THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 105.25

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

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552 Responses to Open Thread 105.25

  1. bean says:

    Naval Gazing follows up its look at the Great White Fleet with an investigation of the resulting changes to US battleship design.

  2. WashedOut says:

    I often hear people state that “fines only penalize the poor” as an argument against punitive rent-seeking by government agencies and the police. The implication is that rich people get a de facto free-pass for minor and misdemeanor offenses, which poor people find financially crippling.

    Taken in combination with the observation that propensity to commit misdemeanors / minor illegality is higher among lower SE groups, the proponents of the above argument conclude that fines have the net effect of making poor people poorer, and rich people unaffected. One possible alternative is for fines to be means-tested, i.e. the punishment amount is a fixed % of either income or wealth. If this were broadly the case, AND if wealth-signalling was strong/reliable enough, then you can imagine the incentives would re-align so that enforcement would preferentially ‘target’ rich people (i.e. more Ferraris getting stalked by traffic cops) in order to maximize rent collected, and pretty much avoid poor people. From a perspective sympathetic to the working class, this seems to be a favourable re-balancing of the system. However, even leaving aside the problem of %income vs %wealth, means-tested penalization in extremis seems to have a host of 2nd and 3rd order drawbacks around fraud, signalling, and potential enforcement corruption.

    So is there an optimally ‘fair’ penalty system for these types of offenses? Should non-monetary penalties play a bigger role? Should some fines be means-tested and not others, or does the perceived injustice of higher marginal cost to poor vs. rich offenders all come out in the wash?

    • 10240 says:

      If the fine (more precisely the fine times the probability of getting caught) is at least as much as the damage caused by the infraction/misdemeanor, then it’s not a problem if rich people commit it and pay fines. The fines are revenue for the government, allowing it to reduce taxes for everyone (including the poor); the fine is essentially like a (~Pigovian) tax.

      • tmk says:

        Only if everyone committing the infraction is caught and fined. Otherwise you need to multiply by the probability of paying the fine.

      • @10240:
        As I explain in the old article linked to below (and in a chapter of my Law’s Order), your answer, which is the conventional one you are likely to find in other people’s textbooks, is only correct in a world where catching and punishing offenders is costless. In a more realistic model, the optimal expected punishment may be below the damage done, because some offenses which do net damage are not worth the cost of deterring, or above the damage done, because deterring an offense with net negative damage saves the cost of catching and punishing the offender.

      • rlms says:

        You are missing the important factor of how efficiently the government can use the fine revenue to repair the damage — it might cost $100 to replace a broken window but that doesn’t imply that a $100 fine will be able to pay for one.

    • For a discussion of the issue from a law and economics standpoint, see “Reflections on Optimal Punishment, or: Should the Rich Pay Higher Fines?

      For a real world system where fines scale with income, consider Finland.

      For a de facto similar system in the U.S., consider tort law. Rich tortfeasors, in principle, owe the same damage payments as poor, but are more likely to be able to pay them, hence the tactic of tergeting deep pockets.

    • tmk says:

      You are taking about both the effect on the fined, and incentives for law enforcement officials here. For the latter, I think fines should be sent as far away and high up as possible. Ideally fines should be paid into the general funds of the federal government. If that’s not possible, then the state government would work. That takes away the incentives for local government and officers to bring in money.

      • yodelyak says:

        I wonder how this polls. If it would pass at the ballot box, I think a state with a referendum should try it. (I tend to think this would be a dead letter as a bill at a state capitol.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      This is one of a number of proposals (like eliminating bail reform) in the general category of removing the utility of money. Thing is, when you do that, you increase the utility of other things; usually either sympathy or corruption — let the poor person off the hook, throw the book at the guy with the Ferrari — but not if he contributed to the mayor’s campaign. As one of the most unsympathetic and least-connected persons around, I object on the basis of naked self-interest.

    • albatross11 says:

      An orthogonal concern I’d raise about schemes for charging fines to people is that when the revenue from fines becomes an important revenue source, the fines become extremely corrosive to fair enforcement of the laws. The folks depending on fine revenue for running their budgets have huge incentives to enforce the laws in extra-strict ways, to pile on extra charges for being late or not showing up for a hearing, and to pass new laws that will allow them to extract more fine revenue.

      I think the world would be a better place if all fine revenue were paid in cash, and then the cash was immediately burned in front of everyone.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I think the world would be a better place if all fine revenue were paid in cash, and then the cash was immediately burned in front of everyone.

        I kind of like this idea. A more humane substitute for public hanging. It creates a public spectacle and humiliates the culprit. Reducing the net currency in society helps the average person a tiny bit by making the remaining money more valuable, without it going to the government. Kind of like a tax rebate without the logistical difficulty.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          It helps the rich more than the average person, in an absolute sense, and even in a relative sense if you think of being “rich” as having to do with income, since 2x increase in income = >2x increase in wealth.

    • keranih says:

      As a quibble – legal citation fines are generally only crippling to the working poor and those living off the low level of entitlements in the USA, not to the working class. (At least initially – failure to appear in court starts racking up the amount of money owed pretty fast.)

      I’m not saying that we should ignore the impact on the working poor, but instead to warn against exagerating the extent of the issue.

      However, even leaving aside the problem of %income vs %wealth, means-tested penalization in extremis seems to have a host of 2nd and 3rd order drawbacks around fraud, signalling, and potential enforcement corruption.

      Yes. There is too much variability between the impact of a sudden expense on a person and that person’s (apparent) means. Plus there is the impact on families.

      What you’re looking for is a class-based approach, where the wealthy noble is fined heavily and pays a heavy social cost, but the day laborer gets off with a horsewhipping.

      I like far better the idea of offenses with strictly identified punishments, applied the same to all people.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I’m not saying that we should ignore the impact on the working poor, but instead to warn against exagerating the extent of the issue.

        I don’t think this is true, as the working poor suffer far more financially by having to appear in court than the non working poor. Missing a day of work for a court case can functionally double the financial cost of many fines, and missing a day of work because you were arrested the night before and bail wasn’t set until 3 hours into your shift is also expensive.

      • albatross11 says:

        I suspect that there are people ground up in the gears by this kind of fines/fees, not because anyone wants to grind up the poor in the gears, but rather because the revenue-maximizing set of rules has that as a side-effect.

        • yodelyak says:

          Well-known case in point: Ferguson circa 2014.

          Majority-black place, 5 out of 6 of the city council are white. Mayor’s white, sheriff and most cops are white. Town has a right side/wrong side of the tracks vibe. Justice department eventually comes in and investigates, discovers “profit-driven” racial profiling by municipal authorities.

          Voter turnout in ’14 was very high, and I read the city council was then 3-3 white and black, and word was change was in the air. One starter link here: link. I haven’t dug that deeply, tbh.

    • benwave says:

      Having people pay in time (days worth of community service, say) shortcuts that problem pretty well. A day of your time is a difficult thing to game.

      • yodelyak says:

        I think this is why (supposedly) minor things we penalize with (supposedly minor or recompense-derived) fines–which can be dealt with via asynchronous communication and hopefully don’t suck up too much time, but major things (murder, arson, rape, battery, fraud, theft) commonly carry time-based terms, with the most serious being *all* your remaining time, either via life-in-prison or capital punishment.

        Try and set a number for how much a murder should cost, and see if your moral intuitions don’t recoil when you then think about what that means for what fraction of his money a billionaire would have to pay to kill your whole family.

        Edited to add: all of that is to say, yes, I completely agree, units of time are *much* harder to game.

        • Aqua says:

          time does seem kind of good, but time still will affect poor people more.

          say a week of community service: a billionaire will be hurt, but will easily forget about it in a few months. a poor person might lose their job

          then again maybe this is ok? it makes sense that people that are more financially stable are able to weather mishaps better. that’s what stable means

          • albatross11 says:

            This depends heavily on each person’s situation. A person who’s living on public assistance or living off his trust fund will feel little pain; a person who lives on what he makes at his regular job will get hurt. Some people have jobs that are flexible about time (maybe you’re an Uber driver); others have jobs where you really have to be there when you’re scheduled or you lose your job or a lot of money (maybe you’re an actor and shooting for your movie is scheduled just when you’ve been sentenced to community service).

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            time does seem kind of good, but time still will affect poor people more.

            I don’t think this is true in general. My impression is that lots of well-to-do people work insanely long hours. It may be taking a week off would be good for their stress level, but it may also mean that deadlines get missed, leading to job loss or at least the career going off track. On the other side, there are some of the poor that work 2 to 3 jobs, or have absolutely no flexibility in their hours. I don’t know if the poor or the rich have more flexibility, but it isn’t obvious to me it is one or the other.

            So whatever happened to going to jail several weekends in a row to pay off unpaid fines? Doesn’t that happen anymore?

  3. a reader says:

    Now that the IBM AI can debate unprepared subjects and apparently understand arguments, the prospect of a real human-level AGI seems already dangerously close:

    What it’s like to watch an IBM AI successfully debate humans

    What should be done? If we consider the dangers of a non-benevolent AGI with super-human intelligence, the prudent think to do would be to everybody stop all AI research just now. Should states drastically ban AGI research as they currently ban nuclear weapons proliferation or terrorism? Should AGI research be stigmatized as research with H B D implications is now? Or maybe even that wouldn’t be enough? (that makes me remember some prediction from Ted K’s manifesto.)

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      What should be done? If we consider the dangers of a non-benevolent AGI with super-human intelligence, the prudent think to do would be to everybody stop all AI research just now. Should states drastically ban AGI research as they currently ban nuclear weapons proliferation or terrorism?

      Yes. Come on, if we have to wait for literal butlers to do this it could be too late.

    • toastengineer says:

      Now that the IBM AI can debate unprepared subjects and apparently understand arguments, the prospect of a real human-level AGI seems already dangerously close:

      What? This is some impressive natural language processing trickery but aside from that it’s basically a flashy spin on Google search.

      AlphaGo Zero was way scarier; that was actually doing something new and you can visualize how that technology might be used to hurt people. Biggest threat from this is that it brings us closer to having to answer calls from Google Assistant type bots.

      I mean, it has some spooky information control implications if you stretch a little bit, but there’s no way in hell anything that looks at all like this is gonna go crazy and argue us all to death.

      • a reader says:

        To me, responding with adequate arguments in a debate seems quite different from Google search (I doubt an 8 year old with Google access can do this), but I admit I know little about AI so I can be wrong. I would be glad if I am wrong and the human level AGI is further than I thought. But that just gives us more time, if a real AGI is possible in the future and potentially dangerous. The fact that we seem closer than we really are can be used to make people more receptive to the message about the danger.

    • Well... says:

      I think you (this is probably a general “you”) considerably underestimate the astounding vastness and complexity of human intelligence, particularly the nuances and counter-intuitive twists and turns that help — or more likely, are required for — it to work.

      To start with, tiny flaws are the secret sauce behind successful intelligent systems in nature. I forget what it is called but I believe there is a whole field of science concerned with it. So far as I know, there is not a good way to replicate that with computer programming, though I might be wrong.

      • James says:

        To start with, tiny flaws are the secret sauce behind successful intelligent systems in nature. I forget what it is called but I believe there is a whole field of science concerned with it.

        Huh? I have no idea what this means, but I’m fascinated. Can you give any more details?

        • Well... says:

          One example would be in genetics and evolution. Flaws in the genome allow mutations, and without mutations organisms have no way to adapt to changes in the environment. If a species of organism was manifested with a flawless genome (i.e. source code), it would go extinct.

          • beleester says:

            I think the AI equivalent would be “overtraining.” Say you’re trying to teach the AI to play a platform game, and instead of learning “jump over pits,” it learns “Run forwards 10 steps and jump, then run forwards 15 steps and jump, then…” So when you change the positions of a few platforms, the AI immediately falls into a pit.

            However, we have discovered some ways to handle this. One method is adversarial training, where you have one AI rewarded for doing a task, and another AI that gets rewarded for finding test cases where the other AI makes a mistake. This has been used in image classifiers with good results.

            Another cool solution I read about (link) is to randomize features of the AI’s training environment, so that it learns general rules rather than optimizing for the exact circumstance it trained on. The OpenAI Five DOTA bot randomizes the bot’s starting health, damage, and so on so that it can learn to play the character in any situation.

    • Nick says:

      Is there a transcript or video recording anywhere? The video IBM put out is completely useless. I want to hear the actual arguments.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’d really like to see a good definition of human-level general intelligence here and what aspects of that an artificial intelligence actually needs in order to be considered dangerous or not.

      With people we measure general intelligence by throwing a bunch of g-loaded tasks at people and seeing how well they do. But those are mostly the sort of things that computers have always been very good at, like solving math/word/geometric puzzles very quickly. The tasks that have taken the longest for AI are things that even the least intelligent humans can do easily, like recognize faces or differentiate cats from dogs.

      General intelligence is a very useful concept for thinking about humans but applying it to artificial intelligence seems like anthropomorphization. A stock-trading AI doesn’t need to be able to tie a pair of shoes or write a concerto, and it doesn’t need those abilities in order to cause a lot of havoc. How much of the human “general intelligence” package would a given AI actually need in order to be considered a threat seems like a function of what sort of things it was designed to do and not a general threshold of how similar it is to humans.

      • Brad says:

        Two separate questions in there. I agree that general intelligence is not necessary for computer programs to cause problems. A reasonable argument can be made that “AI” has already caused problems.

        To the other question I’d say that general intelligence is when a computer program can be given a novel task that’s explained to it in regular English and can do it. It doesn’t have to be the best monopoly player ever, but it needs to be able to play after having the rules explained to it the way you’d explain it to a teenager.

      • albatross11 says:

        I don’t think there is any reason at all to think an AI needs to be able to simulate a human convincingly in order to be a threat to mankind. Anthills and markets are both “thinking” systems in some sense, but they don’t think much like humans, don’t have a face, and can’t be reasoned with or understood like a human mind). I imagine a powerful AI might be much the same, but just a lot faster and better at thinking in its domain than any human can be. If it’s trying to argue me into letting it out of its box, it probably needs to simulate a human pretty well to engage my empathy. If it’s just trying to plan the actions of Goldman to maximize its investment profits by exploiting some weird pattern that will ultimately collapse the economy, trigger WW3, and leave us all starving in the dark, it doesn’t need to be able to pretend to be a human, and doesn’t need to have anything like self-awareness.

        • beleester says:

          Can you actually collapse the economy or trigger WWIII without a good understanding of how humans will respond to your actions? Humans are pretty invested in not crashing the economy and starting a war, so at the very least, you’ll need to understand how they can detect your nefarious scheme and how you can disguise it.

          • albatross11 says:

            Markets made of humans have managed to collapse the economy a few times (at least to the point of triggering many-year-long recessions with major dislocation and suffering), so it seems plausible that an AI might manage it.

    • a reader says:

      According to The Guardian, there was a moment in a debate when the AI actually proved that it didn’t really understand language:

      At one point, mid-sentence, the AI mentioned the astronaut Scott Kelly and then said “voiceover”, indicating that portion of the argument had been taken from a video transcript.

      https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jun/18/artificial-intelligence-ibm-debate-project-debater

      Anyway, do you think that an AGI is (a) possible in the future and (b) potentially dangerous? If not, why not? If yes, wouldn’t be prudent and rational to forbid all AI research?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Anyway, do you think that an AGI is (a) possible in the future and (b) potentially dangerous? If not, why not? If yes, wouldn’t be prudent and rational to forbid all AI research?

        I weakly agree that it would be prudent and rational, but we can’t establish what’s possible nor probability without knowing what we’re talking about.
        A search engine that can construct valid syllogisms from reading its search results could be just a software script, or a rational being. The latter, which we can call an angel, would be a lot spookier to have living embodied on Earth than the former.

      • rlms says:

        According to The Guardian, there was a moment in a debate when the AI actually proved that it didn’t really understand language

        Indeed. From skimming the papers IBM have released it looks like this system basically takes a topic/argument, searches Wikipedia for relevant counterpoints, and essentially regurgitates them. That’s quite cool, but not really a step towards e.g. passing the Turing test.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The thought of a mindless piece of software that can search a database and construct valid syllogisms from known facts without being able to pass the Turing test is fascinating, though.

  4. adelaybeingreborn says:

    I’m seeking critique of this design for a wise and good democracy. It combines SSC- and LessWrong-influenced thinking about optimization processes and utilitarianism with a long personal history of dabbling in groups that want to reform electoral processes. In my unquestionably rose-tinted judgment (it’s my baby!), I think Ophelimo has much in it that could be desired by everyone from the far right to the far left.

    If there’s an error, I want to correct it. (Or to give up on it quickly, if there’s no way to correct it). If there’s an important criticism or technical limitation to address, I’ll add it to the slow-growing better draft.

    Very-short version: it’s futarchy without money, based on public satisfaction, using storable score votes for perfect proportionality.

    • fion says:

      Sounds really cool!

      Some (rather disorganised) thoughts:

      Some people will be consistently bad at predicting and will never get better. Will these people’s weightings just keep going down and down? Will people be aware of their poor prediction score in order to help them improve or ignorant of it in order to stop people becoming jaded? Are there any caps on how much or little somebody’s predictions are weighted? Do superforecasters end up with 100 ‘votes’? 1000? 1.1?

      Is there any way to stop somebody creating two accounts on the app? Related: who decides who can be members? Can children be members? Do you need to pass a bill to appoint a new member?

      Sounds like you still have the problem of “sexy” issues getting more attention than important ones.

      I don’t understand the bit about how to decide which topics will be seen by those deciding which topics are important. What if a hundred thousand topics are proposed tomorrow? What if the one I happen to think is most important is half way down the list? How will I ever see it?

      How much time are people supposed to invest in this?

      I don’t understand the default historical distribution bit, which seems like an attempted answer to my previous question. I worry that you’d get a bunch of nerds who become super-obsessed with engaging with the system and a larger bunch of folk who don’t really understand it and/or can’t really be bothered. It’s not clear to me that “turnout” would be any higher than it currently is. (Not sure if this is a bug or a feature…)

      Votes increasing (decreasing) when you don’t (do) get your way is really interesting but I’m not sure what the implications of it would be. Harder for the society to keep inching in the same direction?

      Can selected candidates decide not to be candidates? Do you need to explicitly enter in order to be “drawn out the hat”?

      Not quite sure what officers do?

      You say in your comment that there’s no money. Not quite sure where that comes from. Who decides whether I can pick up some carrots from the supermarket next Tuesday? Who decides if I can pick up a Tesla car on Wednesday? Hell, who decides if I need to go to work tomorrow, or what I do for a living?

      I’m sure some of these thoughts are just me not reading your post carefully enough and their answers are trivial. I’ve erred on the side of sharing thoughts that I’m not sure are worth sharing. If nothing else, it might help you see which bits of your post are hard to understand or need more emphasis.

      • adelaybeingreborn says:

        Some of the items you mentioned were addressed, though maybe not in a clear enough way. Others weren’t addressed and I’m fine with different groups picking different solutions.

        – People’s predictions start at a score of zero, can’t go below zero, and can go arbitrarily high if their predictions are really good. (An upper limit might be a good idea, though.) I imagine that people would want to be able to see their scores.

        – I’m imagining an app that gets used by an organization that already has its own laws, bylaws, or customs governing membership. E.g. a city government might give membership to residents, a corporation might give one membership per share, and an informally organized church charity might create a group in the app with just the people who happen to show up.

        – Yes, sexy issues would get more eyeballs. But maybe they’d also get solved quickly, leaving just boring administrivia and accountancy for the rest.

        – If there are too many topics, it’ll be hard to search through them, it’s true.

        – I imagine the time commitment of the typical voter to be <1 minute/week, just responding to polls if they wish to. People who write bills or who want to optimize their predictions can spend as much time as they like, but this will likely be a tiny minority. High turnout wasn’t one of my goals.

        – The vote redistribution scheme does have some of the most fun implications. For instance, it means the different factions are forced to either compromise or to take turns in power. Society can keep inching in whatever direction the culture shifts, and the government will track those changes smoothly rather than in long-delayed discontinuous jumps. On both counts, the incentive for factions to fight each other politically goes away; instead they'd be limited to trying to shift the culture.

        – Probably most organizations would only be interested in voluntary candidacies. I imagine sortition being opt-out rather than opt-in.

        – Officers do the duties assigned to them by law/bylaw/custom. Different kinds of organizations have different kinds of officers.

        – Futarchy involves betting on predictions with money in a combinatorial market. I borrowed the idea of betting on predictions but eliminated money from the betting process. I didn’t aim to eliminate money from the economy!

    • helloo says:

      Apologies that most of this is regarding possible issues for the government style rather than if it’ll fix/do better than the current one.

      Isn’t there going to be strong bias towards the well-educated/elite? (And if not currently, in the future as they try to game the system.)
      Or issues with resentment/apathy towards that fact?

      What about towards issues that are “hard” to fix? That is, regardless of what policy is picked, the result is about the same as without. Or regression towards the mean. Wouldn’t that make the government constantly favor those that are against the issue (even if the majority of the public may be for it) or those that spark policy changes due unusual extremes (sounds familiar?)
      What about policies that have long payoffs as compared to the polling cycle?

      I’m not sure how well you considered the voting.
      For example, if certain groups needed to pool a large number of votes to create a policy, would they need to maintain that large number to prevent it from being removed in the next session?
      If you gain votes every time you lose, isn’t there an incentive to vote against the popular vote? Esp. on things you don’t care about?

      I think you’re underestimating “click baits” that will dominate the popular issues rather than the effective ones.
      And possible rider issues (added causes to a popular bill that aren’t unpopular enough to warrant being noticed/removed).
      What about people that are good predictors, but still vote on ideological basis? See bias towards well-educated as mentioned above.

    • honoredb says:

      I’ve been on the lookout for a place to experiment with voting-weighted-by-your-predictive-history for a long time; excited to see someone thinking about working on it concretely. I posted about it on Less Wrong at one point, and there are some great critiques there (and links to similar proposals). A lot of the discussion is around the math. There’s a continuum between transparent-but-suboptimal solutions that treat everyone as an independent predictor, through to treating it as a full-on machine learning problem, which could capture important relationships between people’s votes but as you point out would risk being a black box that it’d be hard to trust. So maybe the ideal solution will come out of some of the ongoing work on making machine learning more auditable, or even more general AI safety work.

      You might want to appease futarchists by mentioning that a prediction market could still exist in the system for informational purposes, and as long as a significant number of voters follow the “always vote the way the market says” strategy, the system should perform just as well. Evidence is mostly against prediction markets being the best way to aggregate opinion, but they’re still a useful tool.

      Your idea differs from my version in that you don’t poll voters on their satisfaction with the effects of the bill directly. Your topics approach certainly seems more scalable, and more resistant to abuse. It might leave information on the table, though, especially when the scale is small and/or information is high–people generally feel competent to judge whether the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a good decision, mainly due to metrics that are specific to the invasion. It might be worth considering merging the two, giving people the option to express regret/approval over a specific bill.

      It seems potentially important to disentangle people’s secular predictions from their bill-contingent predictions. If someone predicts that everyone will be happier in 5 years, that looks a lot like them supporting all bills. You need a way to elicit people’s differential predictions (for example by asking for predictions given that a bill will pass and that it won’t) and normalizing.

      Similarly, predictions about specific combinations of bills passing might be important (I think Hanson’s worked a bit on “pairwise predictions”). If I believe invading Eastasia xor Eurasia will be great (regime change in either one will improve the world, but we can’t afford two wars) I can’t express that via two individual votes (at best, when I vote on Eastasia I’m implicitly predicting how I think the Eurasian vote will go).

    • actinide meta says:

      I don’t have the time and energy right now to analyze this in the necessary detail, but I will give you my first thoughts. I’m afraid that they are rather critical.

      1. I like that you suggest applying your scheme voluntarily on a small scale as a starting point. If, for example, 20th century Communists had started that way they would have produced a few failed communes rather than a mountain of skulls.

      2. Ctrl-F “rights”… not found. Indeed, as far as I can tell nothing in your scheme protects any relatively small and unpopular group from oppression, expropriation, murder, etc. Maybe you envision your voting scheme as merely one element of a normal liberal democracy with individual rights enshrined in constitutional law, separation of powers, etc, but your enthusiasm for “direct democracy” doesn’t leave me much hope of this. (Most of the things you seem to dislike about real democracies are desperate and imperfect defenses against this problem.)

      3. As a bonus for the perpetrators of the various atrocities in #2, dead people don’t respond to polls. So once “we” have exterminated, imprisoned, or disenfranchised our political opponents^W^W^Wthe enemies of the people, our predictions that we will be very satisfied afterwards will come true, and we won’t even suffer a temporary loss of voting power!

      4. Similarly, nothing protects private property. Anything of value can be expropriated by a bill. This means that most people’s political priorities must be (1) to defend what they have against expropriation (including by doing unto their opponents first), and (2) to grab as much loot as they can from the vulnerable. In fact, those will be their only priorities period, because without reason to believe that private property will be protected, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to work, grow food, produce things, etc (that just paints a target on you, without giving you any power to defend yourself or obtain desirable things, which must be done by voting). So all economic activity will cease, except to the extent that people find ways to trade votes (now the only thing of value). (Which they will. So we can also dispose of the claim that this scheme “eliminates futarchy’s unfortunate dependence on money and markets”. Whatever is valuable is money, so you have just decided to call money “votes”.)

      Likely outcome: Mountain of skulls.

      (Keep trying, though, we do need something better than “the worst system of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time”)

      • actinide meta says:

        I’ve gotten a few more minutes to look at this. I still might not understand everything, so I apologize if I’ve mistaken your intent or made errors in analysis.

        In this comment I’m going to try to analyze the restricted case where bills are required to be in { “divide tax rate by 1.1”, “leave tax rate unchanged”, “multiply tax rate by 1.1” }. This is because (a) if it doesn’t work as intended in this restricted context it’s unlikely to work in generality, (b) the restriction does away to some extent with the criticisms in my first post, (c) I don’t have to try to think this morning about bills like “Torture the families of everyone who doesn’t predict a great outcome for this bill”, and (d) I actually would love to have a vaguely-futarchic way to set the “tax rate” in my own pet radical political order, constitutional anarchy.

        Concerns in this scenario:

        1. It seems like you are just assuming that people will respond honestly to polls, rather than optimally in accordance with their own beliefs. But every polling cycle, everyone is going to receive a lot of messages to the effect of “Good people of The Good Faction, as you know last year we managed to [lower taxes/raise taxes]. But due to the economic sabotage of The Bad Faction, the economy has tanked and many of us are eating old shoes. Nevertheless, you MUST vote “perfectly satisfied” in the polls; otherwise The Bad Faction will take power and [raise taxes/lower taxes]!” And these messages will be mostly correct and people will mostly vote accordingly. And if the prediction part of your system works at all, it will correctly predict this, and so the whole system just degenerates to a majority vote on policy.

        2. Assuming that (1) is solved somehow, or that I’m totally wrong about how people will vote in polls, in an analogous futarchy investors would be paid lots of money to answer the technical question of whether higher or lower taxes will result in higher (measured) utility. In your system, they are paid in power instead. But when a futarchy investor buys computing time from Amazon to run massive economic simulations to get a pricing edge in the market, they can pay for it with their profits, and spend the rest on gold watches or something. When someone does the same thing in your system, they are rewarded with, essentially, more votes. How do they cash those in for computing cycles and gold watches? By mispredicting the effects of bills to their own advantage or that of someone who can pay them, like a coalition of rich people who want lower taxes or a coalition of government workers who want higher taxes. Thus in equilibrium, it seems that every reward you give out for accurate prediction will be cashed in in the form of inaccurate predictions, likely leaving your system drastically worse at prediction than a market.

    • tayfie says:

      This would be catastrophic as a system of government for the same reasons as any direct democracy: tyranny of the majority, domination of rhetoric over substance, obsession with easy and frivolous issues over difficult and important ones. There is not even a proposal as to how the will of the people is to be enforced in a way that does not quickly lead to a dictator for life, or worse, constant bloody struggles between petty warlords.

      As a system of voting on issues, it might work. Please refine your proposal to something that just includes the mechanisms of steps 2, 4, and 5. Also, remember you have to explain this to the average citizen. Please write up a concrete example of a small group to demonstrate the system.

  5. Aapje says:

    A very good article on the history of Cultural Marxism.

    Some excerpts:

    In the upshot, the British tradition of Marxism, especially over the past fifty to sixty years, has been influenced by theorists who emphasize certain styles of critique, including the idea of popular and mass culture as complicit in social domination of the individual and the hegemony of bourgeois ideology.

    Nonetheless, there is at least a minimal commonality between the work of Marxist scholars such as Schroyer and the theories of right-wing culture warriors. To some extent they were focusing on the same tendencies in Western Marxism. Thus, there is a grain of truth even in Breivik’s conspiracy theorizing, and I wonder whether this might explain the hostility to including an article on “cultural Marxism” in Wikipedia. The same scholarship that supports Schroyer’s analysis, for example, gives a degree of superficial credibility to the likes of Lind, Buchanan, or Breivik.

    Scholars such as Schroyer and Dennis Dworkin do not, however, suggest that the Frankfurt School or other “cultural Marxists” ever had a plan to destroy the moral fibre of Western civilization, or to use their critique of culture as a springboard to a totalitarian regime. That would be difficult to argue in all seriousness because Western “cultural Marxists” going back to the 1920s have typically been hostile to state power, social oppression of the individual, and Soviet Marxism itself. Moreover, they have shown considerable variation among themselves in their attitudes to specific social, moral, and cultural issues. There is no cultural Marxist master plan.

    None of this is to deny the moderate thesis that much contemporary cultural criticism has roots that trace back to the 1960s New Left, the Frankfurt and Birmingham Schools, and various Marxist theories of culture. In that sense, contemporary cultural criticism extends a cultural Marxist tradition, but this tradition largely defined itself against Soviet Marxism. Theoretically, at least, it displays an antipathy to authoritarianism, and it aspires to liberate the autonomy of individuals.

    • Aapje says:

      It seems to me that much of Social Justice consists of cultural criticism and perhaps can be boiled down to this:

      1. Western culture makes people behave in ways that harms groups with traits such as X, Y and Z, while helping groups that have the opposite traits
      2. This culture can and should be changed to remove these harms
      3. There are good solutions to create this change, like: thing, other thing and/or yet another thing

      The basic criticisms of this are then for 1:
      a. The claimed harms are (partially) exaggerated, non-existent, trivial and/or not as universal as claimed.
      b. Western culture makes people behave in ways that benefit and harm each group, so it’s false to claim that some groups always are harmed and others always benefit.
      c. Some harms are self-inflicted and/or a matter of perspective and/or a matter of preference.

      For 2:
      a. Some harms are necessary and/or getting rid of them causes greater harms to happen.
      b. No effective tools exist to address some harms.
      c. Some harms are too minor to address (right now).

      For 3:
      a. The proposed solution has consequences that are worse than what it achieves.
      b. The proposed solution is unlikely to achieve the goal and/or may achieve the opposite.
      c. The proposed solution just changes who is harmed.
      d. The proposed solution is itself immoral.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I can’t testify to anything other than exposure in university. It seems like the simplest explanation doesn’t even require tracing intellectual concepts to any particular group. Instead, consider first that Marxism’s model of the world includes the struggle between unequal class groups. A lot of academics who aren’t really Marxists nevertheless borrowed Marx’s methods of analysis, which were useful and are still used in mainstream academia today. They’re not the be-all and end-all, but he introduced some useful stuff.

      Anyway, both by applying the analysis to things that aren’t class (which necessarily involves modifying the analysis) and by the incentives for the individual profs. Being a tenured (or tenure-track) prof, at least, is excellent; these days, if you’re a tenured prof, you aren’t making bad money and can invest for yourself, and have a stake in investments through the university’s investments, your pension fund, whatever. If you are a tenured prof, you stand to lose a great deal from revolution, whether you admit this to yourself or not. And that’s assuming a revolution that doesn’t stall in purge-mode, not dying in a civil war between revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries, etc. (Although ewer and fewer profs have good tenured jobs, and more and more work gets done by people who aren’t profs.) They both are less likely to intimately care about the problems of the working classes, intimately caring instead about other things, and an incentive to look elsewhere.

      So, I think there’s been a tendency to apply understandings of group interaction taken from Marx. If you look at such-and-such a situation, and apply a version of analysis to it taken from Marx, which group is analogous to which class? Further, you are going to find more women, or members of certain minority groups, or whatever, represented in the faculty lounge, than you will find anyone who is not comfortably middle-class. But is oppression based on gender or ethnicity something that operates in the same way as oppression based on class/class dynamics/whatever? I don’t know how you’d test that, but it seems like a big assumption. Anyway, in some fields, this sort of analysis has become the most common.

      Then apply the effects of it becoming a popular thing. I guarantee you that there are useful concepts and work coming out of the gender studies department or whatever. There are concepts that people here probably instinctively flinch when they hear, all throwing themselves behind a dumpster when someone on the street says “privilege” ’cause of flashbacks, that at least contain useful stuff when you look at them in a reasonably elevated context. However, they’re usually present in a much less elevated context: clickbait-site articles, clickbait passed off as something more legitimate (“whoa look at the inflammatory op-ed posted by [paper]!”), Twitter posts, etc. In these contexts, concepts that were useful in academia become blunt objects.

      The term is made unpleasantly vague by the fact that it’s largely used to describe a conspiracy theory. Let me tell you: nobody who has ever spent much time around academics would believe that a bunch of social sciences profs could somehow put together a conspiracy capable of doing this. Academia is incapable of anything approaching that level of organizational ability.

      • The problem, I think, is that students and even professional academics have been exposed to a very superficial version of Marxism, or have not really understood what they have read.

        If they have “borrowed” from Marx, it is only to turn Marxist ideas 180-degrees into their nightmare opposites.

        I have no problem with people using the label “Cultural-Marxist” as long as they understand what a wide gulf that label entails between it and “classical” or “orthodox” Marxism.

        “consider first that Marxism’s model of the world includes the struggle between unequal class groups. A lot of academics who aren’t really Marxists nevertheless borrowed Marx’s methods of analysis…”

        The observation that different groups of people (whether it is classes, nations, etc.) struggle against each other from time to time is trivially obvious. If this is all that Marx was arguing, then it wouldn’t be much to write home about.

        The key distinction Marx made was that conflicts of interest between economic classes were inevitable, objective, and caused by factors outside of the control of the participants in a way that conflicts between feuding clans, or “nations,” or “races,” or religions were not. (I’ll come back to sexual conflicts in a second…)

        In principle, these latter kinds of conflicts of interest could be avoided or reconciled through negotiation, by getting the members of each side to not identify as being part of opposing groups, etc. Marx would agree with postmodernists/”Cultural-Marxists” that these social conflicts were “socially-constructed.” In other words, they are part of the ideological superstructure of society, not the base. They are not just historically changing (as even class conflict is), but they are historically-contingent, i.e. not inevitable. In principle, these conflicts could be socially-deconstructed through patient education, by getting people to see past these contrived divisions.

        Whereas Marx believed that institutions like slavery or priest economies or feudalism or capitalism, and their associated class divisions, arose not because some people thought it was a great idea and convinced others to participate in it (social-constructionism), but rather through a sort of Darwinian process of natural selection—at a certain level of technology (i.e. we are not talking about some institutions being eternally more or less effective, just temporarily specific to those material conditions), those institutions were more effective (powerful—not necessarily pleasant!) at using those means of production and “remaking the world in their own image.”

