draw starts completely randomises the result in the time it takes light to travel 13000km?

            I’m not 100% sure I trust that, but at the same time, I can’t see a problem with your reasoning.

            If your reasoning is sound, then it’s a very lovely demonstration of the power of exponentials!

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            That comment was wonderful and resolves a question I’ve had for the longest time. SSC gold to you, sir!

    • Randy M says:

      How possible is it to make a lot of money on the market with a days foresight? If you see an unusual spike in the price of the stock of a medium to large company and go back that morning and want to put in as much cash as you can get your hands on, what is the maximum you could buy in it? And how would the sudden demand for that stock effect the price? What’s the maximum amount you can put it before it changes the valuation one way or another to an unpredictable degree? And how much would you have to make doing this before attracting (presumably unwanted) attention to yourself?

      • fion says:

        Yes, these are the right questions!

        (No idea about the answers…)

      • rahien.din says:

        How possible is it to make a lot of money on the market with a days foresight?

        You would be immune to the basic risks. Read the paper at the end of the day and identify a good rate of return on some stock. Go back to the beginning of the day and buy all the shares you can. Once you identify that stock will go bad, go back to the appropriate time and sell it, buying shares in something else. If you keep moving your money around like that, you could assure yourself continual gains. If that could persist, you don’t need a big seed to make a lot of money in a damn hurry.

        For instance, if you start with $1,000, and you average a 6% rate of return (which shouldn’t be hard), you clear an order of magnitude about every 40 real days. Meaning, on day 41 you have $10,000, on real day 81 you have $100,000, on real day 120 you have $1,000,000, etc. You could be a quadrillionaire in under a year. Even if you hit the lottery and you invest a $10,000,000 seed, that’s simply a 160 day head start.

        Granted, this would totally warp the economy and probably end up inciting all kinds of nastiness, and as such it probably couldn’t persist.

        • fion says:

          6% rate of return every day? How’d you figure that?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Assuming you don’t care if you attract the attention of the SEC, 6% per day isn’t hard at all. Here’s the list of yesterday’s biggest stock movers in percentage terms: http://www.barrons.com/public/page/winlose-nyse.html

            Obviously, lots of those stocks don’t have the market cap to support a lot of movement so you couldn’t double your way to a trillion dollars every 40 days. At a certain point, simply knowing that you could generate magic money from the stock market if you need it would make you decide you have enough.

          • massivefocusedinaction says:

            Yeah, I learned that lesson when we simulated stock trading in history class, trading on prices from the previous day’s paper. The teacher collected the papers from me, the library aid, every morning as I replaced them with the current day’s papers.

            I was always surprised that he didn’t catch on to my method.

      • Chalid says:

        With perfect foresight, if you didn’t mind calling attention to yourself, you could get multiples of your money every day by using stock options. I don’t know how big the multiplier would be but it would certainly be very large – on a good day 20x or more. Of course if you did this too much you’d wipe out the whole options market, and no one would sell them anymore.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I think the SEC will destroy you. Even if your powers are secret.

          They won’t know how you are doing it, but once they decide you are doing something nasty, they will just investigate you ruinously.

          • albatross11 says:

            If you’re willing to steal a page from Scott’s book (from his story about the different pills with magical powers), you can chain together 24-hour time jaunts of time travel to create a way to send messages back as far as you like.

            Start now and commit to spending the next 30 days on the project. A simple, slightly non-optimal version: At 8PM each day, you stand around in your living room waiting for your future self to show up and hand you a letter. Then, you immediately go back 24 hours and hand yourself that letter. On the last day of the project, you write your 30-days-past self a letter telling you want to you to have done.

            This has the problem that you’ve got 30 days for chaotic effects of your choices to change things, but the benefit that you’ve got 30 days of lead time to make your killing in the stock market or whatever, instead of needing to do it in one day.

            A fun version of this is that it’s just a veto function on the way the world has turned out for you. Let’s assume that chaotic effects on the atmosphere eventually change everything. I set up this channel to my past self that goes back N years, and commit to myself about how bad things must be before I want to erase the last N years. At the end of that time, if I’m unhappy with how things have turned out, I go out and buy a handful of firecrackers and send it back in my envelope. The N-years-ago me goes outside and sets them off, rerandomizing the world. Continue until I’m happy with how things ended up or something has broken the chain of transmission (I dropped dead from a heart attack, a plane crashed into my house, etc.)

            If I want to end up in a world where things have gone well for me, I need to come up with an evaluation of “good last N years” that has a much higher probability of coming true than some random thing breaking the chain.

            The obvious problem there is that I have to be willing to commit suicide for the last N years in the interests of another version of me being happy. Intuitively, I think I’d be willing to do this for a short span (like a week), but not for a long span, unless my last N years had really, really sucked.

          • Lillian says:

            This doesn’t work at all with the proposed method of time travelling, because it only sends information back to your past self. You can’t hand yourself a letter, you can’t even meet yourself, the only thing being sent back is your memories, and you can’t send information any further back than 24 hours before the furthest point you’ve advanced in the timeline. This means there’s no way to bypass the limitation.

          • fion says:

            @albatross11

            I thought of that story when I was writing my comment. Still one of my favourites. I almost explicitly said “no doing that thing Scott did in his pills story”, but as Lillian says, I think my rules make it impossible anyway.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Assuming that the “random number seed” of the world is preserved, buying a lottery ticket on the day of the drawing would yield results faster the stock market. Would likely arouse suspicion to do so repeatedly, though.

      For more long term schemes, with enough planning and patience you can cram the learning of several years into one day.

      • fion says:

        you can cram the learning of several years into one day.

        Only up to a point. You can certainly learn a lot of background stuff in a day, which is probably what you meant (reading, googling etc.) but you can’t try something and see what happens unless that something only takes a day to yield results.

    • pjs says:

      The scheme (stock market prediction) is morally equivalent to theft, IMO.

      And even if you don’t care, because you think you’re stealing from the rich to give to the poor (*), there’s some economic damage. Other investors find the stock market slightly less profitable, which will affect capital allocation/investment decisions – are you sure the net cost of this is so slight? (Predicting lottery numbers is still theft, but probably has less adverse consequences than playing the stock market – especially given how few times you’d be able to do it for large prizes.)

      (*) But if it’s still a net moral good, let’s decide it democratically. If we want, we can collectively decide to impose a tax on stock market transactions and direct the proceeds towards charitable ends.

      To answer your question: in terms of doing good to others, and trying to avoid long term pitfalls (how long do I live after my gift is discovered?), I announce – then quickly prove – the ability to predict imminent natural disasters (and only those; I am careful never show my ability in any obvious way that contradicts that limitation.)

      • fion says:

        Good point to question the morality… I guess I consider stock market and lottery cheating to be less bad than other kinds of gambling. Perhaps because you’re stealing a little from many people rather than a certain amount from one person?

        In any case, “morally equivalent to theft” doesn’t actually mean anything to me. “Theft” is not a single moral value. Ok, perhaps it’s always wrong, but sometimes it’s a little wrong and sometimes it’s very wrong. Jean Valjean is less evil than Charlie Croker.

        I would have thought that one person cheating on the stock market would have a very small effect on the overall economics of it… I’m certainly not sure of this, though.

        “But if it’s still a net moral good, let’s decide it democratically”

        I mean, taxing the rich to spend on charity is probably something I’d vote for, but what if I lived in a society full of perfectly selfish people who would always oppose such redistribution? I don’t believe morals are decided by vote; if the majority of people are opposed to charitable taxes that doesn’t make them wrong. And if I have the ability to impose such measures without anybody knowing, shouldn’t I do it?

        • pjs says:

          Your first objection is entirely right; I should have just said “is theft” (i.e. is an instance of theft, whatever variable significance that may have).

          ‘Shouldn’t I do it?’. You _can_ do it, and if it makes you feel good about yourself and is right by your standards, we can’t stop you (I think we should try, though), so go ahead. But it’s a bit cheeky to appeal to the outside world and ask for its approval!

          A lot of taxes we raise go to ‘charitable’ ends (I’m counting redistribution in this); you happen to want more charity than we have, and are gifted with a magic ability to make this happen in effect. I don’t have to agree that societies chosen point is too little.

          And even if I very strongly agreed with your desire for more charity, I can feel extremely unhappy that you do an magic end-run around democracy to get your way (effectively, impose a financial transactions tax). Rather, we should condemn this as strongly as possible no matter what your motivation. Even I happened to agree with your decisions, we don’t all the _other_ possible people with such superpowers mucking with society unilaterally based on their individual preferences.

          Finally, and related to my previous point, if you have some awesome powers what about a bit of precautionary modesty? Do you really know the economic consequences of your act? You might not get enough money out of the stock market to affect it “much”, but isn’t plauslble that you reduce long term growth by 0.01%? (I don’t know, but I suspect you don’t either.) And would the economy-wide compounded effects of that loss really be smaller than your charitable deeds? Might they not possibly be far larger?

          Perhaps the right answer to your question is: make no plan at all, other than spending countless 24-hour cycles educating yourself, building models, consulting experts, and so forth, so that when you do decide to fix the world only 24 actual hours will have passed, but you then will have a much-better thought out and closer-to-optimal plan (whatever it may be). Could even be your stock market scheme in the end, but now it’s been thought through.

          • fion says:

            make no plan at all, other than spending countless 24-hour cycles educating yourself, building models, consulting experts, and so forth

            Aw, but that’s *boring*! I want to be a super-hero *now*!

            On a more serious note, your point is well-taken. Regarding the first bit of your comment, I think I have a bit more of an ends-justify-the-means attitude than you. The reason I normally oppose ends-justify-the-means-type arguments is because they break rules that I don’t want to see broken, because without those rules society would be worse. However, I think such arguments don’t apply when you can break the rule without anybody knowing you’ve done so (which isn’t ever really true in the real world, but perhaps it is in my hypothetical).