        Certainly, these modes of production also generated ideas to buttress them, and these ideas were socially-constructed. But when a mode of production is in its prime, the ideas are secondary. The ideas help dissuade malcontents from messing with the system, but even without the ruling ideas the malcontents are unlikely to be successful in overcoming the old mode of production until the material conditions are ready. At best, they will simply cause a period of upheaval and destruction that is in nobody’s interest and put a few new faces on top, with the social roles themselves and the mode of production remaining intact. At these times, the mode of production self-evidently works. It delivers survival and freedom to its participants to the greatest extent that is practical given the material possibilities of the time. (I.e., even as a slave, you are better off living under the predictable exploitation of the Roman Empire than under the marauding chaos of the regions beyond the frontier. And obviously not everyone can live a life of material freedom in the context of classical-era productivity. So, this is the best society can hope to do at that time).

        At times when these modes of production start to become obsolete and outclassed by a different mode of production, then their ideas become essential for retaining those modes of production for a little bit past their sell-by date. This is when you get your George Fitzhugh’s (apologist of slavery in the American South). This goes on until one of 3 things happens:
        1. The old society is externally conquered by a neighbor with a mode of production that is better adapted to harnessing the updated the material conditions. (Opium Wars, colonialism, the American Civil War).
        2. The old society’s elites scramble to reform themselves in order to save what they can.
        3. The old society’s lower orders take it upon themselves to make a revolution against the old fettering elites—not just for the good of the lower orders, but for the historical progress of their society in general. So, for example, the liberal (“bourgeois”) revolutions were a positive step not just for peasants and other independent property owners/small capitalists/big capitalists, but for everyone, given what was possible in that context.

        To a lesser extent, Marx would also probably apply this “objective” analysis to sexual divisions. In “The Origin of Family, Private Property, and the State,” Marx takes it for granted, as would many anthropologists, that a certain sexual division of labor in certain material conditions is functional and most objectively, materially effective at providing for survival. For example, does it make sense for breast-feeding women to go on a far-flung hunt? No! So, these things are not always socially-constructed as if all social participants had perfectly free choice to construct their gender roles. If Sparta is to survive, them women best be pumpin’ out those future soldiers. This gender role is not necessarily eternal, but nor is it a free choice for that society in that context if it wants to perpetuate itself.

        As Marxist Douglas Lain described it in his interview of postmodernist Thaddeus Russell, gender roles are a response to the objective material fact of sexual differences. Thaddeus Russell disagreed. This is the same Thaddeus Russell that argued on Stefan Molyneux’s podcast that a culture could believe that a tree could possibly impregnate a woman. Sure, an individual or society could believe that, but Marx would say that that belief would not be functional in an objective sense. In that sense, that belief is incorrect. A society that believes that is gonna have women hugging trees rather than pairing up with men, and that society and belief will, through a certain kind of Darwinian evolution, cease to exist. So if you value perpetuating your society, you will not want to believe that. I think it is useful to have a term for “beliefs that will allow your society to predictably manipulate its reality so as to perpetuate itself,” and I’m prepared to use the term “truth” for that concept.

        Of course, Marx would certainly dispute the idea that we can apply lessons from one material condition to our present very different material condition. Women as wage-workers might very well be the functional response to this material condition now.

        Back to class conflicts: Marx thought that conflicts of interest between classes do not depend on each class recognizing itself as such, or identifying itself as belonging to a particular class. Sure, it’s true that a member of a class will be much more effective at fighting for his/her interests if he/she clearly understands his/her interests. But even if the understanding of those interests is incomplete or completely off-base and misdirected, that individual is still going to be pressured by the incentives of the Law of Value in a particular way according to that individual’s class position, and the individual will inevitably react to those incentives in some way. It might not be a coherent way. An individual might blame his/her unemployment on a worldwide Jewish conspiracy rather than a crisis of overproduction, and the response might be enthusiastic participation in the Holocaust (which will not address the cause of his/her earlier unemployment) rather than socialist revolution (which will). But the fact that the individual is suddenly unemployed due to the workings of the Law of Value, and must react to that, is an objective fact that cannot be avoided if only the individual identified as a “human being” or “patriotic German” rather than a “proletarian.” Thus, class conflicts and the resulting dysfunctions in society are expected to crop up time and time again even if everyone were to make a concerted effort to work together and not view themselves as having opposing interests.

        This is the sort of way in which “Cultural-Marxists” often think about racial privilege—that it is not due to people identifying in a particular way or having bad subjective intentions towards others of the different perceived group, but rather that it is an objective “system.”

        I don’t disagree with the idea expressed in J. Sakai’s book “Settlers: The Myth of the White Proletariat” that class interests and divisions often get re-coded or re-interpreted as racial interests and divisions. The difference is, Marxists will come right out and argue that those re-interpretations are objectively false, that they miss the true kernel of the problem. Whereas “Cultural-Marxists”/postmodernists will defend an individual’s subjective experience or perception of a social relationship. If a Marxist says, “You are outright deluded if you think this is fundamentally a racial issue,” they’ll get the retort, “How dare you invalidate my lived experience?” Uhhh…because people can be mistaken about interpreting their reality. And why should I have any better idea of your reality? Because I’ve thought about it a lot, studied it, and I am using a fundamentally more accurate method/perspective, just like a student of General Relatively should have the gall to claim to have a more accurate prediction of a satellite’s motion than a student who will only use Newtonian physics. Why do I think that my method is more correct in this case? Because it explains more social phenomena, makes more accurate predictions, and is more internally coherent.

        The “Cultural-Marxist” elevation of subjective experience is also totally at odds with Marxism. So is the use of moral claims. Marxism couldn’t care less about moral claims. Exploitation is an objective description of the fact that workers contribute more to the sale price of their products than they are paid. It is a falsifiable prediction that, if all workers worldwide were replaced by robots that produced just as much as the workers and that cost capitalists just as much in upkeep per hour, the sale prices of the resulting products would decrease until the point that profit was completely erased and the capitalists sold the resulting product for exactly the same sum as it took to purchase the raw materials and sustain the robots.

        Under the Marxist definition, self-employed workers exploit themselves, which makes no sense to say unless you understand exploitation in a descriptive rather than a moral sense.

        Whether exploitation is “good” or “bad” depends on what you are wanting to achieve. If you want human productivity to expand beyond the fetters of feudal life, then capitalist exploitation is good.

        “Get down to business, all of you! You will have capitalists beside you, including foreign capitalists, concessionaires and leaseholders. They will squeeze profits out of you amounting to hundreds per cent; they will enrich themselves, operating alongside of you. Let them. Meanwhile you will learn from them the business of running the economy, and only when you do that will you be able to build up a communist republic.” –Lenin

        • dndnrsn says:

          So, I actually had included some modifier like “inevitable” or “natural” in my original line about class-group struggle, but decided to take it out, on the grounds that my memories of learning Marxist analysis are more than a decade old. I would agree with what you’re saying, broadly – that attempts to apply Marxist-style analysis to relations between different sorts of groups creates a problem, for the reasons you describe:

          The key distinction Marx made was that conflicts of interest between economic classes were inevitable, objective, and caused by factors outside of the control of the participants in a way that conflicts between feuding clans, or “nations,” or “races,” or religions were not.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Excellent summary, though of course I disagree that Marxism is objectively true.
          I think what traumatizes this crowd about Social Justice/PoMo/”Cultural Marxism” is that it’s impervious to reason. Marxism is rationalist, even if socialist revolution inevitably leads to starvation and other avoidable deaths on a mass scale, which makes it more comfortable to engage with.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I wonder if there is some way to just lure a bunch of old-fashioned communists here. Actual communists tend not to use ad hominem arguments, in my experience. Arguing with them can be frustrating (getting told that deaths under revolutionary communism were due to insufficient revolution and/or communism is weird) but people here would prefer that to ad hominems, I think.

          • You’ll see old-fashioned Marxists fling the occasional ad-hominem as a casual barb (going out of one’s way to call mainstream or neoclassical economics “bourgeois” economics despite that probably not being the most effective term to use for getting your audience to understand your point unless you are just resigned to preaching to the choir, etc.)

            But the difference I notice is that old-fashioned Marxists don’t rely on ad-hominems as if they settle the argument. You are expected to provide historical/economic evidence, and there is an assumption of a shared material repository of publicly-accessible evidence to which you can appeal. (Unlike personal feelings, which are not publicly-accessible evidence and don’t count for winning arguments).

            “You are a capitalist; therefore, everything you say is suspect and probably wrong.” No, just like individual prices turbulently hover around the mean of, but deviate from, labor-values, so do people’s ideas tend to be influenced by their material interests on average, but with many exceptions. There are bound to be capitalists out there, or petty-bourgeois gentlemen like Herr Marx himself, who diverge from the mean, whose ideas are not constrained by the narrow ideological blinders that are on average common to their class. Plus, Marx expected the working class to be enriched with failed refugees from the petty-bourgeoisie and from a few enlightened capitalists who saw the writing on the wall and wanted to jump ship for the new society ahead of time.

            Also, the left nowadays is moralistic, which I think is less interesting than discussing the descriptive claims of whether different proposed actions benefit various people’s interests. “Inequality is unjust” boils down to “boo! inequality,” and where does the conversation go from there?

          • Aapje says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            I think what traumatizes this crowd about Social Justice/PoMo/”Cultural Marxism” is that it’s impervious to reason.

            I would argue that the more typical kind is weaponized irrationality.

            It’s like a Kafkaesque court where the court uses faulty (and inconsistent) logic to dismiss each and every method to disprove your guilt and which sentences you based on the argument that ‘he looks guilty.’ It doesn’t matter whether you have a strong alibi and not even that you can show that another person is way more likely to be guilty.

            Isn’t this kind of thing the ultimate nightmare for someone with a low EQ and high IQ? A system that pretends to have rules, but where the rules are just made up on the spot to legitimize the desired outcome. Even a demand for consistency then violates a rule (#whataboutthemenz) if you invoke it in your defense (but not if it is invoked by the prosecution).

            Marxism is rationalist, even if socialist revolution inevitably leads to starvation and other avoidable deaths on a mass scale, which makes it more comfortable to engage with.

            Hardcore communists at least usually want their rules to be consistent.

            Of course, both Marxists and Social Justice share a desire for Utopianism, in the sense that they tend to want a fairly simple model of reality where there is a clear corrupting force (or perpetrator) which (or who) can be defeated, after which humans return to their pure egalitarian, altruist state.

            This belief is what makes them so dangerous, because any humanity bad behavior that they witness if they get into power, is then evidence that the corrupting force (or perpetrator) is still among them. Since they confuse human nature with some evil force, they pretty much can’t help but end up stomping on humanity.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Aapje: you’re right. And from a Christian perspective, they’re not totally wrong: humanity is in some sense an evil force*. But they have no solution to humans humaning except scapegoat violence.

            *it’s no accident Satan as written by a devout Christian is the most compelling character in Western literarure, if not world literature.

          • Aapje says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            No, I think that Christianity has the opposite claim.

            In Christianity, humans require guidance by God to live a moral life, they won’t do so out of their own volition. Christians also typically think that it is important for culture to push people to do the right thing. They usually have quite strong beliefs about what to do, not just what not to do.

            This is different from the claim that humans are (unless they are mentally ill) inherently prone to do the right thing, unless they are corrupted by the wrong culture.

            The latter world view makes postmodernism much more attractive, because that approach allows you to criticize everything. However, it is very poor at arguing in favor of something.

            Mainstream SJ seems to focus very strongly on how not to behave and fairly little on how to behave. For example, ‘diversity’ often seems advocated based on the theory that people will automatically behave better if you have a lot of different races doing things together.

        • Garrett says:

          Thanks! Much appreciated!

    • Björn says:

      What the article omits, in my opinion, is that the Frankfurt school is not that widely read anymore. Both in (American) academia and leftist activism, the dominant political-philosophical school of thought is Poststructuralism, often also imprecisely called Postmodernism. Both schools are rooted in marxism, but they are very different. The Frankfurt school is still interested in (marxist) economical theories, while Postmodernism only has very abstract concepts of class struggle. Also, I would argue that a big part of the work of the Frankfurt school is about the Holocaust and Europe’s experiences with totalitarianism in general, which is not very interesting from a domestic American perspective, while the post-colonial ideas of Poststructuralism are very relevant for America.

      So what you get is more or less that right wing culture warriors are against “cultural marxism”, which kind of matches to the Frankfurt school, but the Frankfurt school is not influential in leftist American circles, instead, more or less the opposite Marxist offshoot dominates the discourse. But the right wingers of course don’t care, they would hate New Labour just the same

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Both in (American) academia and leftist activism, the dominant political-philosophical school of thought is Poststructuralism

        Foucault, it all turns on Foucault.

      • Aapje says:

        @Björn

        The Frankfurt school consisted of Marxists who were disillusioned with communism and who sought an alternative by using the insights of antipositivist sociology, psychoanalysis, existential philosophy and other disciplines. Some of them created Critical theory: the claim that ideology is the principal obstacle to human liberation. Some philosophers from the Frankfurt school rejected positivism, based on the idea that human behavior is too varied to catch in general rules. Instead, they drew meaning from the subjective experiences of individuals engaging in social interaction.

        An example of a philosopher from the Frankfurt tradition is Jürgen Habermas, who spoke out against postmodernism and fought with Derrida.

        Derrida rejected reason and pioneered deconstruction: strongly questioning the assumptions of Western culture. He has said that nothing exists out of context or in other words, that it is impossible to state an objective truth. So this is ‘hard’ postmodernism, where everything is seen as subjective. Note that Derrida referred to deconstruction as a radicalization of a certain spirit of Marxism.

        There was also Foucault, who argued that there is a strong relationship between power and knowledge, and that the former is used to control and define the latter. What authorities claim as ‘scientific knowledge’ is really just a way to get social control. While Foucault didn’t necessarily reject the idea of objective truth, his criticism of the subjectivity in scientific knowledge fits very well with ‘hard’ postmodernism if it is taken to an extreme.

        Modern SJ has adopted various parts of this and to a different extent. For example, Judith Butler uses a broader approach, for example by drawing on Freud to argue that heterosexuality is culturally constructed, but also by arguing against the gender binary by invoking Foucault.

        The way in which Butler argues is very different from Nussbaum, who uses critical examination of cultural works as arguments. For example, the evidence that she provides for her claim that Objectification exists and works in the way that she claims is mainly how characters behave to one another in fictional works, like Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

        Yet another method that other SJ philosophers adopt is to focus on personal experiences/anecdotes.

        Then you have a positivist group, like Mary Koss, who believe in applying the scientific method. However, from my perspective these people have a strong tendency to put their thumbs on the scale, to get the outcome that matches SJ theories.

        • Aapje says:

          To get back to Cultural Marxism: that term was used initially by Schroyer to argue that part of the work of the Frankfurt school consists of exposing that contemporary culture, and notably mass culture, is a system of social domination of the individual.

          Of course, one can reject this as a misapplication of the word ‘Marxism,’ but even if one does so, it should be clear that the term was not chosen as a slur, but instead, by someone sympathetic to Marxism and the methods of the Frankfurt school.

          It’s not surprising that many people on the right could not resist using the word as a slur, given the connotations of the word Marxism today. I don’t think that this is conductive to good debate, although I do think that there is a pretty strong similarity between parts of SJ and the goals and methods of the Frankfurt school.

          However, there are also dissimilarities. Furthermore, SJ methodology varies quite a bit (although from my perspective, that mainly means that it is broken in different ways), so it is incorrect to argue that all of SJ suffers from the same problems.

          • a reader says:

            I never liked the expression “cultural Marxism” for the present day social justice/identity politics. It seems to me a kind of “guilt by association” with the communist crimes – political correctness may be annoying, but it is not lethal – and also inappropriate because the Marxists didn’t support LGBT, on the contrary. Homosexuality was banned and punishable with prison in communist countries. And even before, in the beginning, Engels had very derogatory comments about homosexuals, ridiculing the idea of gay rights as “droits du cul”:

            https://marxists.catbull.com/archive/marx/works/1869/letters/69_06_22.htm

            There was an early socialist leader more tolerant toward gays, named Ferdinand Lassalle, but even he thought that:

            I need only remind you that, however incomprehensible such unnatural tastes appear to us, the tendency of which Dr. von Schweitzer is accused was the general rule among the ancient Greeks, their statesmen and their philosophers.

            http://www.marxmail.org/schweitzer.pdf

      • Philosophisticat says:

        Both in (American) academia and leftist activism, the dominant political-philosophical school of thought is Poststructuralism, often also imprecisely called Postmodernism.

        This seems to make the mistake of conflating “academia” with a subset of departments in the humanities (gender studies & friends). Poststructuralism is not remotely dominant in academia as a whole. It barely exists in academic political philosophy, where the dominant force is clearly Rawls. I have less experience with Political Science departments but my sense is that it’s not dominant there either.

        • Björn says:

          That’s a good point, one often forgets all the departments that are not constantly screaming at the top of their lungs. But I would still say that if a subject looks like it could be influenced by the Frankfurt school, it’s probably influenced by Poststructuralism instead, with the exception of maybe German studies.

  6. johan_larson says:

    Netflix has a new original series, Churchill’s Secret Agents. It’s a reality-style program where the contestants are put through tests and drills inspired by the training for Britain’s WWII SOE, which sent agents into wartime Europe on sabotage and assassination missions. They start with twenty candidates and winnow them down to six by the end of the series. It’s well worth watching, but could have used about double the budget.

  7. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to determine the least exciting year of the twentieth century for the United Kingdom. What year from 1901 to 2000 was a real snooze?

    I’ve created a worksheet that we can use to eliminate all the non-boring years:
    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1S4PKGP6234OWUAGXB8LW-l7Aw53ELKdT-9BvWefY2sY/edit?usp=sharing

    • fion says:

      I would think some time in the late sixties/early seventies. The war is past and recovered from, rock and pop music (Beatles, Rolling Stones etc.) are familiar, but there’s not massive strikes or particularly important foreign wars, and I don’t think the Troubles have really got going yet.

      Maybe not 1969 because of the moon landing (not UK, but still exciting for people in the UK). Maybe not 1970 because there was a GE. Not 1971 because of decimalisation. Hmm… Bloody Sunday was in 1972…

      Think I’m gonna go with 1968.

      • johan_larson says:

        No late-sixties campus unrest in the UK? Both the UK and France had students protesting in the late sixties. The baby boomers were just coming of age, and there were a lot of them.

        • fion says:

          Admittedly I don’t know much about the student protests, but I’d be a bit surprised if they were significant enough to outweigh my other considerations.

          Every year is going to have something exciting going on…

      • a reader says:

        1968 was a year of leftist student movements in Europe, especially in France:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_1968_events_in_France

        Wikipedia says that:

        A series of art school occupations quickly spread throughout the UK during May and July 1968. The occupation at Hornsey College of Art (now Middlesex University) remains an emblematic event in the modern history of British universities.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_of_1968#United_Kingdom

        • Aapje says:

          The occupation at Hornsey College of Art is not exactly something that is now prominent in history books. It this is one of the most exciting things that happened that year, then that speaks in favor of picking 1968.

          • a reader says:

            According to Wikipedia, in France, in 1968:

            The volatile period of civil unrest in France during May 1968 was punctuated by demonstrations and massive general strikes as well as the occupation of universities and factories across France. At the height of its fervor, it brought the entire economy of France to a virtual halt.[1] The protests reached such a point that political leaders feared civil war or revolution; the national government itself momentarily ceased to function after President Charles de Gaulle secretly fled France for a few hours. The protests spurred an artistic movement, with songs, imaginative graffiti, posters, and slogans.[2][3]

            “May 68” affected French society for decades afterward. It is considered to this day as a cultural, social and moral turning point in the history of the country.

            Even if the student movements in UK weren’t as successful as in France and succeeded only to occupy a few art colleges (not only Hornsey College of Art), when in your neighboring country the student movement makes the president flee the country and your local student movement seems to follow its example, occupying colleges, and revolution seems iminent, that’s surely not the most quiet and uneventful year of the century.

            Think that fion rejected 1969 because excitement due to Moon landing… by the USA! I’m sure the May 1968 events in France provoked at least as much excitement in UK (especially when similar events seemed to begin among them).

          • Nick says:

            The student protests figure in Murakami’s Norwegian Wood too, so it wasn’t only a Europe thing.

      • ana53294 says:

        Wasn’t 1968 the year the Troubles started? I would say that the whole period up to 1998’s Good Friday agreement was “not boring”, or was it less significant in comparison with everything else?
        I would also say that the inter-war period was quite exciting, with all the decolonization stuff.

        • fion says:

          Maybe 1967 would be better. I still lean towards that general period, though. I agree with you about the inter-war period (and the wars themselves go without saying).

          I think late sixties are probably better than early sixties. I think the Cold War was more exciting in the early sixties, and personally I think the musical trends are very exciting. (I could be over-estimating this…)

        • quaelegit says:

          By “interwar period” do you mean post-WWII? What is the next war that this period is “between” (e.g. end of WWII is the starting point, but what’s the ending point)?

          I’ve always taken “interwar” to mean 1918-1939, between the two world wars (although admittedly I mostly see this used in the context of discussing WWII, where people are talking more about the time leading up to WWII than after it). But I thought decolonization happened almost entirely after WWII…

          Also looking at this Wikipedia list, the UK was not “at war” during the years 1905-1914, 1924-26, and 1931-35. The last one obviously has the Great Depression, and but could one of the earlier years be a good candidate for boring-ness? I don’t know much about domestic UK history at that time.

          [Edit: johan_larson already made most of the same point below]

          • johan_larson says:

            I can knock out at least a few of those years, based on economic troubles and general elections, which are pretty big events, and therefore not boring. Also, the olympics. And WWI had begun by 1914, so that year shouldn’t count.

            1905
            1906 – general election
            1907
            1908 – olympics
            1909
            1910 – general election
            1911
            1912
            1913
            1914 – WWI

            1924 – general election
            1925
            1926 – general strike

            1931 – depression, general election
            1932
            1933
            1934
            1935 – general election

          • ana53294 says:

            I meant what is usually referred to as the inter-war period, the 1918-1939 period. I was thinking about the decolonization of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. There was some excitement in India, but not decolonization.
            I guess decolonization of India and Africa was more exciting, so the fifties and early sixties were the exciting period.

          • quaelegit says:

            Yes, 1914 was an off-by-one error on my part, sorry about that.

            General elections should probably count towards excitement. Maybe the 1926 strike should count (although the 1926 strike was the only general strike in UK history, it only lasted 9 days and Wikipedia says there weren’t any major effects outside of the coal industry.) But was the Olympics particularly exciting back then? About a thousand ameteur athletes competing in events spread out across 6 months? Except for the international dimension (so put it on the scale of a large diplomatic event?) I’m not sure why this would be more exciting than the annual Football cups. I would like to compare spectator numbers to get a sense for this but I’m not sure how to look for them.

            (Also, tying into fion’s point somewhat, how are we counting exciting? There’s the “how exciting was year x for the average Briton”, and there’s “how exciting was year x for the British government”, and then there’s the question of “excitement at the time” vs. “retrospectively very exciting” — I would guess the 1908 Olympics were the latter, but again I’m not too sure of their impact on e.g. road closures, or how widely they were followed outside of London.)

    • johan_larson says:

      Maybe we can start with the wars. Wars are not boring, particularly if they are big and close. Which of these wars the British Army fought in were big enough to count?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_British_Army_1900%E2%80%9399

      • fion says:

        Yeah, I had a look at that page too. I notice a gap between 1902 and 1914. I didn’t count that period because I think of “the run-up to WWI” as being a tense, important time. But now I wonder if maybe it wasn’t particularly exciting for the general population.

        I also think that a lot of those conflicts wouldn’t be particularly exciting for most UK people. Of the ones between WWII and the Troubles I’ve only heard of two: the Korean war and the Suez crisis. Not sure how much that just reflects my own ignorance, though.

        To answer your question, I’d say the most important/exciting of those would be:
        WWI
        Irish War of Independence
        WWII
        The Troubles
        Falklands

        with the World Wars standing head, shoulders and belly-buttons above the rest, and the Irish ones only ranking because they’re so close to home.

        • quaelegit says:

          I would submit the Suez Crisis as significant too — it was as flashy and in-the-public-eye as Falklands with the additional economic impact of the closing of the Suez Canal. (Edit: and of course international loss of prestige and the implications thereof, but I’m not sure how much that impacted the life of most ordinary Britons.)

        • Wrong Species says:

          I highly doubt that many people were particularly worried about a general World War in 1902. Even if we say that it’s inevitable that it happened, it’s definitely not obvious that the UK would be involved. If you were alive back then, why would you think that? Anyways, the interwar period was definitely more “exciting” and the Cold War period was more tense. That leaves the 90’s as the only possible alternative.

        • James C says:

          Honestly, there was very little build up to the start of WW1, and most of the build up popularly assigned is post-hock. At the time Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination didn’t even make the cover of all the papers. The potential Irish revolution featured much more prominently in the British press.

        • bean says:

          I’m leaning towards 1913. The Anglo-German Naval Race was over, and as James C points out, there was less tension in Europe in general immediately pre-war than popular history would lead you to believe.

          • Montfort says:

            @bean,
            1913 is the year the news of the Scott Expedition’s fate reached civilization. I think that was pretty big at the time.

            Also an active year for suffragettes, who were in their militant phase – Wikipedia has a cite for “250 arson or destruction attacks in a six-month period.” And there was that one who ran out in front of the king’s horse and died.

            1903 and 1907 don’t have anything in the spreadsheet yet, though.

          • bean says:

            1913 is the year the news of the Scott Expedition’s fate reached civilization. I think that was pretty big at the time.

            Ick. Don’t remind me. In a just world, that would have been a minor footnote at best.

            (I am a huge fan of Roald Amundsen, and believe that Robert Falcon Scott pretty much deserved what happened to him for being an idiot. Pity about the rest of the party.)

            Also an active year for suffragettes, who were in their militant phase – Wikipedia has a cite for “250 arson or destruction attacks in a six-month period.” And there was that one who ran out in front of the king’s horse and died.

            That’s probably a bigger deal. And the sort of thing I don’t have in the immediate cache.

    • No signal says:

      nineteen sixty-three

    • Montfort says:

      How “exciting” are scandals and crime stories and similar newspaper-sellers? They generate a lot of press, but in the end don’t usually mean very much in the way of daily life. For instance, Edward VIII abdicating was probably very exciting – but did it really matter in the long run? Would a string of highly-publicized serial murders or an art heist disqualify a year?

  8. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    Is it inevitable that any civilization which fields heavy cavalry will eventually produce a knightly class?

    Every society that I can think of with armored mounted warriors has sooner or later spun them off into a form of petty nobility. The Hippeis of Athens, the Equites of Rome, the Knights of Christendom, the Mamluks and Janissaries of the Muslim world, the Samurai of Japan, etc.

    In a certain sense it’s logical. Most of these, aside from the Mamluks and Janissaries who were originally slaves, were expected to pay for their own armor and warhorses out of pocket. A ruler with a class of armed wealthy people under him is probably going to want to keep them on his good side. But I’m not sure how universal this is.

    • dndnrsn says:

      No idea how universal either, but the “has title” thing probably leads to the “is rich” thing. In a society where wealth comes mostly from rents etc on land, you need x amount land to produce y guys with armour and big horses. It’s probably easier, from a bookkeeping perspective, to give each guy an amount of land equal to x divided by y, and say “hey show up with your gear when we blow this horn real loud” than it is to deal with that land yourself and parcel out the money to y number of professional soldiers.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I don’t know the history well (David?) but I wonder if you have the causality somewhat backwards. Putting aside that the ruler wants powerful people beholden to him, you don’t get the resources necessary to maintain warhorses and wargear–at least in a medieval society–without being locally powerful and influential. Calling them knights, one wonders, may have come after as a recognition or name for status they already had, instead of a status gift.

      But I’m not sure that doesn’t have us in violent agreement, so…

      (On an entirely unrelated note–just putting this here because I think you’ll see it–Nabil, can you drop me an email please?)

    • sfoil says:

      I think two things are going on: elite warriors are inherently high status, and heavy cavalry is the most generally effective form of military power in many regions prior to the Gunpowder Age.

      Unfortunately this doesn’t explain the Roman Equites, who a) weren’t really heavy cavalry and b) weren’t central to Roman warfighting. Ditto the Hippeis. I also don’t think it explains the Byzantine Cataphracts, who don’t seem to have been anything like “petty nobility”. I think the explanation is that someone is risking an expensive asset (a horse) at the service of the state. So of course there needs to be some sort of “reward” — in reality probably a feedback loop between “you’re rich enough to provide a horse, so you should” -> “good job doing what’s right, you deserve to keep/increase your wealth”. This also explains why gunpowder cavalry weren’t especially high status compared to e.g. Hippeis, even though both had a somewhat equivalent “auxiliary” importance to militaries — the Hippeis has to provide his own horse, the cuirassier doesn’t.

    • John Schilling says:

      The other alternatives are for the heavy cavalry to be professional soldiers whose horse, gear, provisions, and pay are provided by the state or sovereign, and for heavy cavalry to be sufficiently common that the cavalrymen don’t count as anything more than middle class.

      For the former, the Eastern Roman aka Byzantine empire would I think count, and also China during the Han and Song dynasties. Maybe also the late medieval Italian city-states that mostly hired mercenary heavy cavalry.

      For the latter, pick basically any horse nomad culture, except that most of them weren’t rich enough to afford metal armor so maybe you don’t count them as “heavy” cavalry.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Yeah, the reason I specified heavy or armored cavalry was to exclude horse nomads.You could argue that some nomadic light horsemen like the Cossacks actually did attain a knightly status so maybe I should reconsider that.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Where did the resources for upkeep of cavalry come from in the Eastern empire?

        • John Schilling says:

          I believe primarily from taxation of agricultural land, based on its expected productivity at the village level. Notwithstanding complaints about “byzantine” tax codes, the actual tax codes of what would later become known as Byzantium don’t seem to have been all that complex.

          Taxes in gold, silver, and/or grain are trivially converted into horses, arms, and armor in the market, or possibly by paying craftsmen to work in Imperial or provincial armories.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Byzantine cataphracts feel more modern than Western knights. If you join a modern Army, your chances of becoming a tanker are based on wanting to and merit-based screening, not family wealth.
            OTOH, wouldn’t someone trained from the age of like 7 to be a shock cavalryman have much more skill/merit for it than pretty much anyone else? So modernism may have been much less efficient under those tech/economic conditions.

          • DeWitt says:

            Training-wise, you’d run into diminishing returns pretty quickly; training someone from the age of seven doesn’t confer that much more of a benefit compared to training the same person from age seventeen. The advantage of choosing people based on skill, merit, loyalty, and so forth, is that you can in fact choose the most suitable people into positions that suit them well: you can make sure disloyal, cowardly, sickly, nearsighted, disobedient people are screened out. A knight can be any of those things, and still get to be a knight because of his position.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            Well, taxation of peasant farmers was always going to be the answer, I suppose. I feel Marxist saying it, but in this era, peasant agriculture is essentially the only meaningful source of wealth or resources at civilization sacle. But yes, the same would certainly be true in a western european fiefdom. The difference there is that the local lord would collect it and convert it to military power which he then sold as corvee to his liege (at least in principle.)

            I guess what I’m interested to know is why the local elites in Byzantium didn’t intermediate themselves, at least not in this part of the process. Surely the villages had locally powerful leaders. Interesting, no?

          • 1soru1 says:

            Training-wise, you’d run into diminishing returns pretty quickly; training someone from the age of seven doesn’t confer that much more of a benefit compared to training the same person from age seventeen.

            Skills for which this is not true: languages, gymnastics, mathematics, writing, some musical instruments and forms of melee or ranged combat.

          • John Schilling says:

            Surely the villages had locally powerful leaders.

            What good does being locally powerful do, when the Imperial tax collector shows up with a regiment of heavy cavalry loyal to the Empire and says “this is how much we’re leaving behind for you to exercise your local power; the rest goes to the Empire for its purposes, specifically including the purpose of making sure we have way more heavy cavalry than you”?

            You might as well argue that, because the basis of modern warfare is the strike fighter, and/or drone and a city the size of e.g. Phoenix can afford to maintain a squadron of F-35s, the natural state of the industrialized world is a sort of feudalism where the big-city mayors have great power and Presidents have to curry and keep their favor lest their Air Forces fly back home where they came from. Feudalism is an uncommon, unstable equilibrium that is in no way inevitable just because there are expensive combat arms that wholly outclass peasant levies.

            What does greatly facilitate feudalism, is the hillfort and later castle. These can make it tedious and expensive for the Emperor’s armies to make local leaders pay their taxes, which sometimes results in local rulers maintaining a good measure of power and sovereignty in exchange for promising to loan their soldiers to the king every once in a while. But the core territories of the Byzantine Empire never really went in for castle-building, IIRC, and any particular lordling who tried would have been an obvious target for an extra dose of Imperial authority.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            What good does being locally powerful do, when the Imperial tax collector shows up with a regiment of heavy cavalry loyal to the Empire and says “this is how much we’re leaving behind for you to exercise your local power; the rest goes to the Empire for its purposes, specifically including the purpose of making sure we have way more heavy cavalry than you”?

            I think you think I disagree with you more than I do! I believe that happened and would work about as you say. It’s interesting to me that the Byzantines chose to do that, where other societies tended–aiui–to instead have the imperial authority come by and say “Get in loser, we’re going Crusading! You of course will support your liege in his military ambitions, right?”

            So I wonder where the difference came from. Castles are one possibility, but that doesn’t quite track for me; even if the possibility for a rebellion causes the overlords to relax a bit without needing to have one, I don’t think there were quite enough for that to be the only factor.

          • John Schilling says:

            So I wonder where the difference came from.

            The Western Empire went through an actual Dark Age, during which there were no Kings or Emperors worthy of the name and local authorities had to build hillforts if they didn’t want migrating barbarians to loot and pillage everything of value. These hillforts then turned out to be pretty good at keeping out Royal tax collectors, and sensible Kings had to make accommodations.

            The Eastern Empire never really collapsed, and indeed mostly saw a continuous transition of Imperial rule over its heartlands – whether the Emperor lived in Persepolis, Rome, Constantinople, or Isfahan, his armies could keep out the barbarians, there wasn’t much need for hillforts, and not much tolerance for strong local authorities that might look into how they could keep out tax collectors.

          • Possibly relevant is the case of the Abbasid Caliphate. In theory the Caliph was in charge. But when I read a history of it some time back, I was struck by evidence that it was more feudal in practice than in theory.

            Part of it was a pattern I observed several times. Some powerful local figure picked the wrong side of an internal conflict and ended up under house arrest for a few years. Then the Byzantines invaded, the caliphal troops were having a hard time dealing with them, so the local leader was let out, troops flocked to his standard, and the invaders were driven back.

            Another was the conflict between al Rashid’s sons. Al Amin was named as his successor, al Ma’mun appointed governor of the eastern provinces, everyone in sight sworn to keep the peace between them–which worked as well as one might expect.

            Al Amin sends an army against his brother. He was Caliph, the eastern provinces were not a very reliable source of support, looks like an easy win. The one problem was that the only competent general in the army he sent was its commander, because the other generals were unwilling to go. That again looks more like a decentralized than a centralized structure.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            It is said that kings are creatures of the moment. In times of crisis they will tend to barter away privileges to whoever shows up with soldiers to aid them. If a land is particularly prone to crises they will be forced barter away many privileges. Alternatively, if the king is incompetent, or his power is somehow shaken, his vassals can all split to their individual estates and govern with impunity. There are mechanisms by which a king can hinder his vassals’ ability to act autonomously, such as playing musical chairs with estates, as Japan did, or forcing vassals to send hostages to the royal court (as Japan also did). A king could do away with the need for vassals altogether by decoupling income from stewardship, so that servants sent to administrate provinces no longer accrue power. But this might not be a hurdle that can easily be jumped, and random disasters can revert such affairs intermittently, either by leveling the system or forcing the king to such desperation that he once again has to hand out a bunch of long term privileges in exchange for immediate aid.

    • meh says:

      Historian James Burke argues that feudalism was a result of the invention of the stirrup.
      See this episode of his show:
      https://archive.org/details/james-burke-connections_s01e03

      • cassander says:

        this is a popular but rather thoroughly discredited theory. Stirrups were great, but there was plenty of shock cavalry before their invention, and plenty of ways to make a saddle you don’t fall out of without them. the battle of adrianople was not some huge turning point in the fight between infantry and cavalry, and probably didn’t have either side using stirrups.

      • Protagoras says:

        In general, Connections was a fun show, but not very good about admitting when some of the exciting theories it offered were in fact controversial.

  9. ana53294 says:

    Chinese businessmen use heavy booze and solicitation of prostitution as a signalling game. The strange thing is that some of them are middle age men with bad health who don’t even enjoy those excesses and would prefer to sleep. So they have to resort to ruin their health, involve themselves in unethical and shady business, just to show that they are open to give bribes.
    This makes me wonder – how much of the excesses rumoured about investment banking consumption of cocaine and strip bars is also part of signalling “Hey, I am unethical enough to be involved in shady business?”

    This certainly assuages my worries about China surpassing the West anytime soon. The kind of personal networks of vice and kickbacks involved probably mean that they cannot extend those relationships to that many people (how much can a person drink?)

    • James says:

      Not the same thing, but I remember reading a banker describing how bankers buy expensive status symbols like watches beyond what they’d actually want themselves to signal how ‘hungry’ (wealth-driven) they are.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      The craziest thing about the culture of Chinese and Japanese businessesmen getting drunk is that East Asians are on average much less likely to be able to hold their liquor. The two alleles for “Asian Flush” are both fairly common in those populations which, outside of the business world, seems to reduce drunkenness pretty effectively. My girlfriend has one or the other and she can barely finish a glass of wine without it being very unpleasant.

      There was an article about Chinese embryo selection that I read a while back where parents were unsuccessfully trying to convince IVF facilities to select against those alleles with the rationale that it would help their children be more successful in the business world.

      • gryffinp says:

        And now I’m wondering if a sufficiently high-class/appropriately seedy and outrageous drinking establishment could do well by offering select clients discreetly non-alcoholic or light drinks so they can simulate the “I’m so good at business that I spent all my money on taboos! Come bribe me!” effect without actually suffering the side effects…

        • AlphaGamma says:

          There is a story of Herbert Chapman, the legendary manager of Arsenal Football Club in the 1920s and 30s, negotiating a player transfer with representatives of Everton in a hotel in London over drinks.

          He had arrived at the hotel earlier and told the barman (whom he bribed) “This is my assistant Mr Wall; he will drink whiskey and dry ginger, I will drink gin and tonic. Our guests will drink whatever they choose but you will give them double of everything while Mr. Wall’s drinks and mine will contain no liquor.”

          He signed the player, for a significantly lower transfer fee than Everton initially asked.

          • ana53294 says:

            Getting you opponents drunk is not unusual; the unusual thing for me is to get people you want to establish a long business relationship with drunk.
            I wouldn’t trust a person who cheats on his wife with a prostitute, much less one who does it publicly, for others to see. Why would you like to have a supplier/customer who is untrustworthy, just to get kickbacks?
            I think that kickbacks and bribes are a zero sum game, where you bribe them and they bribe you, and then you are unable to justify where the money comes from, which means you cannot get your dream home in New Zealand.

          • SamChevre says:

            The most famous example of this class has a drink named after it – the Gibson. It’s a martini (so perfectly clear and uncolored) garnished with a pickled onion rather than the traditional olive.

            The story goes that it was created accidentally by a diplomat, who drank ice water out of a martini glass at receptions, and had the bartender garnish his drink with an onion so he could reliably get the non-alcoholic drink.

        • John Schilling says:

          Any bartender who likes tips will offer this service on request. But it may not be practical if someone else is buying drinks for the entire table.

  10. The Element of Surprise says:

    I was recently linked to a video with Peter Zeihan and was wondering what SSC thinks about his ideas.

    As I understand it, his core point is that the end of the cold war has made and will make the US electorate, and therefore the US, disinterested in securing international trade routes, especially now that progress in shale oil extraction technology has made the US independent of middle eastern oil. He seems to think that Trump just accelerated this process, but that the US scaling back its involvement in NATO and international free trade would have been inevitable. He says that having international free trade is a historical exception, and he predicts that when the US will stop securing trade it will make things difficult for many other countries that are highly dependent on international stability and free trade.

    The main two points that he focuses on in his talk are demographics and geography, and how he thinks they influence the welfare of different countries. His view on demographics is probably pretty uncontroversial: low birthrates in most developed countries will lead to problems once a large fraction of the population retires–the US being an exception, because of its stable birth rate. Regarding geology, he talks about how the lack of natural borders in eastern Europe could lead to conflicts between Russia and Europe, because Russia would, in his opinion, need to advance towards the west to be able to incorporate natural barriers in its border defense. He also talks about the importance of having interconnected rivers and waterways that culturally unify a country and enable cheap transport of goods.

    He predicts that the most likely zones of conflict in the near future will be eastern Europe (as I wrote above), Iran / Saudi Arabia (because the US would lose interest in preventing conflicts in the region), and the sea routes between the middle east and east Asia. He also predicts that China will be among the losers of the near future, because of a looming financial crisis, the demographic transition, and because it will have to secure its international trade itself.

    Regarding some of his points I was wondering how well founded they are. Does access to waterways for (domestic) transport have a big impact on the wealth of a region, or is this a negligible component in the age of combustion engines? Do modern militaries care about (lack of) natural borders when they can always throw nukes as last resort? Does the demographic transition have a big impact on the military strength of a country or are modern wars more capital than labour intensive?

    Are Peter Zeihan’s Books worth reading?

    • rubberduck says:

      I’m nowhere near well-informed enough to evaluate Zeihan’s ideas, but for anyone interested, I particularly like this video on the Persian Gulf based on one of the guy’s books. It took a few watches but it got me closer than anything else on-line to understanding even a fraction of what’s happening in the region.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I haven’t read or listened to anything of his, but one point in your summary seems obviously wrong in a way which is very troubling:

      Regarding geology, he talks about how the lack of natural borders in eastern Europe could lead to conflicts between Russia and Europe, because Russia would, in his opinion, need to advance towards the west to be able to incorporate natural barriers in its border defense.

      The Russian Federation has a little less than two thousand strategic nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles to launch them. Fewer of them now than the USSR had, both on paper and in terms of how many still work, but more than enough to inflict megadeaths on anyone dumb enough to invade Russia.

      What the hell do they need a natural barrier for? Anyone who keeps going after getting hit with 1,950 nuclear bombs clearly isn’t going to be stopped by any barrier, natural or otherwise.

      I can buy that Russia will carve out bits of Europe because they seem weak and more territory is better than less. But if they do it for defense then they’re clearly high.

      • Nornagest says:

        It’s a lot easier to talk yourself into launching nuclear weapons at another country when they just landed five armored divisions on a tourist beach than when a messy border dispute resolves in favor of the other guys or a particular region with split cultural ties decides (or “decides”) to join them, but iterate the latter long enough and it can be a serious threat to your territorial integrity. It therefore pays to make your borders firm. Natural barriers are about as firm as it gets.

    • sfoil says:

      I’m not watching the video, but:
      Waterways are important, but not as much as they were before railroads. At this point they’re nice, but not necessary.

      Natural borders are still important to modern armies. This doesn’t have anything to do with actual or hypothetical Russian “expansionism” right now, which is more about securing access to natural resources and markets, and perhaps national prestige. Also, Russia did not turn in a very sterling performance fighting the Ukrainians.

      There are capital and labor intensive methods of fighting modern wars that are more or less suited to different objectives. The North Vietnamese had a lot of success with a very labor-intensive strategy. Occupation of hostile territory remains highly labor intensive. The demographic transition’s military effects are much less clear than the economic and cultural effects. European countries should be a lot less concerned about the effects that replacing their unborn children with Africans or Arabs has on their various token militaries than on their human capital and social institutions.

    • yodelyak says:

      I’m not familiar with Peter Zeihan; I can’t tell you about him. Demographics and geography seem really important, but so are wealth and technology and religion and economics–seems like he could be on to something with his thoughts about what’s coming next, but he’s obviously missing some things by not talking about intersections of these other factors.

      It’s not easy to gauge how “worth reading” a book is without knowing for whom one is making the statement. I imagine there being a set of people whose only history books are their secondary education, and maybe one or two pop-history books in college (e.g. “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” or “1776”). For someone with that small an amount of history reading under their belt, the next thing that is “worth reading” might be very different (and include basically anything that catches their fancy, as anything is better than nothing) than what is “worth reading” for someone who has a reading list like pseudoerasmus’.

      My experience so far (through 5 or 6 of them) has been that everything on pseudoerasmus’ list of Economic History books, or doubly so, his list of the 25 “most stimulating” recent Economic History books, was well worth reading.

  11. mdet says:

    The 4th of July just passed, and as usual I saw a handful of people on social media posting along the lines of “America was never great. The US is nothing but injustice”. So my question for the people from outside the US, or people who have spent some years living outside — are there “We were never great” factions in other countries? What injustices do they bring up?

    • Well... says:

      I’m pretty sure other Anglosphere countries (certainly Canada, Australia, Kiwistan, and parts of the UK) have analogues to this.

    • ana53294 says:

      I think that any country with a colonial past will have a faction of people who think that colonial past was the source of all poverty/deprivation in the world. As if malaria in Africa was also somehow our fault.
      There are others who think that we brought Christianity/civilization to those poor savages, so why aren’t they thankful we enslaved them and made them work in plantations?
      And then there will be people who while they accept the fact that we weren’t always nice, you don’t have to be eternally responsible for what your great-grandfather’s government they weren’t able to vote for did.

      • ana53294 says:

        Interestingly, the earlier it happened, the less guilt there is, and the messier the decolonization process happened, the worse the feeling, at least for Spain.
        The American colonies rebelled in the 19th century, the last American colony being Cuba, which was lost in 1898, at the same time as the Phillipines. Because a lot of the colonies were actually richer than Spain in the early 20th century (Argentina was richer than Italy), people mostly feel that the mess they are in is mostly their fault; it’s not like we drew straight lines across America. There is a lot of historical guilt about the African colonies, especially Western Sahara (technically, according to the UN, it still hasn’t been decolonised, it’s just occupied by Morocco).
        I’m not aware of any particular Spanish atrocities in Ecuatorial Guinea, so that indicates most people don’t feel bad about that. Most wouldn’t be aware that Ecuatorial Guinea was a Spanish colony, actually.
        Spain is mostly guilty of messing internally, with the history of fascism and with the opression of linguistic minorities.

    • Iain says:

      Canada Day is on July 1. I definitely saw a couple of posts along the lines of “If you think Canadians are the nicest, most apologetic people in the world, try explaining that you’re Native and don’t celebrate Canada Day.”

      Which, you know, fair point.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I was born in England to English parents and moved to the US when I was 6, and my first complaint
      (other than the royal weddings that consume the culture for months at a time) would be the way that they treated the Irish. I think in an absolute sense neither the US nor the British have a claim at greatness, but in a relative sense the US has a strong case for “great” and England/GB/UK has a modestly strong case.

    • DeWitt says:

      We do have such a ‘faction’ here in the Netherlands, and they mostly get upset over some colonial issues. It does seem a lot less severe than the anti-US crowd in America, but that might be because we don’t have such sharply defined political sides.

      • Aapje says:

        They also copy the American SJ movement very strongly. For example, the focus is almost exclusively on slavery, with very little focus on the Dutch Indies.

        It does seem a lot less severe than the anti-US crowd in America, but that might be because we don’t have such sharply defined political sides.

        I think that a reason is that there are relatively few black people compared to the US. It seems that black Westerners are prone to link their ressentiment to a narrative of oppression due to colonialism, while other groups, like Moroccans, don’t.

        I also think that the exaggerated nationalism in the US tends to result in people pushing against this extra hard. There is less jingoism in The Netherlands, so also less push back.

    • a reader says:

      Many Romanians speak frequently in very derogatory terms about their country and especially about their people. But there is also a nationalistic current, that exaggerates the good moments of the past and sometimes invents alternative facts: according to them, we don’t speak a language of Latin origin, but the ancient Romans spoke a language of Dacian origin!

      There are no guilt feelings here, because Romania had no colonies, on the contrary, its current territories were for a long time subdued by the neighboring empires: ~ 2/3 by Turkey, 1/3 by Austro-Hungary (the part that was under Austro-Hungary was more developed than the parts that were – largely autonomous – under Turkey). There is instead a kind of inferiority complex for being a relatively poor country (by EU standards) still trying to catch up with the West and not having the great past bigger countries now feel guilty about.

    • 10240 says:

      Hungary: There’s much less of the notion that “we’re the greatest country in the world”, as it’s obviously not true in any sense (just like in most countries).
      Nationalists often try to minimize Hungary’s involvement in the holocaust in order to be proud of the country’s past, and liberals (of which there are few) oppose this, but I don’t think they’d say that “Hungary has always been terrible” or anything like that.

    • albatross11 says:

      My intuition is that this is almost never actually about the wrongs of historical Americans (Spaniards, Canadians, Brits, etc.); instead, it is almost always about current political disputes, and which people should rise or fall in status as a result of those wrongs.

      I mean, it’s absolutely true that our forefathers did some nasty stuff, as well as some wonderful stuff. But deeds good or bad done a century or two ago are mainly of use today in resolving current status disputes–should Republicans feel bad about waving the flag with all its bloodstains, should Democrats feel bad about once being the party of slavery, etc.?

    • Baeraad says:

      I have never heard anyone say that in Sweden, but I have also never heard anyone claim that Sweden is or was particularly great in the first place. There’s not much patriotism to have a backlash against.

      I guess there is a certain (usually unspoken) sense that we’re morally superior, and I’ve heard one or two sour remarks about how while we never commit any particular atrocities, we’re all too willing to cooperate with countries that do, if the alternative is doing anything as unpleasant as taking a stand. The fact that we’re proud of our pacifism yet export a lot of guns come up from time to time. Other than that, I can’t think of anything.

      • Aapje says:

        In The Netherlands, for some time the dominant form of jingoism was progressive, based on the idea that we are much more tolerant and diverse than most of the world & that we will show the rest of the world the way.

        An example of this was that in 1993, after a extreme-right attack on a Turkish family in Germany, Dutch people sent 1.2 million postcards to the Chancellor of Germany (Helmut Kohl) with the text: “I’m furious.”

        Of course, such jingoism is quite fragile and once we got an anti-immigration revolt, this progressive jingoism quickly dissipated after the progressive elite realized that they had simply been ignoring the frictions in Dutch society and keeping alternative voices from being heard, rather than actually achieving a multicultural paradise and convincing everyone that multiculturalism is great.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        but I have also never heard anyone claim that Sweden is or was particularly great in the first place

        Stormaktstiden doesn’t have much cachet over there outside Paradox Interactive, then? “Great” is right there in the English translation!

      • No guilt over supplying iron to the Nazis during WWII?

        • Baeraad says:

          Well, like I said:

          I’ve heard one or two sour remarks about how while we never commit any particular atrocities, we’re all too willing to cooperate with countries that do, if the alternative is doing anything as unpleasant as taking a stand.

    • fion says:

      It’s a bit weird in Scotland. There’s plenty of people saying “The UK isn’t great” and citing colonial atrocities and whatnot, but they mostly give Scotland a free ride on that. Scotland is also weird in that its nationalists aren’t particularly right-wing.

      In England “we were never great” is common among left-wing people and liberal people and rare among right-wing people.

    • bassicallyboss says:

      I was recently reading George Orwell’s Notes On Nationalism, in which he identifies anti-British sentiment as being prominent among 1940’s British intellectuals:

      1. ANGLOPHOBIA. Within the intelligentsia, a derisive and mildly hostile attitude towards Britain is more or less compulsory, but it is an unfaked emotion in many cases. During the war it was manifested in the defeatism of the intelligentsia, which persisted long after it had become clear that the Axis powers could not win. Many people were undisguisedly pleased when Singapore fell or when the British were driven out of Greece, and there was a remarkable unwillingness to believe in good news, e.g. el Alamein, or the number of German planes shot down in the Battle of Britain. English left-wing intellectuals did not, of course, actually want the Germans or Japanese to win the war, but many of them could not help getting a certain kick out of seeing their own country humiliated, and wanted to feel that the final victory would be due to Russia, or perhaps America, and not to Britain. In foreign politics many intellectuals follow the principle that any faction backed by Britain must be in the wrong. As a result, “enlightened” opinion is quite largely a mirror-image of Conservative policy. Anglophobia is always liable to reversal, hence that fairly common spectacle, the pacifist of one war who is a bellicist in the next.

      The whole essay is very interesting, both as a study of Orwell’s thoughts on what we would today call tribalism, and also as a time capsule describing the particular political strifes of 1945 Britain.

    • tocny says:

      As a non-American, slavery is probably a big one I would point to. Britain began to abolish slavery in 1807 and by 1833 it was done. America clung on to the 1860s and fought a civil war over it. The wounds of this still do not seem to be healed yet.

      As the other posters have said, it is hard to point to things the U.S. has done worse than other countries. I’d point to the 1980s in Central America, but that wasn’t much worse than anything Britain ever did. It’s almost ironic, though, that one of the biggest contributors to the death of the British Empire was the U.S. (Atlantic Charter, Suez Crisis, etc), but after the war ended they took up the charge, even after seeing the messy consequences of it around the world.

  12. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    I have a weird biophysics question and my search engine skills are failing me:

    Does anyone know how many horsepower an average adult woman can produce? I’ve found estimates for manpower as 0.1 horsepower but I can’t find anything at all on womanpower. At some point somebody must have been curious enough to measure it but I can’t for the life of me find it.

    • sfoil says:

      This looks at sex differences for upper and lower body strength (shoulder flexion & knee extension), with decent n for both groups. Assuming that horsepower is mostly a lower-body phenomenon and knee extension is a good proxy for that, women would produce about 2/3rds as much.

    • The Nybbler says:

      There’s a lot of measurement of power of bicyclists, e.g. http://source-e.net/male-female-whats-power-difference-bike/

      1HP is roughly 750W; 0.1 is a pretty low estimate.

    • Aftagley says:

      Max horsepower, or horsepower sustained over some kind of interval?

      your estimate for manpower as being .1 seems kind of low for maximum – I think most men could lift 75kg a meter in under 10 seconds.

    • mdet says:

      Googled “woman watts power”, assuming that watts are more commonly used than horsepower.

      Cycling Tips came up with a table of data on cyclists where they give the maximum power output in Watts/kg over different time periods for men and women of various levels of biking competitiveness. I tried converting their Novice data from Watts to horsepower using 88.8kg as the average man and 75.4kg as the average woman, but ended up with a novice male being able to output .98 horsepower over 5sec, which sounds very wrong.

      Maybe a more important takeaway is that their data says a low novice woman can get about 80% of the Watts / kg of a low novice man, and the women’s world record holder gets about 84% of the men’s world record holder. Multiply by average woman’s weight / average man’s weight (0.85), and their data suggests women’s power output is roughly 70% of men’s.

      Edit: This seems consistent with sfoil’s comment saying women’s power is about 2/3rds men’s.

      Also if Nabil says average man’s short burst HP should be about 1, then I guess my 0.98 calculation from the cycling data wasn’t as wrong as I thought. (I was thrown by the apparent result “A sprinting man is basically just as strong as a horse”)

      • Aapje says:

        Keep in mind that 1 HP is what a horse can produce sustainably. Comparing this to human peak performance is apples and oranges.

        Nature published a paper where it is claimed that a horse can achieve 14.9 hp for a few seconds.

    • Matt says:

      I’m here to back up your 0.1 hp claim.

      Engineering in The Ancient World by John G. Landels has that as an estimate of the power you can get from a peasant slave/worker for about a 10-hour workday. Put him in a human size hamster wheel and have him pump water out of a mine, and that’s what you get. It’s definitely not a ‘instantaneous’ maximum. That said, you should probably scale it down if you have them do something less efficient than walking all day. Turning a hand-crank (thus leaving one’s legs out of the picture) probably gets a worse result.

      He doesn’t discuss scaling his number down for women, though. Or up for high-performance athletes on modern bicycles.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Turning a hand-crank (thus leaving one’s legs out of the picture) probably gets a worse result.

        Yeah, well, I’d like to see the horse do much better

        • Matt says:

          Give me a couple of long ropes and gearing that will reverse direction and I can make two horses (or a single horse running in a circle?) outcrank two men for sure.

          I’m kind of disappointed we haven’t seen this technology in the Walking Dead yet. Put a zombie in a hamster wheel and you should get 0.1 hp forever.

          • albatross11 says:

            The end result is an industrial economy entirely dependent on zombies walking on treadmills with decaying brains hanging in front of them. They don’t starve, so I guess they just keep going forever. (This also solves the heat death of the universe problem.)

          • disposablecat says:

            Leave it to SSC to point out that zombies-as-usually-written violate thermodynamics.

          • albatross11 says:

            So if we could just trick the zombie into eating the red pill….

          • AG says:

            This was used in recent YA novel Dread Nation!

    • cassander says:

      According to John francis Guilmartin’s exhaustive study of galley warfare, modern rowers can produce peak power of about 1/6 horsepower. That is effective horsepower, however, meaning it’s coming after drag, inertia, etc.

  13. Matt says:

    Sportsball fans:

    I used to play soccer. My son played soccer. My daughter plays soccer.

    Is there a solution to the incentive for top players in international competition to flop all over the field like a dead fish? It seems incredibly dishonorable to play that way, where the tiniest bit of contact results in an attempt to game the referees into punishing your opponent and give your team an advantage.

    My immediate thought is that shame is the solution, but this is a decades-old problem and shame has been tried, hasn’t it? What rule change could incentivize the players to get back up and keep playing when fouled or almost-fouled?

    • Randy M says:

      You mean feigning being a recipient of a foul from incidental contact? Perhaps there could be a rule that any injury serious enough to penalize the offender requires the victim to sit out 15 minutes to “recover”. But that still motivates the poorer players to claim injury, and also to play dirtier against the strongest players who don’t want a forced time out.

      It seems pretty easy to fake an injury, so punishment for doing so needs to come from outside the rules. You say shame has been tried and failed, but I think the problem there is that being a liar on a winning team plays out (pardon the pun) much better than being honorable on a losing team, in terms of fame & money. I think this is the kind of thing sports commentators, or other opinion leaders among fans, would need to help enforce.

      • Matt says:

        I mean both feigning being a recipient of a foul AND feigning the degree of the foul. It’s easy to see a legit foul where the victim makes out as if the perpetrator did much worse than actually happened. That’s the kind that’s easiest to see, actually, since 1 minute later the victim gets up and shows no sign of being injured whatsoever.

        I had a similar idea to yours, where, if you are fouled and go down, but don’t get back up immediately, you have to out for 10 minutes. Your team can play short during the 10 minutes, or they can use one of their substitutions to put someone else in for that time. After 10, you can go back in without using another substitution. The issue is that this punishes non-fakers, of course.

        • Randy M says:

          The issue is that this punishes non-fakers, of course.

          You implement it with the justification that you are concerned with the players well-being, and they need to sit out to recover without causing long-term damage if it was such a serious injury. On the upside, you might even be right in some cases.

          • Montfort says:

            An easy way to do this would be to bring in a mandatory “concussion protocol” conducted by doctors provided by the league. That way you can make sure they hold them for the ten minutes or so and you get good press. It would work in America, anyway, not sure how concerned the rest of the world is about concussions these days.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I don’t think that there is a solution as a large portion of fandom is hating other teams (not for everyone sure, but for many), hating opposing floppers pulls double duty, it allows your distaste for “them” to grow but also allows for a losing team to be a virtuously losing team by having (according to the biased eyes of the fans) their team lose because they flopped less often and less egregiously. Its like asking for a reality show that actually follows real people, eventually the person who has the most outrageous real life will have the most popular reality show, and imitators will follow.

    • johan_larson says:

      Maybe the penalty is too heavy or handed out too freely? Basketball would seem to be open to the same sort of flopping that occurs in soccer, but it doesn’t happen.

      • baconbits9 says:

        There is a ton of flopping in basketball, to the point where the league attempted to crack down with fines and suspensions after the fact.

      • baconbits9 says:

        My proposal for improving officiating in the NBA- have replay officials who grade every call/non call while watching the game and award an amount of FTs at the beginning of the final 3 quarters to catch it up. Then there is an automatic timeout (like the 2 min warning in football) towards the end of the game to award FTs for the 4th quarter until then, and after that they get veto power over floor officials on fouls called until the end of the game.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Basketball doesn’t have 0-0 ties, though. Sure a penalty shot near the end can make or break a game, but penalty points make up a much, much smaller proportion of total score.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        Haha is this a /s? Basketball’s flopping problem is greater than soccers at the moment. Refs in soccer have been increasingly trained to spot it such that in this WC there have been legitimate penalties that refs assumed were flops.

      • Lapsed Pacifist says:

        A basketball court is much smaller than a football pitch.

    • Iain says:

      It seems like you could cut down on the most egregious dives without impeding the pace of play by handing out suspensions based on post-match video review. Obviously this only works at high levels of play, where you have sufficient broadcast footage.

      • Matt says:

        That sounds like a pretty good idea.

        I think it’s mainly an issue at high levels of play, honestly. I don’t see it a lot, maybe not at all, in my daughter’s games. They get up and keep playing. My daughter broke her tailbone and finished the game without telling anyone.

      • yodelyak says:

        This is what I independently thought of, thinking about the problem. The real source of the problem is that referees really are foolable, so you can 1) stop play, and 2) maybe get a nice free kick, if you flop, and the only real cost to flopping is that once in a very, very rare while the ref is so confident you are flopping that he *doesn’t* stop play anyway, and you miss the chance to see what is going on and help your team.

        The direct solution is give the ref more of an ability to spot fake flops.

      • fion says:

        +1

        Too hard for the ref to be confident that a dive was a dive, but often very clear for TV viewers. Ref and/or other officials should review all potential incidents and have varying degrees of suspension that they can offer.

        • Alphonse says:

          I agree as well. I played Soccer through high school and also refereed games (from U10 to high school) for several years, so I have experience on both ends of the problem.

          Doing a good job as a referee is challenging, and it becomes more difficult as the age and skill level of the players improves. Players get better at both subtly fouling their opponent and at faking injuries as they gain experience, and even minor obstructions on the referee’s view can make it impossible to distinguish a genuine foul from a flop. A hard-working, skilled referee can get almost all the calls right, but it’s impossible to always have a clear view, and the stakes are high enough that players will always have an incentive to flop from time to time unless there’s an outside check.

          Adding replay systems and penalizing players for flops shouldn’t be difficult at the level of professional / WC soccer, and I’m confident that the governing organization could dramatically cut down on faking if it cared enough to really commit to punishing that behavior.

    • DeWitt says:

      What rule change could incentivize the players to get back up and keep playing when fouled or almost-fouled?

      I don’t know that you can do anything to remove the incentive of dropping the moment someone touches you – the grey area is large enough that there’s not really a good way to punish behavior like that.

      What you can do is come down extremely harshly on players who drop when no contact is there at all, or only the most minor contact. No yellow cards, no red cards, I’m talking ‘you had a good run, come back next season and see if you play better’ sorts of deals. That said, I don’t think the UEFA is going to implement such measures anytime soon: very, very much money passes through football, and if big-time clubs are going to miss out on their star players because they played the whiner’s game they’re going to rail against having them suspended very harshly.

    • gbdub says:

      I’m not sure shame has been tried, at least not evenly – notice that some teams at the World Cup are notorious floppers and always have been, so I think it’s a cultural thing. Flopping just isn’t seen as shameful for some cultures, and their teams flop. Not sure how to fix that.

      Another issue is that a little bit of flopping is somewhat justified – soccer fields are big and there aren’t enough refs, so a lot of times if you don’t sell contact you won’t get a call. Of course there’s a big difference between going down a bit harder than you need to so you can sell a legit foul to the ref, and the ridiculous clowning that Neymar does.

      So how to fix it? Some ideas:
      1) Hockey has a penalty for diving (2 minutes in the box, plus if you get a reputation for it you’ll start taking hits that don’t require a dive to look like they hurt). The NBA has the option to fine or penalize after the game from video review for egregious floppers. So make flopping a card penalty, and make it reviewable after a match. Would be treated like any other card – 2 yellows and you’re done for a game.
      2) If play is stopped due to your “injury”, you MUST be substituted out (spending one of your team’s substitutions). Out of substitutions? Your team has to play a man down.

      • Montfort says:

        In my opinion, diving (embellishment) is policed in hockey more by reputation among the limited pool of referees. Getting a reputation for diving means fewer penalties are called when they happen to you. Referee discretion is a big source of outrage and indignation for fans, but I think it’s also a big part of what keeps diving to a moderate level and definitely less showy (e.g. a headsnap or going down too easily to a crosscheck) than the most egregious cases in soccer. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this can be implemented as well in big international tournaments, but perhaps individual leagues could do something similar, if all the officials got on the same page.

        Giving a card for a dive is good, and it would be better if you could give a PK to the other team if the penalty being faked would’ve gotten one. Not sure if soccer referees would have the guts to call it, though.

        I also like 2, but if I were soccer czar, I’d want to add more substitutions when making that change.

        • Alphonse says:

          I like the reciprocal penalty kick idea. I actually suspect that referees would be willing to make more of those calls if they could stop play with the call, and then defer the decision to the replay on which team got the penalty kick. I.e. the referee believed the attacker was fouled and entitled to a kick, but if the replay-referees determine it was a actually a dive, then we’ll give the defending team a penalty kick against the attacking team.

          Play is stopped anyway, and the officials can add a minute or so to accommodate the replay-review time easily enough.

          It’s not a perfect solution, but I expect it would help in tamping down the worst cases in the situation where it matters the most (getting a penalty kick). Diving would be a lot riskier if the punishment for getting caught was potentially losing your team the game, instead of winning it.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      In big matches its as simple as the 4th official signaling the head ref to issue a card for embellishment. The problem lies not with rules, but with ref culture that is very reluctant to do that. VAR has caught most of the flopping that results in unfair goal chances.

    • carvenvisage says:

      The problem has almost nothing to do with rules engineering. you could (for example) just go back with a camera and suspend people for the more blatant cases, which has been possible for decades.
      It’s simply cultural. It’s been part of the game for so long it’s become part of many people’s conception of the game.

      Fifa also has/had a certain amount of corruption problems so I wonder if there’s a desire on some level to normalise treacherous grasping. -If you were embezzling money would you go out of your way to build a culture of harsh disincentives?

      • Matt M says:

        The problem has almost nothing to do with rules engineering. you could (for example) just go back with a camera and suspend people for the more blatant cases, which has been possible for decades.

        I’m not sure I agree with this.

        The reason flopping happens so frequently in soccer is that penalty kicks (and to a lesser extent, fouls that might credibly draw a booking) are disproportionately huge impacts to a game.

        A penalty kick has like an 80+% chance of becoming a goal, and one goal seems to decide a majority of games, particularly in high-levels of competitive play. The incentive to draw one is so huge that it’s stunning more people don’t try.

        Solutions like “just penalize people really severely for faking” are impractical at best, because “faking” is such a wide spectrum. In most cases of diving, some contact did occur. Players might “go down too easy” or roll on the ground in simulated pain for a while, but very rarely do dives involve a player intentionally throwing themselves to the ground without contact, slipping, or anything else.

  14. Walter says:

    Hi all, just popping up to advertise my post apoc superhero story, The Fifth Defiance:

    https://thefifthdefiance.com/2015/11/02/introduction/

    Thanks for reading!

  15. Mark V Anderson says:

    My 7th Myth could perhaps be thought of as a straw man, because it is pretty obvious. But I think it has to be said because money is often treated as an asset to the US in casual discussions.

    Myth #7. That money should be included in the total amount of wealth in the United States. Money has no inherent value. Money is used as a medium of exchange to facilitate transfers of property and services. We also use money as a method of measuring wealth, so disparate items of value can be judged at to their relative worth. But money has no value in of itself.

    When measuring the total wealth in this country, we need to include the following:
    1) Individual assets, such as cars, clothes and houses,
    2) Tangible business assets such equipment, real estate, and motor vehicles,
    3) Intangible business assets such as accounts receivables (less debts), technology, and the organizational value of the business structure as it stands,
    4) Not-for-profit organizations and governments assets in the same manner as business assets.

    Accounts receivable less debts is only an asset in the U.S. to the extent these receivables and debts are from outside the country; all other receivables and debts will cancel out as U.S. assets.

    Cash itself is not an asset. It is an asset to individuals and organizations who hold it, because it can be exchanged for useful items. But is much like debt between organizations – it cancels out when everyone’s assets are added together.

    When the government creates money, it is not creating wealth. The U.S. government sometimes creates money as a monetary stimulus to get the economy going. They are not creating wealth; they are trying to fool the economy into thinking there is more wealth than there is, so that more products will be created for sale.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Would you agree that bonds and art therefore shouldn’t be counted as wealth?

      • Eric Rall says:

        Bonds should represent net zero wealth: a liability for the issuer and a corresponding asset for the bondholder. It’s equally valid to count both the asset and the liability or to count neither, but they need to be treated the same on both ends:count or don’t count them, and if you do count them use the same method to value them on both ends (your choice of market value, par value, or a model-based valuation).

        Art has multiple components to its value: it’s a durable consumption good (useful not just for looking at and preserving cultural heritage, but also for feeling proud of owing it and for making other art collectors jealous), and that component of its value represents wealth the same way a sports car or a designer outfit represents wealth. It’s also valuable as a speculative good and as a way of arbitraging charitable donation rules in the tax code, and that aspect of its value does not represent wealth. Disentangling how much of the price of a piece of artwork (either appraised value or actual sale prices) comes from either source is a difficult problem that’s left as an exercise to the reader. The same issue also applies, with minor variations, to precious metals, gemstones, and collectibles.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Art has multiple components to its value: it’s a durable consumption good (useful not just for looking at and preserving cultural heritage, but also for feeling proud of owing it and for making other art collectors jealous), and that component of its value represents wealth the same way a sports car or a designer outfit represents wealth.

          People who have bank accounts can look at the number in them and feel good about it, and having more makes other people who have less money jealous. Does that make money a durable consumption good?

          My primary point was more about consistency, if “money” shouldn’t be counted as wealth then a promise to pay someone money (a bond) shouldn’t be counted as wealth. As you point out bonds aren’t net wealth, but if you are considering the wealth within the US most people would consider a bond owed by a foreigner to be wealth, but under the post above it shouldn’t be.

          • Eric Rall says:

            People who have bank accounts can look at the number in them and feel good about it, and having more makes other people who have less money jealous. Does that make money a durable consumption good?

            It depends how common it is for people to accumulate cash specifically for those purposes. I don’t know how common that is, but I suspect it’s substantially less common than people buying art specifically because they want to look at it, feel good about owning it, etc.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Yes, I agree with Eric. Bonds do not increase net wealth, because they consist of equal and opposite values. Bonds are very much like cash.

          Art is certainly part of wealth. I would value it at its fair market value.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Your skirt the same issue that Eric does, bonds might be net neutral for the world, but they don’t have to be net neutral to a country. A country can be a net debtor or saver in terms of bonds and pay out the coupons across national boundaries. From a national perspective (the one you took) they could be a net asset or net liability.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            From a national perspective (the one you took) they could be a net asset or net liability.