      • phi says:

        I don’t quite understand how using time travel to predict the stock market is morally equivalent to theft. The stock market seems to me like it is set up to pay large amounts of money to people to encourage them to make its predictions as accurate as possible. By accurately predicting the stock market one day in advance, I am effectively selling my skill at market prediction in exchange for monetary compensation.

        In particular, how is performing vastly better than other investors because I own a time machine morally different from performing vastly better than other investors because I am good at statistics? (I’m assuming here that you think it’s okay to make money in the stock market by being good at statistics.)

        • Matt M says:

          If you believe this, then insider trading should probably be legalized (an argument that has been made coherently by a number of libertarian economists)

          • phi says:

            I’ve never come across a good moral argument for making insider trading illegal (though I’m very open to hearing one), so I guess I’d agree with those economists. 🙂

          • Steven J says:

            There is a good argument for making some, but not all, insider trading illegal. Consider an investment banker working for the buyer in a merger that is not yet public knowledge. Trading on that information would raise the price of the target company, contrary to the interests of the bankers’ client. This is a violation of the banker’s duty of care to his client. More generally, if insider trading by an agent harms the interests of the principal who gave the information to the agent, than that trading is morally wrong. Whether this should be considered criminal, or merely a civil tort is a separate question.

            Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the time travel scenario.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’ve never come across a good moral argument for making insider trading illegal

            I’ve never come across a good argument that insider trading even is illegal, except that the SEC will devote a lot of legal firepower to your ruin if they catch you at it.

            But the central example of illegal trading that most people agree ought to be illegal and will get you the most adverse SEC attention, is trading on information you or one of your co-conspirators have a fiduciary responsibility to keep quiet. If I am president of (publicly-traded) XYZcorp, I have an obligation to keep our impending acquisition of ABCcorp secret, that third parties won’t use that knowledge to bid up the price of ABC. That would be detrimental to the balance sheet and thus the stockholders of XYZ when the sale goes through. So, my private purchase of ABC stock, which will not likely go unnoticed, is a breach of trust and a harm to my stockholders.

            That’s the “insider” part of insider trading. It’s not a blanket prohibition on outsiders who know a lot about a company using that information to make better decisions than outsiders who know less.

        • pjs says:

          The lottery and the stock market are both systems governed by rules, and people participate (at the risk of losing money) assuming everyone is generally playing by these rules. Using statistics is a given.

          Insider trading? Maybe it’s not an economic harm (those arguments don’t convince me) but if it’s allowed, surely everyone would want it to be known to be allowed. If it’s illegal, and I’m caught, I don’t regard it as a useful defense even if you could find every economist in the world in consensus that it was desirable to allow insider trading; the fact is, other people traded assuming this was (even if unwisely) forbidden.

          Likewise, and I guess debatably, I regard time travelling as ‘obviously’ against the rules. We just don’t write it down because it seems impossible (or already against the rules of nature). But ask yourself: if it were possible, would other investors/lottery plays want to know it was possible, and would they alter their behavior. _Of course_. Yes it is ‘technically’ within the rules; you might attach some weight to that argument (I wouldn’t).

          The lottery is interesting because if I pick the jackpot numbers and end up splitting the price with some other non-time-travelling better, I can point to a specific person and say ‘I stole this specific amount of money from him’. Well I would, you might not; there’s no rule against using time travel to pick the winning numbers after all!

          • pjs says:

            Less abstractly, suppose _you_ are the one doing the research, the statisics, and are going to trade on that. I look into the past, and see your research (if published) or at the very least see the trades and positions you take, and front-run you. Less/no profit for you, more before me, and I’m entirely parisitic on your effort. This doesn’t seem moral to me. It also shows how it will have an adverse affect on the market (who will actually do the hard work, if someone can peer over their shoulder and exploit their work before them?)

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        The scheme (stock market prediction) is morally equivalent to theft, IMO.

        Content warning: violent and sexual crimes below

        .
        .
        .
        .

        Is it moral to kill someone and then go back in time and undo it?

        Is it moral to rape someone and then go back in time and undo it?

        • pjs says:

          Probably not, but what’s the connection? I think these sound awful, but in neither case is the ‘someone’ worse off _in the eventual timeline_ than they would be without your actions. If I split a lottery jackpont with someone who would have been an eventual winner, they are actually worse off in the new timeline than theu would have been without my actions. Likewise if I front-run someone’s hard-earned stock market research. Whatever your views on the morality of the various cases, this seems like an unarguable qualitative difference to your ‘undo’ hypotheticals so I don’t see the relevance.

          • Adrian says:

            I think these sound awful, but in neither case is the ‘someone’ worse off _in the eventual timeline_ than they would be without your actions.

            By that argument, it wouldn’t be immoral to torture or rape someone in the real world if you knew that they would die an hour later (because, say, they’ll be executed): they won’t be worse off in the “eventual timeline” (i.e., the only timeline), because they’ll be dead.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Adrian, there’s an sf story where it makes emotional sense to keep doing science even as the earth is about to be destroyed. I thought it was Bones of the Earth, but probably not. Maybe it’s in a timeline which is about to disappear, maybe I’m completely wrong.

            There might be another story about doing science even as expansion is accelerating– fast.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I didn’t necessarily mean to connect it to your theory about the morals of the market. But it’s a question raised by the ability to replay your day.

          • By that argument, it wouldn’t be immoral to torture or rape someone in the real world if you knew that they would die an hour later

            According to Maimonides, killing someone who is dying of an incurable disease isn’t murder.

            I didn’t realize he was posting here.

          • Adrian says:

            According to Maimonides, killing someone who is dying of an incurable disease isn’t murder.

            I didn’t realize he was posting here.

            I hope you don’t mistake me for holding that opinion? I was merely following pjs’ line of reasoning to its logical, absurd conclusion.

          • Nick says:

            I didn’t realize he was posting here.

            If you’re perplexed, I heard he has a guide for that.

          • quaelegit says:

            @Nick — I appreciate this joke and that it finally got me to go read up on Maimonides 😛

          • The passage in question is worth reading. The logic goes as follows:

            1. A witness whose false testimony leads to an innocent person being convicted of murder and executed is himself guilty of murder.

            2. That fact is the reason we can believe the testimony of witnesses in a murder case.

            3. Killing someone who is dying of an incurable disease is not murder.

            4. Hence if someone who is dying of an incurable disease is falsely accused of murder, convicted, and executed, the witnesses whose false testimony led to that result are not guilty of murder.

            5. Hence a court cannot trust testimony of a witness who claims to have observed a murder by someone dying of an incurable disease.

            6. Hence someone dying of an incurable disease cannot be convicted of murder on the basis of the testimony of witnesses.

            7. Hence someone dying of an incurable disease cannot be convicted of a murder unless he commits it in the presence of the court.

            Maimonides is a lot of fun.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            For All the Rude People

            A man with an incurable disease and a mission.

        • Randy M says:

          No. Creating stable time loops dooms the universe.

        • John Schilling says:

          Is it moral to rape someone and then go back in time and undo it?

          It is somewhat less harmful to cause a rape that someone will experience briefly, than to cause a rape that someone will experience briefly and remember for a lifetime.

          That this even might be morally OK to do, is something only a consequentialist would try to calculate and is part of the reason the rest of humanity basically thinks it is moral to round up all the consequentialists and put them in camps.

          • albatross11 says:

            Well, maybe. Can we do a cost-benefit on that first?

          • fion says:

            It is somewhat less harmful to cause a rape that someone will experience briefly, than to cause a rape that someone will experience briefly and remember for a lifetime.

            So I think I agree with this, but I think it implies that raping somebody and then murdering them is less harmful than raping them and not murdering them. And I don’t think I do believe that. Am I missing something?

          • John Schilling says:

            You’re missing the harm caused by murder(*). This would be like breaking someone’s leg, then breaking their neck so that they don’t have to feel the pain of the broken leg and proclaiming “Yay Me! I’m so much more considerate than all the other leg-breakers out there!”

            * I hope you don’t need an explanation of why murder is generally considered harmful.

          • fion says:

            So what if I believed that the harm caused by murder was significantly less than the harm caused by rape? If I am somewhat reducing the latter by committing the former, then it could still work out

        • Lillian says:

          Better question, is it moral to reset all 7+ billion people on the planet to the point they were 24 hours ago without their consent? Are you even resetting all people on the planet to the point they were 24 hours ago? Perhaps the power be usefully conceptualized as virtual projection of how the world will develop in the next 24 hours, and there is no “true time” until it passes beyond your ability to affect.

          The answers to these question will have bearing on the answers to yours.

    • Matt M says:

      Putting all the financial stuff aside, there are probably loads of preventable deaths you could stop.

      Convince people who die in auto accidents to stay home that morning? Inform the police about murders that are going to happen?

      Of course, establishing your credibility would be quite difficult. And whether you even want the authorities to know you have this power is probably questionable (based on what I’ve learned from the X-Men, the government doesn’t tend to respond well to this sort of thing).

      You could always resort to doing slightly immoral things to save lives. Sabotage the car of the person who was going to die in the auto accident. Random 911 call to the scene of the murder shortly before it happens.

      It wouldn’t be easy to do, but saving a human life is a pretty big deal. Even if you only got one a week, that’s definitely making the world a better place.

      • fion says:

        I think this is harder than you make it sound. You admit that establishing credibility would be difficult, but I think a better way to put it is that nobody would pay any attention to me unless they knew I was a time traveller. The person who dies in a car accident doesn’t stay home because a stranger says “I’m from the future; don’t drive today!”