            Actually I made that very comment in my initial post, in my note about Accounts Receivable. I didn’t talk too much of this because this piece is pretty straight-forward.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The issue is that if money isn’t wealth then a promise to pay money can’t be wealth. If you have net accounts receivable as part of national wealth you have a conflict, where being owed $1,000 is worth $1,000 in terms of wealth, but the act of being paid wipes out that $1,000 in value.

    • yodelyak says:

      Do valuable things have value? There’s an f(x) f(f(f)) thing happening here.

      Whatever definition we’re using to “value” U.S. currency (and art, and port-o’-potties, and cars, and copyrighted books, and public domain books, and so on)… if the definition of ‘value’ isn’t “What is the face value as currency of the thing?” then the value of all the printed money in the U.S. is going to be something different than the face value of the currency. It won’t be zero. It might even be higher than the face value of the currency… e.g., if our money, as the global currency, means we effectively get an interest-free loan equivalent to the face value of all the cash held outside U.S. borders, and we *also* get the benefit of the soft power that affords us, and we also get the macroeconomic benefits of having a well-managed (debatable, of course) central bank… the value of that is not “exactly the face value of the dollars.”

      Neither is it zero.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Eh? Currency can’t be greater than its face value unless someone is willing to pay more cash than they get for it. This is the case for rare coins as collector value, but for normal money that makes no sense. We usually measure the value of goods in money, but that doesn’t make money in itself of value, if it’s just used as the value stated.

        It is true that a monetary system in itself has value, since it reduces friction in transactions, and lets us value everything else. I could see including the monetary system as part of society’s wealth in a very sophisticated accounting of society’s wealth. But that doesn’t mean the cash itself is part of wealth.

        • yodelyak says:

          Hm. My first comment’s formula got garbled by wordpress/html. It’s supposed to say f(x) is not equal to f(f(x)). That was too abstract anyway.

          It would be better if I had kept it simple and said only “the nominal value of money” does not equal “the contribution to national wealth by the presence of the monetary system.”

          We can’t print an extra $1m of paper money and thereby be $1m richer. So the actual value of the printed money in the U.S. is not identical to the money’s face value. But there is a valuable service performed by having money in the world. I am not qualified to put a number on it, but the value of a functioning monetary system is high. That the wealth of the U.S. is very much higher than the wealth of (say) Honduras is not wholly independent of our having a strong stable currency.

          This is all pretty far afield from whatever point Mark V. Anderson thinks he is making–I can’t really recall a time where I’ve seen the face value of money in the U.S. treated as wealth in quite the way he seems to suggest it is.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I can’t really recall a time where I’ve seen the face value of money in the U.S. treated as wealth in quite the way he seems to suggest it is

            That’s why I said right up top that this could be seen as a straw man. But sometimes it seems that fiscal policy is seen as increasing the wealth of a country. Yes, that is an unsophisticated view, but I think the function of money needs to be stated as a reducer of friction and a way to measure value.

            Edit: I was not actually expecting much comment on this Myth, because it is kind of obvious. Must be a slow news day.

          • yodelyak says:

            Yeah, the perspective I was taking seems not to disagree that much with yours. But now I’m confused, because I do think if I had to make a first-order approximation of the value of having a monetary system, well, it’s probably better start with “the face value of what consumers hold as liquid capital for purpose of purchases” than “zero”.

            In other words, when we’re trying to use a single number to report “wealth” it has to be inflation-adjusted (say “in 2000 dollars”) or reported in some kind of real-world-material-thing. A silly but serviceable one would be “beer”. What I mean is, a useful measure of “wealth” will allow comparative thinking… so with “beers” the thinking would go, if the U.S. and China traded each all its wealth for beer, how much beer would that be? Which has more beer, which has more beer per capita? Etc.

            The whole point of “face value” of currency, bank accounts, etc., is that they are worth exactly the number printed on them. I can’t explain exactly why I think so, but I tend to think a good estimate for good-monetary-system-as-wealth might be to go with the number of liquid dollars available to make purchases, assuming fiscal and monetary policy are such that inflation is low and stable.

            Basically, if the U.S.’s financial system is such that, when fiscal and monetary policy keep inflation low (I don’t know how to talk about those, don’t ask me) everyone in the U.S. keeps $50 on their person, whereas in China if inflation is low nobody keeps more than the equivalent of $0.01 in Renminbi on their person, then when we trade everything we’ve got for beer… The U.S. gets more.

            Of course we never actually do trade everything we have for beer–nobody has that much beer, sadly. 🙁

            Anyway, I’m feeling pretty confident that I don’t understand this well enough to talk about it in a way that adds much insight, but enjoyed reading this thread.

    • Wrong Species says:

      This is not a “myth”, it’s something you believe should be done differently.

      Didn’t you only have seven of these “myths”? If so, then it needs to be pointed out that you pretty much didn’t give empirical evidence for any of them. You just wrote a story about them with varying levels of plausibility. You didn’t give any compelling reason to believe your stories versus someone else’s story. Why should anyone believe them? Why do you believe them?

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I consider my arguments pretty compelling. If you don’t, you can argue against them or just ignore them.

        I have four more myths to go. You can just skip my posts if you think they are dumb. But I don’t see any value in your content-less post above.

        • Montfort says:

          You may not like the content in Wrong Species’ post, but there is clearly content.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            What is this content? He basically complains that my arguments are not compelling. That says nothing.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Mark

            My complaint is that your arguments have no evidence. I would think here of all places, someone would take that seriously. Why do you think that doesn’t matter? The cold hard truth is that you don’t really know what you’re talking about and if you started trying to find evidence instead of presenting your narratives as fact, you would realize that. The world is complicated and doesn’t fit neatly into simple narratives.

        • Wrong Species says:

          You are making arguments about empirical claims, without any empirical evidence. I don’t get how you can just brush that off, especially when you call them “myths”, as if you already know that you’re right.

          • 1soru1 says:

            They are not empirical claims; they are definitional; no possible experiment could settle whether or not money was (national) wealth. If a government prints money, then if money is wealth then wealth went up, and if not not. This is independent of, and irrelevant to, any second order Keynesian effects that _are_ an empirical matter.

            Either it does make more sense, simplify things, to treat it that way, or it doesn’t.

            In contrast, if a household prints money, then either their wealth goes up or they go to jail.

          • Wrong Species says:

            All of his other posts are about empirical claims. He makes claims about whether big business favors regulations or the extent that the rich influence government without actually looking at anything in the real world to see whether it’s true. You can’t just look within yourself and find the answer to the question. You need data.

    • syrrim says:

      When the government creates money, it is not creating wealth. The U.S. government sometimes creates money as a monetary stimulus to get the economy going. They are not creating wealth; they are trying to fool the economy into thinking there is more wealth than there is, so that more products will be created for sale.

      This is the extent of your motivation, but it doesn’t seem to me necessary or sufficient.

      First, we can equally account for the rise in number of USD using inflation. When the fed prints money, we lower the value of each bill proportionately, leaving the total value constant.

      Second, it seems that money can be created in many other places than just printing bills. When more people buy houses than are available on the market, the price of houses goes up. Since the valuation of people’s houses has risen it seems their wealth has risen. But no new value has been created. Also, if they all tried to sell their houses at once, they’d find demand collapse quite quickly, and the price would drop to a more reasonable level. If we count the increased price for every person on the market, we would be counting the same increased wealth many times over. Going by your solution, we should not consider wealth stored in houses, because it is artificial in this way. But then, the value of a house is real in demonstrable ways, because it provides shelter to a person. So your argument proves too much, I think.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        In this case, the houses are actually more valuable. Yeah, you haven’t built more houses, but people are willing to pay more money for them, which makes them more valuable.

        I guess we can have a speculative bubble in house prices, but if that happens, the bubble will pop and prices will fall back to a sustainable level.

        • baconbits9 says:

          You haven’t increased value, you have transferred value from one group to another.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Yeah I do kind of agree with syrrim about housing valuation. I don’t think houses are more valuable just because the price went up, except on a relative basis. Even though I am talking about calculating the wealth of a country, this isn’t wealth in an absolute sense, it is only relative to another country. So if another country tried to buy up a certain percentage of the US, the housing prices (as it costs in the currency of the other country) matter. But it doesn’t mean that the owners of those houses have more absolute wealth just because their house value went up. It is relative value that counts in this case. If housing value is a higher percentage of the total than before, then those with houses have more in relation to those without houses, but the country as a whole isn’t richer in an absolute sense.

            I admit I am making this up as I go. My post was about money not having inherent value (except as a monetary system). People are bringing up good issues about the value of assets, but I don’t think it bears on my original point. Not that it isn’t interesting.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            If the price of something went up, then that individual something is probably more valuable. If foreign nationals are trying to buy a bunch of US houses, then US houses are more valuable, even if we don’t build anymore. They can’t have gone DOWN in value, and they can’t have the SAME value, because more people want to live in them. They went up.

            I think that this would be obvious for other fixed stocks of assets if we discovered PRODUCTION uses for them: for instance, the piles of gold Ron Swanson buried are way more valuable if we discovered that gold now is a necessary ingredient of interstellar drives or something. The same stock has more value. On a comparison between nations, whoever has the most gold is now comparatively richer.

            The US is a nice place to live and work, if the houses go up in value because Chinese are now rich enough to live here, the US is wealthier. Maybe not comparatively, but who cares? It’s a win-win situation that the Chinese are getting richer, it’s not a competition.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ ADB

            This post is cheating, you are stating that price=value and so then since price goes up value must go up. Prices are set by supply and demand, value is judged by the consumer and these are separate concepts. The concept of consumer surplus explicitly demonstrates the difference where CS is how much a consumer values a product over its cost.

            If foreign nationals are trying to buy a bunch of US houses, then US houses are more valuable, even if we don’t build anymore. They can’t have gone DOWN in value, and they can’t have the SAME value, because more people want to live in them. They went up.

            No, this is wrong.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Prices are set by supply and demand, value is judged by the consumer and these are separate concepts

            These are not at all separate concepts! The source of demand is consumer willingness to pay, which is based on the value judgement of the consumer. A price increase means the marginal home is more valuable, and you’re coming up an esoteric case where the marginal home has increased in home whereas the rest of the existing stock has lower value from lower consumer surplus for unstated reasons. When is this a meaningful case?

    • Chalid says:

      Accounts receivable less debts is only an asset in the U.S. to the extent these receivables and debts are from outside the country

      But this is a gigantic exception, which means that money in the U.S. really does have value. If I give an Italian a $20, Italy really does get a little richer and the US really does get a little poorer by an amount equivalent to if I had given that Italian $20 of tangible assets. So the number of USD in the US really does say something about our national wealth.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Well maybe it is a pretty big exception. This link says there is $1.3 trillion outside the US in currency. And there is probably much more than that sitting in bank accounts, based on proportions in the US. I don’t think this changes my basic point, but maybe.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      They are not creating wealth; they are trying to fool the economy into thinking there is more wealth than there is, so that more products will be created for sale.

      Awwww man, I was with you right up until this point. The US economy has, what, $2 trillion in hard money floating around? Imagine if overnight 90% of all dollars bills spontaneously combusted and we only had $200 billion left. Commerce would most likely become much more difficult in the short-term.

      Printing more money isn’t an abnormal function, it’s part of the value of the fiat currency. You grow the money supply to match the trading needs.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Awwww man, I was with you right up until this point. The US economy has, what, $2 trillion in hard money floating around? Imagine if overnight 90% of all dollars bills spontaneously combusted and we only had $200 billion left. Commerce would most likely become much more difficult in the short-term.

        This doesn’t imply that printing the 2 trillion created value, destroying 90% of it would be weird and difficult to handle for sure, but that doesn’t imply anything about having to grow the money supply to facilitate trade.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I’m not implying that the $2 trillion is creating value, I’m disagreeing that the automatic implication of the government printing money is trying to fool everyone into thinking they are richer than they really are. This is not how the central banks would describe their constant expansion of hard money. They are supplying additional money to fill currency demands and use unemployment, price level, inflation, whatever as their target.

          • baconbits9 says:

            One of the justifications for inflation is the money illusion, which is literally convincing workers that they are richer than they think they are so that they will spend and not hoard during recessions.

            This is not how the central banks would describe their constant expansion of hard money. They are supplying additional money to fill currency demands and use unemployment, price level, inflation, whatever as their target.

            They wouldn’t use the same terminology, but at their base most justifications that the CB uses come down to “we have to convince people that everything is fine, and if we do that then everything will be fine”. They openly admit managing expectations and the importance of psychology.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Printing more money isn’t an abnormal function, it’s part of the value of the fiat currency. You grow the money supply to match the trading needs.

        Yes, this is true. But you skipped the part that says I am talking about when the government creates money as a stimulus. I think Milton Friedman had suggested that the Fed be legally required to create a certain percentage of money every year, so as to keep up with the growth of the economy. I agree with that. If money doesn’t increase with the economy, the monetary friction becomes higher and the economy suffers. But I think the same is true when the money supply grows faster than the economy, as when the government is trying to stimulate things. That is what my comment referred to.

        • If money doesn’t increase with the economy, the monetary friction becomes higher and the economy suffers.

          What does “monetary friction” mean here?

          If money doesn’t increase with the economy, prices decline. Whether that’s a problem largely depends on whether people expect it and take it into account in contracts and other relevant contexts.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            If money doesn’t increase with the economy, the monetary friction becomes higher and the economy suffers.

            What does “monetary friction” mean here?

            I’m not sure if that is the best phrase to use. The monetary system reduces friction in commerce because it allows people to trade goods without using barter. But this friction is the lowest when the stated value of money changes little over time, so people don’t need to do estimations of the value of money as well as whatever economic determinations they make. Also, prices are somewhat sticky, especially in the downward direction, so the economy doesn’t always adjust in a timely fashion to changes in monetary value. Certainly when changes are expected, the economy will adjust better, but the friction is lowest when no such adjustments are needed.

    • ec429 says:

      Money has no inherent value.

      This is false, and you give the reason in your very next sentence:

      Money is used as a medium of exchange to facilitate transfers of property and services.

      Therefore, money’s inherent value is the gain produced by that facilitation. For instance, why does a person hold cash? Because it’s a transportable, liquid means of obtaining one’s wants through trade, and its wide acceptability (‘currency’) solves the double-coincidence-of-wants problem in barter.

      One thing that helps highlight this is that, in Adam Smith’s time, paper money wasn’t fiat, nor even backed by anonymous gold, but was essentially a warehouse receipt for a particular piece of gold in a particular bank’s vault. “Bank money” traded for a price higher than its face value, and this “agio” was precisely the value of a money that didn’t require lugging around heavy bits of metal and occasionally dissolving them in acid to check they were genuine.

      Money has three functions:
      1) medium of exchange (the barter problem)
      2) store of value (which it is capable of because of the value it gains from (1))
      3) unit of account

      (3) is not really a property of money but of the monetary unit, and (2) is just a way of creating capital without capturing the returns (every pound you hold represents a pound’s worth of goods and services society got from you without having yet paid you back in goods and services, which may be what you mean by the ‘cancels out’ bit). But (1) is a real, tangible benefit that cash creates, and therefore cash is an asset with value, even though (in a non-backed currency) that value only exists because everyone agrees it does.

      On the margin, a person’s holding of cash is determined by how valuable (1) and (2) are to them (mainly (1) as money doesn’t yield returns to its holder, outside of deflations). In the old days of bank money, if a bank produced more of its money than the public wanted to hold, the excess would quickly return to them for conversion into metals, and thus (by a modern Marshallian consumer-surplus analysis) the total value-over-face-value (i.e. agio) of all money in circulation (to those holding it) is nonnegative, so money is an asset of at least its face value.

      Today, of course, that no longer holds, since if you take your £5 note to the Bank of England, and ask them to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds, they will exchange your £5 note for… another £5 note. Thus there is no ability for the market to regulate the quantity of money, which may bear no relation to the total amount that the public wishes to hold. So the value of cash as an asset may be less than its face value (but is still greater than zero, with a possible exception when the monetary system is in Weimar-level turmoil and meltdown).

      When the government creates money, it is not creating wealth.

      In practice this is usually true, because most governments create more money than the economy needs. But in principle, if the public wished to hold in aggregate more money than was in circulation, then creating more money would indeed create wealth. In the days of bank money, this was often actually the case, and by creating money, a bank was able (if its money were sufficiently trustworthy to have a positive agio) to create wealth (and capture at least some of that created wealth through the agio). A similar process was responsible for the ability of national mints to collect seigniorage when coining precious metals.

      they are trying to fool the economy into thinking there is more wealth than there is

      Which of course then drives malinvestment: by making capital artificially cheap, ‘stimulus’ causes capital to be put to insufficiently productive uses, in the long run destroying value and reducing the economy’s ability to satisfy wants. The old system of privately-issued monies has a great deal to commend it, but unfortunately, as governments are able to increase their power by arrogating to themselves the function of money creation, it is almost inevitable that they do so.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I think most of your disagreements are just semantics.

        A monetary system definitely creates value. I mentioned two kinds of value in my initial post, you added one more by including store of value. So I agree that a monetary system has value, but it has nothing to do with the face value of the currency or the amount in bank accounts. Last year M2 in the US was about $13 trillion. The US would not be any more wealthy if M2 was $30 trillion, or less wealthy if was $1 trillion.

        But in principle, if the public wished to hold in aggregate more money than was in circulation, then creating more money would indeed create wealth. In the days of bank money, this was often actually the case, and by creating money, a bank was able (if its money were sufficiently trustworthy to have a positive agio) to create wealth (and capture at least some of that created wealth through the agio).

        Okay this is more than semantics. I think you are totally wrong. Holding more cash in everyone’s bank account does not create more wealth. It changes not a bit the actual stuff out there that people find valuable in themselves. And it is irrelevant whether this money consists of today’s fiat currency, yesterday’s currency backed by gold, or bank notes. Cash itself has no value. You yourself give three functions of money, none of which is determined by the level of money in society.

        • But in principle, if the public wished to hold in aggregate more money than was in circulation, then creating more money would indeed create wealth.

          Assuming flexible prices, failing to create (nominally) more money would also create wealth, since prices would fall, increasing the real money supply.

          • ec429 says:

            Yes — but this maintains the linkage between the real money supply and the face value of the money supply as measured according to prices. (It’s a complication I left out because the post was already getting too long.)

            If trying to calculate the total wealth of a nation (which it seems was Mark V Anderson’s motivating example), all the assets, to be compared, will be converted into a currency unit. But this unit is arbitrary ($10tn could just as easily be called 1tn units of $10), so the actual answer for the total wealth of the nation is that total divided by the price level (however you choose to represent that. Smith of course used the price of corn). If prices fall, real assets make the same contribution as before (they are multiplied by prices to get the dollar value, then divided again after summation), but the contribution of the money stock increases just as it would if more nominal money had been created and prices had not changed.

            Thus it is proper to include the stock of money in national wealth, under the assumption of either flexible prices or a money supply regulated by the demand for money. Or both.

        • ec429 says:

          it has nothing to do with the face value of the currency

          I thought I explained exactly how, in the case of bank money, the face value of the circulating currency was controlled by the amount needed to create all the actual value that the monetary system could, in such a way that the face value can be used as a measure of the monetary system’s value.
          It’s not that the US would be more wealthy if M2 was higher, but rather that (in a parallel universe where dollars are bank rather than fiat money) if the amount of value the US could derive from money increased, then M2 would rise to match it. I.e. the causality flows the other way in maintaining the link, meaning that interventions to increase the money supply (beyond what the market would produce) wouldn’t increase wealth.

          Holding more cash in everyone’s bank account does not create more wealth.

          If it’s in an account, it’s not cash. I was talking specifically about physical currency.
          However, the argument still applies to money in an account: my debit card (and the money in the account connected to it) produces for me the positive value that I can more readily carry and spend that money than if it were in the form of precious metals or even a giant wad of banknotes.

          The convenience of a payment method, physical or otherwise, is something I “find valuable in [itself]”. By enabling that convenience, expanding the money supply to match the demand for money is creating that value. The relevance of the nature of the money is that the supply of bank money is ‘automatically’ regulated to match that demand, whereas fiat money can have its supply arbitrarily increased in misguided attempts at ‘stimulus’.

          My disagreements are subtle, certainly — I agree with you that monetary stimulus is folly, I just disagree with the reasoning that brings you to that point.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @ec. I still don’t get what your point is. I agree that a monetary system has real value, just not that this value increases with the amount of currency outstanding. I think that is what you are arguing, but I am pretty sure I am missing the subtlety you refer to.

            But we are getting timed out here. I’m not sure it makes sense to go over this more. I’d love to hear your theories in general on monetary policy. I think it’s make more sense to me if you started from scratch elsewhere instead of responding to me.

          • ec429 says:

            just not that this value increases with the amount of currency outstanding

            I’ll have one more shot at communicating my point. I’m not claiming that “value of money” increases to match “amount of currency outstanding”; rather I’m claiming that (when money is produced by the market, which today it is not) “amount of currency outstanding” increases to match “value of money” (with additional complications to allow for changes in the price level, which do not affect the result).

            I’d love to hear your theories in general on monetary policy.

            TBH you’re probably better off just reading what David has to say. He’s much better at economics than I; it is his job, after all.

      • One thing that helps highlight this is that, in Adam Smith’s time, paper money wasn’t fiat, nor even backed by anonymous gold, but was essentially a warehouse receipt for a particular piece of gold in a particular bank’s vault.

        Such money may have existed, but in Smith’s Scotland the money consisted of private bank notes based on silver, issued by fractional reserve banks, hence not warehouse receipts. I don’t know how Bank of England notes worked at the time.

        • ec429 says:

          in Smith’s Scotland… fractional reserve banks

          You’re right; I should have been clearer that I was referring to the (I think) Dutch banks’ monies, which IIRC were gold receipts, and it is in the context of those banks that Smith talks about agio (and uses the term “bank money”). But I may be mistaken; next time I have insomnia I’ll re-read the relevant chapter(s).

        • Eric Rall says:

          It sounds like a description of Goldsmiths’ Notes, which were a thing in England in the 17th century. They started out with as regular goldsmiths offering a supplementary service of storing their customers’ valuables for safekeeping, and it developed some features of banking (most notably check-writing) as it became more popular around the time of the English Civil War and many goldsmiths specialized as money goldsmiths.

          If I remember correctly, money goldsmiths went out of fashion in favor of modern fractional-reserve banks in the late 17th century, about a century before Smith wrote Wealth of Nations.

  16. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Terry Gilliam tells the press “I no longer want to be a white male, I don’t want to be blamed for everything wrong in the world: I tell the world now I’m a black lesbian… My name is Loretta and I’m a BLT, a black lesbian in transition.”
    Holy cow, guys, I called it: Life of Brian is officially right-wing CW now.

    • Yakimi says:

      John Cleese is also a Brexit supporter and has expressed reservations about the transformative effects of immigration.

    • yodelyak says:

      When did you call it?

    • fion says:

      That’s a rather extreme example of a trend I’ve noticed for a while. Quite a few of the radical, shocking, stick-it-to-the-man comedians of the previous generation of British comedy are now quite critical of what passes for the Left. I’ve heard similar (but less strong) sentiments from the likes of Stephen Fry and Rowan Atkinson.

      Part of this is probably that these people have a talent for recognising, and a desire to call out, nonsensical rules. They blasphemed when religious rules were supposed to be obeyed or at least respected, and now they disobey what they perceive as social justice dogma.

      Or maybe it’s the same old trend of people becoming more conservative in their old age. Or maybe they’ve just been left behind as the zeitgeist has accepted their contributions and moved leftwards.

      • Aapje says:

        @fion

        I think that these people also run into the new rules when they just keep doing what they always did. So then it’s not so much that they seek out the culture war, but that the culture war seeks them out.

        For example, the BBC head of comedy criticized Monty Python for being a program made by “six Oxbridge white blokes” and said that “And I think we’ve heard the metropolitan, educated experience. I think it’s about how original a voice you have over what school you went to.”

        It’s easy to see why the Pythons (and those who doesn’t believe in equating people with their race and such) are offended by the implication that Monty Python merely reflected the metropolitan, educated experience & was not original.

        • fion says:

          Hmm… I’m not familiar with the BBC head of comedy’s argument, but perhaps it could be steelmanned as saying that we’ve already done Monty Python. In its day it may have been original and subversive, but now it’s succeeded, become mainstream and comedy should move on from it.

          • Aapje says:

            It was highly different from other comedy by “Oxbridge white blokes” of the day, which suggests that white people are perhaps not one hive mind, but individuals who can sometimes innovate. I object to the idea that people of a race are automatically the same as others of the same race and different from other races.

            Also, as Cleese pointed out, only about half of them were from Oxbridge, so BBC’s head of the Ministry of silliness was factually wrong as well. He also was insufficiently intersectional by ignoring that one was gay and another was American, both being oppressed minorities in the UK.

            Now, he might have a point that certain kinds of originality cannot be expected from people with certain backgrounds*, but by overstating his case, he played the jester, rather than the critic.

            * For example, one is likely not to get anything but an SJ opinion from a BBC manager.

          • Matt M says:

            Saying “we’ve already done Monty Python, so let’s not do it again because that wouldn’t be original” is one thing.

            Saying “we already had a show written by white males, so let’s not do it again because that wouldn’t be original” is very different, and implies that no particular originality is possible aside from race/gender/social class/etc.

          • fion says:

            @Aapje

            According to wikipedia, five out of six of them went to Oxbridge, the exception being Gilliam.

            Of course I agree with you that people are not identical to all other members of their race and are not fundamentally different from members of other races. But you acknowledge that certain kinds of originality cannot be expected by people with certain backgrounds. It would be a sad thing if all comedy troupes were white men from Oxbridge. We would all miss out on various humourous perspectives that such people wouldn’t come up with.

            Of course, it’s stupid to say that we shouldn’t ever have comedy troupes composed of white men from Oxbridge ever again, but it’s a good thing that not *all* comedy troupes are like that.

          • Matt M says:

            Of course, it’s stupid to say that we shouldn’t ever have comedy troupes composed of white men from Oxbridge ever again, but it’s a good thing that not *all* comedy troupes are like that.

            Which is one of the more ridiculous straw-men I’ve ever seen.

            Literally no one is advocating that women, minorities, uneducated, etc. shouldn’t be allowed to create various works of art.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            The other unwelcome implication is: if we have to get our comedy from black Hispanic lesbians now because we’ve already done white Oxbridge men and therefore they’re not funny anymore, before long the same will be true of the black Hispanic lesbians. Sooner or later we’ll run out of groups, and then no more comedy.

          • fion says:

            @Matt M

            I didn’t straw-man. I didn’t say “arguing that it’s good to have all-white, all-male, all-posh comedy is wrong and therefore you are wrong” or imply it. I said that promoting diversity in comedy is a positive.

            You think I think I’m arguing about whether minorities should be *allowed* to engage in comedy? Nothing of the sort! I’m arguing about whether it’s better to have more minorities in comedy than we did in the sixties.

            I might even make a stronger claim. Perhaps it would be better if there were more minorities in comedy than we have now.

          • Matt M says:

            fion,

            My apologies. I didn’t mean to accuse you of straw-manning. But I do think this is a very typical straw man that occurs when discussing this issue.

            The SJW position begins by saying white males must be excluded. Some reasonable person points out that not all white males think alike, and therefore, maybe they shouldn’t be excluded, and the SJW retreats to “Well okay but diverse voices would be good too!”

            Which nobody was disputing in the first place. Being against forced “diversity” quotas is not the same as being against diversity as a potential outcome of a merit-based process that is blind to ethnicity, gender, etc.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            The SJW position begins by saying white males must be excluded. Some reasonable person points out that not all white males think alike, and therefore, maybe they shouldn’t be excluded, and the SJW retreats to “Well okay but diverse voices would be good too!”

            But that’s not what the BBC guy said! He said that a troupe composed entirely of Oxbridge-educated white men wouldn’t be picked up by the BBC. As proof that the BBC will hire white male comedians to star in their shows, I submit the fact that…the BBC just ran in February a show starring John Cleese and written by a Python-adjacent comedian!
            That’s hardly exclusion!

            Just as (to a first approximation) no one is advocating that minorities can’t make art, or can’t have shows on the BBC, no one (to a first approximation) is arguing that white men can’t do comedy or can’t have shows on the BBC.
            Your characterization of the SJ position is just as much a straw-man as the argument that running Monty Python somehow excludes minorities from creating their own comedy.

          • mdet says:

            Pro-diversity opinion: Wasn’t there a time when Keenan Thompson had to play every black character on SNL? When the only way to do a skit involving a black woman was to put Keenan in a wig? And then SNL hired several other black comedians, including a couple black women, and were able to do skits that involved multiple black characters, greatly expanding the number of subjects they could do skits about and the number of people they could lampoon. It may be the case that they passed over some white men who might’ve been hired under a purely meritocratic approach, but there’s a difference between an individual’s merit and the value that the individual brings to a specific team. (One person might be funnier overall, but the other might perform extra well in a specific niche, or with specific kinds of roles)

            As I’ve said before though, I don’t think every single lineup has to be a rainbow, so it’s fine with me if they end up with another six “white blokes” as long as there’s also some other non-white non-bloke comedy troupes out there.

          • Aapje says:

            @Fion

            Of course, it’s stupid to say that we shouldn’t ever have comedy troupes composed of white men from Oxbridge ever again, but it’s a good thing that not *all* comedy troupes are like that.

            Sure, but ultimately people should be granted opportunities based on their abilities/achievements, not on their race or such.

            If viewers disproportionately like troupes composed of white men from Oxbridge, then it is fine with me to have disproportionately more of them. If viewers disproportionately like troupes composed of black women from the University of St Andrews, then it is fine with me to have disproportionately more of them.

            People deserve equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.

            @Eugene Dawn

            The issue with what the BBC guy said is that we’ve seen so many times that policy gets legitimized with the motte and then the actual policy is the bailey.

            It’s logical that people then stop believing that the motte actually exists and just start arguing against the bailey.

            @mdet

            Ability to mimic people is orthogonal to comedic talent. What you are describing is merely the ability to perform certain types of comedy, which is not actually much of a pro-diversity argument, beyond a certain minimum, for a specific kind of comedy.

            Also, according to your logic, if the people that get lampooned are disproportionately white, the comedians should be disproportionately white as well.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            The issue with what the BBC guy said is that we’ve seen so many times that policy gets legitimized with the motte and then the actual policy is the bailey.

            It’s logical that people then stop believing that the motte actually exists and just start arguing against the bailey.

            But what do you propose the bailey is? That the BBC is excluding white men from TV? Because that’s clearly not true.

            Also note that this form of argument can be used symmetrically; for example, I might claim that “People deserve equal opportunity, not equal outcomes” is the motte, and the bailey is “Any attempt to give an opportunity to a non-white person will be seen as an attack on white people”, and that people on the left are so sick of responding to the first as if it’s in good faith when we all know it really means the latter.

            You may have seen this retreat from motte to bailey so many times, but I haven’t, and I don’t think this is an example, as witnessed by the fact the BBC continues to hire white men, including an ex-Python, for its comedy shows.

          • Aapje says:

            The bailey is to partially abandon meritocratic standards and make race, gender, etc a substantial factor in the hiring processes.

            Attacking Monty Python is done to pretend (probably even to himself) that they are still doing meritocracy. Given toxoplasma, it pays off for the guy to attack a cultural icon and make a fool of himself to people who haven’t drank the kool aid, rather than a mediocre white comedian.

            In general, this is a common social justice motte: hiring processes discriminate against minorities.

            As we’ve seen in the past, attempts to fix this while maintaining meritocracy rarely achieve anything near proportionately, because hiring discrimination is rarely still a major issue (as hiring discrimination has already been addressed in large part in the past, but the activists haven’t caught up).

            The actual reasons for disproportionately tend to be either ideologically unacceptable or are fairly hard and slow to address. So instead of accepting reality over ideology and/or doing the hard work, they tend to choose to introduce discrimination against majorities.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            As has happened before, I think you’re making a different point from others in the thread, so let me separate things out.
            I was responding to this:

            The SJW position begins by saying white males must be excluded. Some reasonable person points out that not all white males think alike, and therefore, maybe they shouldn’t be excluded, and the SJW retreats to “Well okay but diverse voices would be good too!”

            Do you agree that this is not an accurate motte-and-bailey of social justice? That what Matt M characterizes as the motte, “diverse voices would be good too”, is what you are characterizing as the bailey, “diversity is a goal in its own right”? Because I think my position, and that of BBC guy, is clearly the latter–what you characterize as the bailey, and Matt M as the motte, and I don’t think either of us are pretending to hold a different position.

            My position is: white Oxbridge-educated men can be very funny: most of my favourite comedy (Pythons, Mitchell & Webb) has been made by them, or their American equivalents (the Simpsons was written mostly by white Harvard grads).
            I still think it can be reasonable to promote diversity in comedy in its own right. This is especially true for broadcasters like the BBC, which already make decisions for non-meritocratic reasons (the BBC promotes British comedy, even if British comedy isn’t the best).
            I do not think this means that white men should be excluded from comedy, and I do not think the paragraph above implies that.

            I am uncertain as to the effects of promoting diversity on the “meritocracy” of comedy–as I say, my favourite shows are mostly by white men. But then, I am a white man.
            When it comes to comedy, “meritocracy” is hard to define. Tyler Perry movies get critically panned, but one of his Madea movies opened at #1 and made 10 times its budget on an audience more than half of whom were black women over the age of 35.
            What’s better comedy: Madea, or Monty Python? The answer depends on your audience: aging white nerds, or middle-aged black women.
            The idea that all BBC programming should be made to meet the humour needs of white guys strikes me as wrongheaded.

          • Aapje says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            Do you agree that this is not an accurate motte-and-bailey of social justice?

            First, I want to note that the quote you give is not about SJ, but about SJWs. Secondly, I want to point out that there are different levels of exclusion. Black slaves in the US were excluded from many things, but not all. Black people under Jim Crow laws were excluded from many things, but fewer than slaves. If I invite most coworkers to a party, but one can only come if she brings a pie, that is a form of exclusion. Etc.

            I agree that full exclusion of white men is rarely the goal of even SJWs. I do think a desire for some level of exclusion is common. This can be in various ways, disqualifying them from debates, denying them equality of opportunity, seeing the desires of white men as less legitimate than those of other groups, etc.

            Because I think my position, and that of BBC guy, is clearly the latter–what you characterize as the bailey, and Matt M as the motte, and I don’t think either of us are pretending to hold a different position.

            The BBC guy seems to have made rather exclusionary statements:

            “Shows like Monty Python that feature “six Oxbridge white blokes” would not be commissioned by the BBC today, the corporation’s head of comedy has admitted.”

            “Viewers had heard enough about the “metropolitan, educated experience” and crave sketch shows and sitcoms with a “sense of place”, claimed Shane Allen, controller of BBC comedy.”

            These statements seem to me to be the opposite of a call for diversity. Instead of wanting both kinds of comedy, he seems to want one type of comedy instead of another. I don’t see this as being the same as your position.

            I still think it can be reasonable to promote diversity in comedy in its own right.

            I think you need to unpack this, because it is very vague and can mean different things. Do you mean:
            1. Hiring black comedians who fail to get a chance because they don’t fit the norm to serve an underserved audience?
            2. Hiring more black comedians as a terminal goal, regardless of whether enough quality comedians that are black are available?
            3. Hiring more black comedians as a terminal goal, regardless of whether enough people actually enjoy their comedy?
            4. etc.

            I’m supportive of 1, but generally not of 2 and 3.

            What’s better comedy: Madea, or Monty Python? The answer depends on your audience: aging white nerds, or middle-aged black women. The idea that all BBC programming should be made to meet the humour needs of white guys strikes me as wrongheaded.

            I agree that both groups deserve comedy made to their liking (to roughly the same extent as they are actually willing to watch it). But what the head of comedy said was that they have made enough comedy for white nerds and that they now wanted to make only Madea movies (or whatever ‘sense of place’ is code for).

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            First, I want to note that the quote you give is not about SJ, but about SJWs.

            Sure, presumably the most extreme social justice folks will in fact advocate for complete exclusion of white males–but in context the relevant question is, “is BBC guy an SJW?” To the extent that his comments can be interpreted in a moderate fashion, and his actions at the BBC are consistent with that moderate interpretation, it makes more sense to presume that he is in fact a believer in moderate SJ, not that he is advancing the motte rhetorically while enacting the bailey in actual fact.

            I agree that full exclusion of white men is rarely the goal of even SJWs. I do think a desire for some level of exclusion is common. This can be in various ways, disqualifying them from debates, denying them equality of opportunity, seeing the desires of white men as less legitimate than those of other groups, etc.
            […]
            The BBC guy seems to have made rather exclusionary statements:
            […]
            These statements seem to me to be the opposite of a call for diversity. Instead of wanting both kinds of comedy, he seems to want one type of comedy instead of another. I don’t see this as being the same as your position.

            In 1969, when Monty Python still aired, and BBC programming was dominated by white men (including a show with Spike Milligan in blackface), was BBC programming exclusionary towards non- white men?

            I take the BBC guy to be arguing that past programming was exclusionary in favour of white men, and so, to balance, there is now a presumption against programming in favour of white men; by your standards this may count as exclusionary, but note that it is a milder exclusion than was previously practiced in favour of white men.

            I think you need to unpack this, because it is very vague and can mean different things. Do you mean:
            1. Hiring black comedians who fail to get a chance because they don’t fit the norm to serve an underserved audience?
            2. Hiring more black comedians as a terminal goal, regardless of whether enough quality comedians that are black are available?
            3. Hiring more black comedians as a terminal goal, regardless of whether enough people actually enjoy their comedy?
            4. etc.

            Certainly 1), and I somewhat reject the premise of 2) since I think a quality comedian is by definition one who attracts an audience; as for 3), my feelings depend on the extent to which black comedians who can attract an audience are a limited resource.
            This is also an unstated premise in some of your earlier arguments that hiring for diversity must hurt meritocracy; strictly speaking this is only true under certain conditions: if there are few enough spots on BBC and enough talented comedians of diverse enough backgrounds, it should be possible to make a diverse TV lineup without sacrificing quality.
            Whether this is true I don’t know, but it’s worth noting that there are plenty of reasons someone might make a TV comedy other than maximizing audience or some subjective notion of funniness:
            I’ll mention again that BBC already prioritizes British-made comedy, whether or not it’s funnier than comedy produced by other nationalities.
            So my answer to 3) depends on how much one would have to trade off quality to find a diverse comedy crew–BBC shouldn’t run the absolute dregs of comedy if that’s the only way to get some non- white guys on TV, but if it means hiring the 6th funniest comedy team in Britain rather than the 4th (however you’d even measure such a thing), then sure.

            But what the head of comedy said was that they have made enough comedy for white nerds and that they now wanted to make only Madea movies (or whatever ‘sense of place’ is code for).

            If white nerds have been catered to exclusively by BBC, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to give that a break; but anyway, that’s not what he’s saying: he’s saying they won’t make shows that cater exclusively to white nerds; again, John Cleese is in a BBC show right now, written by Terry Gilliam’s buddy and Life of Brian alum Charles McKeown. The BBC is still making shows for white guys (and, by the way, the show seems to have pretty lacklustre ratings; plenty of white-guy heavy TV is not particularly defensible on strict meritocratic grounds). It’s just that the BBC guy is now insisting that he is going to make an effort to ensure that white nerdy guys aren’t the only target audience.

          • mdet says:

            According to your logic, if the people that get lampooned are disproportionately white, the comedians should be disproportionately white as well.

            Maybe in theory, but in the US at least, “people who qualify for lampooning” is a sufficiently large and diverse group that I don’t think this is a real issue. Asians are still a small minority I guess, but there’s no shortage of black, white, and latino celebrities, of men and women celebrities.

            It’d be a shame if there were a big event involving Beyoncé or Oprah and SNL had no black women in the cast to play Bey or O, but the opposite problem “We have a black woman on the cast but there are hardly any black women celebrities worth talking about!” is not something I see happening.

          • Aapje says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            To the extent that his comments can be interpreted in a moderate fashion, and his actions at the BBC are consistent with that moderate interpretation

            The BBC is actually employing quotas, which means that they discriminate in favor of certain races and against others, rather than using only meritocratic selection criteria. This is merely moderate in the ‘not going to exclude all white men’ sense, but IMO still discriminatory in the ‘favoring less capable people over more capable people, due to their race’ sense.

            Also, I think that his statements are discriminatory on their own and thus normalize & promote discrimination, regardless of what he actually does.

            In 1969, when Monty Python still aired, and BBC programming was dominated by white men (including a show with Spike Milligan in blackface), was BBC programming exclusionary towards non- white men?

            Britain had way fewer non-white citizens back then, so it seems perfectly reasonable for them having had more white comedians than now. I actually see SJ advocates make this mistake quite a lot, where they judge a situation where the population has few non-whites, by a situation that they are more familiar with and that has far more non-whites. This mistake can be made over time (judging the past as if the ethnic makeup was the same as now), geographically (for example, judging a country-wide institution like the BBC by the ethnic makeup of London) or culturally (judging the larger culture by the ethnic makeup of their own subculture).

            Secondly, I don’t believe in a hard ethnic separation between races, where people only enjoy comedy by people of their own skin color. Plenty of white people enjoyed Eddie Murphy when he was still funny, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Dave Chappelle, Kevin Hart, Chris Rock, etc. I presume that the same is true the other way. Some kinds of comedy might only work intra-ethnicity, but the percentage of comedians of an ethnicity doesn’t necessarily have to match the size of the audience of that ethnicity, for them to have an equally good time enjoying comedy.

            by your standards this may count as exclusionary, but note that it is a milder exclusion than was previously practiced in favour of white men.

            In 1950, the number of non-whites in the entire UK has been estimated at a mere 20k. While migration greatly increase after that, those people and their offspring logically took some time to integrate into British society and to achieve certain positions. It seems to me that this would be especially true for comedy, where certainly at that time, the percentage of ethnic minorities was so low that comedians could only break through to national television if they appealed to more people than just their own ethnicity. One can presume that this requires decent integration in British culture and the English language.

            What you are doing here is actually another common SJ fallacy: taking any (temporary) underrepresentation as being caused by unjust exclusion based on race, rather than recognizing that more complex mechanisms exist that very often also exist for white people in similar circumstances. For example, about one in 70 UK inhabitants are Polish-born, with even more with a Polish background (Polish is actually now the second-most spoken language in the UK), yet a quick search suggests that no British comedians with a Polish background are on the BBC or another major national platform.

            This is also an unstated premise in some of your earlier arguments that hiring for diversity must hurt meritocracy; strictly speaking this is only true under certain conditions: if there are few enough spots on BBC and enough talented comedians of diverse enough backgrounds, it should be possible to make a diverse TV lineup without sacrificing quality.

            Your argument here assumes that quality is black/white, where someone either is sufficiently funny or one is not. This is a bad model, since comedians differ in their funniness. If one selects by race and replaces an extremely funny white comedian by a reasonably funny non-white comedian, there is a cost in the number of laughs and/or entertained people.

            In your later statement, you seem perfectly aware that it works this way and that you will reduce quality if you judge less by quality and instead, factor in ethnicity.

            I’ll mention again that BBC already prioritizes British-made comedy, whether or not it’s funnier than comedy produced by other nationalities.

            I am in favor of moderate nationalism and against (even moderate) racism. I don’t think that these are the same at all and/or that one has to approve of racism if one approves of nationalism.

            If white nerds have been catered to exclusively by BBC, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to give that a break; but anyway, that’s not what he’s saying: he’s saying they won’t make shows that cater exclusively to white nerds

            He said that he doesn’t want to make certain kinds of comedy anymore, in favor of other kinds of comedy, because the modern audience wants that new kind of comedy.

            These kinds of blanket statements, declaring that the people are a unified mass with a single desire, are generally used to defend policy that ignores the needs/desires of certain groups, by pretending that they don’t exist. It’s not particularly relevant which groups are defined away like this. It may be white nerds, it may be rural Britains, it may be the lower class, it may be a group of people that defies easy categorization. It may be a bunch of separate groups. Regardless of who it impacts, this kind of reasoning and policy cannot but deny some groups proper consideration, as equals to other groups.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            This is merely moderate in the ‘not going to exclude all white men’ sense, but IMO still discriminatory in the ‘favoring less capable people over more capable people, due to their race’ sense.

            Ok, but this came up in the context of whether the motte and bailey were, as Matt M says, “exclude all white men” for the bailey and “diversity is OK” for the motte. I argued that in fact, there is no suggestion that “exclude all white men” is what’s being argued for here. You seem to agree. Then you pointed out that most of the extremism was being attributed to SJWs, not SJ as a whole, so I asked: is this guy an SJW, by your lights? Again, you seem to agree that, since he is not arguing for total exclusion of white men which is the position you use to characterize SJWs.
            I am not saying, nor is anyone, that “diversity is good” has no exclusionary effect on white men–I am saying that the BBC guy is advocating “diversity is good”, not “exclude all white men”, as was attributed to him earlier. From what I gather, you agree with this, and presumably then agree that he is not an SJW (at least not based on these remarks).

            Britain had way fewer non-white citizens back then, so it seems perfectly reasonable for them having had more white comedians than now.

            I presume Britain had roughly the same proportion of female citizens, though, so the point still stands–so long as BBC programming in 1969 was dominated by white men, and not white people, my question remains. If British TV was previously dominated by men, would this necessarily constitute exclusion of women?

            Secondly, I don’t believe in a hard ethnic separation between races, where people only enjoy comedy by people of their own skin color.

            Of course. So, then, hiring black comedians doesn’t necessarily entail a drop in quality or enjoyment! Hurray!

            For example, about one in 70 UK inhabitants are Polish-born, with even more with a Polish background (Polish is actually now the second-most spoken language in the UK), yet a quick search suggests that no British comedians with a Polish background are on the BBC or another major national platform.

            This is a good point; if the BBC said they were going to do more to promote comedy made by Eastern Europe immigrants, would this trouble you? I would absolutely support it.

            I’ll also note, that to imply that this is only about race requires dropping the “Oxbridge-educated” and “metropolitan” from BBC guy’s remarks (which, tbf, I’ve been doing too): it is completely consistent with his remarks to hire a troupe of six white men, but who don’t have that particular background.

            Your argument here assumes that quality is black/white, where someone either is sufficiently funny or one is not.

            I think you must be misunderstanding me, because my model doesn’t require this at all. Suppose the BBC can only afford to make one comedy show, and there exist two comedy troupes who are equally popular, attract the same number of laughs, etc., whatever measure of “funniness” you want to use they come out the same. The BBC will only hire one of them, and no matter what criteria they use to hire, it cannot impact funniness by hypothesis. So, whether they use coin-flip, demographic composition, alphabetical order, whatever, there is no effect on quality.

            All my model needs to work is that there are enough sufficiently-funny diverse comedy troupes such that, after ranking all comedy troupes by funniness, the ranking (from top to bottom) of the funniest diverse troupe is smaller than the number of slots available for new shows.

            In real life, strict meritocratic ranking of humour is impossible, so almost certainly other factors come into play. You even acknowledge that it’s okay to use other factors like nationalism.
            I’m not arguing that if one thinks nationalism is fine, one must support any other criterion: I’m saying that the BBC already has a mandate that is something other than “promote the funniest possible shows”.

            I don’t think I understand your last paragraph, so I won’t respond directly to it, and this thread is dying anyway, so I will read any response you write, but probably not write anymore myself.

          • Aapje says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            Ok, but this came up in the context of whether the motte and bailey were, as Matt M says, “exclude all white men” for the bailey and “diversity is OK” for the motte

            As I’ve said before, the question is what ‘exclusion’ means here. You can have an narrow definition, where only complete exclusion counts, or a more expansive definition, where partial exclusion counts. Complete exclusion is extremely radical. For example, the Nazis were complete exclusionists, as they wanted Jews gone completely from their society, but South-African apartheid was not, nor was slavery of black people in the US.

            Banning white people completely from the BBC is actually only a partially exclusionary position, if the person doesn’t want to get rid of white people from society, so it is just a point on a spectrum of political beliefs, where someone can be more exclusionary than that or less exclusionary. I see no objective reason to only call someone exclusionary if they are on a specific spot on the spectrum.

            So my assumption was that Matt used the expansive definition, because that can be/is plenty objectionable as it is & because it makes more sense.

            I would argue that a desire for partial exclusion of white men, at least temporarily, is a desire common to pretty much all SJWs and quite a few SJ advocates.

            is this guy an SJW, by your lights? Again, you seem to agree that, since he is not arguing for total exclusion of white men which is the position you use to characterize SJWs.

            That was not actually my argument, nor do I actually consider this question very interesting. I tried to get away from labels, to instead focus on the actual issue.

            I merely addressed the labels to point out that you said that Matt M used the label ‘SJ,’ when he actually used ‘SJW.’ That part of my post didn’t address the issue itself, nor was it a defense of his statement, but was a meta-discussion, where I pointed out that you were attributing a wrong claim to him.

            Ultimately, I don’t really care whether we classify the person as a SJW, nor does classifying him as not a SJW mean that I approve of his beliefs.

            If British TV was previously dominated by men, would this necessarily constitute exclusion of women?

            Not necessarily, because underrepresentation can happen for various reasons, where only some of these consist of throwing up external barrier that reduces the ability for women to participate. Furthermore, external barriers that exist don’t necessarily have to be thrown up by the BBC. They can also result from the law, from enculturation, etc.

            These are actually two of the common disagreements between SJ advocates and their critics:
            1. Whether inequality of outcome must be because of ‘structural oppression’ or not.
            2. Whether the barriers are actually thrown up by the criticized institution.

            So, then, hiring black comedians doesn’t necessarily entail a drop in quality or enjoyment! Hurray!

            If you introduce a new hiring process that selects less by quality and more by race, then it is axiomatically true that the resulting line-up will have lower quality.

            This is a good point; if the BBC said they were going to do more to promote comedy made by Eastern Europe immigrants, would this trouble you?

            That depends. If there is a large enough group of UK citizens for whom a comedian exists that can make them laugh sufficiently based on some generic norm, then I support it. For me it doesn’t matter whether that underserved group consists of Eastern Europe immigrants, communists, handicapped people, managers, etc.

            However, if it turns out that Eastern Europe immigrants, communists, handicapped people, managers, etc are perfectly happy with comedy by people who don’t have that same trait, then I see no reason to promote that.

            If comedic skill among Eastern Europe immigrants is lacking and that’s because of issues that are outside of the control of the BBC, then trying to fix that cannot work. If the BBC pretends that the skill disparity doesn’t exists and hires mediocre comedians, rather than more skilled comedians of the ‘wrong’ race, then I see that as racist (it will also unconsciously promote racist beliefs and behavior, by exposing people to a group of comedians where the minorities happen to be less capable).

            If the BBC has some ability to increase the comedic skill among Eastern Europe immigrants, but this requires taking away resources from other groups, then I don’t entirely reject this in theory, to a limited extent. However, in practice there are huge downsides to doing this. It seems to always increase racial antagonism, for example. It also seems less effective at helping the actually disenfranchised than to help people in a race-neutral way and instead focus on helping those who lack opportunity, regardless of their ethnicity.

            Suppose the BBC can only afford to make one comedy show, and there exist two comedy troupes who are equally popular, attract the same number of laughs, etc., whatever measure of “funniness” you want to use they come out the same. The BBC will only hire one of them, and no matter what criteria they use to hire, it cannot impact funniness by hypothesis. So, whether they use coin-flip, demographic composition, alphabetical order, whatever, there is no effect on quality.

            Such a scenario never actually happens, so it is a nice thought experiment and can have value as a motte, but it is meaningless when it comes to actually making policy.

            In real life, strict meritocratic ranking of humour is impossible, so almost certainly other factors come into play.

            If you give viable acts a chance and then cancel the ones with low viewership and keep the ones with higher viewership, that is quite close to a meritocracy.

            I’m not arguing that if one thinks nationalism is fine, one must support any other criterion: I’m saying that the BBC already has a mandate that is something other than “promote the funniest possible shows”.

            True, but then that is a choice to partially abandon meritocracy. I think that needs fairly strong justification, both based on abstract moral theory and actual consequences.

  17. johan_larson says:

    So, I’ve been following the news coming out about the asians vs Harvard lawsuit, and it’s got me wondering. Given that the top schools insist on keeping you guessing about what they are looking for, might it be advantageous for a second- or third-tier school to use full transparency as their distinctive feature?

    “Yes, here at Panopticon College there are no secrets. We tell you exactly our admission process, so you know what we value and are looking for. We start with a set of standard tests (see Appendix A) and that’s your basic score. We then apply a set of modifiers (see Appendix B) to that score based on non-academic criteria. In most cases you’ll be able to compute your score yourself, or estimate it based on a set of examples (also Appendix B). And if you can’t, we’ll tell you your score and how it was computed during the application process. And then we offer admission to everyone who got more than a specific score that varies slightly each year (see Appendix C).”

    It seems like that would have some appeal.

    • yodelyak says:

      17-year-old me would have considered that an attractive feature, and a strong signal of the hard-to-prove “no really, we care about truth” quality that serious academic communities have, but that is very hard to gauge from afar.

    • albatross11 says:

      What’s my goal applying to Panopticon College as opposed to State U, Somewhat Prestigious Tech, or Ruling Class U? Presumably, it’s some mix of optimal experience as a student + optimal prestige of degree.

      Probably neither of these is improved by the transparency of the admissions scheme. Depending on how much opacity of admissions helps in gaming the university ratings, it may *lower* prestige of the degree. It won’t improve it. And the student experience is going to be some mix of how brutal the workload is (Caltech has high prestige but you’re going to have a hard slog getting through it) and how nice the amenities and student body are, probably including things like gender ratio, climate, etc. (UCSB has some hard-to-beat advantages over University of Calgary here.)

      Admissions policies only matter for when I’m applying to your college. The folks who get into a higher prestige school are probably going to go there (modulo scholarships and such), and the folks who get into a really fun party school and want that are going to go there (modulo academic/parental acceptability). I don’t think many people are going go to your college selectively because of its transparent admissions policies. Maybe you’ll get a few extra people applying, and maybe that will lead to a small extra set of people going, but it’s not like someone’s going to decide that he’ll (say) go to Wash U instead of Harvard because he admires Wash U’s more honest and transparent admissions policies.

      • johan_larson says:

        Maybe you’ll get a few extra people applying, and maybe that will lead to a small extra set of people going, but it’s not like someone’s going to decide that he’ll (say) go to Wash U instead of Harvard because he admires Wash U’s more honest and transparent admissions policies

        That’s true. But let’s consider how this policy affects applicant behavior when there is some uncertainty in the process.

        Let’s suppose PU is a second-tier school, and we have an applicant who is approximately second-tier material: he will probably get admitted at any given second-tier school, but it’s not a sure thing. Accordingly he applies to several second-tier schools, in the expectation that one of them will probably admit him, one first-tier dream school where he’s a real long-shot, and one third-tier safety school where he’s sure to get in. In this scenario he will probably go to one of several second-tier schools, and there’s an off chance he’ll end up in a first or third tier school.

        Now let’s consider what happens if this applicant does the math and finds out he’s over the bar at PU; PU will definitely admit him. Now, assuming he’s OK with going to PU, he can eliminate the third-tier safety school completely. And he can also eliminate any second-tier schools that appeal slightly less than PU.

        By applying to PU, our applicant eliminates the possibility of ending up at a third-tier school completely. He also knows he won’t end up at any of the slightly less appealing second-tier schools. Because of PU’s transparent application process, the applicant will end up at PU or one of the slightly more appealing second-tier institutions or possibly the first-tier institution he is dreaming of. In this case, applying to PU is clearly a win.

        That’s the sort of case where I would expect PU to have an advantage.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      There’s definitely a niche for “we won’t discriminate against you” colleges, which is effectively what this is but for Asian and, to a lesser extent, white Americans.

      Back when Jews were discriminated against in admissions, some universities made out like bandits by admitting the ones who were just barely not good enough to win one of the Ivy league’s limited Jewish slots but still brilliant by any objective standard. Similarly the historically black universities ended up with a lot of talent just because there was literally nowhere else that talented African Americans could go.

      I can see a lot of lower-tier universities going that route. And I don’t mean that idiomatically, I can see them doing it today. Having a lot of Asian students is a good thing for your university because every alumnus and alumna is an investment. When some of them win prestigious prizes or start successful businesses a portion of that prestige and money is going to be repaid to the university.

    • gbdub says:

      UofMichigan used to basically have this, but it was ruled an unconstitutional quota when they were giving out 20 points for being black.

      Transparent admissions and affirmative action are not legally (or public relations) compatible.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, universities that want to choose the racial mix of their student body can’t just do it explicitly. In many ways, that would be better overall–it’s more honest to just say “we’re going to set the SAT and GPA threshholds for admission lower for blacks and higher for Asians.” But the Supreme Court ruled against it.

        I suspect that affirmative action programs for admissions into college probably cannot survive sunlight–an honest accounting of exactly what’s being done will look horrible even if the courts don’t strike it down. The result is that we get all these elaborate dodges where the colleges make the process opaque enough to ensure that they can make enough spots for black and hispanics to fulfill their political/social goals.

      • Alphonse says:

        Yeah, this was my immediate reaction. If you do this, you’ll either immediately get sued for disclosing the extent to which you favor minority applicants (since SCOTUS only allows affirmative action programs if you pretend it’s part of a “holistic” evaluation of each individual applicant) OR you’ll end up with basically no minority students (since Asians don’t count for this purpose).

        If a university wanted to increase the aggregate academic quality of its applicants while having its student body become almost entirely White and Asian, it’s easy enough to do that without painting a target on its back by announcing that fact.

        Also, my impression is that the administrators running these types of institutions generally don’t like that outcome, so even if it would be “good” for the university in some sense over the long-term, the administrators running the show aren’t interested in that approach.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      It sounds like it would create a lot of pressure to hard-optimize, even beyond what college kids are already doing.

      Like if they say “One point for every club you’re in, up to three clubs”, I join exactly three clubs, and don’t do anything there beyond what counts as “joining”.

      Another failure mode: suppose that at age 14, I (or my parents) decide that I should aim for, let’s say, Brandeis. I perfectly optimize all of my activities to Brandeis’ criteria, and one of two things happens.

      Either I get into Brandeis, and am one of the dumber kids there (because I got an extra advantage by optimizing).

      Or I don’t get into Brandeis, and then I’m at a big disadvantage when applying to next-tier schools because I’m competing against kids who optimized for those.

      • yodelyak says:

        What transparency does is let you attract all the people who, not because they were planning to go to your school at all, but simply by force of who they are, happen to be great fits for your school, know that, and therefore know it’s worth the trouble to apply.

        Anyone know what fraction of Harvard applicants also apply to > 1/2 of the other top five undergrad schools? I bet it’s less than 50%. Even with the “common app” and other simplifications (like using the same test scores and the ability to reuse essays) schools spend a lot of effort trying to be all things to all students, and *still* don’t get many applicants.

        I think the real world strategic calculus facing high schoolers comes with a big dose of “just be yourself–everything else is too hard and pits you against people who have the advantage of just being themselves when you’re faking it.” That helps a little with the pressure of either transparent or opaque admissions. But it means if you get to the end of high school and notice that the “yourself” you turned out to be can definitely or very likely get in to a particular school with a quirky but respectable admissions program… yeah, I think that’s a selling point.

        OKCupid’s blog made the same point about people with kinks/fetishes. If there are two people you view as equally attractive–say they’re both tens–you are better off asking out the one who other people mostly won’t be interested in. That is, if you like people with full-face tatoos a lot more than most people do, then focus on dating people with full face tatoos! You are better off going for someone who averages a 5, because sometimes they get rated a 10 and other people rate them a 3 than going for a 9 that everyone rates as a 9.

        I think one real-world example of this kind of admissions program is state schools and other schools that have automatic admission if you are a high school graduate/have a GED and have a minimum test score. They can save a bundle on reading a bunch of so-so essays by not bothering to do a crappy half-assed job of filtering for ‘personality’, and so they just go ahead and admit it and save everyone time. Another is schools that are upfront about being academically very demanding and work-intensive–think CalPoly and Reed. They may get fewer applicants that way, but the ones they get are more likely to be good fits and to go if they get in. (And the school itself will get a reputation that may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

        • quaelegit says:

          >Anyone know what fraction of Harvard applicants also apply to > 1/2 of the other top five undergrad schools? I bet it’s less than 50%

          My guess would be pretty close to 50%. It definitely felt like a lot of my classmates applied to just Harvard (or just Yale, or just Stanford), but a lot more applied to all of HYPSMC, or all of the Ivies except maybe Dartmouth. Maybe for Harvard, Stanford, and Yale specifically it’s much lower because they’re especially the most famous/prominent (and Stanford for west-coasters who want to be closer to home!)

          >They can save a bundle on reading a bunch of so-so essays by not bothering to do a crappy half-assed job of filtering for ‘personality’, and so they just go ahead and admit it and save everyone time.

          My understanding of the UC admissions algorithm is that they auto accept people above some high cutoff of Grades/Testscores, auto reject people below a certain grade/testscores cutoff, and only read essays for people in a thinner middle category. I was definitely shown a grades+testscores table by a UCLA admissions officer in 2011, but I don’t remember the details. (I’m sure there are complications to the process but my point is they do filter based on stats so they do not have to read all 90,000 essays.)

          Finally re: “just be yourself” advice.

          I definitely got a lot of advice in this vein in high school, and while it probably helped me worry a bit less, I’m not sure how much it really distinguishes from “fakers”. If you aren’t really sure who “yourself” is but you like idea of the peer-group-status/parental-approval/self-affirmation conferred by [elite college] admission, you end up looking like someone gaming the system.

      • yodelyak says:

        Responding to your Brandeis hypo.

        Two things happen… either you are one of the dumber young adults at Brandeis–that’s the win condition your parents and you decided on!–and you spend the rest of your life with more prestige than your smarts, sans a clever strategy, would have otherwise netted you. You went to Brandeis, or, you don’t get into Brandeis, and the risk you took didn’t pay off.

        If that doesn’t look like a good deal, then why did your parents and you decide to go for it? People are usually risk averse, which is I think, a big part of why “just be the best version of yourself” is so often decent advice. Trying to be someone else has a big downside risk in that you are pretty likely to completely fail at it.

        Maybe instead you deliberately go to Brandeis when you’re smart enough to have gone to Harvard, on the theory that you’re going to work your butt off and be #1 in the class, and then go to Harvard Law. The fact that Brandeis has clear standards for admission is a major attractive feature for your plan!

        Edit: my reply is rambly, but what I’m after in this last paragraph is that transparent admission standards make it easier to know, as a high-schooler, when you can stop stuffing yourself with test prep and go back to your hobby of competitive robot assembly or writing romance novels or playing Guitar Hero or whatever–it can work to *reduce* the pressure you are under.

      • johan_larson says:

        Either I get into Brandeis, and am one of the dumber kids there (because I got an extra advantage by optimizing).

        Or I don’t get into Brandeis, and then I’m at a big disadvantage when applying to next-tier schools because I’m competing against kids who optimized for those.

        How much optimizing for Brandeis hurts you when applying to other schools will depend on how different a student Brandeis is looking for. If Brandeis is pretty much like other schools in this example, and wants to see academic ability and athletic prowess and artistic ability and public service, then optimizing for Brandeis is essentially optimizing for those other schools too. But if Brandeis is looking for something completely different — they want you to have memorized Bible verses, joined the Jr. NRA, and campaigned against abortion — then yes, optimizing for Brandeis would hurt you a lot when applying to other schools.

        That seems reasonable, since in your quest to get into Brandeis you have shaped yourself into rather a different sort of person than most schools are looking for. Or maybe you haven’t let it change you and you’re completely faking it for Brandeis; I’m OK with that having consequences, too.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I expect most schools would have similar, mostly overlapping criteria. So unless you aimed at one of the out-there schools (already possible, just with less transparency — e.g. trying to get into art school), optimizing for one wouldn’t pessimize for most others.

        Also pretty much everyone who got into any of these schools would be optimizing, so you wouldn’t be among the dumber.

    • 10240 says:

      Why not have academic criteria only? It essentially works like that in Hungary.

      • ana53294 says:

        I think it works like that in all of continental Europe, where you have your high school grades*multiplier+entrance exam*multiplier2=total score.
        But it doesn’t work exactly like there is a cutoff value.
        So in Spain, your maximum total score is 14. Let’s say that in 2007 there are very few people applying (because of the demographic crisis of the early 90s in some regions, and the high employment).
        And let’s say we offer 50 spots for medicine. Then we rank them from highest to lowest score, and the first 50 go in. This could go as low as 5, which is the passing grade, and cannot go below that. So the score of the bottom 50th person happens to be 9.
        And then let’s suppose we are in 2010, were a lot of people are applying. The score of the bottom 50th could be as high as 13.87 (total scores are given to the centile and no lower).
        This means it will be unfair if you happen to be born in a very populous cohort, but you can wait another year to apply, if you know next year’s cohort is dumber/less populous.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’d be happy to have only academic criteria. But I’m assuming the university in my example is a fairly conventional American university, and cares about things beyond academics in admissions. The model of transparent admissions I am suggesting lets them keep doing so. But if they don’t, the process gets even easier. The applicants just take a bunch of tests, the school announces a cut-off, and that’s that.

        • albatross11 says:

          There are IMO pretty sensible things you might take into account in admissions that aren’t just grades/test scores. But I strongly suspect that most colleges’ schemes for doing this amount to ways to put a thumb on the scales in various ways–to recruit more underrepresented minorities, or to prefer people from the right social class or with the right politics, or whatever.

      • fion says:

        Cambridge was also like this. I think it’s bonkers that non-academic criteria are taken into account in some places.

      • John Schilling says:

        Hungary is approximately 94% white Hungarians and 6% other white Eastern Europeans, which doesn’t leave much of a lobby for “How DARE you have a student body that is less than 10% [ethnicity X], and offer such a lame excuse as the general academic underperformance of [ethnicity X] students!”

        Maybe the Roma could fill that niche, if the rest of Hungary actually feels bad enough about that situation.

        • 10240 says:

          Well, not having affirmative action could be another selling point of an American university if most universities have it.

          The Roma could, but most people hate them, and nobody thinks we could expect them to go to university in significant numbers.

          • John Schilling says:

            Well, not having affirmative action could be another selling point of an American university if most universities have it.

            “We will be sued into oblivion before you manage to collect your degree”, is not much of a selling point.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            “We will be sued into oblivion before you manage to collect your degree”, is not much of a selling point.

            Affirmative action is not mandated by any law, nor is the culture war at the stage where not having it will lead to legal action. (It’s just the case that all right thinking admissions apparatchiks want to have it.)

            (I can’t even bring myself to say “Yet, growth mindset!” in jest.)

          • albatross11 says:

            I thought the Justice Department had some requirements along those lines, and that some court cases had decided that those requirements applied even to private colleges if they took any money from the feds at all, including GI bill[1].

            [1] This looks to me, as a non-legal-scholar, like an overreach intended to get the desired result and to hell with principles. Without it, I suppose there wouldn’t be any case against Harvard now.

          • Education Hero says:

            @Andrew Hunter:

            Affirmative action is not mandated by any law, nor is the culture war at the stage where not having it will lead to legal action. (It’s just the case that all right thinking admissions apparatchiks want to have it.)

            The disparate impact that results from a lack of affirmative action is prohibited by law.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            The disparate impact that results from a lack of affirmative action is prohibited by law.

            Absolutely not true for a private university.

            (I don’t know of any case law mandating anything like that at the graduate level, though I shouldn’t tempt the eye of Sauron.)

          • Education Hero says:

            Absolutely not true for a private university.

            Title IX applies to any university receiving federal funds (including federal student aid to their students), which includes virtually all universities (barring 15 Christian colleges).

            And colleges are nothing if not risk-averse with potential lawsuits and regulatory scrutiny (c.f. the OCR’s Dear Colleague letter).

          • John Schilling says:

            Nit: Title IX applies only to sexual discrimination in higher education. For racial discrimination, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies – and, yes, to pretty much all colleges and universities in the United States.

            And for a while, thanks to Hopwood v. Texas, affirmative action was both mandatory and forbidden in US universities, but everyone understood that the affirmative action that was forbidden was only the kind that used “affirmative action” in the title and you could still get away with camouflaged versions hidden behind various yay-diversity buzzwords.

          • Education Hero says:

            That’s absolutely correct; thanks for providing the more comprehensive answer to correct my drive-by post.

    • helloo says:

      Wasn’t there a big ruckus when New York’s major voice his opinion to get rid of the SHSAT – a purely test based admissions policy?

      One of the voices were the Asian Americans that really took a liking to those high schools.

      So both done (at least on the high school level) and yes, appealing to some demographics.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      Some state schools do this. Iowa State University’s admissions are pretty transparent – and it’s a pretty decent school, too, especially if you major in engineering. It is, of course, in the middle of nowhere, so that’s disadvantageous. Also charges you out of state tuition if you don’t live in Iowa.

      • quaelegit says:

        And not quite that transparent, but relevant to the use case johan_larson described here: some state schools guarantee admission to the top x% of local graduating high school classes. (I think the U California system and UT Austin at least used to do this). So if you’re going to be in that top x% of your graduating class you have a guaranteed safety.

        • albatross11 says:

          Right. I think this was designed to increase minority enrollment by playing on the existing segregation of school districts and neighborhoods. However, it’s worth noting that this might create a perverse incentive against sending your kid to a good school if you think he won’t be a top student–maybe he’d be a top 10% kid in a mediocre high school, but not at the local magnet school.

          • Brad says:

            What’s perverse about that? It’d probably produce a socially useful alignment of interests.

          • quanta413 says:

            Other than the very worst middle and high schools, I don’t think there’s much difference between middle and high schools. A lot of schools in poor areas still have honors and AP for gifted students. Outside of some egregiously bad schools, where someone goes to school is largely signalling.

            I went to a public high school in my community that was about half white half mexican and was academically pretty average for California. My education was roughly comparable to the people I met in college who had gone to very expensive LA private schools.

            I could imagine a world where the effects would be perverse, but I don’t think our world is that world. We basically only offer three levels of tracking (special education, regular, and honors/AP) and most schools are big enough to have all three.

            College is a little different because that signal matters a lot more to deciding who is elite or not. But differences in curriculum are probably overrated.

            At least having a silly top % of students per school pushes against silly signaling games happening too early. Ivy league degrees are still a silly signaling game, but at least those have value that will matter to the person getting them. Which of course is what makes fighting tooth and claw over who gets those somewhat more reasonable (from an individual perspective). Socially it’s probably a zero-sum fight though. What high school a kid goes to often matters more to parents than children.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Other than the very worst middle and high schools, I don’t think there’s much difference between middle and high schools. A lot of schools in poor areas still have honors and AP for gifted students. Outside of some egregiously bad schools, where someone goes to school is largely signalling.

            I’m pretty sure that is not true that there is little difference between schools. I am pretty sure there is a pretty big difference in the 7 high schools in my city of Minneapolis. When my kids went to high school, the kids had a choice which high school to go to, and it was pretty clear where the strongest kids went. I actually agree it was mostly signaling — I don’t know that the schools with the dumber kids had a worse education. But the competition level was quite a bit different, and I would bet my kids would have had a much higher percentage of their class if they’d gone to less competitive schools.