        I was about to say “I don’t know how to sabotage a car” but then realised I’d get *loads* of practice if I wanted it, so maybe things like that and anonymous 911 calls would do it…

        I suppose one thing I could do (if I hadn’t seen X Men) would be to let the secret service be aware of what I can do and then they can use their clout to save people/inform the police etc. Of course, I definitely wouldn’t do this because I have seen X Men.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          I was about to say “I don’t know how to sabotage a car” but then realised I’d get *loads* of practice if I wanted it, so maybe things like that and anonymous 911 calls would do it…

          Easiest option (doesn’t require the car keys or any tools other than a matchstick, does no lasting damage, will work on most cars) is to let down some or all of the tyres.

          Of course, this won’t delay the driver by very long, but I imagine it would be long enough that they avoid the accident. Also, it stops the car from moving *at all*, whereas something like putting sugar in the fuel tank (as used by WW2 Resistance saboteurs), as well as doing permanent expensive-to-fix damage, will allow the car to move initially- possibly enough to get into the accident, if it doesn’t cause an accident by killing the engine in high-speed traffic.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Most car accidents involve complex patterns of traffic. If Joe gets into his car at 8:30 and drives to work, at 8:50 gets stuck behind Larry who is aggravating because he’s soooo slooooowww, and tries to pass and crashes at 8:50 into Brenda, who wasn’t driving defensively enough. It is probably sufficient to just delay Joe by 1 minute. Or Brenda. Or Larry.

          If you were to replay the day over and over, you would find that there are all sorts of things you can do everywhere that increase or decrease total traffic deaths that day in that city. Since the baseline is 100 deaths per day across the US, most cities will have zero on most days, so simply “re-rolling” by messing with any participants is usually enough to get the death rate to zero.

          • fion says:

            Yeah, that sounds like it’d work.

            I’d love to see confused pundits discussing the fact that one city’s road traffic accidents have gone down to zero ever since such-and-such a date, politicians claiming credit, the city getting a reputation for being careful and respectful…

          • Matt M says:

            Also keep in mind that you could easily target the “low-hanging fruit.” Complex accidents may be hard to fully solve or prevent, or you might just change who dies and who doesn’t.

            But things like “a drunken trucker killed a family of 3 by running a red light on a remote rural road at midnight” are probably preventable.

            Or accidents in general. Small children drowning in pools? Call the parents beforehand! They don’t believe you? Defecate in their pool!

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            This should have been every episode of “Early Edition.”

        • John Schilling says:

          Eliza Dushku didn’t have too much trouble with it, and left an entertaining series of instructional videos. Well, OK, it started getting troublesome when that guy from Beverly Hills showed up with his own time machine, but we never did learn his agenda.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            Having never seen it, is that show any good? I’ve never been much impressed with Dushku in e.g. Dollhouse (Buffy she was OK–one note, but a good note) but I certainly want it to be good.

          • John Schilling says:

            I enjoyed it, but I enjoyed Dollhouse as well so YMMV. She definitely wasn’t playing Faith.

    • John Schilling says:

      You can give people advance warning of Very Bad Things about to happen, and eventually establish a reputation as a reliable prophet “short-term superforecaster”. Probably best to do this anonymously. Whether you eventually want to trade on that reputation by making a few carefully chosen false prophecies forecasts is an interesting question.

    • rahien.din says:

      This tangentially reminds me of Ted Chiang’s story Understand.

    • Chalid says:

      From the pure money-making perspective, the stock market isn’t the way to go – your activities are visible and if your returns are suspiciously good the government will want to have a word with you. Stocks might be ok for making your first few millions, but in the long run you’d want to get into something like currency markets – they have the capacity to absorb extremely large bets and no one suspects insider trading there.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        If you run as a day-trader, you might be able to mask your really good picks in a sea of noise.

      • fion says:

        Currency markets are a good shout.

      • pjs says:

        Done well, you look like a secretive hedge fund with real ‘alpha’. Billions or tens of billions over a (say) ten-year horizon could be easily made acceptable, but
        have to know what you are doing. Forex is a good idea though. Simply massive bets
        (e.g. well out-of-the-money derivatives) whose success depend on natural disasters would invite scrutiny, but you’d probably be able to survive the governmental kind because how can you be an insider? (There are other risks though.)

        I still think an effective way is to prove/sell yourself as a reliable predictor of natural disasters (and only them) and though that might be good enough in itself, if you want more cash just charge a huge fee for your services (even contingent: buy my services, and if I predict disaster level X for your country, you pay me $Y(X) if I’m right, but get paid $Z(X) if I’m wrong; once I have a good track record, no-one will not be rationally willing to enter some such deal [and so in equlibrium I do all the good I would do even fully altruistically, but get paid as well])

    • James C says:

      You could probably wrangle a large retainer to, under no circumstances, provide military advice to any country. Then give that retainer to charity.

      Or, you could go on a world conquest spree. In any other period but ours I’d say a 24 hour rewind would guarantee you winning any war you happened to lead. These days one day battles are less important but a complete strategic immunity to surprise attacks is one hell of an advantage. Not sure you can do much good with that ability, but if you fancy that you’d make a better despotic ruler than the alternative…

    • Lambert says:

      Didn’t the Other Scott or someone prove that you can use this to solve PSPACE problems in polynomial time?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        You could solve any brute-forceable algorithm. As long as you can order the inputs, you can tell the computer at the start of the day “this is day N, go.”

        This brings up another way to make money: crypto currencies. It’s been a while since I wrote any software here, but last I did, mining a block depends on solving a Very Hard Problem By Bruteforce, but that problem is well-defined by the answer to the previous block. So you could check that the problem was at the start of your time-travelling day, precalculate the next N blocks, and then go.

        Someone more involved in the crypto currencies could tell me how full of shit I am here.

        • albatross11 says:

          It won’t work to reuse someone else’s calculations for Bitcoin block hashes, because I’m pretty sure the block hash includes the Bitcoin address to which the mining rewards will go. Changing that to your address means the block hash isn’t good anymore.

          OTOH, if you have mining hardware, you can spend 24 hours trying to compute the next block hash, then send that information back in time to yourself. Assuming your process for finding the next block hash is deterministic, this won’t mess up your calculation. You can also use the chaining trick, above, to get as big a multiplier as you need to get that block reward.

          • dick says:

            Yes, this (that a BTC solution claim includes the claimant’s address, keeping you from presenting someone else’s solution as your own) is essentially true. The iterative approach is technically possible, but impractical – back of the envelope, a million bucks worth of ASIC miners would get you about 1/4000th of the BTC hashrate, meaning that you’d have to re-live nearly a subjective month to win a 10-minute $10,000 block. That’s a looooot of time to think up ways to persuade the SEC you’re just really good at picking penny stocks.

          • John Schilling says:

            Hmm, what happens if there’s an address collision, two people claiming the same address at very close to the same time? If Alice is observed to use an address to receive but not spend BTC on The Day, can Bob copy their work at the end of the day, go back to the start, have spurious BTC sent to Bob@alicesaddress, and then spend them for something suitably untraceable before Alice notices?

            A quick google suggests that while addresses aren’t supposed to be reused, there are some careless Alices out there who do it anyway, and may present an additional attack surface for this.

          • Iain says:

            @John Schilling:

            Bitcoin addresses are 160-bit cryptographic hashes of a public key. To claim the rewards, you need the associated private key. Without a fundamental break in elliptic-curve cryptography, you can’t steal somebody else’s address, and without a truly phenomenal amount of work (much larger than just mining a block) you can’t find a hash collision that lets you use a different keypair for the same address.

            Address reuse has serious failure modes, but I don’t think any of those failure modes become extra-vulnerable to people travelling back in time.

    • rahien.din says:

      The more I think about this, the more limited it seems.

      I feel like there is some analog of the Nyquist limit at play. You can only detect signals that arise within 24 hours. Your error-detection is “bandlimited.” Moreover, unless you are willing to find and integrate an enormous amount of information, your SNR is probably not going to be very good. All this despite being able to exert very powerful control over your sphere of influence, and being able to expand that sphere of influence through riskless gambling. So I worry that you could unknowingly work your way into an inescapable and broadly-reaching consequence, with no way to foresee or correct it. It’s Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. You would have to exercise a great deal of caution whenever you attempted to bend the world to your will.

      You would also have to be very, very careful with partaking in any sort of worldly pleasures. As long as you came to within 24 hours, you could buy any drug, eat any food, drink any drink, take any risk, sleep with any person, and never have to turn into a pumpkin worry about any consequence. You could binge on any pleasure, and then rewind to before the binge, having scratched the itch psychologically. Your main-sequence life could be one of perfect virtue. But, you would still have the memory of those binges, and the subsequent grooves ground into your psyche could be difficult to escape. You would have to be extremely judicious about hedonic experiences, and would not be able to – or even want to! – escape the potential for regret.

      Now, by replaying interactions over and over, you could learn what makes any particular person tick, and you would never be ambushed in any interaction. Effectively, this would give you a great deal of charisma. There would be far fewer missteps, because you could basically simulate every interaction as many times as you wanted. This would also provide you with a great degree of equanimity, for you would be confident that you could achieve an optimal outcome to any interaction. But, this too would become wearying, to yourself and to those around you. You would never know exactly when to stop iterating, and when to accept the outcome of an interaction, and so would live countless simulated days for every main-sequence day you selected for. And, the specter of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice would continually loom over you. Particularly because those around you would either get fed up with you always being right and always getting your way, or, they would latch onto you and become unhealthily dependent on your uncanny prowess.

      There would be no escape from the burden – you would be Laplace’s demon with human emotional frailty and both hands tied behind your back.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        If people have weird reactions to you always being right, you can do more iterations until you’ve folded in the right amount of error.

        I’m not sure if there are any interesting problems associated with not being inspired enough to invent the variations that will lead to what you want.

    • Walter says:

      It feels like the money thing is a red herring.

      Like, clearly Groundhog Day you can make all the money you could ever want, but ultimately that is just another Bill Gates situation. Time Travel should be able to give you better outcomes than some rich guy deciding to help.

      What about spending the day obsessively gaining every shred of information about anyone who got into an accident or got crimed, and then going back and attempting to warn them? Then see how the warnings were received, initiate Groundhog Day.

      Shoot for a day where you mitigated or prevented every tragedy you were able to gain information about. Then do it again the next day.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I got reminded by my conservative friends how many people get murdered in Chicago last weekend. Develop a good mnemonic for compressing that data so that you can remember it for one day, and you could tell the cops exactly when and where each murder will happen.

        It would take some time to develop the reputation to be believed, but you just need to get email access to one officer with predictions that come true and he’ll take you seriously.

  11. sfoil says:

    Harlan Ellison died at the age of 84.

    What were your favorite stories of his, especially ones that were underrated/not “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream”?

    Aside from “Adrift Just Off The Islets of Langerhans”, which I think is pretty well known, I loved “Grail”, about a man who consorts with a minor demon in search of True Love. The contrast between the everyday world — even when it’s pretty bad — and the demon Surgat is appropriately jarring. And Ellison gets the horror aspect just right.

      • quaelegit says:

        I’m only somewhat well-read in classic SciFi but all I can remember about Ellison is “Have No Mouth” and “was a huge asshole”. Like I *know* he comes up in history-of-sci-fi and hugo discussions but I can’t remember any of his other works…

        Okay, I just checked his bibliography on Wikipedia and “City on the Edge of Forever” rings a bell… (I’m on the younger side of the age distribution here and I watch very little TV so I haven’t seen it.)

        • sfoil says:

          He apparently wrote over 900 stories, many of them great, but he’s increasingly remembered for being an ass. Lesson in there somewhere.

          • Protagoras says:

            Don’t focus on short stories if you want to be a famous author? People do seem to take novels most seriously, and for some reason seem to hold the longer ones in higher esteem.

          • quaelegit says:

            @Protagoras — worked for Conan Doyle though!

            In Sci Fi (… I think?), Shirley Jackson is known primarily for short stories, but maybe that’s just because every U.S. high schooler reads “The Lottery” in English class.

            @sfoil’s actual point — Are there any artists that are particular remembered for being nice people, or does legacy also suffer from a toxoplasma-type-problem? (Does Mr. Rogers count?)

          • sfoil says:

            @quaelegit Heinlein’s reputation looks like it might have been boosted a bit by his gracious/pleasant attitude, especially at cons.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      I forgot the name (though I have a collection of his short stories I’m too lazy to find) of the specific story, but it’s of an ugly child in the land of the beautiful, who couldn’t leave the house.

    • James says:

      Obviously his greatest work is his performance as the voice of AM in the videogame I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty

    • John Schilling says:

      Hmm. Does this increase or decrease the probability of Last Dangerous Visions ever being released?

      All joking aside, I think he was at least as important as an influence on other writers (editorially or otherwise) and on the SF community, as for his own writings.

      • sfoil says:

        I’ve heard the same thing, but I have zero personal engagement with either Fandom or SF writers’ circles as they stand now, much less in Ellison’s heyday and can’t speak much to it.

    • add_lhr says:

      I loved the atmosphere and style of On the Downhill Side.

  12. baconbits9 says:

    Does anyone have an interest in defending Nick Rowe’s position here? Skimming the comments only one person (Nick Edmonds) seems to touch on what I think is a fatal flaw in the thought experiment but the post is 2 weeks old so I don’t expect any reaction from a reply. The flaw is here

    But suppose the apple producer prefers eating bananas; the banana producer prefers eating cherries; and the cherry producer prefers eating apples. And the Wicksellian triangle (lack of coincidence of wants) means they use money to buy and sell fruit, because it is difficult for all three agents to meet at the same time at a central Walrasian market and trade all three fruits simultaneously. Then a shortage of money (an excess demand for the medium of exchange) would cause a decline in the volume of trade. Unable to sell as many apples as he wants to sell, the apple producer buys fewer bananas than he normally would. So the banana producer is unable to sell as many bananas as he wants to sell, and buys fewer cherries than he normally would. So the cherry producer is unable to sell as many cherries as he wants to sell, and buys fewer apples than he normally would. Each is stuck consuming too much of his own fruit, and too little of the fruit he prefers to eat.

    The “shortage” of money only creates a recession if prices can’t move or “shortage” means zero money, AND the three producers cannot effectively create their own money through credit. Here is what should happen in the stripped down economy. The apple grower wants to sell his apples for enough money that will allow him to buy his desired amount of bananas, the banana grower the same but with banana and cherries and the cherry grower the same but with cherries and apples. All that matters is that the relative prices of the three goods remains the same and that each participant has access to the prices of his preferred good. If there is less money bidding on the apples then the price of apples drops, which reduces the amount of money bidding on bananas so their price drops, which reduces the amount of money bidding on cherries.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I think it is true that a sudden blip in the quantity of money might well cause a recession. Not because there is a “shortage” of money, even if the quantity of money goes down a bunch. It is because the communication power of pricing is messed up for a while, and before everyone gets it straightened out people buy less because of the uncertainty makes everyone more cautious. Even if the quantity of money goes down, it gets eventually sorted out by simply lowering the prices of everything. There are always smaller denominations one can use, so it doesn’t really make sense to have a shortage of money.

      Nick Rowe seems to be implying no use of money at all in his parable. Yes, the economy greatly benefits from the use of money in eliminating friction. But what does that have to do with the modern world?

      • If you think that proportional deflation of all prices can fix this problem, I’m afraid that you are abstracting away from an important feature of capitalist production: the possibility of hoarding money.

        Let us imagine that all three of the fruit producers have invested 100 units of some money at the start of a year in order to commence their fruit production. Imagine that, during the year, prices across the board deflate by half. Nevertheless, each of the fruit producers manages to recoup 60 units of their money at the end of the year, or products that are exchangeable for 60 units of money.

        You might say that their “real” wealth has increased because now they can buy 20% more of what they want. But their nominal wealth has decreased, and this is a problem because capitalists are not forced to invest in anything at all. They can simply hoard money. And in this situation, it would have been optimal to simply hoard their 100 units. Their “real” wealth would have in that case doubled. And if they foresaw a good chance of a similar thing happening the next year, then they would be smart to hoard even if they made a mistake the first time.

        This is why, regardless of what you think is capable of functioning as money (whether dollars, gold, etc.), society must see to it that the aggregate stock of money is always continually increasing. Only with an aggregate increase in the nominal stock of money is it possible for everyone to be able to make a nominal monetary profit on average. With a stagnant or decreasing stock of money, it may be possible for some producers to still make a profit, but only at the expense of others suffering a nominal loss somehow in their stock of money. To have any hope of making a nominal monetary profit, you would have to hold out hope that you are so much more efficient or savvy than the average producer. If you, instead, realize that not everyone can be above average, and that if you are a typical producer your expected value from investing in production rather than hoarding will be negative, you will wisely hoard.

        And this is a problem, regardless of whether these producers judge that their (diminished) money can now purchase more use-values (utility). Even if this is the case, then it is still a fact that they would have been able to purchase even more use-values if they had hoarded their money, assuming average success in production.

        But you might object, “At least if you engage in production, you might have inventories of real useful wealth, which you will not have if you simply hoarded your money.” Yes, and what good is it to you, a capitalist producer? If the combined exchange-value of those inventories is less than the exchange-value of the money that you would have retained had you simply hoarded that money (as is true by definition according to the parameters of our thought experiment where we invested 100 units of money but ended up with either 60 units of money or commodities exchangeable for 60 units of money), then you would still have more exchange-value, and thus more access to the real useful wealth (utility) on the market that you cared about, if you had just hoarded money.

        Only if you directly produced the full suite of utilities that you personally cared about, and desired to consume, would it matter what kind of real useful wealth you had produced. Otherwise, the price the product fetches on the market is all that will matter to you.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Hmm, you make a good point, but I need to think about this.

          Okay, here is my thought.

          It seems to me that if a currency is going to have any dramatic change in value, in either direction, and an individual knows this it the case, then it doesn’t make sense for this individual to invest in production. If the value is going to be radically deflated, then the individual should hoard cash, as you say. If the value is to be radically inflated, the individual should obtain as much debt as possible, and use this debt to buy assets that will not decrease in value. So it is a bad thing for the economy if people expect a radical increase or decrease in currency value, regardless of whether it does so. SO this indicates a reason beyond the uncertainty it causes for changes in currency value to cause recessions; since any increase or decrease will make it appear more likely to do so in the future.

          Beyond this additional bad result of a currency shock, I’m not sure what your comments are telling me. You give me the bad results that occur when producers predict the a rapid devaluation, and so stop producing. If no one predicts it, then hoarding does not increase, and the devaluation occurs as I stated in my comment, although likely only after everyone figures out the new equilibrium.

    • quanta413 says:

      My (poor) understanding of the real world is that empirically speaking prices are sticky against downward movements. So despite the theoretical beauty of your solution, for whatever reason that doesn’t work out in the short run.

      Consult a real economist for a better answer.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Yes that is one explanation for what happens in the real world, but since it is not an assumption in the thought experiment you can’t use it there. Rowe is attempting to show that a shortage of money will cause a decline in trade without any extra conditions.

        • quanta413 says:

          I think Rowe is assuming it (since it’s empirically observed and it makes his claim make sense) but forgets to mention it.