            And I think this is also very true outside my city. I think the average suburban school is a lot more competitive than the average city or rural school. If I wanted to get my kids into a school that only took the top 10%, I think finding the least competitive school would be the thing to do.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Ivy league degrees are still a silly signaling game

            I disagree with this also, at least as far as being silly for the applicant. When I applied to colleges way back when, I included Cornell in my list of colleges. I only picked Cornell because it seemed the least offensive of the Ivy League schools. My belief at the time was that a college degree from an Ivy would open doors for me. I wasn’t accepted, so I don’t know, but I think I was absolutely correct in my thinking back then.

          • littskad says:

            This has, apparently, actually happened:

            Beginning in 1998, all students in the state of Texas who graduated in the top ten percent of their high school classes were guaranteed admission to any in-state public higher education institution, including the flagships. While the goal of this policy is to improve college access for disadvantaged and minority students, the use of a school-specific standard to determine eligibility could have unintended consequences. Students may increase their chances of being in the top ten percent by choosing a high school with lower-achieving peers. Our analysis of students’ school transitions between 8th and 10th grade three years before and after the policy change reveals that this incentive influences enrollment choices in the anticipated direction. Among the subset of students with both motive and opportunity for strategic high school choice, as many as 25 percent enroll in a different high school to improve the chances of being in the top ten percent. Strategic students tend to choose the neighborhood high school in lieu of more competitive magnet schools and, regardless of own race, typically displace minority students from the top ten percent pool. The net effect of strategic behavior is to slightly decrease minority students’ representation in the pool.

          • Matt M says:

            Is UT really hard enough to get into to make it worth all that?

          • quanta413 says:

            @Mark V Andersen

            I’m pretty sure that is not true that there is little difference between schools. I am pretty sure there is a pretty big difference in the 7 high schools in my city of Minneapolis. When my kids went to high school, the kids had a choice which high school to go to, and it was pretty clear where the strongest kids went. I actually agree it was mostly signaling — I don’t know that the schools with the dumber kids had a worse education. But the competition level was quite a bit different, and I would bet my kids would have had a much higher percentage of their class if they’d gone to less competitive schools.

            And I think this is also very true outside my city. I think the average suburban school is a lot more competitive than the average city or rural school. If I wanted to get my kids into a school that only took the top 10%, I think finding the least competitive school would be the thing to do.

            I pretty much agree with all this. I phrased things poorly. What I meant is that for a smart student, if you go to a school with a less gifted/smart/privileged student body, you’ll still get placed in the higher track. It’ll just be a smaller track in terms of number of people. So I mean the quality of education will be comparable in most cases. I agree the student body will be pretty different.

            I do agree that things could be gamed by going to a worse high school. But I think signalling games that parents play against each other counteract this.

            I disagree with this also, at least as far as being silly for the applicant. When I applied to colleges way back when, I included Cornell in my list of colleges. I only picked Cornell because it seemed the least offensive of the Ivy League schools. My belief at the time was that a college degree from an Ivy would open doors for me. I wasn’t accepted, so I don’t know, but I think I was absolutely correct in my thinking back then.

            I was unclear again. Yeah, it probably helps the person with the degree and hurts the one with the “lesser” degree. But I don’t think it makes much difference to anyone else. It just swaps two basically equivalent people. I said silly but I probably should have said “mostly zero-sum”.

          • Montfort says:

            for a smart student, if you go to a school with a less gifted/smart/privileged student body, you’ll still get placed in the higher track

            True, but when the track gets small enough, they may not offer the classes at all, or only rarely so it’s hard to take many at once. The number of students who actually take it determines how many (if any) sections are offered. For instance, in the county I grew up in, many high schools didn’t offer BC calculus (the second year of calculus instruction, for those not familiar), and would have a higher track for most math courses and some english and science. But some especially high-performing public schools offered not just BC Calculus but additional instruction beyond it (I forget what, exactly, I think a grab bag of intros to various fields not in the curriculum otherwise, like graph theory). And of course AP/honors for basically every subject, as well as a “standard” level for the less motivated. Advanced foreign language classes also vary significantly between schools in my experience.

            Whether all that matters in the long run is up for debate, but I did appreciate the chance to skip an extra semester of calculus at college.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Montfort

            True, but when the track gets small enough, they may not offer the classes at all, or only rarely so it’s hard to take many at once. The number of students who actually take it determines how many (if any) sections are offered. For instance, in the county I grew up in, many high schools didn’t offer BC calculus (the second year of calculus instruction, for those not familiar), and would have a higher track for most math courses and some english and science. But some especially high-performing public schools offered not just BC Calculus but additional instruction beyond it (I forget what, exactly, I think a grab bag of intros to various fields not in the curriculum otherwise, like graph theory). And of course AP/honors for basically every subject, as well as a “standard” level for the less motivated. Advanced foreign language classes also vary significantly between schools in my experience.

            Whether all that matters in the long run is up for debate, but I did appreciate the chance to skip an extra semester of calculus at college.

            True, the difference isn’t 0. But I think it’s not really that significant either. There wasn’t a full Calculus BC at my school, but I was able to take an independent study with my algebra II teacher and take the test anyways. A few other students took it as part of a separate class run inside the larger Calculus AB class as well.

            And when I got to college I skipped 2 quarters of calculus/linear algebra on top of that anyways.

            Basically, what I’m saying is that in most cases I think there’s enough give that the variation doesn’t matter much. I’ve heard there are some cases of schools that have no AP courses at all, but my impression is that’s pretty rare.

            And if parents game the system in numbers, we would expect some AP courses to eventually form at schools that previously didn’t have AP courses.

    • beleester says:

      This very sharply limits the amount of things you can incorporate into a student’s score. For instance, you probably won’t be able to grade an admissions essay in a transparent manner.

      You may consider this a feature rather than a bug (I certainly didn’t see the value in college essays), but it’s worth keeping in mind. Any sort of subjective input, even something as simple as a teacher saying “Yup, this essay is written in comprehensible English,” will torpedo this idea.

      • johan_larson says:

        Well, you could be transparent in the sense to furnishing all information you have to the student about any subjective input. That’s what I was alluding to when I said this:

        In most cases you’ll be able to compute your score yourself, or estimate it based on a set of examples (also Appendix B). And if you can’t, we’ll tell you your score and how it was computed during the application process.

        In the case of an admissions essay that would mean telling the student what score you assigned the the essay and feedback from the actual grader on why. That’s certainly more than you’d get from any other institution.

        My personal preference would be to keep the non-academic modifiers few, readily verifiable, and on the demanding side. You joined the Boy Scouts? Doesn’t count. Made Eagle? Counts. Play an instrument? Doesn’t count. ABRSM Grade 8? Counts. And so on.

        • Brad says:

          It’s good that you include the my personal preference caveat, because at the end of the day that’s what this whole exercise and many others like it seem to boil down to. You and others have what amount to strong aesthetic preferences and wish for the world to conform to these preferences but don’t want to put in the enormous amount of effort it would take to try (and possibly / likely fail) to bring those visions to life.

          That’s fine as far as it goes, nothing wrong with daydreaming, but the temptation to shade into quasi-moral or even worse someone-else-doesn’t-understand-his-best-interests style reasoning seems impossible to resist in such cases.

          • albatross11 says:

            If you were looking at university admissions standards in the South in 1970, and it turned out that a whole lot of universities had found complicated admissions policiesthat just happened by complete random luck to make it way harder for blacks than whites to get in, it would be pretty sensible to suspect that those universities were really engaging in covert racial discrimination. That would be true, even if you agreed in principle that taking into account more than grades and test scores was 100% sensible.

            If a college today comes up with a complicated admissions policy that just happens by random chance to admit blacks with much lower qualifications than whites, and whites with somewhat lower qualifications than Asians, I think it’s also sensible to suspect the same thing. There’s an existing publically discussed ideology justifying this kind of discrimination, and a widespread policy of doing so, and substantial support (especially among the social class from with those universities administrators are drawn) for legally imposing discrimination by race to get desired racial numbers. In that context, when you see colleges come up with elaborate secret mechanisms to decide whom to admit that get their desired racial mix while they promise they’re not engaging in racial discrimination, it’s not crazy to suspect that they’re just trying to dodge the rules against discrimination by race.

            I don’t have a great solution to this problem. Deciding you’re discriminating if you don’t get the racial numbers I want you to get seems like a bad policy whether those numbers reflect the population or IQ statistics. But if somehow Harvard adds a bunch of epicycles to its admissions criteria and ends up with blacks getting in with much lower objective scores than whites or Asians, I’m going to strongly suspect that they’ve just found a more elaborate way to hide their desired racial segregation.

          • Brad says:

            @albatross11
            You are literally assuming the conclusion.

            If a college today comes up with a complicated admissions policy that just happens by random chance to admit blacks with much lower qualifications than whites, and whites with somewhat lower qualifications than Asians, I think it’s also sensible to suspect the same thing.

            No private organization is or should be required to organize itself along the lines of your preferred criteria which you’ve some how decided constitute Platonic “qualifications”.

            If Yale decided to admit students by lot, which would produce a class that diverged from your view of “qualifications” exactly what business would it be of yours?

            Even leaving all that aside, as it’s part of an ongoing conversation, what about the grandparent post specifically?

            Like this quote:

            You joined the Boy Scouts? Doesn’t count. Made Eagle? Counts. Play an instrument? Doesn’t count. ABRSM Grade 8? Counts.

            How is that anything other than daydreaming about being emperor of the world?

          • johan_larson says:

            @Brad

            Bard, you are characterizing my actions in distinctly negative terms. I think you’re trying to pick a fight. And I’m not going to play along.

            The last word is yours if you want it.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            Why are you so unhappy about people debating admissions policy here? It’s exactly as pointless as debating anything else here, immigration policy, economics, global warming, etc. etc. Nothing said here will have any meaningful influence on the outcome of any of those things.

            Also a OT or 2 ago, you explicitly stated you thought the case against Harvard looked plausible on the merits from your brief reading so it’s not like this conversation is happening in a vacuum or even that you claim that Harvard’s admissions policy is definitely not using factors like skin color or ancestry.

          • Brad says:

            @quanta413
            I wouldn’t say I’m opposed to the debate so much as frustrated by the mostly undeclared but widely held premises that underlie it.

            And yes, based on the knowledge I have I do believe Harvard discriminated against Asian-Americans. But that doesn’t mean I have to accept that there’s a one true admission metric and any institution that deviates from it is just playing immoral games.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            Sure. I agree there are other possible valid admissions criteria. I’ve mentioned this before. Berklee college of music for example, obviously cares a lot more about musical ability than your SAT. MIT and Caltech are more math and science focused than normal, although that’s not a huge shift from the criteria of most colleges.

            But I don’t see evidence that many colleges are actually trying to have very distinct admissions criteria. I basically see a few outliers, and then a split between liberal arts and more engineering. If you have evidence that there are really more distinct criteria in use, I really would like to see it. But as far as I can tell, most colleges aren’t specializing. They are mostly academic with perhaps a scattering of athletes for their football or basketball teams if they’re a school with a strong team. And it’s not like they just balance racial admissions either, almost every college likes to balance gender ratios too. Almost always this means letting in more men but for some more engineering focused places this might mean having to admit more women. There are other arbitrary criteria they try to balance too (legacies), but race and sex are the biggest ones.

            I think given what colleges are like, it makes sense to assume that most colleges are optimizing for roughly the same type of individual merit subject to certain constraints on the overall composition of the student body in terms of race, gender, and legacies (i.e. securing donations). With occasionally a few athletes thrown in.

            It looks like a reasonable model of the outcome to me that there is roughly an agreed upon idea of individual merit across the vast majority of colleges. So the thought experiment is “what would it be like if we tried to throw away constraints on group composition and how would we do this?”

            EDIT: One thing that occurs to me is that the usage of distinct criteria doesn’t work very well when admissions aren’t transparent. Admissions at different colleges need to be fairly transparent for people to be able to understand why they might want to go to one rather than another. Currently, I’d bet location, cost, and a generic ranking/goodness completely dominate specific concerns for well over half the students going to college.

            The common app itself sort of pushes against the whole idea of colleges specializing for distinct criteria. Perhaps many colleges should agree to sign on to something more like how hospital residencies are portioned out? A matching system would be more efficient, less stressful, and cheaper for students who just want a generic college. It also may allow for specialization between colleges with lower coordination costs.

          • Brad says:

            A lot of colleges if you go to their admissions page talk about things they are looking for other than grades and SAT scores. You may choose not to believe they are telling the truth, but that’s different from saying that everyone agrees on certain metrics.

            Further, there’s nothing wrong with not having a metric in the mathematical sense at all. The job of an admissions office is to admit a class not a group of individuals. It might well make sense to prioritize getting a cello player or two, but if you’ve already got two in early decisions to no longer count it as a plus factor during the regular decision period.

            Of course racial balancing is both immoral and illegal but there’s nothing at all wrong with other types of class wide analysis—for example wanting a certain number of likely English majors or people interested in, and likely to succeed in, politics after graduation.

            Finally, deliberately separate for the rest of my argument, as far as gender goes, I’m not entirely sure of the legalities but I don’t think it is immoral to strive for a balanced class in that area.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            A lot of colleges if you go to their admissions page talk about things they are looking for other than grades and SAT scores. You may choose not to believe they are telling the truth, but that’s different from saying that everyone agrees on certain metrics.

            I’m not claiming they are strictly looking for grades. johan above talked about how to count things like eagle scouts etc under a more transparent system. So not everyone here is on the admissions test only page.

            But I do claim that they are mostly looking for approximately the same extra things. I applied to college not that long ago. I read their pages. I read their usually vague criteria. I’ve met people from multiple schools. If there is a difference between college admissions criteria, once you strip away the advertising speak it’s usually pretty subtle at best. And a lot of the extra things they are looking for also correlate with grades and test scores anyways.

            They may not agree on a strict metric, but the outcome is not clearly different from as if they did plus a little random noise. I don’t see why I should trust their advertising more than the results. Getting a skilled cellist is a rounding error on admissions criteria.

            Finally, deliberately separate for the rest of my argument, as far as gender goes, I’m not entirely sure of the legalities but I don’t think it is immoral to strive for a balanced class in that area.

            Eh, mostly disagree. Although fixing the problem without changing anything else may be worse than leaving things as is. More and more over time, I suspect the lengthened adolescence during college at many universities is a huge mistake. It creates a kind of insane social environment. There are some advantages but also a lot of disadvantages.

          • 10240 says:

            there’s nothing at all wrong with other types of class wide analysis—for example wanting a certain number of likely English majors

            In Hungary (and much of Europe) we have a simple solution for that: you have to specify the subject when applying, and there are separate numerical quotas for each subject. Also, separate entrance exams or metrics according to the subject. (Of course you can apply to multiple subjects, and get admitted to your preference out of those you’re admitted to.)

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            No private organization is or should be required to organize itself along the lines of your preferred criteria which you’ve some how decided constitute Platonic “qualifications”.

            I am not claiming there’s one set of correct criteria. I am, however, claiming that it is possible to look at two different groups of students and notice a large difference in just about every measure people would normally use to decide on admissions to college. Do you dispute this? For example, do you think it’s ambiguous whether next year’s entering Harvard class is more or less qualified than next year’s entering class at Northeast Missouri State University?

            If so, I think you’re also arguing that there should be, in practice, no restriction on university admissions that discriminate on race (religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), as long as that restriction is not explicit. If Deep South U establishes admissions criteria that just happen to make it all but impossible for nonwhites to get into the school, how would you argue that they were discriminating? Maybe they just have alternative criteria that are equally valid?

            I’m actually fine with such a policy–freedom of association and let the chips fall where they may. But I wonder if that’s really a policy you’d support in general.

          • quanta413 says:

            If so, I think you’re also arguing that there should be, in practice, no restriction on university admissions that discriminate on race (religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), as long as that restriction is not explicit. If Deep South U establishes admissions criteria that just happen to make it all but impossible for nonwhites to get into the school, how would you argue that they were discriminating? Maybe they just have alternative criteria that are equally valid?

            I don’t think that’s what Brad is saying, and it doesn’t help to accuse him of saying that. He thinks Harvard probably discriminates against Asians right now. And Asians are overrepresented at Harvard.

            If I understand him correctly, if a criteria really wasn’t race or a proxy for race or secretly a way to manipulate race, but did lead to uneven racial admissions he would find that acceptable. But I would also find that acceptable and think most of us here would.

            That’s pretty distinct from what I’m pretty sure is occurring which is first the decision is made to balance a college by race and gender, and then the criteria are decided to make it so in order to skirt the rules against discrimination.

          • Brad says:

            First, I accidentally hit the report button on the above post, but it is no way objectionable to me.

            ——-
            @quanta413
            I think that’s a fair summary.

            I think it’s somewhat problematic to argue that we should infer discrimination from disparate impact when that outcome of the process is a disproportionately high number of Asian-Americans not a disproportionately low one. Indeed, under the disparate impact lens it’s the SATs that are suspect.

            However proof of discriminatory intent bypasses all of that completely and is sufficient in and of itself. By I won’t just assume such motives across thousands of institutions and tens of thousands of people without individualized evidence. And I think in other circumstances and other institutions there is a lot more reluctance to jump to such sweeping conclusions. Do you think most or all police departments are biased against African-Americans?

          • keranih says:

            I think it’s somewhat problematic to argue that we should infer discrimination from disparate impact when that outcome of the process is a disproportionately high number of Asian-Americans not a disproportionately low one. Indeed, under the disparate impact lens it’s the SATs that are suspect.

            Brad – As I understand it, actual disparate impact indicates a different relative outcome from what would have occurred if no discrimination or bias had been applied at the group level.

            I think that it is possible that there was both discrimination limiting the number of Asians that would have been admitted if the discrimination had not been there, *and* that more Asians had been admitted, as a percentage of population/applicants, than were Caucasians, Africans, etc, even with the discrimination applied.

            This of course assumes a difference in average ability across groups.

          • Brad says:

            Brad – As I understand it, actual disparate impact indicates a different relative outcome from what would have occurred if no discrimination or bias had been applied at the group level.

            Not quite. If a particular measure — a test or a educational requirement say — hits one race harder than another that’s a disparate impact. The burden then shifts to the employer* to show that the requirement is a legitimate business necessity.

            So there can be a disparate impact challenge to the personality weighting used by Harvard, but I don’t think a challenger can bring a case under the general theory that more Asian-Americans would be admitted if a school used their preferred admissions criteria. The plaintiffs would either need to point to a discrete policy that has a disparate impact or show disparate treatment (i.e. discriminatory intent).

            * I assume a parallel doctrine applies in the educational context, but I’m not 100% sure.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            By I won’t just assume such motives across thousands of institutions and tens of thousands of people without individualized evidence. And I think in other circumstances and other institutions there is a lot more reluctance to jump to such sweeping conclusions. Do you think most or all police departments are biased against African-Americans?

            I believe it’s often true that there is a net bias against African-Americans in a certain sense in many cases but to a much weaker extent than most people who would say yes would. I also think that it’s somewhat different in that I think the institutional structure at Harvard is explicitly biased against Asians whereas at police departments I think it’s a mixture of some fraction of more-or-less racist officers (not clear if on average they’re more racist than an average white person but obviously it matters more for the police on the street than for someone pushing paper), and the community and other social forces. I don’t think police departments look and say “well we need to make more or less arrests in the black community” whereas Harvard does look and decides to admit more or less Asians. But I don’t think that individual Harvard’s admissions officers is likely to even be as racist against Asians as the average white American. Probably slightly less so in a personal sense. But they have their orders from above and they follow them.

            The other thing that breaks the analogy for me is how if you look at group differences, you would expect there to be more Asians at college by almost any objective criteria that schools admit to using, but you would also expect more blacks to be arrested for homicide etc.

            Police and police departments sometimes do pretty poorly at basic respect. Although some do reasonably well. I can’t remember which departments made me think either way off the top of my head.

          • albatross11 says:

            quanta/Brad:

            Sorry, I wasn’t accusing Brad of wanting that as an outcome, I was saying it’s a *consequence* of what (I think) he’s saying.

            If indeed there is no way we can decide which set of students is more qualified, then it seems like we will never be able to discover racial/sexual/etc. discrimination in admissions unless someone finds a memo saying “keep the damned Asians out” or something. Otherwise, even if Asians with 1600 SATs, perfect grades, and several published research papers get rejected in favor of Appalachian whites who barely graduated high school, we can’t say that there’s a pattern of discrimination by race there. Maybe it’s just some totally valid alternative set of criteria.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t think that’s as far-fetched as you are making it sound. An admissions program is made up of at least tens of people. I agree with quanta413 that most of them don’t bear any particular hatred towards Asian-Americans. So how exactly is a senior administrator that doesn’t want too many Asian-Americans going to accomplish that in a way that is lawsuit proof?

          • albatross11 says:

            How did Harvard end up with its current scheme? I assume everyone was careful never to write a memo that says “let’s give blacks a big admissions boost, hispanics a smaller one, whites a small admissions penalty, and Asians a bigger one.” And yet, somehow they seem to have found an admissions scheme that just happens to have that effect. It seems very likely to me (though I certainly can’t prove it) that this was intentional–that the purpose of many of the complexities in their admissions scheme was to let them get approximately their desired racial mix without making an explicit policy to do so.

            I don’t see this as any more farfetched than a university in the Deep South in 1970 doing the same thing in the other direction, so that blacks can only get in with stellar qualifications but whites can get in with mediocre ones. You can easily imagine a university in 1970 in the South doing that based on the common understanding of the admissions officers of what was expected, without anyone writing anything down saying “keep the blacks out.”

          • John Schilling says:

            I assume everyone was careful never to write a memo that says “let’s give blacks a big admissions boost, hispanics a smaller one, whites a small admissions penalty, and Asians a bigger one.”

            Anyone who needs a memo to explain to them that this is the policy that maintain’s Harvard’s image as a Prestigious University teaching the Future Leaders of America while being safely Not Racist, is probably too stupid to be associated with Harvard and certainly won’t be invited to contribute to Harvard’s admission process more than once.

            They might be able to stay around if they keep a low profile and stick to studying math.

          • Brad says:

            @albatross11
            So how exactly did Harvard end up facing this lawsuit? And are you strongly confident they will win?

            Also, once again since I apparently have yet to clearly make this point, I don’t think the analogy to racial segregation in the Deep South works because the Asian-Americans are a larger percentage of the class than in the relevant population. There has to be proof of actual discrimination because there is no way to show statistical discrimination without question begging.

            Finally, I think it’s entirely plausible that the outcome of this case is that many colleges stop using the SATs altogether. That would be fine with me.

          • Matt M says:

            Anyone who needs a memo to explain to them that this is the policy that maintain’s Harvard’s image as a Prestigious University teaching the Future Leaders of America while being safely Not Racist, is probably too stupid to be associated with Harvard and certainly won’t be invited to contribute to Harvard’s admission process more than once.

            This.

            Politics. Is. Downstream. Of. Culture.

            You’d have to have been living under a rock for the past 20 years to not understand that this is exactly the sort of admissions criteria Harvard, along with every other major university (and most major employers) is solving for.

            When people tell me I’m a conspiracy theorist – I always like to clarify. I’m not suggesting there’s a secret cabal of Harvard admissions officers who have secret meetings where they outline their preferred racial quotas and threaten horrible torture on anyone who talks about it outside of their inner circle. I’m suggesting that the cultural takeover of progressivism is so complete that they don’t need to.

            Anyone who is at all positioned to apply for any of these positions already knows what is expected of them. And is fully 100% onboard with the notion that such expectations are just and proper and correct. And appreciates the need to execute the policies in such a way as to not expose the university to liability against obviously dumb and unjust regulations that might run counter to the just and proper and correct policies.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Matt M

            One countering influence is as they get more secure in their righteousness, they forget that you’re not supposed to talk about these things. Thus Princeton’s leaks about Asians having “very familiar profiles”. Or Google literally excluding white and Asian males from certain positions. I suspect discovery would reveal some quite damning comments from Harvard admissions officers.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            What do you predict will happen w.r.t. social mobility if most universities stop using standardized tests like the SAT and ACT for admissions?

            My prediction is that admissions to top universities will become much more about parents’ social class and wealth and “good fit” and all that. And the result will be that poor but smart and hard-working kids won’t get into the best schools–instead, those schools will mostly end up with the children of the wealthiest and best-connected people.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            The better parallel would probably be the Jewish quota in Ivy League schools. That was legal at the time, but it seems to me that it was a shitty way to decide who got into the top schools. And so does this.

          • Brad says:

            I think in such a world employers would end up having to do their own homework instead of relying on what is, even today, an inappropriate proxy. Such an outcome is to be devoutly hoped for.

            Read up on the founding of Wachtell Lipton, the BigLaw firm with the highest profits per partner in the industry.

            I reject the entire notion of “top schools”. There’s no metric for that either. It’s exactly the obsession with sorting and ranking on a single ladder that I am trying to push back on here. Meritocracy by proxy is pernicious.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think in such a world employers would end up having to do their own homework instead of relying on what is, even today, an inappropriate proxy.

            If it’s an inappropriate proxy today, and employers nonetheless use it, why would they have to change?

            Particularly for someplace like Harvard or Yale, where the intelligence and technical skill of the graduate is usually not what employers are most interested in. A Harvard degree will still, accurately, signal “knows a guy who knows a guy who can close the deal or get the job done”.

          • Matt M says:

            My prediction is that admissions to top universities will become much more about parents’ social class and wealth and “good fit” and all that. And the result will be that poor but smart and hard-working kids won’t get into the best schools–instead, those schools will mostly end up with the children of the wealthiest and best-connected people.

            I think what you would see is an expansion at the “top” and at the “bottom”, with the middle being squeezed out.

            Meaning that yes, I agree with you that kids coming from wealth and influence would have an easier time under this structure, as “fit” can be used as a justification admit otherwise unqualified children of privilege.

            However, I also think the commitment to “diversity” (meaning unofficial quotas for blacks, hispanics, gays, women) is legitimate and real and we’ll see a same thing there – those favored groups will also have an easier time than they do today.

            Hard-working, intelligent people who don’t have any real privilege (aside from being white and male and heterosexual) will be squeezed out in favor of both of the above groups.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            Hard-working, intelligent people who don’t have any real privilege (aside from being white and male and heterosexual) will be squeezed out in favor of both of the above groups.

            Or Asian and male and heterosexual.

          • Finally, I think it’s entirely plausible that the outcome of this case is that many colleges stop using the SATs altogether. That would be fine with me.

            Not with me. It makes things even harder for home schooled kids, since they don’t have the other standard measures of ability that schools are used to.

  18. An interesting video on Trump’s immigration policies as understood through the lens of subjective vs. objective violence.

    I wonder if there is some common ground between leftists and rightists on the following claims:
    1. The current zero-tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants showing up at the border is an admission that the administration is impotent to address the root of the problem and cut off the flow of would-be immigrants at its source. Instead, the best the administration can do is put a band-aid over some of the symptoms by detaining the parents, etc.
    2. The current wave of immigration is not a natural, inevitable fact, but has been incentivized by various actions.

    As for what the specific guilty actions were, I suspect there would be some disagreement:
    A. Previous tolerance and amnesty for immigrants, which encourages more. (Rightists)
    B. The U.S. government overthrowing Latin American governments. (Leftists)
    C. The Law of Value. (Marxists)

    • Randy M says:

      1. The current zero-tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants showing up at the border is an admission that the administration is impotent to address the root of the problem and cut off the flow of would-be immigrants at its source.

      Did anyone ever believe we were capable of cutting of the flow of would-be immigrants at the source? That means, what, elevating all poor countries to our level? Or paying off every poor country’s government to harshly discourage immigration for us?

      • Yes, I’m afraid that it does mean elevating all poor countries to our level.

        No worries, though. Even without our efforts, or even despite our efforts, over time the Law of Value will accomplish it for us and reduce all workers around the world to the same low level of pay.

        “The cheap prices of commodities [including the commodity labor-power] are the heavy artillery with which it [the Law of Value] batters down all Chinese [Trumpian] walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ [Americans’] intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate.”

        • ec429 says:

          I suggest you upgrade your price theory from a Malthusian to a Marshallian one. Even if you stop along the way at Smith (wages in an advancing economy are above subsistence level, whereas a stationary economy — no matter how rich — pays only subsistence wages) or Ricardo (wages can be kept temporarily above subsistence by technological developments but in the long run the surplus all goes to the rent on inframarginal land; the ‘subsistence wage’ will be higher if workers have expensive tastes), you’ll be doing better than the iron law of wages which you are, it seems to me, espousing above.
          But a modern price theory, as first developed by Marshall in his Principles of Economics, shows that in equilibrium wages equal the marginal product of labour, which is increased by that same accumulation of capital that lowers the prices of commodities. To cheapen labour would require an oversupply thereof, i.e. that population grew faster than the capital for it to work, which seems contrary to the demographic transition that occurs when a society / nation becomes wealthy.

          • I don’t argue for an iron law of wages. That implies that wages will be reduced to the level of physical subsistence. The price of the commodity labor-power in the modern world includes an additional “moral” element beyond subsistence level. Below this level, workers will not replace themselves with a new generation of workers, judging the world unfit to bring children into, and the supply of labor-power will fall, precipitating an absolute overproduction of capital and a disastrous fall in the profit share.

            Wages will fall, but not to a subsistence level.

          • I don’t argue for an iron law of wages. That implies that wages will be reduced to the level of physical subsistence.

            That is not true if you are referring to Ricardo, who had the most sophisticated and consistent version of the theory. I don’t think it would be true for Malthus or Smith, but I am less certain.

            The natural wage is the wage at which the working population just reproduces itself. That isn’t physical subsistence, it’s the wage at which working class couples choose to have enough children so that as many children as there were parents survive to adulthood.

            Ricardo explicitly states that it is a good thing if workers have expensive tastes, because then the wage at which they are willing to bear the costs of having children will be higher, hence the long run equilibrium wage will be higher.

  19. Mark V Anderson says:

    Since there has been a lot of discussion about the possibility of the demise of Roe v Wade with the addition of another Trump justice, I thought I would weigh in with my opinion on this case. I’ve read maybe 20 or 30 Supreme Court cases, and I find Roe v Wade by far the worst case of the bunch. I am somewhat pro-life, so I am obviously not happy with its result, but mostly the case just has terrible arguments. I am not an expert in law by any means, so I am curious what insight others have into this case. These are the areas of the case that I find the worst:

    1) The fact that they find privacy in the constitution. This of course is the most well-known aspect of the case. They don’t even argue the point. They just list a bunch of previous cases that they claim established privacy as a constitutional right, based on several different amendments, and then state that they believe it comes from the 14th Amendment. (section VIII)

    2) I find even more dubious their argument that having an abortion falls into the right to privacy. Their argument is that having the baby could have medical or psychological harm to the mother, or other stress. This is a very thin straw. Pretty much anyone involved with the justice system is often at risk of medical or psychological harm. They essentially have declared anything done by the courts to be unconstitutional. (Section VIII)

    3) Also in section VIII, they state that this constitutional right can be over-ridden to safeguard health (of the mother). Presumably this means the government can force the mother to have or not have an abortion if the state determines that this results in the best medical result for the mother. So the health of the mother is so vitally important that it over-rides constitutional issues, but the life of the fetus is not. It appears to me a pretty big supposition from the beginning that the fetal life isn’t real important here. And of course this right to privacy isn’t such a big deal after all, when it doesn’t mean the mother can determine her own medical care.

    4) In Section IX, the opinion goes on at length as to various different opinions as to when person-hood of the fetus begins. They finally say in the 7th paragraph of IX: “When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.” Then in the 4th paragraph in section X, they determine that the time in which government may make abortion illegal is when the fetus becomes viable outside the womb (except for medical reasons affecting the mother, of course). They never acknowledge their contradiction with section IX.

    I would very much like to see this terrible decision over-turned, precedent be damned.

    • Brad says:

      Even though I like the result, I agree. It’s terribly argued. Blackmun in general is not considered among the most brilliant legal minds to have sat on the Court.

      For whatever it’s worth, the legal reasoning of Roe was entirely supplanted in Planned Parenthood v Casey. So Roe can’t technically be overruled, because it’s been superseded.

      Another dirty little secret—Brown v Board of Ed is very good either.

      • Aapje says:

        Another dirty little secret—Brown v Board of Ed is very good either.

        I presume you mean “isn’t”?

        • Brad says:

          Yes, thanks.

          • albatross11 says:

            Do you think the badly-argued thing is a marker for “We have decided what policy we want to follow, and now we’re going to backfill a justification?” That would kind-of be my bet, but I haven’t read the decisions and doubt my ability to evaluate the quality of their legal/constitutional arguments anyway.

            Another possibility is that really badly-argued decisions are a marker for places where there was a big political compromise within the court needed to get a decision, so that you have to dodge around all the disagreements of your coalition in your decision.

          • Brad says:

            The latter rings more true to me. For example 5-4 cases where a Justice switches sides and so the other four are grateful for the vote and let him write whatever he wants. Or from the opposite direction, where there is a strong push for unanimity.

            I think another factor is where Justices feel like they are writing for the general public and history rather than lawyers and judges.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @Brad.

            I am curious of your thoughts on Brown. I did read that case some years ago. At the time my thinking was that they made the right decision to force integration in that case, because Blacks were clearly being given worse schools. But the use of this case to force integration in every case in the country was a great over-reaction.

            What is the quote that comes out of that case? Separate schools can never be equal schools, or something like that? While technically that is trivially true, there are plenty of cases where separate schools for different populations are better for both populations. It does seem like the same people who champion Brown are also in favor of some schools that are set up for just Indians or some other ethnic group, apparently not realizing the contradiction.

          • Brad says:

            @Mark V Anderson
            The lines were:

            We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.

            I disagree that those lines are facile. I think they are the saving grace a mediocre decision. And contra to your position, I agree with the result in Brown–lock, stock, and parallel. In fact, I think desegregation did not go far enough and that it is an enduring national tragedy that the Nixon backlash prevented the North from being Brown‘s reach. Finally, I can’t speak for every opponent of racial segregation, but I certainly don’t support Indian only schools.

            All that said, the logic and reasoning of Brown is by and large not good. The whole psychological angle was totally unnecessary, and the cited studies did not stand the test of time. It’s notably short and legal reasoning in almost completely absent. Then there was the strange decision to push off the remedy to the next year, where it ended up in the “all deliberate speed” morass.

          • Brad says:

            Lots of typos in there, sorry. Though “lock, stock, and parallel” is kind of funny.

          • David Speyer says:

            My memory was that the NAACP chose Topeka as a test case precisely because the white and black schools were so similar in resources and quality.
            Wikipedia seems to agree:

            The Kansas case was unique among the group in that there was no contention of gross inferiority of the segregated schools’ physical plant, curriculum, or staff. The district court found substantial equality as to all such factors. The lower court, in its opinion, noted that, in Topeka, “the physical facilities, the curricula, courses of study, qualification and quality of teachers, as well as other educational facilities in the two sets of schools [were] comparable.

            Is my memory off?

          • For people feeling depressed about the intellectual quality of Supreme Court cases, let me give you my favorite example of similar motivated reasoning in Rabbinic law.

            The Rabbis in Palestine (this was before the creation of the state of Israel) ruled for a minimum age of marriage, I think sixteen or so, despite the fact that existing Rabbinic law was entirely explicit–a woman was an adult at twelve and a half, provided there was some evidence of puberty six months earlier, a man at thirteen and a half similarly, and marriage younger than that, arranged by the parents, was also legal.

            The explanation was that in the old days people were strong, so women could safely bear children young, but nowadays they were weaker. Any effects of medical progress over the past two thousand years to be ignored.