          I agree that without additional assumption(s), what he says is not true. It’s not false either though. You still have to make additional assumptions about how markets actually function to make it false. What you say should happen is only true in a specific economic model.

          So I guess I would say that as posed, his thought experiment contains insufficient information to answer what would happen.

          • Nick Rowe says:

            quanta413: “I think Rowe is assuming it (since it’s empirically observed and it makes his claim make sense) but forgets to mention it.”

            That is correct.

            But a better way to think about it is to ask whether sufficient price flexibility (hypothetically) could prevent a shortage (excess of demand over supply) of money. And that’s less obvious. Because (depending on the monetary system) a fall in prices might reduce the money supply too. And a fall in prices might lead people to expect prices to fall further, which would increase their demand for money. And I wanted to duck questions like that, because they distracted from the main message of the post, as well as being a bit hypothetical, since prices (including wages) seem to be not very flexible.

          • baconbits9 says:

            quanta413: “I think Rowe is assuming it (since it’s empirically observed and it makes his claim make sense) but forgets to mention it.”

            That is correct.

            If this is true then we have to assume all facts that are empirically observed, and in this situation we have a monopoly seller of apples, one of bananas and one of cherries so we should be discussing their behaviors in the terms of monopoly pricing. Doing so would mean our results don’t generalize, so it would be petty to do so.

            But a better way to think about it is to ask whether sufficient price flexibility (hypothetically) could prevent a shortage (excess of demand over supply) of money. And that’s less obvious. Because (depending on the monetary system) a fall in prices might reduce the money supply too. And a fall in prices might lead people to expect prices to fall further, which would increase their demand for money.

            since prices (including wages) seem to be not very flexible.

            I’m confused. Prices tend to be sticky, but people also would expect them to fall, to the point where they change their behavior in anticipation of that fall? That is like setting up a model with irrational expectations.

      • John Schilling says:

        My (poor) understanding of the real world is that empirically speaking prices are sticky against downward movements.

        Wages are very sticky, prices much less so. Which disconnect can cause no end of trouble.

        People being loss-averse, we(*) remember price increases much more than we do price decreases, which leads to the perception that the latter never happen. But see e.g. your local gas station, for prices that show no stickiness against downward movements when that’s what microeconomic forces call for. Better still, your two local gas stations on opposite sides of the same corner.

        * The “we” that aren’t merchants, at any rate.

        • quanta413 says:

          Thanks. That clarifies a lot.

          I didn’t realize that, but your example makes it so obvious that I feel a little foolish for not seeing differences. I remember gas prices from enough years ago, but the thought wasn’t going to occur to me without it being pointed out.

    • helloo says:

      Not sure how well the producers can coordinate the price change.

      Suppose all three grew 2 fruit and needed to eat 2 fruit per harvest.

      If the initial price was $1 and they all have $2 to start with, they can all buy 2 and sell 2.

      If they all have $1 to start with, a Nash equilibrium exists with buy 1 eat 1 sell 1 as if they sell their good for less than 1 or more than 1, then they might not expect to buy any next round.
      Only if they somehow coordinated to lower their price to 1/2 could they return to the utility of the previous case, but not sure if there’s any incentive to change individual prices.

      • baconbits9 says:

        How did they coordinate the initial price? What ever mechanism they used for that first price should still exist for setting the second price.

        • helloo says:

          Who said they coordinated the initial price? How does ANY product come to an initial price? Actually, where did you even come up with the “second” part? It wasn’t necessarily meant to be a continuation.

          That just may be how things turned out to be based on historic values, heuristics or costs of similar products even if they never interacted in the market.

          Here’s a possible scenario –
          So possibly the apple grower first priced their good at 1 based on say the market value of pineapples despite never wanting to buy them. The banana grower may then also price theirs at 1 to insure they could get 2 fruit regardless of how many they sell. And so on.
          But then suddenly a money bug came and ate half the money after the prices came to be.

          And say they did in fact come together and talked to agree to a price initially. Who says they will ever do so again? or how long it will be between such meetings?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Who said they coordinated the initial price?

            If there was an initial price it had to be coordinated in some way (different from collusion). An offer has to be accepted for a price to be set.

            So possibly the apple grower first priced their good at 1 based on say the market value of pineapples despite never wanting to buy them.

            How is there a market for Pineapples? If there is one then the market price for Pineapples should fall when the money supply falls, meaning the apple grower will cut his prices, which means the banana grower will cut his market prices, and we have trade again.

            You have to come up with an explanation where the prices are set by a very fragile system (ie not S&D at all), demonstrating that a fragile system can be broken brings no insight to the matter.

          • helloo says:

            The initial price was arbitrarily set. If you have a preferred way to initially set it, state it.
            The whole point of the pineapple is that it’s a completely separate market that they got a number from – it’s not a substitute good or intersects with this market at all.

            Prices are changed “through” a coordination game with Nash equilibriums.

            Not sure what you mean by S&D.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The initial price was arbitrarily set

            Hypotheticals that depend on arbitrarily set prices won’t generalize to those that don’t. If the example only tells us “economies without pricing mechanisms won’t adjust to changes” then it is a low value thought experiment for application in our world.

          • helloo says:

            Seriously? I’m not sure if you are just looking past this or if there is something I’m not reaching to you.
            The linked hypothetical does not use arbitrarily set prices.
            *I* used them to create a textbook problem with actual numbers.

            The mechanism to change them is the one YOU mentioned. Or the market, or whatever.

            I’m just noting that individually, they might not want to lower prices as that will reduce their capacity to buy the thing they want. AND are pricing it at where IF they sold them, would have gotten them everything they want.
            That is “If there is less money bidding on the apples then the price of apples drops” doesn’t happen as if the price of apples drop, then the number of bananas bought from the profit from selling apples is also lowered AND THIS IS EASIER TO SEE WITH NUMBERS (or for you to argue against this with your numbers/strategies). And before you start saying that the price of bananas will also drop – the next example would be when only one of the three occurs a money loss.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’m just noting that individually, they might not want to lower prices as that will reduce their capacity to buy the thing they want. AND are pricing it at where IF they sold them, would have gotten them everything they want.

            So last year how did they know the price they needed to take that would allow them to buy what they wanted?

            If I want to get enough money for my bananas to buy a certain weight of cherries then before I go to market with my bananas then I need to be able to figure out the price per pound of cherries before I sell my bananas. If I can do this in year 1 to set the price then you have to specify in the example that I cannot make that same action in year 2. If I can make it then it is easy to coordinate the whole banana/cherry/apple triangle with the lower amount of money. If I cannot use it then the issue is not the decline in the money supply but the inability to convey information. Stopping information flow while holding the money supply constant will have the same effect, I will go to market blind with no way to know what price I need to buy to gain the amount of cherries that I want.

            The linked hypothetical does not use arbitrarily set prices.
            *I* used them to create a textbook problem with actual numbers.

            The linked hypothetical does use arbitrarily set prices.

          • helloo says:

            They have information regarding the current prices, just not the future ones or overall money supply. If there is a method you want them to have to predict future prices or the overall money supply, state it. If you want no indeterminate states, just have it so that the prices and products are produced sequentially rather than all at once. As in, apples are harvested in time 1, B in 2, C in 3, A in 4, etc.
            If you have in mind a particular way they want to price it initially or otherwise, explain how it would work. I really do not think it is necessary to explain the given state of a thought experiment, but go ahead.

            There are ways to undermine it, but I’m not sure if those are any more applicable. For example – one way this can be broken is to have all the members borrow up to whatever their previous steady state was and just ignore all money supply changes. There are people that do that in the real world, but I doubt it is hardly what is expected of people by economists.

            I did not see any numbers used in the article linked. It did not mention anything regarding pricing at all actually.

          • baconbits9 says:

            They have information regarding the current prices, just not the future ones or overall money supply.

            Prices don’t just exist though, they are set by market forces. Either the 3 people are the sum total of the market, or there are others in the market and the 3 use the market prices for their trades. Either way the complaint still holds. If they have access to current prices then the banana seller can look at the price of cherries before he decides to sell his bananas or not. If the 3 are the only people in the economy then each of them is a price maker and a price taker, and each has communication with the other 2, allowing for them to contact and find out the price of each of the three fruits.

            The only way to make the example as stated to work is to artificially restrict access to information by market participants.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If you want no indeterminate states, just have it so that the prices and products are produced sequentially rather than all at once. As in, apples are harvested in time 1, B in 2, C in 3, A in 4, etc.

            In such a scenario the 3 people could never have come to an agreement on prices in the first place. This is just another example of “assume that the markets worked, then assume they don’t work, then cut the money supply, see the markets stopped working!”.

  13. helloo says:

    For those who have a strong moral sense of animal suffering – what is your take on what humans should do for them (in regards to reducing suffering), particular wild ones?

    This is NOT the whole cliche “why are you ignoring/not stopping predators from eating prey”. Rather that’s only a small part of it.
    I’m asking of all the things humans do to reduce human suffering, what should be extended to animals/other life forms?

    Humans spend a lot of effort to reduce human suffering. If people feel animal suffering is something people should be concerned with, how much of this effort could/should be extended to animals?
    Some examples are thus –
    Medicine – cures? vaccines? parasite reduction? CRISPR type genetic modifications?
    Basic life amenities – Shelter, food, water – disaster recovery, drought, famine
    Fairness/opportunity – comparative habit size, one species dominating over another

    There’s a huge part in the preservation and restoration of natural habitats and species, but not much I’ve seen regarding improvement besides pollution reduction. Most ecological changes are for benefits of humans rather than the wild animals. Only one I can think of is the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone parks and even then that’s mostly for restoration.

    The major argument/stance is responsibility (as in, only responsible for human actions/human caused suffering) and a sense to leave things alone. But how well has those arguments been played in regards for interventions regarding human suffering?

    • Matt M says:

      Most ecological changes are for benefits of humans rather than the wild animals. Only one I can think of is the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone parks and even then that’s mostly for restoration.

      IMO, this is also “for the benefit of humans” in the sense that humans really like the idea of “natural” spaces for animals. Once upon a time, humans didn’t care for wolves running about, so we shot them. Now our values have changed, and we want the wolves back, so back they come!

    • drunkfish says:

      This is a question I’ve found really interesting since I learned about https://was-research.org/. I’m far from any useful conclusions, but I have some immediate concerns about it (which hopefully are relevant to your question?). For context I’m a morally motivated vegetarian, though my conclusions on that front are pretty fuzzy and I’m mostly coming from a “killing fewer things for food is very unlikely to be a mistake” angle. I’m also pretty comfortable with the focus on non-wild animals, since it seems like (though this might not be a very utilitarian stance) not doing harm is a decent first step to focus on prior to eliminating extant harm.

      As far as what to do for wild animals, I think the most important thing would be to first make sure no interventions just make things worse. Humans have a bad track record when it comes to shepherding ecosystems, and it scares me to think of people who think they’re doing good but are actually causing harm. “Prey animals are suffering” is almost certainly true, but preventing them from being eaten and causing an ecosystem to collapse is likely to still be net negative. “lets vaccinate animals” sounds like a fine idea, but only after ensuring that infections aren’t somehow playing an important role in ecosystems (possible hypothesis: if you assume predators need to eat, maybe the existence of infections biases that consumption toward the ‘weakest’ animals, measured in some darwinian sense).

    • Aapje says:

      @helloo

      Evolution doesn’t minimize suffering, so if you let nature run its natural course, you get animal behavior that we would call horrible animal abuse if people did it to animals.

      However, nature is very complex, so interventions are likely to backfire. For example, if you kill predators, you may get a lot of slowly starving animals which is probably a lot more cruel than a fairly rapid death at the claws of a predator.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’ve seen a suggestion to make suffering less for both humans and animals by lowering susceptibility to pain by using genetic engineering.

        • albatross11 says:

          I know there are disorders where people don’t feel pain, and I think those people tend to die young through not noticing dangerous injuries, and to accumulate a lot of damage through not noticing continual minor injuries.

          OTOH, just turning the pain signal down a bit might work. It seems like you’d do just as well with a pain system whose signals went from “Everything’s fine” to “Uncomfortable and annoying” rather than from “Everything’s fine” to “Huddled on the floor whimpering for someone to please put you out of your misery.”

          • quanta413 says:

            It seems unlikely to me this is a good idea.

            Pain tolerance already varies between people. I think it’s likely this is at least partly because some people literally felt less pain.

            If there was an advantage to feeling less pain in terms of reproducing, we’d probably already feel less pain. I don’t feel that confident that our environment is fundamentally different enough from a few thousand years ago to be worth turning that signal down even if we could.

          • beleester says:

            Events that cause crippling pain tend to also be events that just plain kill you, so I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of evolutionary pressure to turn down pain at the upper end of the scale.

            However, modern medicine is incredibly good at handling trauma, so I would bet that a modern person does have a better chance of surviving to reproduce than a caveman would have, if they’re able to fight through the pain and get themselves out of that situation.

            It could also be that the evolutionary disadvantage is in engineering complexity rather than health benefits – i.e., it’s easier for evolution to design a pain sensor that scales linearly with the amount of injury, than to design one that has a cutoff at a certain level. If that’s the case, then it might be hard to implement such a change, but there isn’t a disadvantage if you have the tools to do so.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s actually kind-of weird to me that our pain system can do a denial-of-service attack on our brains, to the point that something can be painful enough to make someone lose consciousness or become incapacitated. It sure seems like there’d be a survival advantage to being able to say “yeah, that really hurts, but I’m going to go ahead and finish bashing your head in with my club before I worry about it.” And indeed, it seems like sometimes this actually happens, but other times, intense pain seems to actually incapacitate someone.

            Maybe that means it was easier for evolution to do linear scaling than putting a ceiling on it, but it’s also possible that there’s not any point at which putting a ceiling on the impact of pain actually makes you more fit. (For example, continuing to run on a broken leg is probably not very good for your survival prospects, unless there is something chasing you that will certainly kill you, and that you can outrun on a broken leg. Maybe getting that signal to say “stay put and stop making your injury worse, dumbass” is a better choice.

          • Aapje says:

            @albatross11

            That mechanism already exists and is called adrenaline. I can speak from experience that it greatly reduces felt pain. It also increases focus, strength and other things that are helpful when bashing in heads.

            It is temporary though, which seems like a very good idea, because it discourages people from ignoring the need to rest/heal.

            Pro athletes already show the capability to ignore medium-grade injuries and it is quite common for them to end up with permanent and fairly severe damage, which demonstrates why it is not a great idea to be able to ignore pain more easily.

            I don’t expect the average person to make better decisions (or even be aware that they are making a decision) than the human body.

        • Aapje says:

          @Nancy

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

          It is common for people with the condition to die in childhood due to injuries or illnesses going unnoticed.[1][2] Burn injuries are among the more common injuries

          Because children with the disorder cannot feel pain, they may not respond to problems, thus being at a higher risk of more severe diseases. Children with this condition often sustain oral cavity damage both in and around the oral cavity (such as having bitten off the tip of their tongue) or fractures to bones.[2] Unnoticed infections and corneal damage due to foreign objects in the eye are also seen.

          I’d rather feel pain.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I was thinking in terms of lowering pain signals to low-normal, not turning them off completely.

      • helloo says:

        There’s plenty of cases where trying to be charitable resulted in some unknown/unexpected negative consequences.

        Donating cloth to developing countries pretty much prevented any possible emergent textile market and often reduced or eliminated existing local production.
        Reducing parasites seems to be one of the possible causes in the increase of allergies in the modern world.

        Calls to stop donations or increase parasites are pretty much always seen as minor or extreme.
        Why would humans be this cautious regarding animal suffering to the point of not doing anything?

        A mirror might be with GMOs and “organic” breeding methods. We seem to want much more strict and longer testing regarding the former, but I believe quite a few people here are confident with the existing tests to deem current GMOs “safe enough”.

  14. Controls Freak says:

    Two interesting charts I saw this week. First, this chart from this paper. The background is that the author is the same guy who wrote this paper, arguing that the climate models don’t tell us much about policy choices (I agree with him on this, but I don’t think he quite groks the underlying theoretical issue completely). In any event, this motivated the paper which produced the headline chart, and his solution to the climate models not being very useful was to instead attempt to estimate the Social Cost of Carbon simply by asking experts some questions which would allow him to compute an estimate of SCC. (I have definitely expressed my displeasure with the “opinion poll model of science” here before, which frankly is the reason why I hadn’t seen the chart earlier; I didn’t bother to read the rest of the paper after having read the abstract.)

    So anyway, when I saw the chart, I was instantly curious. It instantly made me think of a funnel plot, but it’s not really a funnel plot. Plus, it’s weird that everyone seems kind of comfortable with the fact that the answers span three orders of magnitude, and a large portion of them think it’s pretty close to zero… but yet, somehow, no one thinks the SCC is negative. I mean, you can’t get even one rando to say “$-1”, but you can find someone to say “$1000”?

    I had two competing hypotheses – that he had put a really weird constraint in such that people couldn’t respond with negative answers or that there was some very strange group psychology going on. When I dug into the paper, I discovered it was the former.. In a parenthetical on page 14, he says, “[A]nd I impose a probability of 1 that the impact will be 0% or greater.” I want to say something strong about how I feel sad for the state of this science, but I’m pretty sure you can fill in that sentiment by now.

    All this led to this week’s second chart (from here). It’s actually a funnel plot! I hadn’t seen one of these yet. I’m really not sure I want to comment much besides, “It’s nice to see a funnel plot,” and, “Boy, where’s the other side of that funnel plot?” Maybe I’ll end with a reference to, “This is what I’m talking about when I talk about how the dynamic IAMs are basically just taking a static, positive damage function and amortizing it. When you assume a positive damage function, you get positive damage. Uh, duh.”

    • Matt M says:

      I don’t have any links handy, but Robert Murphy has done a lot of work in this space. I seem to recall him suggesting that the IPCC estimates of the SCC use a discount rate that is much more aggressive than the government typically requires for long-term forecasting, and that if they used the “normal” discount rate, the SCC estimates would include negative values.

      • Controls Freak says:

        Yeah, Pindyck (the author of the first paper) harps on discount rates, too.

      • Jon Gunnarsson says:

        If by “aggressive” you mean a high discount rate, then you’ve got things backwards. Most of the expected really bad effects from global warming are far in the future, whereas the short term effects may well be positive on net. So if you use a high discount rate, those far off bad effects don’t play as much of a role and you get a low (or perhaps even negative) social cost of carbon.

    • Colonel Hapablap says:

      I don’t see why the social cost would ever be negative, but I suppose it depends on what you want to use it for. For example:

      FAA requires some new aircraft regulation that will increase fuel burn by X amount. The airlines are not happy and they want to make a submission on the new regulation, stating that the direct costs will be Y and the Social Cost of the extra carbon emissions will be Z, and so the total cost of the regulation will be Y + Z.

      In that context the Social Cost of Carbon should only include harmful effects, since the only benefit of the extra fuel burn would be related to the new regulation.

      • I don’t see why the social cost would ever be negative

        The social cost of carbon is negative if the benefits of climate change due to CO2 are larger than the costs. Is there some reason why that is impossible?

      • Colonel Hapablap says:

        I didn’t think of that. It doesn’t seem plausible since the vast majority of possible shocks to a system should be negative, but I suppose it is possible.