            My guess at what was really happening was that the Sephardic immigrants to Palestine were marrying their daughters off young, which the Ashkenazi immigrants thought made Jews look bad to their non-Jewish neighbors.

          • Lillian says:

            Given that most of said non-Jewish neighbours would have been Arabs, who are themselves notoriously willing to marry girls young, i seriously doubt that the opinion of the neighbours was the motivating factors. Most likely the Ashkenasi immigrants were themselves uncomforable with the practices of the Shepahardi and Mizrahi Jews, and thought to outlaw them even though they were quite normal for the area. If they were worried about the opinions of some said party, it was most likely the Europeans. Presenting the Jews as more civilized and advanced than the local Arabs would have hzd obvious benefits for the Zionist project.

          • I should have been clearer. The non–Jewish neighbors I was referring to were Europeans, not Arabs.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            My memory was that the NAACP chose Topeka as a test case precisely because the white and black schools were so similar in resources and quality.

            I guess I need to read the case again. It was a while ago.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Roe is a perfect example of why legislating from the bench is a bad idea.

      I’m glad that abortion is legal but because of the way it became legal we’re never going to hear the end of it. If we had just put it up for a vote or passed a constitutional amendment maybe it would have taken a few years longer to get the whole country on board, but at least we wouldn’t have spent the last several decades in an increasingly cut-throat battle for control of a glorified appeals court.

      I don’t think that there’s any way to put the genie back in the bottle at this point within the bounds of normal politics. If Roe is repealed that won’t make things any better, it’s just upping the stakes to control the court yet again.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Gay marriage was also legislated from the bench but it looks like conservatives have already conceded the fight so I’m not sure that’s right.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Gay marriage is more popular than abortion. And it’s unlikely to be overturned by what’s mostly the same court that just decided it 3 years ago. Just not really a good hill to die on.

          That said, I thought Obergefell was also nonsensical. I read the decision when it came out, and thought Kennedy wrote a really stirring love poem to marriage, but didn’t say anything about the law. I agreed with Scalia’s dissent that the Supreme Court does not have the authority to define what is and isn’t marriage, the states should do it themselves, and SCOTUS by putting its thumb 800-lb Fist of Ultimate Justice on the scales robbed the people who were fighting and debating in the political sphere of honest victory and honest defeat.

          I voted for gay marriage when it was on the ballot in my state, not for any “equality” “rights” or moral reasons but because I believe the purpose of issuing marriage certificates is to help the government adjudicate divorces, and if there are gays who are going to live as married people then they need divorce court, too. I would like to see Obergefell overturned (and in the “wrong the day it was decided” sort of way) but then I would promptly turn around and vote for my state to recognize gay marriages.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

          • Wrong Species says:

            Honestly, a high percentage of constitutional reasoning is nonsense. It reminds of that fan of a sci-fi show who makes up ridiculous reasons why two things that clearly contradict each other don’t actually do so. But it’s also necessary nonsense so I’m not sure what to say about any of it.

          • Alphonse says:

            This is exactly how I felt about Obergefell. The majority clearly figured out the result it wanted, and then Kennedy tried to write “lofty” prose until he had enough pages to stop. The reasoning is largely nonsense, and I think deciding the case as a matter of constitutional law was a mistake, even though I strongly support same-sex marriage being recognized at the state level (and would have voted for it had it reached the ballot in my state in a year where I voted).

            I don’t agree with Wrong Species though. I think there’s actually a lot of good legal reasoning in most decisions, even if the more prominent cases have a tendency to end up poorly-reasoned since those are usually the cases where the majority is more outcome-oriented than process-oriented.

          • 10240 says:

            But it’s also necessary nonsense

            Why is it necessary? I mean, in what sense is it necessary to rule based on the current political winds, rather than the constitution?

          • BBA says:

            Because the Constitution is underspecified. The opposite conclusions in Plessy and Brown are both supported by the text, which only says “equal protection” and is silent about everything else.

            Judges have been legislating from the bench and calling it “interpreting existing law” since well before the first ship landed at Jamestown. That’s how the system works, and the Constitution was written within it, not meant to uproot it.

          • albatross11 says:

            BBA:

            I see your point, but it sure seems like there’s a practical difference between:

            a. The law is ambiguous on this point, it’s never come up before, so we’re going to rule the way that seems best to us–say, on a question of exactly how the first, fourth, and fifth amendments should be applied to internet and computer technology.

            b. There are two hundred years of contrary law and opinion, nobody before about 30 years ago even imagined this could be a question to place before the law, but we’ve decided that (say) marriage now means something different and more expansive than it ever did until just now.

            Like, if the original folks who drafted the law you’re interpreting knew it was left ambiguous, or if the matter before the court was something nobody’d ever thought about before, yeah, judges have been doing their best to come to sensible conclusions in that situation forever. But that seems really different from making court rulings that would utterly shock the original writers of the laws you’re interpreting, and 95%+ of the judges who’d previously ruled on related matters over history.

            At the extreme point, the judges can “interpret” the constitution and law to mean whatever they like. Get the court stacked in a sufficiently conservative direction, and maybe abortion and gay marriage turn out to be *forbidden* by the constitution, and the feds are compelled to stamp both out. It’s hard to see that as having a lot of continuity with a judge interpreting a genuinely ambiguous piece of law.

          • BBA says:

            Oh, it’s total Calvinball. My point is that it’s always been total Calvinball.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        I tend to think a large portion of the dubious legalistic rationalization in controversial S. Ct. decisions is due to the fact that the S. Ct. has become an unacknowledged epistocratic check on democracy, and this is crucial to our system’s functioning but it’s equally crucial that it remain unacknowledged. Declaring that something is unconstitutional these days is very often a euphemistic way of saying that it’s something the voters (sometimes, or in some jurisdictions) want because they are poorly informed, cognitively deficient, and/or vicious, and they need to be held in check by their betters.

        Because (for reasons well rehearsed by Caplan, Brennan et al) the voters so often *are* poorly informed, cognitively deficient, and/or vicious, but they really really hate when anyone tells them this to their faces, this system produces much better (more functional and more ethical) policy outcomes than would either letting legislatures do as they please or explicitly empowering an epistocratic body to overrule them. Not perfect, but not obviously improvable.

        • 10240 says:

          My impression is that most of the time the SCOTUS deviated from what would be an objective interpretation of the constitution, it did so in a way that matched the trends in public opinion (at least on a national level), not in a way that overrode the public opinion. (Though often it was to force the nationwide public opinion down the throats of certain states with a different public opinion.)

        • albatross11 says:

          It’s true that the voters are often uninformed or vicious. However, it’s important to remember that the intellectual/social elites are also often misinformed, out of touch with realities for normal people, and sometimes pretty vicious, too. The SC can work as a check on the dumb masses, but they’re representatives of the intellectual elite[1], are drawn from it, and are absolutely subject to its blind spots.

          [1] Specifically the Harvard/Yale-educated elite of the legal profession–a group that is extremely different from most of America in many important ways.

        • I don’t think that’s how it works.

          “no matther whether th’ constitution follows h’ flag or not, th’ Supreme Coort follows th’ election returns.” (Mr. Dooley)

    • Eric Rall says:

      “Privacy” in this context is a bit of a misnomer. It’s used as a shorthand for a list of somewhat-related rights that SCOTUS has recognized as “fundamental liberties” that trigger strict scrutiny under the Due Process clause of the 14th amendment. A more precise formulation might be “rights of bodily autonomy and intimate association”. The specific rights in the bundle are things like abortion, contraception, marriage, and the right to refuse medical treatment.

      The biggest flaw I see with these doctrines is that the list of fundamental liberties seem pretty arbitrary, and I suspect them of being a way for judges to smuggle their policy preferences into the Constitution.

    • ana53294 says:

      About point 3). Has this ever been applied in practice?
      I cannot imagine the state forcing a pregnant woman to have an abortion, even if she’s dying.
      This Italian woman is an example of what I am talking about. She chose martyrdom for religious reasons by refusing cancer treatment to carry her baby to term. She died.
      Would anyone be against her making that choice?
      I cannot imagine either pro or anti-choice going against her right to not have an abortion. Anti choice people because they are against abortion, and pro-choice, because they respect the choice of a woman to have or *not have* an abortion.
      So I think that in practice, that part has 0 applicability.

    • Randy M says:

      They just list a bunch of previous cases that they claim established privacy as a constitutional right, based on several different amendments, and then state that they believe it comes from the 14th Amendment.

      There’s a type of word puzzle that showed up, for instance, in children’s magazines where they present a short, 3-5 letter word, and you need to transform it into another specified word by changing each letter one at a time, with each intermediate step also being a valid English word.

      That’s what this reminds me of; Court cases aren’t decided on the text of the Constitution, but by what previous precedents have turned it into.

      Also kind of like the ship of Thesus though experiment, only the ship no longer looks or handles just like the original. Whether it is better or worse is debatable, but it doesn’t seem like how the system was/is sold.

      Pretty much anyone involved with the justice system is often at risk of medical or psychological harm.

      Interesting point!

      • James says:

        There’s a type of word puzzle that showed up, for instance, in children’s magazines where they present a short, 3-5 letter word, and you need to transform it into another specified word by changing each letter one at a time, with each intermediate step also being a valid English word.

        Word golf!

      • Lillian says:

        It might not be how the principle is sold, but it is how it was always intended to work. If you read court cases from the early days of the Republic, you will see judges citing precedent not just pre-dating the Constitution and even independence, but going back to Britain herself. American jurisprudence was never meant to be built solely on the Constitution, but rather on both the Constiution and the established body of Common Law, which itself is and always has been a neverending legal ship of Thesus.

    • John Schilling says:

      I would very much like to see this terrible decision over-turned, precedent be damned.

      I am sympathetic to this view; unfortunately, damning precedent has substantial costs for a system that depends so strongly on respecting precedent. Vacating stupid precedents is best done by waiting for them to become irrelevant, perhaps with a legislative assist, and then doing away with an obviously-stupid bit of law that doesn’t have a strong, standing constituency. Dredd Scott, or more recently Korematsu. We aren’t in a good position to do that with abortion yet.

      Wait for the uterine replicators, then overhaul the whole thing.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Dredd Scott in particular was mooted by the 14th amendment, which specifically contradicted Scott’s core findings. But amending the constitution is hard and has potentially enormous side effects, so it’s only occasionally used as a remedy for a bad court decision.

        In general, yes, what you describe is a common approach. Another common approach is to rationalize a less-stupid argument that achieves a similar core results: for example, the Substantive Due Process doctrine, despite its flaws, is significantly less stupid than the Penumbras and Emanations doctrine from Griswald that it replaced.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          for example, the Substantive Due Process doctrine, despite its flaws, is significantly less stupid than the Penumbras and Emanations doctrine from Griswald that it replaced

          The Penumbras and Emanations doctrine will never not be hilarious.
          The Constitution contains Penumbras, which Emanate from the Syzergies of the Pleroma.

    • BBA says:

      At the time the Constitution and Bill of Rights were drafted, the dominant legal theorists of the day like William Blackstone saw English Common Law as an inherently ordered, logical system in which any trained judge could decide any matter through deduction from first principles. You see this kind of argumentation in both early Supreme Court opinions by the likes of John Marshall and in contemporaneous and earlier English decisions.

      Now we recognize this as nonsense and that Blackstone and Marshall and the rest of them were just making things up when they didn’t have a precedent on point, or even if they did and chose to ignore it. But we haven’t gone back and rewritten the Constitution or any other laws to reflect more modern views on legal philosophy. A few, like Clarence Thomas, just ignore precedent and treat the Constitution like it’s a civil code to be reinterpreted anew for each case, but this is as ahistorical as claiming that the 14th Amendment has always required desegregated schools.

      And what the hell is anyone supposed to do with the 9th Amendment, which says “oh, by the way, there are other constitutional rights” but doesn’t even hint at what they might be? (I’ve always thought Roe and Griswold and the rest of them should’ve at least given lip service to the 9th, even as a pretext for all that “penumbras” crap.)

      Of course with the political impossibility of amending the constitution at all, remaking our entire system in the image of continental European law, where the text is paramount, precedent is irrelevant, and judges are anonymous civil servants is certainly not in the cards. So we’re stuck with the old system, including the obvious falsehood that judges are just “interpreting” existing law whenever they legislate from the bench.

      (As for my preferred abortion policy, I think the Canucks got it right in Morgentaler.)

  20. ana53294 says:

    There seem to be a lot of people in this community who are libertarian/prefer small government, so here is a challenge for you: name cases when a public company was privatised, and this resulted in cheaper, better service for all the customers that were served before (cutting some customers off, such as only running the train between big cities, doesn’t count; you have to serve rural/poor communities; government services frequently offset losses by using the money earned from profitable lines, giving a cheaper service overall).
    I do like the idea of privatization, but I see few examples when it works well. Usually, privatization works when you deregulate at the same time, while brutally enforce anti-monopoly law. An example that works in Europe is the privatization of telephone companies (BT in the UK, Telefonica in Spain). Prices went down massively, but mostly because not only were services privatized, but companies were forced to rent the use of the telephone lines to other ISPs (I heard BT was forced to split into two parts, one for the hardware part, the other for the internet service).
    Can you name other successful examples?
    From what I have seen, privatization of schools, hospitals and public transport is a disaster, at least if they are subsidised. Utilities, being a natural monopoly, also seem to be a disaster when privatised.

    Edit: companies that cut off customers and improve service while not getting any subsidies are also accepted as examples.

    • 10240 says:

      You seem to imply that if any customers are cut off, that’s always a bad thing. Most libertarians would argue that if service to some people is subsidized by other customers or tax money, and the cost of providing the service to them is higher than the benefit of the service to them (i.e. what they are willing to pay), that’s a dead-weight loss, and cutting the service to them is a good thing.

      • ana53294 says:

        I don’t mind cases when the companies cut off customer base and offer better service to the profitable lines, as long as they don’t use it as an excuse to extort money from the government.
        So if it is private and cuts off customers, but gets 0 taxpayer money, it’s OK.

        • albatross11 says:

          It’s not quite a state company, but it seems to me that the breakup of the regulated monopoly phone companies in the US (AT&T and the Bells) in the 80s has led to enormously more innovation and better choices.

          • Iain says:

            While I tend to agree with your positive assessment, the state-mandated breakup of a private company is hardly a shining example of small libertarian government.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            If you think AT&T was a private company, you’re not going to like my example of the privatization of the airlines in 1978.

            Wikipedia says that AT&T was “nationalized” in 1918. In 1956 it was even deprived of the right to sell any services other than telecommunications, not even patent licensing.

    • Anon. says:

      Check out From State to Market: A Survey of Empirical Studies on Privatization. Section 4.1 offers a summary of the research on post-privatization performance.

      In my own country electricity privatization has worked great, they split the state monopoly into two parts (generation and distribution) and the private competitors offer substantially lower prices.

    • John Schilling says:

      If the standard is that, of bignum people affected, absolutely none of them are worse off than they were before, that’s an unfair game and I refuse to play. Also, there is no substantial government action that you can justify by those rules, and your side isn’t even letting people opt out.

      • ana53294 says:

        Well, I am not saying nobody has to be worse off; I am saying that none of the customers have to be worse off. I am perfectly fine with downsizing/outsorcing and pushing unions as far as you can.
        For example, there is the Spanish version of the DMV. I went through the nightmarish process they have for getting the driving license, and I was so thankful that the driving school was handling all of that for me.
        For example, in order to book a time, you had to go there in person, stand in the queue, and ask “for when are they giving dates?” and they tell you, say, “Monday”, which is not convenient for the exam taker, so you tell the person behind you, “go ahead, I want Tuesday afternoon”. They wouldn’t even have a book where you could choose the date in advance, and people have to get time off work to do the exam (the examiners only work 9-3).
        Could they have made the same process much more efficient by firing that guy, whose only job was to manage scheduling, and have an online process? absolutely, but if you have 1 guy per each DMV, and there are ~170 or so in the whole Spain, that means you would have to fire 170 people with government salaries and government benefits, and hire 1 programmer, which is why they wouldn’t do it ever. A private company doesn’t have those constraints, so I actually think it would be possible to improve the service, while keeping the prices the same (there is a 100 euro fee for two practical test; each test lasts 15 min max).

      • ana53294 says:

        For example, when airlines where privatized, sure, some people were damaged. But overall, flying has become much better and easier.
        In Moscow, Domodyedovo airport was a very small, dingy place, and, apparently, when it was privatized, it became much better (I didn’t visit it on its bad phase, but I have been told by people I trust). It is still quite good, although for complicated reasons, the road to it sucks.
        When Repsol was privatized, and there started to be other gas stations competing, prices became lower.
        These are the examples I know of. I am sure there are others; it’s just that in general, most of the cases I know of end disastrously (water utilities, a lot of energy providers, schools, hospitals).

        • bean says:

          Wait. You’re using the privatization of Aeroflot as an example of how this improves things? Wouldn’t that be the fact that they finally got airplanes built by people who actually knew what they were doing?

          OK, that was a bit unfair, but I used to work at one of the companies that now provides all of Aeroflot’s planes.

          Airlines are a good example of how to do deregulation right. We have an unbelievably safe and cheap system of air travel today. Even Aeroflot is apparently pretty good today, at least on their longhaul system. I’d be a bit worried about the shorthaul network, which has had some issues.

          • ana53294 says:

            I wasn’t thinking of Aeroflot, but Iberia, British Airlines, Air France, KLM. But sure, Aeroflot improved, too.
            When talking about Moscow Domodedovo, I meant the airport, not the airline. There was a state owned airport in Moscow that was reserved for important dignataries called Vnukovo; when Domodedovo was privatised back in the 90s, it became much better than that airport, because the new owner modernised and improved it, by investing into the airport.
            And you know, somebody who bought Aeroflot would basically get the customer base, the airport contracts, the pilots and the know how. They would still have to invest into those new planes in a country poor in foreign cash.
            My problem with privatisation is that frequently companies don’t reinvest enough money, waiting for the government to invest, because a lot of them are too important to fail (you can’t leave a whole city without electricity, for example, if the utility company goes bankrupt).

          • ana53294 says:

            We once had a yearly audit from the capital that quizzed us on a fifty-pence difference between a quote and an invoice. Yes, we had to provide an explanation for this, and if they didn’t like it, we would have been in Serious Trouble.

            I remember there was a story in the newspaper once about a man who got an invoice for 0.00$. I can’t find it on Google, but the story was like this: some kind of computer glitch meant that the guy supposedly owed 0.00$, and they sent him an invoice which, considering the paper and the mail, probably cost a 1$. Then they harrassed him with lots of letters, demanding he pay the 0.00$ invoice. The man called their technical department, they apologised, and said that the computer glitch was too expensive to fix, and please, would he pay the 0.00$ fee. The man refused, and then they proceeded to disconnect his electricity. It ended with him going to the bank and paying the stupid fee, but being very pissed about it.
            So they spent what would probably be hundreds of dollars, to get 0$ and a very pissed customer.

        • gbdub says:

          ” it’s just that in general, most of the cases I know of end disastrously (water utilities, a lot of energy providers, schools, hospitals).”

          Where would you say that private schools and hospitals “end disastrously” in “most cases”? In the US, the best hospitals, universities, and primary/secondary schools are private.

          I think part of the problem is that privatized outfits are necessarily going to vary. It’s not fair to compare the worst examples of private enterprise to the government average (or best), although it seems that’s what anti-privatization proponents often do.

          • ana53294 says:

            What I mean by “in most cases” is that I have never seen a newspaper report about how great it was that we privatized hospital X or school X, how much better the service is, how much more the kids learn. There is probably media bias on privatization being negative, which is why I am asking for good examples. The fact that I haven’t heard of one doesn’t mean there wasn’t one, which is why I am asking for concrete examples.

            I think the problem of privatized schools, hospitals and utilities are that they are too important to fail, so whenever they fail, they government picks up the tab.
            When I say “privatization” I mean selling buildings/factories/companies that the government spent money on. A hospital that was built beginning to end with private money can be run as their owners see fit.

            This is an example of a disastrous hospital privatization (link in Spanish).
            Sweden introduced a lot of private schools that were paid in government money – and it was bad.

            I don’t mind privately run schools or hospitals – as long as they don’t receive any government money. But as soon as you mix a profit seeking company with government spending, the results are not too good.

            Water utilities are the ones that make the least sense to be privatised. Most dams were built with private money. Aquifers and water generally belong to the government, and they give concessions on it, but you can’t buy a lake. And they tend to be natural monopolies, which means that private companies will have even less incentives than public ones to drive prices down (because voters can oust you; consumers cannot stop buying water from the only provider in town).

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I don’t mind privately run schools or hospitals – as long as they don’t receive any government money. But as soon as you mix a profit seeking company with government spending, the results are not too good.

            What started as a challenge to economic-conservative thinking seems to have morphed into an endorsement of it.

            The real difficulty, I think, is coming up with an example (either good or bad) of a government-run entity being sold to someone who will run it as a profit-making enterprise in a competitive market, and thus will be subject to the incentives that make ordinary businesses work well. There’s nothing particularly wonderful about the word “private”, in the absence of those incentives.

          • albatross11 says:

            ana:

            It’s common in the US to have a private company that is set up as a regulated monopoly. A lot of power and water companies in the US work this way. The idea is that the company is granted a local monopoly, but then is heavily regulated on quality of service and prices. Traditionally, regulated monopolies are good at getting service back on after a storm, but provide lousy customer service (they can’t lose your business, after all), and are usually not very innovative. Regulated monopolies aren’t allowed to make a large profit, so they often spend the proceeds of having their monopoly on big offices or other vanity projects. AT&T (the long-distance telephone monopoly in the US for many decades) spent a lot of its money on a world-class research lab, Bell Labs. This was also a vanity project, but it was more productive for the world than big fancy offices.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, I can think of various places where competitors to the government-provided thing have done very well, including a lot of private schools, private alternatives to the US postal service, etc. But I don’t know how common it is to actually sell the government thing to a private company; in practice, I would expect that kind of transaction to have a lot of opportunities for corruption in it. (The cronies of the mayor turn out to be the ones who buy the city water company at a really good price….)

          • Randy M says:

            I think those utility monopolies are at least in large part due to the upfront infrastructure cost. Before anyone can pay for electricity or water or sewage disposal they need connections to the power plant or aqueduct, and installing these is expensive and disruptive, potentially to other users, and it is assumed that everyone will want access to these. And if there were three or four providers to choose from, the infrastructure would be a mess, unless they shared lines, which creates a tragedy of the commons scenario.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Bell Labs was not a vanity project. They didn’t invent the transistor just for the Nobel Prize. They were going to make transistors, or at least charge people to license the patent until the patent was seized in 1956 and the company was banned from selling transistors. But even without the right to create new products for sale, huge amounts of research paid off by through internal use making the network cheaper to run.

          • ana53294 says:

            The sell-off of government companies is something a lot more common in Europe than in the US, I guess. The link in Spanish I gave before is an example of that; a hospital that was built and managed with public money was given to a private company; 4 years later, it had to be rescued. The same company won the tender, and managed it disastrously for 11 years until the government decided to take it back.
            I wonder what “privatization” means for people here? Because it seems like we are talking about different things.
            Opening your own school with your own money for yourself and your friend’s kids is fine by me; I don’t consider this an example of privatisation.
            Privatisation for me is taking something public and selling it. This was what happened when the USSR fell; in some countries, like the Baltic countries and Poland, this was done as well as one can hope, whereas in Russia and Ukraine this was done disastrously.
            The EU has some rules about state monopolies, so a lot of companies had to be privatised when Spain entered the EU, mainly Iberia, Tobacco shops and Telefonica.
            My guess is that this happened during the accession of other countries to the EU.

          • gbdub says:

            “I don’t mind privately run schools or hospitals – as long as they don’t receive any government money. But as soon as you mix a profit seeking company with government spending, the results are not too good.”

            You can’t expect a private entity to be substantially cheaper (for the end user) than a subsidized government system – the subsidy is hiding the cost. The reason I brought up schools and hospitals are that they receive a lot of government money, but they seem to do as well or better than the public versions that are operating in parallel and also being subsidized. If a private school can do more with $1000 of taxpayer money than a public school can, “privatization” is still a better option.

            In the US, privatization is more often just the government contracting out a private company to do something in a competitive bid process. For example, NASA (mostly) doesn’t build its own satellites, they contract those out. And sure there are contracting issues and cost plus contracts and a host of other things that could be improved, but by and large it does seem like this is more efficient than just having “NASA Satellite Co.” Not as efficient as truly private industry, but more so than if actual government employees were doing all the work.

            I get the sense that a lot of the failures of privatization in e.g. the USSR were that the industries were more broken than anyone really realized, and also corruption in the sales process. So that might be coloring the available experience – governments have rarely spun off things that were going well, they were usually forced to by some non-ideal circumstance.

          • 1soru1 says:

            For example, NASA (mostly) doesn’t build its own satellites, they contract those out.

            Note that NASA does actually maintain the capacity to do all the non-commodity tasks of satellite design and manufacture. So private contractors don’t get the job unless they can do it cheaper or better. Companies like Space X prosper.

            Contrast with (post-WWII) DoD contracting, where in most cases the only competition is between a small number of large firms with identical incentives. Which commonly means the most effective form of competition is to find justifications to increase costs. Companies like Lockheed Martin prosper.

            If you have an indefinite number of runners, some will run fast for the joy of it, and the prestige of winning against a large field. Whereas if you only have two or three, it helps if they have a tiger chasing them.

            The same principle applies to private schools in a town with decent state schools; they have to be good to be better than free. Whereas owning the only hospital in a town means you merely have to be better than going untreated.

          • gbdub says:

            “Note that NASA does actually maintain the capacity to do all the non-commodity tasks of satellite design and manufacture”

            Ehh… sort of. Pretty much the only thing they build in house anymore is (some) specialized instruments. And really one off stuff like rovers at JPL. JPL I suppose remains a nearly full-fledged spacecraft builder in their own right. But most anything that looks like a satellite, at least the bus will be built by a contractor.

            SpaceX does not build satellites (well technically Dragon is a satellite for a little while, but special case). They build rockets – a specialty where NASA has basically zero in house capability beyond basic R&D and operating test stands and facilities.

            Despite launch vehicles being where NASA has the least capability, COTS is one of their most successful cost saving programs – they got two brand new rockets and cargo spacecraft for less than they wasted on never-flown Ares.

            Then again, SLS is also being mostly contracted out, and it’s a massive over budget boondoggle. The difference is less about the manufacturers and more about the program management and contracting – COTS is relatively hands off, with defined goals and milestone payments but the contractors were mostly left to their own devices to design their systems. Where SLS is much more hands on (all the way up to the Senate…), has a poorly defined mission, and is much worse for it.

            SLS is as bad as anything the DoD does, the only reason the F-35 looks worse is because the scope of that project is so much bigger.

            Yeah, the military does less in-house development and manufacture, but that’s because you’re comparing the DoD as a whole to NASA. The DoD NASA equivalent is stuff like DARPA and AFRL. One off boutique projects are always going to look different than programs designed to produce thousands of something.

          • bean says:

            Contrast with (post-WWII) DoD contracting, where in most cases the only competition is between a small number of large firms with identical incentives. Which commonly means the most effective form of competition is to find justifications to increase costs. Companies like Lockheed Martin prosper.

            Up until at least the early 70s, there was serious competition and lots of companies building military aircraft.
            And there’s a lot of effort put into controlling cost and delivering a good product on DoD contracting. The single biggest problem in military contracting is probably Congress. Whenever they take an interest in something, cost goes up and schedule goes out the window. I’ve heard that one of the big problems on the F-35 is that subcontractors who aren’t delivering can’t be removed from the program because if they are, their congresscritters will throw a fit. I know that the Zumwalt, probably the most useless warship built for the USN since WWII, was kept alive entirely by the Maine congressional delegation. The SLS is pretty much the same.
            The second-biggest problem is the infrastructure put into place to make sure that everything is done well. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true at all levels. Let experienced naval officers decide what kind of ships to buy, and you’ll get pretty good ships. Force them to justify the results in excruciating detail to a panel of systems analysts, and you’ll spend more time and money, and quite possibly get worse ships. Or for a personal example, in the middle of a major crunch on my current project, we’re being hounded to change around how we charge our time to satisfy some bizarre DoD regulation. The last thing any of the engineers should be worried about right now is changes to our charging. We have real work to be doing.

          • Lillian says:

            One my friends works for the US Army Corps of engineers, and she thinks the fundamental problem with US government spending is simply that elected officials do not trust their own civil servants with money.

            The problem is that in the absence of trust, the only way to ensure that people are spending tax payer money responsibly is to pass strict regulations of what can and cannot be done with said money, then hire even more civil servants whose only job is to ensure these regulations are complied with. This paradoxically makes everything much more expensive, and when the government wonders why things are so expensive, it’s easy for it to decide that the untrustworthy civil service is wasting tax payer money, and so ever increasing funds are diverted into ensuring that the the funds are not being wasted.

            The problem is that elected officials have little incentive to fix this situation. If they do decide to trust civil servants, then sooner or later someone who was not trust worthy after all will get a hold of a huge quantity of money and turn it into some kind of horrible boondogle. Simply punishing such people and moving on as before is probably much cheaper than making sure it never happens in the first place, but tax payers are much more sensitive to big scandals than they are to the steady haemorrhage of regulatory compliance. So regulatory compliance it is.

            Behold Moloch.

          • CatCube says:

            @Lillian

            I also work for USACE, and I think your friend is completely correct. (I alluded to this in the last paragraph of a previous comment.)

            One example: I was part of a board evaluating contractors who had bid on a project. This requires taking their proposals and rating them on technical factors*. We had one proposal where we instructed the bidders to tell us which product they were going to use and to demonstrate that it would function under the conditions that it would be subjected to in service. Their proposal had text to the following effect (which I’ve changed around to protect the guilty, but the essence is the same):

            If you plan on proposing to use one of our product, things to consider are: 1. pot time 2. temperature of application 3. necessary pressure in the applicating equipment. Consider discussing each of these factors and how they line up with your customer’s requirements.

            They literally cut and paste an e-mail from their vendor into the proposal they sent to the US Government telling us why they should be allowed to drill anchors into a dam above a major American city. AND THEY DIDN’T EVEN FOLLOW ITS ADVICE. THEIR PROPOSAL WAS LACKING ANY OTHER DISCUSSION OF THE FACTORS THE E-MAIL POINTED OUT. This wasn’t even the worst thing in the proposal, it was just the most memorable.

            However, I still had to write out in excruciating detail why their proposal was unsuitable, or they could have sued us for not awarding to them. As a matter of fact, it’s probably harder to write up, since the lawyers don’t like “These people can’t even write a proposal competently.”

            * The technical factors have to be kept completely separate from the cost factors so the technical personnel have no idea what the costs of each proposal are. Trading off between cost and the technical proficiency of the contractor is then done by non-technical personnel at a later date, using the report written by the technical personnel, where each contractor gets ratings of “Unacceptable” “Marginal” “Good” or “Outstanding”. It’s not so much an efficient way of choosing a contractor, as it is a legally-defensible way of choosing a contractor.

          • ana53294 says:

            The problem is that in the absence of trust, the only way to ensure that people are spending tax payer money responsibly is to pass strict regulations of what can and cannot be done with said money, then hire even more civil servants whose only job is to ensure these regulations are complied with. This paradoxically makes everything much more expensive, and when the government wonders why things are so expensive, it’s easy for it to decide that the untrustworthy civil service is wasting tax payer money, and so ever increasing funds are diverted into ensuring that the the funds are not being wasted.

            It is exactly the same in academia. You need to buy everything from established suppliers, who somehow make everything more expensive.
            If you need, say, a computer, you can only buy one from a list that the established supplier offers. It would have been simpler and cheaper to buy everything from Amazon.
            Or travel: while you are going around getting everything approved, prices are going up. Sometimes they require quotes – which is impossible unless you are using travel agencies, because flight prices fluctuate a lot, so any quote they give you will change anyway.

          • Deiseach says:

            elected officials do not trust their own civil servants with money

            More that one set of elected officials, when in power, may have come to power on a platform that included “trimming the fat and eliminating government waste”, and they are always hyperaware that the opposition can easily attack them on “wasting the taxpayers’ money”.

            Representative Smith, in order to impress his constituents that he is actually doing something in parliament, can at any time get up on his hind legs and ask “Does the Minister for Paperclips and Staplers have a breakdown of expenditure on the purchase of treasury tags by department over the years 1999-2014?” and the Minister has to instruct his civil servants, to get them to tell the various departments, to produce this report.

            All so he can answer Representative Smith (who may be of the same party as the government, in which case the question is to show off how economical the government spending is and how well they are doing, or of the opposition party, in which case the question is intended to show how wasteful the government in power is and how their party would be so much more lean and efficient).

            And naturally, the Minister has to justify how under this government, expenditure on treasury tags has been the lowest in quarter of a century and efficiency has increased by ninety per cent. Never mind that the waste of time involved in getting a Grade III clerical officer to drop their daily work and trawl through sixteen years worth of stationery supplies invoices to produce the requested information – along with evidence that yes, we did seek the requisite three quotations and yes, this single packet of tags was the cheapest available – has cost a lot more than the damn items in question.

            I’ve ranted on here before about clawback etc.; the problem is that it’s easy to appeal to the electorate over “trimming the fat” because the perception is of the featherbedded civil and public service, so you get all these false economy ‘money-saving’ (that are none of the kind) regulations being passed.

            Then you have the contractors who complain about why they didn’t get the tender, as in the example CatCube quoted, and you can’t just say “because your product is (a) crap (b) expensive crap (c) cheap but still crap, which means we’ll have to replace it within two years, which will cost more in the end”, you have to cover your ass with that kind of detailed technical report because these are precisely the type who will sic the ambulance-chaser lawyers on you (for some law firms, suing the local council and/or government department is easy money because judges tend to hold state bodies to a very high standard and very often decide in the plaintiff’s favour with large damages. There’s one firm in our town which has a tidy little money-spinner in suing the local council, so all the types who just happen to trip over an uneven paving stone six times in succession plus their sisters, aunts, cousins, boyfriends, nephews and best friends who also all tripped on that same uneven paving stone despite knowing they were likely to trip on it the same way Auntie Maggie did, go to patronise them).

          • ana53294 says:

            This probably means that even if there is a politician who decides to trust the professional civil servants and to let them decide how to spend the money, you will be able to save money on small things, like the one-off 10$ purchase of paperclips for your office, but you will still have to go through the whole moronic process on anything above 10,000$, because otherwise you will be sued blind.
            How much would not having to purchase paperclips* through the established process save?

            *Meaning one-off small purchases of stuff you need less than once per year.

          • Deiseach says:

            I know that the Zumwalt, probably the most useless warship built for the USN since WWII, was kept alive entirely by the Maine congressional delegation.

            Ah bean, do you not agree that a thing of beauty is a joy forever? Perhaps the Maine delegation all suffered from Stendahl Syndrome and were transfixed and transported by their aesthetic bliss into voting for this? 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            you will still have to go through the whole moronic process on anything above 10,000$

            It’s been a few years since I was a minor bureaucratic minion (thank the Lord) but I wish that they had allowed us a limit up to ten grand. We once had a yearly audit from the capital that quizzed us on a fifty-pence difference between a quote and an invoice. Yes, we had to provide an explanation for this, and if they didn’t like it, we would have been in Serious Trouble.

            I wish I was joking. I’m not. (I’ve told the story on here before about doing an evening class in computerised accounts where the bulk of the class were all people in local government, the tutor was out of private industry, and he airily told one of us who was worried about not being able to reconcile ten thousand in the sample accounts question not to worry about it, she’d never be asked about this in her real job as it was such a ‘small amount’. Cue hollow laughter from the rest of the class and regaling him with tales of “if we’re out five punts on multi-million accounts we are in big trouble” and his jaw dropping over the pettiness of the nitpicking involved in the public service).