        • Controls Freak says:

          Good news! Basic timescale analysis from dynamical systems theory implies that we shouldn’t treat climate change as a shock! It’s a slow parameter in the economic/political systems, and the biggest theoretical problem with most people’s intuition (and behind all the IAMs that I’ve seen) is that they do the timescales the wrong way ’round like this.

          Since my degrees are in aerospace departments, I like to give the analogy of fuel usage in airplanes. It’s a slow parameter to the fast system (of velocities/orientations). If we’re thinking about it the wrong way ’round, we can imagine it being a shock; heck, I can even simulate such shocks in flight sims (causing all kinds of problems, including instability). Nevertheless, that view is fundamentally wrong, and it leads to wrong conclusions in the case of powered flight. I’m not arguing that the effects of CC are negative/positive/zero; I’m arguing that the analysis most people use to get to one of those conclusions is badly broken, and we don’t actually have much reason to believe that we know which category it’s actually in.

  15. Mark V Anderson says:

    Myth #6. That the rich have more influence over the free market than over the government. What determines the products for sale in the supermarket? It is the consumer who buys the products. If consumers in America all get cravings for apples, the stores will soon be sold out of apples. The stores will all clamor to get more apples, more apples will be imported, and as many as possible will make it to the stores. If this apple craving lasts for years, then more farmers will change over to apples, and the stores will have more apples on a permanent basis.

    It is not the rich who determine what is being sold in the stores. It is the mass quantity of consumers. For almost all consumer goods, the rich buy only a small portion of the goods for sale, and so have only a small influence on what is in the marketplace. Only for luxury goods do the rich have a disproportionate impact on what is for sale.

    Some will object that it is the rich who own the businesses that determine the structure of the free enterprise system. It is true that the rich own the businesses (for the most part. There are large investments in the corporations in this country by mutual funds and pension plans, which are mostly composed of investments of the middle class). But each business will only remain successful if they sell products that are desired by consumers. So these businesses are at the mercy of the large body of consumers.

    It is clear that consumers determine what is sold. How about the prices? Any economist will tell you that an individual business cannot set its own prices. In order to sell its goods, it cannot sell above a range dictated by the market or it won’t be successful in selling its goods and will go bankrupt. This price will be only a little above cost, or else competitors will lower their prices to grab more business. There is a market price for investment returns, just like other parts of the market. If an industry provides more return than other industries, then companies will enter the industry to grab the extra profit while they can. Some of these new companies will grab business by lowering prices, which will eventually result in that industry making the same return as other industries. So all industries end up with similar returns on their investments. Therefore, margins (prices above costs) in all industries are dictated by the market of investors, and no industry can charge prices much above their costs.

    Of course this is only the case where industries are competitive, and when other companies can enter the industry at will. So consumers don’t have as much effect on highly regulated industries such as utilities and banking. But almost all markets in which the middle class spends money are competitive. Consumers can easily switch to other companies if they are paying too much for food, clothing, apartment rentals, autos, or hardware. You may think these items are all too expensive, but they are sold for as little as they can be, compatible with an average profit margin. It is not the rich who decide what is sold or for how much.

    However, the rich do have a disproportionate effect on the government. The rich own the media corporations that provide information to everyone in the country, and also provide most of the opinions that we all see. There are millions of news feeds and opinions available that don’t make the cut by the media, so the media definitely controls what the public sees. Some of the media owners claim that they don’t get involved in the media content, but overall, it appears that the rich have quite a bit more influence over the media than the rest of us. And even the rich that don’t own media companies often have a disproportionate effect on information disseminated to the public, because advertisements and other information outlets are expensive.

    The rich also have more direct access to politicians through lobbying. It takes money to create lobbying groups. Also of course politicians need money to run campaigns, and they may easily become beholden to those rich people that provide most of their funding.

    One solution to the problem of the political power of the rich may be to nationalize media companies and provide public funding of political campaigns. Unfortunately, that would cause even more problems by increasing the power of the political elite. If all the money for the media and political races came from the government, the government would be regulating itself. Such a situation always results in bad results. Better to have the rich holding the government accountable than nobody. At least in our current situation, the rich and government elite jostle for power. Having the government fund its own watchdogs and political races subtracts power from the rich, but does not add power to anyone but the government elite. That would create even more imbalance of power. At least now the rich can sometimes topple the political elite.

    • IrishDude says:

      “Treat all economic questions from the viewpoint of the consumer, for the interests of the consumer are the interests of the human race.” – Frederic Bastiat

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Votes are worth something, and those are distributed pretty equitably.

      Also, if business owners can coordinate then consumers don’t necessarily dictate everything. Arguably there’s a historic undersupply of right-wing media, for instance, for this very reason.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Votes are not distributed equitably, if it were true you wouldn’t have large swaths of the population having to fight to get the right to vote, and you wouldn’t have large swaths of the population without the right to vote.

    • Deiseach says:

      It is not the rich who determine what is being sold in the stores. It is the mass quantity of consumers. For almost all consumer goods, the rich buy only a small portion of the goods for sale, and so have only a small influence on what is in the marketplace. Only for luxury goods do the rich have a disproportionate impact on what is for sale.

      Compare Dorothy Sayers in Murder Must Advertise:

      Like all rich men, he had never before paid any attention to advertisements. He had never realized the enormous commercial importance of the comparatively poor. Not on the wealthy, who buy only what they want when they want it, was the vast superstructure of industry founded and built up, but on those who, aching for a luxury beyond their reach and for a leisure for ever denied them, could be bullied or wheedled into spending their few hardly won shillings on whatever might give them, if only for a moment, a leisured and luxurious illusion. Phantasmagoria — a city of dreadful day, of crude shapes and colours piled Babel-like in a heaven of harsh cobalt and rocking over a void of bankruptcy — a Cloud Cuckooland, peopled by pitiful ghosts, from the Thrifty Housewife providing a Grand Family Meal for Fourpence with the aid of Dairyfields Butter Beans in Margarine, to the Typist capturing the affections of Prince Charming by a liberal use of Muggins’s Magnolia Face Cream.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Could you please make your point instead of just quoting an overly stylistic mystery writer?
        I see why I never started reading Sayers.

        Are you saying that the poor are somehow directed by advertising for all their consumer demands? That sounds very unlikely to me.

    • arlie says:

      What determines the products for sale in the supermarket? It is the consumer who buys the products.

      Interesting question.

      One thing I’ve noticed is that, particularly with concentration of ownership, every damn store sells substantially the same things, and getting what I actually want – rather than the least undesirable of what’s available – requires considerable time and effort. To the point where I often either “settle” for what’s available (if it’s something like food) or simply buy nothing at all.

      I suspect that what’s going on is group think among the not-so-high-level employees making purchasing decisions, and additional group think among the producers, rather than e.g. some dastardly plot 😉 Every once in a while some new provider addresses a large unserved niche, does well for a while – and then gets purchased by the existing establishment and/or hires too many people trained in the existing establishment, and reverts to the norm.

      At any rate, it’s one reason I favour measures against concentration of ownership. Lots of small stores, buying from lots of small manufacturers, gives me more chance of getting something I actually like ;-(

      If consumers in America all get cravings for apples, the stores will soon be sold out of apples. The stores will all clamor to get more apples, more apples will be imported, and as many as possible will make it to the stores. If this apple craving lasts for years, then more farmers will change over to apples, and the stores will have more apples on a permanent basis.

      So the consumer gets a craving for apples, the stores run out, and the consumer has a choice between pears, oranges, plums or nothing. The store runs out of all fruit by the end of the day, and its buyers conclude that their current mix of fruit is working, and orders the same thing the next day.

      My version of the story looks like what I routinely see at all 3 of my local grocery store chains. Except that I see it less in the fruit section, and more in others. And I suspect that wholesalers paying for “product placement” is part of the cause, not just loss of information due to sloppy monitoring and status quo bias.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        So the consumer gets a craving for apples, the stores run out, and the consumer has a choice between pears, oranges, plums or nothing. The store runs out of all fruit by the end of the day, and its buyers conclude that their current mix of fruit is working, and orders the same thing the next day.

        I don’t think store managers are quite this stupid. If the apple craving did extend to all fruit in the absence of apples as in your example, the store would at least up the purchases of fruit, at least if it happened every day for a week. At some point they would discover that apples were always sold out even if other fruit went un-bought. Perhaps the food merchants in your area are pretty dense, but it doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to figure out the basic trends of consumer demand. Maybe not as quickly as you’d like. And of course maybe not to your desired ends, since your tastes may not match those of most other consumers.

  16. Atlas says:

    Anyone here a fan of the Cormoran Strike novels?

    Because if so, I was just thinking: various characters ridicule Matthew’s jealousy of Strike, and insist that he has nothing to worry about. However, upon reflection it seems to me that Matthew does in fact have good reason to be suspicious, though his behavior is counterproductive and he’s sort of jumping the gun.

    Strike has a dangerous, exciting career that happens to be the exact career that Robin has always fantasizing about having. He is extremely practically competent and worldly—that is to say, Strike is really good at the whole fixing things/killing things/finding things memeplex that is masculinity. He’s got a good bit of fame from both his parentage and his achievements as a detective. He’s moderately older than Robin and Matthew. The women he’s slept with that we and Robin know of, Ciara, Elin and Charlotte, are all very high value, so mate choice copying is another point in his favor. And to cap it all off, he’s even taller than the already tall Matthew.

    Add to all this the fact that he and Robin are spending lots of time alone but for each other, occasionally under high stress conditions, and indeed it seems quite natural for Matthew to be suspicious. While Robin castigated Sarah Shadlock towards the beginning of A Career of Evil for listing some of these facts, despite her unsavory motives Shadlock was making some pretty good points.

    Unlike Matthew, we have a direct window into the thoughts of both Strike and Robin. And it seems pretty clear to me that, while Matthew is being premature and juvenile in his response, Robin and Strike are developing a mutual attraction behind their self-imposed barriers. And furthermore that Robin is coming to consider Strike to be a superior capital M Man than Matthew, and feels unconsciously that her professional/personal relationship with Strike is at least, if not indeed more, important than her engagement.

    I think it’s perhaps significant that Rowling’s own first marriage ended acrimoniously, and, moving into the realm of wild unfounded speculation, I suspect that Robin is a bit of a stylized author avatar for Rowling, as I suspect Hermione was. And, to speculate even more wildly, I suspect that Strike is sort of Rowling’s vision of the ideal man—good at lots of macho stuff like boxing but also highly intelligent and moral.

    • brmic says:

      You’re not considering all of Strike’s faults here. Some of them make him great boss/detective but lousy romantic partner material. Plus his track record in romantic partnerships.

      But nevermind that. In my opinion, the point is exactly that while they admire each other deeply, as is quite likely in such a situation of frequently intense and dangerous cooperation, they repeatedly decide against adding a romantic angle to their relationship. Which is all that can be asked of anyone, unless you expect Robin to totally suppress the side of herself that wants to be a detective. So I disagree that Matthew has ‘good reason to be suspicious’ unless the presence of another attractive man in Robin’s life counts as ‘good reason’, which is a weirdly possessive way of thinking. In fact, we are shown several times how Matthew learns that something that made him suspicious was in fact the result of Robin’s drive to become a detective, not a romantic interest in Strike or an attempt by Strike to draw her closer.

  17. johan_larson says:

    The recent documentary series “The Vietnam War,” by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, is now available on Netflix. I just finished watching it, and believe it is the best documentary series ever made about that war. It is better than “The Ten Thousand Day War” and better than “Vietnam in HD,” the two earlier contenders.

    It got me wondering whether there was anything the US could realistically have done differently to actually win the war. The one thing that comes to mind is closing the Ho Chi Minh trail by invasion, which would have made a huge difference by denying supplies going to VC and NVA troops fighting in the south.

    The US certainly had enough troops in country — some half a million by the end of the decade — and US morale remained good until quite late in the war. Was there any reason this was not done?

    • bean says:

      The US could have done what it did in 1972 a lot earlier. We were able to force a settlement by bombing Hanoi, and put South Vietnam in a place where they could have held out if given supplies and air support. If we’d done that at a time when there was political will to keep supporting South Vietnam, then the war would have turned out very differently.

      • johan_larson says:

        Could you elaborate? Suppose the US had bombed Hanoi in, say, 1967. Are you thinking that would have forced the north to ramp down its effort in the south enough that the south could have succeeded without US soldiers in the field? Or do you think there could have been some sort of settlement that ended the war earlier?

        • bean says:

          More of the latter. Particularly after 1968, the VC were gone, and the US was fighting the NVA directly. Forcing the North to stop sending their troops south would have ended the war, and did for a couple years. The South might have held out if we’d resupplied them and sent carriers and B-52s. In 1972, we proved that we could bomb them flat if we needed to, and that nothing they could do would stop us. (Seriously, the North Vietnamese invented integrated air defense networks as we know them today. Hanoi was better-defended than Moscow then.) Doing that in 1967 would have cut the support going to the VC a lot. Either it would have been a manageable insurgency or a complete victory.

          • John Schilling says:

            Possible problem in that the North Vietnamese had SA-2s and MiG-21s and combat-proven IAD in 1968, while the US was still tinkering with first-generation Wild Weasels and SEAD doctrine. Rolling Thunder was bloody expensive for the USAF, and it’s not clear that scaling it up to 1972 levels wouldn’t have resulted in the US rather than NV calling the whole thing off.

            But if the US could learn fast enough to make it work at a tolerable cost, you’re probably right as to the consequences.

          • bean says:

            Rolling Thunder was famously conducted under the RoE that we couldn’t attack SAM sites that were under construction or inactive. That does not imply that the air campaign was being taken seriously. The B-52 wasn’t sent north for fear of escalation. The bit where Johnson doled out targets slowly, making sure that the North Vietnamese had plenty of time to adapt and prepare themselves also doesn’t speak highly of his planning.

            If they’d taken the gloves off in 1968, mined Haiphong and bombed Hanoi, I think it would have worked. Would the losses have been heavier than they were during Linebacker? Yes. But losses can be sustained so long as the other guy runs into trouble first. The strategy used during Rolling Thunder was almost deliberately engineered to make sure that didn’t happen.

          • John Schilling says:

            Possibly, but “they didn’t really try, so they failed” is not evidence that they would have succeeded if they had tried harder. The USAF and USN tried hard enough to lose a thousand planes in the process, and I’m not convinced that this was even mostly due to the ROE.

          • bean says:

            The USAF and USN tried hard enough to lose a thousand planes in the process, and I’m not convinced that this was even mostly due to the ROE.

            The USAF and USN tried hard enough to lose less than a plane a day across more than three years. 1000 planes is a lot, but spread across enough time that I’m not sure it’s proof of trying that hard. Add in the utterly idiotic way Rolling Thunder (and the rest of the war) was handled, and I find it hard to believe that we couldn’t have done a much better job and forced a stalemate. How many mines were dropped in Haiphong Harbor during Rolling Thunder? How many B-52 sorties went north of Route Pack One? McNamara systematically mismanaged everything he touched, and I see no reason to assume that he didn’t take a winnable situation and lose it for us. (Seriously, I just read Friedman’s account of TFX, and the man was worse than I thought. Which is saying something, because part of me already suspected he was from the future, sent back to destroy our defenses. But the British are as screwed up as we are, and they never had his like.)

          • Protagoras says:

            I don’t know. The stories of the American officers in Vietnam just remind me a little too much of all the German generals who insist they could have won the war in the East if Hitler hadn’t meddled so much. And just as those German generals greatly exaggerate how much Hitler meddled and how bad his ideas were, as well as how great their own ideas would have been, I can’t help but be skeptical of the claims of the American generals about how Vietnam would have gone if they’d gotten their own way. It’s entirely possible that the situations aren’t really parallel, but history is almost always more complicated than the narratives invented later.

          • bean says:

            @Protagoras

            I can see where you’re coming from, but Vietnam was bad. I mean really bad. There were times when rudder orders were being issued to the ships off the coast from the White House situation room. Once, someone mistook the carrier USS Constellation for a Constellation AWACS plane, and ordered her to orbit at 30,000 feet.

      • cassander says:

        This would be my answer as well. The Johnson administration’s gradual escalation, and frequent de-escalations, were just about the worst possible way of going about things. I remain somewhat amazed that LBJ of all people approved such a policy. the man understood leverage and negotiation, was legitimately brilliant at it, but utterly failed in vietnam.

    • sfoil says:

      The “official consensus” as reflected in Harry Summers’ On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War is that the pro-South side should have extended the Vietnam DMZ across the 17th Parallel all the way to Thailand, shutting down communication into the South as you point out. This would have required completely abandoning Laotian neutrality, the details of which Summers doesn’t adequately reckon with in his book.

      Why this wasn’t done is basically because the US didn’t want to “escalate” the war. If this sounds stupid, it was, and there is a rich literature attempting to explain how this happened.

      While this would be the ideal solution, I think if the propaganda aspects of the Tet Offensive and the PAVN presence in South Vietnam in general had been better managed then the 1972 Paris Accords could have been reached earlier (~1968-9) by a similar increase in strategic bombing of the North, and the South could have plausibly held on indefinitely with the sort of limited support they did receive with much less risk of it being cut off.

    • Atlas says:

      It got me wondering whether there was anything the US could realistically have done differently to actually win the war. The one thing that comes to mind is closing the Ho Chi Minh trail by invasion, which would have made a huge difference by denying supplies going to VC and NVA troops fighting in the south.

      I asked this very question in an OT back when the documentary was still airing on PBS, I’ll try to link the responses to it later.

      But what I’m wondering is, suppose that the US blocked off the Ho Chi Minh Trail or took some other action to seriously change the course of the war. Would that have led China to intervene the way it did in Korea, or would the calculus have been different for Beijing?

      • bean says:

        I think the calculus was very different. Korea was essentially Stalin’s war. At the time, he was the undisputed leader of global communism. He was almost certainly responsible for the Chinese intervention, and was definitely the one who kept the war going. The war ended only five months after he died, despite there being no major change in circumstances on the ground for at least a year before.

        AIUI, Vietnam got aid by playing off China and the Soviets, who by that point had split. But they were too smart and too nationalistic to want the Chinese actually in the country en mass.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Did the US want to win the war? Wasn’t Korea the model outcome we were pursuing?

      • johan_larson says:

        The Korea-style compromise division had already been made when north and south Vietnam were created and separated by the DMZ. The US was fighting to keep South Vietnam from being overrun.

  18. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Would it make sense for people to get a stool sample for themselves before a course of antibiotics so they can repopulate their gut microbiome?

    • James C says:

      I’d guess it very much depends on the intensity and duration of the course, but I’m not qualified to give that kind of medical advice.

    • rahien.din says:

      Only to the extent that you
      A. cared about having the exact same microbiome you had before
      B. could precisely identify your pre-antibiotic gut microbiome
      C. could take exactly the right probiotic to reconstitute it.

      Or maybe D. you were willing to preserve a culture of your *ahem* gut microbiome, and thereafter perform a fecal autotransplant.

      I don’t think that you have to care about that, though. Just take some decent, cheap probiotics. Or eat some yogurt.

  19. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    My impression is that at least American leftwingers (