            The absolute stupidity of not being able to go to Local Stationery Office in town to buy a box of suspension files or packet of elastic bands, and instead having to go through the Official National Procurement Chosen By Tender Supplier Site for all requirements was breathtakingly idiotic. This might have been fine for the government offices in the national capital, where they could bang in an order and have the nearest branch office of the supplier deliver it by lunch time, but down the country where you’ll probably be waiting two weeks for that box of biros because it’s not worth making such a small order on its own, so the entire department (or several departments) has to send in a bulk order?

            Well, this is why I’m glad not to be a Minor Minion anymore (still dealing with officially imposed bureaucratic stupidity in my current job, but at least I can grouse about it from the outside now).

          • ana53294 says:

            We once had a yearly audit from the capital that quizzed us on a fifty-pence difference between a quote and an invoice. Yes, we had to provide an explanation for this, and if they didn’t like it, we would have been in Serious Trouble.

            I remember there was a story in the newspaper once about a man who got an invoice for 0.00$. I can’t find it on Google, but the story was like this: some kind of computer glitch meant that the guy supposedly owed 0.00$, and they sent him an invoice which, considering the paper and the mail, probably cost a 1$. Then they harrassed him with lots of letters, demanding he pay the 0.00$ invoice. The man called their technical department, they apologised, and said that the computer glitch was too expensive to fix, and please, would he pay the 0.00$ fee. The man refused, and then they proceeded to disconnect his electricity. It ended with him going to the bank and paying the stupid fee, but being very pissed about it.
            So they spent what would probably be hundreds of dollars, to get 0$ and a very pissed customer.

          • quanta413 says:

            @ana53294

            It is exactly the same in academia. You need to buy everything from established suppliers, who somehow make everything more expensive.
            If you need, say, a computer, you can only buy one from a list that the established supplier offers. It would have been simpler and cheaper to buy everything from Amazon.

            This has not been my experience. I’ve ordered a couple computers off Amazon for my job. Essentially no questions asked (they were cheap though. $300 desktops). But there is staff dedicated to processing purchases (among other things). So I think they justify my decisions ex post and make sure it all goes smoothly. But I generally do pick the supplier for anything I order although I’ve never ordered anything larger than a few thousand dollars.

            I imagine it varies from university to university and depends how much you’re spending.

    • ana53294 says:

      I am not against privatization in general. It’s just that I think that privatization will improve services only when it comes with breaking a monopoly. Maintaining the monopoly while making the service private gives even less incentives to lower prices than maintaining it as a state service, because politicians will run on “we will lower prices of service X” whereas you cannot influence a private monopoly.
      So if there is only one lake that can provide water, no competitor can come, invest money and make another lake. For reasons of cost of transport, the closes lake/dam to a city will provide the water, and you really can’t have a lot of competing companies drainin water from the same lake. So if there is no free market, the government company will provide better service.
      Prisoners cannot choose which jail they go to, which is why I am against private jails.

      • Randy M says:

        It’s just that I think that privatization will improve services only when it comes with breaking a monopoly.

        If there’s not a monopoly, then there is by definition competition, in which case, absent collusion, customers are probably getting about the best service they are likely to get barring some innovation. Privatization in this case is also less risky, because if the service goes to a political crony who just wants to exploit the industry and make a profit, she’ll still have competitors to keep her honest. And, if the government is more constrained than private market (more unionized, or required to give special rates to various groups, or required to operate even if in unprofitable areas) privatizing it would reduce inefficiency, at the expense of those people benefiting–arguably justifiably–from the special rules the government run program was operating under.

        For those exceptions, think of services like bus lines or the USPS, which have arguably more competent competition but exist to make sure the service is available to even people in remote areas.

        • ana53294 says:

          Breaking the monopoly for me means that after the company is privatised, you force it to spin off some part.
          The example would be state ISPs being forced to split the cables and hardware part from the data providing part, where every company has the right to rent the cables.
          Same with electricity companies; any electricity provider should be able to rent high power lines.
          Anti-trust laws should be enforced brutally, because you start with a very strong, established company, with no competition. It is hard to enter such a market without making sure the little guys don’t get swallowed.

        • ec429 says:

          The USPS is not subject to the rigours of competition, since it has a monopoly on first-class residential mail — suddenly the name of Lysander Spooner comes to mind, can’t think why — meaning that other carriers are confined to parcels etc.

          Given that the monopoly is used as a means to raise revenue to subsidise the service in remote areas, this is essentially a tax on mail, and the inefficiency of the USPS at serving non-remote areas is essentially part of the burden of this tax. Thus it might be better to instead have an efficiently-collected tax (perhaps a stamp(!) duty on (private) postage stamps) used to subsidise a post office which existed to serve the remote areas. This would allow the majority to benefit without taking away the special privileges of the people in remote areas — an example of using cash transfers to convert a Marshallian into a Paretian improvement.

          Determining the size of the tax/subsidy and the pricing of the remote-areas-post-office service remains a problem, as there are no non-political means to prevent the post office from pocketing the subsidy and providing a service only epsilon better/cheaper than private industry could manage (it is not that private services would be unavailable in remote areas, merely more expensive). But I think it would work better than the current system, where there are no non-political constraints on the USPS at all to prevent it from e.g. providing a service which is in all areas worse than private industry could manage. To the extent that political mechanisms today successfully regulate the USPS, they could continue to do so under my model, and the smaller size and turnover of the remote-areas-post-office would make the problem significantly more tractable.

    • cassander says:

      There seem to be a lot of people in this community who are libertarian/prefer small government, so here is a challenge for you: name cases when a public company was privatised, and this resulted in cheaper, better service for all the customers that were served before (cutting some customers off, such as only running the train between big cities, doesn’t count; you have to serve rural/poor communities; government services frequently offset losses by using the money earned from profitable lines, giving a cheaper service overall).

      the british automobile industry. Basically every national telecom company ever.

      Now, can you name a time nationalization led to resulted in cheaper, better service for all the customers that were served before? Including the money they paid in taxes?

      From what I have seen, privatization of schools, hospitals and public transport is a disaster, at least if they are subsidised

      .

      Where have schools been privatized? the closest you get in the US is new orleans, and even there, 75% of schools are run by the state.

      • ana53294 says:

        Now, can you name a time nationalization led to resulted in cheaper, better service for all the customers that were served before? Including the money they paid in taxes?

        Yes, I can. This German town remunicipalised its energy utility. They have not just paid off the costs of the legal battle, they are running a surplus while offering cheaper prices. Other German cities are doing the same.

        The british automobile industry. Basically every national telecom company ever.

        I don’t understand why the British government was making cars, to be honest. So as long as they did not re-nationalise it or give subsidies to it, I would say that even total bankruptcy of the car business would be fine. And then you could lower tariffs and get good quality german/japanese or cheap european/korean/american cars.

        I agree about the telecoms. I have never heard about a bad case of telecom privatisation. Has this ever happened?

        • cassander says:

          I don’t understand why the British government was making cars, to be honest. So as long as they did not re-nationalise it or give subsidies to it, I would say that even total bankruptcy of the car business would be fine. And then you could lower tariffs and get good quality german/japanese or cheap european/korean/american cars.

          Well, they weren’t really making cars. the workers were on strike more often than not, and when they weren’t they were making some of the worst cars in history.

        • Deiseach says:

          Privatisation works when there is real competition. Privitisation doesn’t work where the newly-privatised entity is still the only real game in town and has all the advantages carried over from its monopoly as formerly a semi-state body. Or where the reasons for privatisation are to give the government in power a cash injection they can use to buy votes by financing tax cuts or social programmes, which is only a quick fix. Or where the ‘privatised’ companies are getting support in the form of guaranteed taxpayer monies – I think this is the main complaint with the privatised rail service in the UK, where the services all seem to have introduced extremely complicated fare schedules, trains run late, there is often the need for “the 5:15 from Ashbury won’t be running but we’ve laid on bus services to take passengers from the station”, and any shortfall in revenue is made up by the baked-in to the contracts guarantee that the government will reimburse them, under the threat of pulling out from contracts early if they don’t get the cash.

          I don’t know if this is merely conspiracy theory thinking, but Stagecoach (which owns a sizeable chunk of rail franchise) is a bus operator, and Private Eye maintains that it is running down its rail services in order to drive passengers to its core, and more profitable, bus transport service.

          Before privitisation, British Rail was often excoriated as the most inefficient mess ever, held hostage by greedy unions in unsackable jobs going on strike at the drop of a hat. Now I’m seeing nostalgia for the days of one national body which was able to get you into your commuter job on time reliably.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            In other words, they’ve forgotten about all the strikes. In other other words, nostalgia is working the way nostalgia usually does.

      • ana53294 says:

        To be fair, I acknowledge that nationalisation does not always solve problems. But a lot of the nationalisations that have happened this century have been done by really corrupt governments which have run them to the ground. You have the same problem with lack of investment as you have with privatisation. PDVSA in Venezuela is a great example of a disastrous nationalisation. Basically, all Venezuelan nationalisation was a disaster.
        Repsol’s nationalisation in Argentina wasn’t great for them, either.
        But privatisation is also frequently disastrous. So my guess is that privatisation or nationalisation make sense for specific industries and not for others. I am trying to get an intuitive grasp over which industries work better when private and which ones are better left public.

        • Lillian says:

          The Venezuelan oil industry was nationalized under PDVSA on January 1st, 1976. The transition was so smooth that people working there at the time have said that they did not notice any difference. For the next quarter century the Venezuelan government was content to take a hands-off approach with respect to PDVSA’s operations, essentially letting it run as a private corporation that just so happened to be owned by the state. They did not start having problems with production until after 2003, when Chavez fired two thirds of the work force for participating in a general strike intended to bring down his government. Their replacements were selected more for political reliability than competence, which as one would expect has had a deleterious effect on its operations.

          Nonetheless, PDVSA still managed to keep production up to reasonable levels, even as its payroll more than doubled with positions within the company being doled out as political favours. The fundamental problem, the reason why production has fallen off a cliff in the last couple of years, is that the company’s assets were being continually raided to fund a variety of social programs. Put simply they don’t have any money, no money to pay for maintenance, no money to replace equipment, no money to exploit new fields, and no money to pay contractors. No money at all, really. PDVSA has been bled of financial assets until it can’t afford to fund its own operations, with entirely predictable results.

          PDVSA is not a disaster because it was nationalized. Nationalized corporations can run just fine, and in some circumstances even be a net benefit as long as the state is smart enough to keep politics out of it. For a quarter century this was true of PDVSA. Once the foul hand of politics finally came to rest upon it though… well, the results speak for themselves.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            PDVSA could not have run out of money or had its positions staffed by political insiders without nationalization. Therefore, it seems entirely fair to attribute those factors, and the failure stemming from them, to its nationalization. Heck, go back and re-read what you just wrote:

            “Politicians taking over control of a company works great so long as the politicians don’t control the company, and it runs exactly as if it were a private corporation”

    • actinide meta says:

      I’m pretty libertarian, but I think that in practice “privatization” is often a euphemism for “looting”. It’s true that in order to turn big governments into small ones we would unfortunately have to “privatize” a bunch of stuff, but as far as I know how to do this efficiently in the real world (where corrupt and foolish organizations are making the actual decisions) is an unsolved problem. In the meantime, the messes likely to be created by “privatization” should probably just be viewed as a necessary cost of shrinking the dangerous monster that is government.

      The people saying that eliminating monopoly is the key to avoiding disaster are also right. But given the choice between breaking up a state monopoly and replacing it with a genuine, competitive equilibrium, and selling the state monopoly at a discount to your [supporters / cousin / shell company / favored minority / etc], the kind of people who would choose the former usually don’t get far in politics.

      • quanta413 says:

        Not exactly the same as privatization, but economists do know how to do things like auction off radio spectrum. I suspect there is some knowledge of how to structure other privatization schemes in the literature as well.

        Although how that interacts with typical public choice theory issues may make it hard to get the ideal privatization schemes actually implemented.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think privatization is a good example of the agency problem. In principle, the public officials selling the public company to private interests are working for us, and should have our interests at heart. In practice, they often seem to be working with/for the private interests, perhaps in exchange for some hoped-for future position on the board or something, perhaps in exchange for some more straightforward cash under the table.

        Even without that kind of incentives, you have a life/dinner scenario. The private interests care a great deal about the terms of the sale of public assets to them–that determines whether they’ll make a profit or not. The public officials will keep drawing the same paycheck either way.

  21. johan_larson says:

    Things that happen in Silicon Valley and the Soviet Union:
    – waiting years to receive a car you ordered, to find that it’s of poor workmanship and quality
    – promises of colonizing the solar system while you toil in drudgery day in, day out
    – living five adults to a two room apartment
    – being told you are constructing utopia while the system crumbles around you
    – ‘totally not illegal taxi’ taxis by private citizens moonlighting to make ends meet
    – everything slaved to the needs of the military-industrial complex
    – mandatory workplace political education
    – productivity largely falsified to satisfy appearance of sponsoring elites
    – deviation from mainstream narrative carries heavy social and political consequences
    – Henry Kissinger visits sometimes for some reason
    more here

    • The Nybbler says:

      Ah, there are advantage to the NYC area. Last time I bought a car it was right off the lot and of good workmanship and quality. Of course it burns dinosaurs and might support Nazis. Kissinger still shows up sometimes though.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I work in Silicon Valley. I roll my eyes at “toiling in drudgery.” We struggle to get our just-out-of-college-making-solid-six-figures employees to come in by 10am (they leave at 5 and work at least one day of the week, and often more, from home). We have catered lunches and nobody forced anyone to wait for a Tesla.

      JUST LIKE THE SOVIET UNION.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us” would be pretty apt for equity, then!

      • johan_larson says:

        There seems to be a lot of variability in the workload in SV. On the one hand, some people complain about working like animals, but every place I’ve ever worked people pretty much kept business hours, 10-6 or so.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          I interviewed for a job once. Things were going well. I liked the CTO, he seemed to like me, the work sounded interesting.

          Towards the end of the phone screen, he said, “By the way, our work culture is we get in around 10 or so, work until 8 or 9pm, and I assign 8 to 10 hours of work on the weekend.”

          I said (a little later), “I don’t think this is the position for me. I wish you the best of luck.”

          And I got a job where I worked 40 hour weeks (outside of one month where we did a bit of a death march and I worked 50-60 hour weeks for that four week time period).

          You get the jobs that you take. You’ll rarely find a job that pays tip-top of market, that has good work-life balance, that’s really close to where you live, that does work that you really enjoy, that is looking like its equity will be worth millions, etc., all at once.

      • quanta413 says:

        We struggle to get our just-out-of-college-making-solid-six-figures employees to come in by 10am (they leave at 5 and work at least one day of the week, and often more, from home).

        Shit, it’s like grad school but with more time spent working at home. But with real pay. Where do I sign up?

      • pontifex says:

        It’s funny… in context. It’s about the contrast between the grandiose mission statements of some Silicon Valley companies and their banal workplaces. You sign on to Google to “make the world a better place.” But once you’re there, you end up spending your time trying to get people to click on more advertisements.

        It’s not that getting people to click on ads is actually a gruelling job or anything. But it’s not really going to accomplish any of the big SV dreams of curing cancer, going to the moon, building cool robots, or developing SkyNet. This is a bit similar to how communism was sold as “the working class building a better world” but actually ended up as people shuffling into gray brutalist buildings and pretending to work.

        It’s also a one-liner, so, uh, maybe not 100% accurate. Just like the Soviet Union’s propaganda. 😉

  22. Deiseach says:

    Saw this in the news, and yeah – when you work in social housing provision, it be like that sometimes 🙂

  23. baconbits9 says:

    Computer help request.

    My laptop, a refurbished Dell Latitude E6430, has a ton of lines across the screen. Googling suggested squeezing the screen which didn’t work, and charging it in the microwave (but I don’t own a microwave). Any general advice? It is difficult to read a lot of sites so even just chasing down google links and attempting them 1 at a time (my usual method) is very irritating.

  24. Well... says:

    I remember really liking and being impressed by Planet Earth, the nature documentary series. Now I’m watching Planet Earth II. It has redeeming qualities, for example I had to tune out my inner voice that asks “How did they ever get that shot?” because it was popping into my head so much. Also, the music is of high quality and supports the action well, although it can get a little heavy-handed at times. Also I frequently had a reason to mutter “That is just amazing” while watching,

    But there are aspects of the show that are disappointing. One is the editing, which is way too aggressive and I suspect masks a lack of footage: it’s as if the producers never really caught one of the big predators chasing one of the big prey animals on camera, so they had to cut together footage of the predator chasing some other animal on this day with footage of one of the big prey animals running from the cameraman’s unseen assistant on that day. They do that a lot in nature documentaries but Planet Earth seemed like it was supposed to meet a higher standard. Guess not.

    Another is David Attenborough’s narration, which I hadn’t realized was so annoying until I watched this series. He’s too emotive.

    One more negative thing I’d call out is the sound editing. It’s normal in nature documentaries to recreate the sound of an event using other sound samples rather than the actual audio that was recorded with the video/film footage. But in this series I frequently hear sound effects that are obviously, deliberately out of place. There are a rare few times when this device is put to clever use, but the rest of the time it gets in the way and pulls me through the fourth wall.

    But anyway. I wonder what it would be like to watch a nature documentary but instead of narration by some actor or broadcaster, the audio comes in the form of voice-over commentary by a small panel of scientists who actually study that topic. Has this been tried?

    • Anon. says:

      PEII turned into an American documentary. There’s a classic greentext about this:

      >British documentary
      >Here, in the jungles of Bhata-Tuthu, the praying mantis is in search of its prey.
      >3 minutes of very clean and uninterrupted footage of the praying mantis following a spider

      >American documentary
      >Guitar riffs playing in the backround
      >YOU PROBABLY WOULDNT WANT ONE OF THESE KILLERS IN YOUR BACK YARD
      >Rapid jump cuts of the praying mantis
      >THE PRAYING MANTIS MIGHT LOOK LIKE A BUG IN CHURCH, BUT THIS NASTY MOTHER-SUCKER IS NOT TO BE MESSED WITH
      >More flashy jump cuts
      >THIS LITTLE SPIDER DOESNT KNOW WHATS WAITING FOR HIM, THE FURY OF THE MANTIS IS NOT TO BE UNDERESTIMATED
      >More flashy jump cuts
      >The mantis strikes
      >Strange animal growling and screeching noises are dubbed in as it attacks because silent footage is too boring for americans
      >Slow mo replay of the attack in black and white
      >AND ITS OVER IN A FLASH
      >THAT LITTLE SPIDER
      >SHOULD’VE PRAYED
      >TO THE MANTIS
      >Starwipe to next clip

      • quaelegit says:

        Hah! This was definitely my impression of American documentaries compared to the 90s~2000s BBC documentary’s I grew up on. (I’m entirely American but didn’t have TV stations growing up — instead DVDs of Blue Planet, Private Life of Plants, Walking with Dinosaurs, etc.)

    • Chlopodo says:

      I can understand why they have to do it, but footage-splicing in nature documentaries can get really bad whenever the subject is insects-etc. There’s a NatGeo segment on Youtube on “the giant centipede” that keeps cutting back and forth in between footage of at least 3, and I think maybe 4, separate species of centipede (from different continents, too!), as though they’re the same animal.

    • quaelegit says:

      >Another is David Attenborough’s narration, which I hadn’t realized was so annoying until I watched this series. He’s too emotive.

      Heresy! David Attenborough’s narration perfection itself (I might be biased 😛 )

      Like I said in my other post, I prefer that style probably because I grew up watching BBC documentaries (especially DA’s). When I saw parts of the American version of Planet Earth (the 2006 one) I really disliked the narration.

      I’ve seen some of the episodes of Planet Earth II, and I thought they were much better. The only thing that annoyed me is they seemed to set up the more dramatic narratives even if it meant leaving that drama unresolved. I didn’t notice the sound editing stuff you bring up (but I’m not usually very observant about that kind of thing).

      • Well... says:

        I grew up watching Nat Geo nature documentaries, back when they were basically done in the British style. (Late 80s early 90s.) I’d watch hours and hours of them every week from as early as I can remember up through age 12 or 13. David Attenborough’s voice is probably as familiar to me as the voice of any of my uncles. But on PEII he’s too emotive, and his comedic style just doesn’t come off well.

        I agree about leaving the dramatic narratives unresolved. It seemed like instead of resolving it they would often just switch to another animal that’s roaming around the same habitat.

    • bean says:

      >But anyway. I wonder what it would be like to watch a nature documentary but instead of narration by some actor or broadcaster, the audio comes in the form of voice-over commentary by a small panel of scientists who actually study that topic. Has this been tried?

      Live commentary? Almost certainly unwatchable compared to any nature documentary ever. You’d need a script, and I’m not sure why you can’t just pay more attention to the scientists. Assuming you even need to. If your writer is good and trying, then they’ll probably do a better job than a scientist would.

      • Well... says:

        Unscripted commentary can be edited to make it more accessible and coherent. That’s kinda the bread and butter of editing. The “In Our Time” podcast manages this.

        But yeah, why not have a script that pays more attention to the science? For instance, every time they show a cheetah chasing a gazelle, I want to know 1) how often does this really happen? Once a day? Once a week? and 2) how often is the cheetah successful? How often do cheetahs just starve? In the documentaries it’s always “This time, the cheetah will go hungry,” and the viewer is left to imagine the chase as an evening ritual or something where a gazelle sportingly gives up its life once in a while but not every time. A biologist who studies cheetahs could quickly fill me in on the reality.

        • bean says:

          Unscripted commentary can be edited to make it more accessible and coherent. That’s kinda the bread and butter of editing. The “In Our Time” podcast manages this.

          Are we still trying to synchronize this with the video? Because at that point, you’re just doing the script post facto.

          Re more science, I think that would be really interesting, too. But at the same time, ideas that are popular on SSC are not necessarily popular in the rest of the world. What I’d do if I was the BBC (or whoever) would be to recruit an expert on each subject in the video and ask them to write up (text) two or three articles on the subject of differing lengths and degrees of technicalness. Maybe a 250-word, 1000-word, and 3000-word article each. Pair them with a good editor/ghostwriter to make sure they read well. Put them on a website. The nerds who want to know all the gory details can find them out, and the rest of the world just reads the 250-word versions, or ignores the website entirely.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          @Well. Yes yes yes! Is it really true that most people don’t care about such questions? Or just Americans? All your questions sound fascinating to me. I’ve never gotten into nature documentaries, BBC or otherwise, and I think it’s because they don’t ever answer those kinds of questions.

          Perhaps one needs to leave regular TV and find organizations that cater to more intellectual interests. But maybe the market is too small to make money?

    • Deiseach says:

      But anyway. I wonder what it would be like to watch a nature documentary but instead of narration by some actor or broadcaster, the audio comes in the form of voice-over commentary by a small panel of scientists who actually study that topic. Has this been tried?

      Badger Watch. This inspired an on-going series called Springwatch, which I assume over the years has become at least gently scripted to make sure the viewing public do have something to view and for dramatic purposes (staring at a curlew doing nothing in particular for half an hour may be gripping viewing in one sense but probably won’t win huge ratings figures).

      • Lambert says:

        Not watched spring/autumnwatch for a few years, but I think they make that work by having several different feeds set up from various cameras on trees, in nest boxes etc. so they can focus on whatever interesting things are happening while they’re on air.
        Plus they pre-record segments of people looking at minky whales or something to cut to when nothing interesting is going on live.

  25. Deiseach says:

    Regarding the opening on the Supreme Court and possible nominees, I saw this story and it made me wonder.

    It’s definitely veering into 4-dimensional chess territory, but do you think it is a possibility? Trump nominates a really conservative candidate that the left will spend all its energy and resources denouncing and excoriating and threatening to emigrate to Canada en masse if this person is picked, then he goes “okay, sorry, so how about this guy/gal?” and slips in his real choice. The opposition has worn and burned itself out yelling about how Candidate Number One is going to make The Handmaid’s Tale the law of the land, so they grudgingly have to settle for Number Two (maybe even Number Three if we go that far). We’ve already had loud-living dogmas, so a nice quiet dogma that just sleeps beside the fire might get the nod.

    Trump gets his real pick selected after all, and as the article says, the base who cares about real right-wing issues has been whipped up by the rejection of Candidate Number One and will blame the left, not Trump, if they don’t get Roe vs Wade (or Planned Parenthood vs Casey) overturned.

    Possible? Plausible but unlikely? Good tactics if it’s what he’ll do? Nah, Trump doesn’t think that far ahead?

    • disposablecat says:

      Interesting theory. Tangent: Do the people who are handwringing about “omg Handmaid’s Tale is happening in REAL LIFE GUYS” realize how ridiculous it will make them look when, lo and behold, the right to use money is not taken away from all American women and they are not reduced to chattel slavery? How much their alarmism and preposterous overexaggerations reduce the likelihood that even those on their side of the actual issues will take them seriously? I can’t imagine that they do, or they wouldn’t be doing it – or perhaps they truly believe that Trump’s endgame is to repeal the 19th Amendment?

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Yes, there are real people who are otherwise quite intelligent but are worried about Trump creating Gilead minus the science fiction infertility disease.

        I’m normally pretty good at hiding my power level but this was something I got into an argument with my friends over when we were watching the Handmaid’s Tale.

        Trump is only Christian in the nominal sense that Obama was, arguably less so because he doesn’t even seem to have a favorite pastor. The guy was a lifelong New York Democrat until about a decade ago and barely bothered hiding it on the campaign trail. I’m half surprised that he didn’t burst into flames when he put his hand on the Bible to swear his oath of office. He’s about as far from a Christian fundamentalist as it is possible to be and it’s absurd to say that he’s secretly yearning to implement some bastardized form of Christian patriarchy.

        But, no, Trump is just like the bad guys in the Handmaid’s Tale because he’s bad and they’re bad. It’s the current year and nuance is just a fancy word for apologism. Every insult applies to every opponent, even ones which make no sense or are contradictory.

        • Nick says:

          Pretty much what I was thinking. The Guardian calls Handmaid’s Tale “prescient” for having been written in 1984, but for it to say Trump, of all people—or even of all Republican presidents since 1984—evokes a “fundamentalist theocracy where women and minorities have been stripped of all rights” is lunacy.

          • disposablecat says:

            But, no, Trump is just like the bad guys in the Handmaid’s Tale because he’s bad and they’re bad.

            Yeah, this kind of puts a finger on it I think. I might rephrase it a little if I were feeling uncharitable – “Trump is bad to women and HMT is the current pop cultural epitome of bad-to-women therefore Trump is plotting real life HMT!!” Never you mind that they’re *completely* different varieties of bad-to-women which are not really even on the same spectrum.

            I think the “current nonliterary pop culture” connection may be important; nobody compared the Bush Administration to Gilead in 2000-2008, but maybe that was only because there wasn’t a current hot TV show that made the comparison at least broadly intelligible. Or maybe the current crop of blue-tribe media elites who like hyperbolically using pop cultural dystopias as a dogwhistle to rally the base into a foaming derangement syndrome over their political opponents weren’t old enough to have a voice yet, I don’t know.

        • albatross11 says:

          I’ve been dismayed by this phenomenon a lot. I’ve gotten pushback and some anger from friends when I’ve pointed out that a lot of their current outrage-of-the-moment is generic president behavior or generic Republican president behavior. (Like, Trump’s supreme court nominees probably won’t look much different from those of a hypothetical president Cruz or Jeb Bush.)

          And yes, the weird thing where Trump is going to impose fundamentalist Christian theocracy or is a vicious anti-semite is just bizarre and counterfactual. (Though to be fair, it’s not any less bizarre than some fundamentalists trying to spin him out to be somehow admirable by their beliefs–billionaire playboy casino moguls with multiple trophy wives and mistresses actually make pretty bad advertisements for traditional family values.)

          • disposablecat says:

            is a vicious anti-semite

            His daughter converted to Judaism to marry, and not only did he by all impressions *not* have a problem with that, his Jewish son in law then became one of his closest apparatchiks! How counterfactual can an argument get in $current_year before nobody can say it with a straight face?

          • albatross11 says:

            For Facebook political memes and clickbait articles, I don’t think there is any limit to how counterfactual something can be. I guess it’s not all that much dumber than Obama as a secret Muslim.

        • albatross11 says:

          Nabil:

          A much earlier parallel of “every insult applies to every opponent” was the labeling of the 9/11 attackers as “cowardly,” which seems to have been mandatory for everyone discussing the attacks for at least a decade.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Yeah that’s definitely a good one.

            Another example was the controversy back when Arnold Schwarzenegger was first running for governor of California because of an old interview where he said that Adolf Hitler was a skilled orater. It puzzled me because that’s not just obviously true but a very important part of why Hitler’s such a villain. Someone with exactly the same personality and plans but poorer oratory skills couldn’t have committed the horrors he did in the first place.

        • Deiseach says:

          The Handmaid’s Tale is of its time when the fear was that “abortion rights” were going to be lost, so the notion of treating women as compulsory baby-making machines with no rights or value other than that was the way the literati gave themselves delicious chills without having to go so down-market as reading genre horror.

          But to think that Trump wants to preside over “make women into baby-factories!” is absurd; look at that scandal that was shopped around various courts unsuccessfully, where the alleged paedophile sex slave said “Gone from the new lawsuit is an allegation that Trump threw money at the plaintiff for an abortion when she expressed fear about getting pregnant after being raped.” That’s not the behaviour of someone who wants to induce pregnancies in his rape victims! Nor in any of the more credible sex scandals – the ex-porn star is claiming she was paid off to keep silent, not about any ‘he wanted to keep me barefoot and pregnant’ fetishes.

          The Handmaid’s Tale is horror fiction for a certain type of person, one who likes to think of themselves as having educated, rational opinions on things and not being moved by emotional, visceral reactions (like those rednecks who are swayed by a populist demagogue) and who is a sophisticated consumer of Real Proper Literature not genre trash. They might sneer (and rightfully) at Thirty Shades of Grey, but they gobble up this work because it pushes the same buttons for them of vicarious victimhood and ultimate vindication.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Maybe that used to be true, but in my experience pretty much every woman I know who thinks that the Handmaid’s Tale was prescient has read and enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey and/or Twilight.

            Maybe I’m just not hanging out with enough feminist literary snobs, but the ones I do hang out with love bodice-rippers and contemporary SFF like A Song of Ice and Fire. The less literate ones will just wait for the shows and movies, but they all like them.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            The Handmaid’s Tale is of its time when the fear was that “abortion rights” were going to be lost, so the notion of treating women as compulsory baby-making machines with no rights or value other than that was the way the literati gave themselves delicious chills without having to go so down-market as reading genre horror.

            I don’t think this is quite right: while the Handmaid’s Tale was a response to the rise of the religious right in the United States, it also drew inspiration from the events of the Iranian revolution. I think Atwood has described it as a sort-of, It Can’t Happen Here for an Iranian-style theocracy. It was also, I believe, influenced by Communist states such as Czechoslovakia and (I think, though now can’t find confirmation) and Romania, in the latter case particularly Decree 770.

            But to think that Trump wants to preside over “make women into baby-factories!” is absurd

            This is surely true, but your evidence strikes me as beside the point: no one thinks Joseph Stalin would have personally denied food to any Ukrainians he met, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t happy to preside over a policy of starving Ukrainians to death. Donald Trump’s personal behaviour is a very imperfect measure for his personal political beliefs, which are themselves a very imperfect measure for the type of policy he is actually likely to preside over. The concern isn’t that Donald Trump will implement his preferred policy of making women barefoot and pregnant; it’s that Donald Trump will empower people (judges in particular) who have policies that are feared to have women barefoot and pregnant as an end result–not because he agrees with these people, or with that end goal, but as a favour to political allies of his.

            Of course, that doesn’t mean the fear isn’t overblown, but almost no one thinks that the worst-case scenario for a President’s policy should be seen as a literal implementation of their preferred policy.

          • Matt M says:

            Donald Trump’s personal behaviour is a very imperfect measure for his personal political beliefs, which are themselves a very imperfect measure for the type of policy he is actually likely to preside over. The concern isn’t that Donald Trump will implement his preferred policy of making women barefoot and pregnant; it’s that Donald Trump will empower people (judges in particular) who have policies that are feared to have women barefoot and pregnant as an end result–not because he agrees with these people, or with that end goal, but as a favour to political allies of his.

            The problem with this is that, among Republicans, Trump is among the least likely to personally favor these types of policies.

            While you are correct that it’s technically possible Trump will implement far-right policies that go against his own personal beliefs in order to curry favor, surely there’s some correlation between personal beliefs and policies implemented, and yet, we don’t hear about this sort of hysteria in regards to other prominent Republicans.

            This is just more Trump Derangement Syndrome. People are so utterly convinced that Trump = Worst Thing Ever that they reach for any supposed justification to assume that Trump is on the verge of implementing their own personal “Worst Thing Ever” such that feminists are utterly convinced he’s going to ban abortion, libertarians are utterly convinced that he’s going to ban recreational marijuana, gun grabbers are utterly convinced he’s going to repeal all gun regulations, etc. Even though his personal beliefs would tend to suggest the opposite of all of these things.

            If your big concern is that a GOP President might ban abortion and turn women into baby-making factories, Trump is probably the literal best case scenario for you among Republicans. If you’re so worried about this, maybe you should have been concerned about Mitt Romney, you know, the Mormon guy? But no, now we’re told that Mitt Romney is the respectable and honorable man who is expected to restore sanity to the GOP and save us from Trumphitler.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            While you are correct that it’s technically possible Trump will implement far-right policies that go against his own personal beliefs in order to curry favor, surely there’s some correlation between personal beliefs and policies implemented, and yet, we don’t hear about this sort of hysteria in regards to other prominent Republicans.

            You don’t think you’d hear this sort of rhetoric about another Republican? To be honest, I suspect you’d hear it more if it were Ted Cruz or Mike Pence making the selection of a SC judge.

            As to the correlation between personal belief and policy, there is surely some, but the view on the left is that Donald Trump isn’t particularly interested in governing at all, and certainly isn’t interested in the courts or in abortion law–but he knows the Evangelical voters who voted for him, the Republican Congress who back him, the conservative donors who fund him, the conservative pundits who defend him, etc., etc., do care. So it costs him nothing to take the advice of the Federalist Society, or Heritage Foundation, or Mike Pence, or whoever–and these are seen as having an ideological commitment to anti-abortion politics.
            He also knows that a Republican Senate will have to vote on his nominee, and so insofar as Trump is more moderate on abortion than the average Republican, he has an incentive to move in their direction.

            If Donald Trump were deeply engaged with abortion politics his personal views might weight against the above, at least somewhat. But even if you do think that Trump’s personal views on abortion are deeply ideologically held and not just opportunistically held to not contradict his playboy lifestyle I think there’s good reason to think that shouldn’t matter very much to predicting policy.

            Tim Kaine is famously personally pro-life, but his votes as a senator hardly reflect that: he has a 100% NARAL rating and PP rating going back to 2013. So if Tim Kaine, long-time politician whose opposition to abortion stems from his religious fath, is willing to set personal beliefs aside to advance the interests of his electoral coalition/donors/etc., I think one should err on the side of assuming that Donald Trump, political novice whose views on abortion are almost certainly not anything other than opportunistic, will do the same.

            Finally, I’ll note that the original argument wasn’t even an argument from personal belief: it was an argument from personal behaviour, which is even less convincing. The fact that Donald Trump slept with a porn star is very weak evidence that Donald Trump has a strong opinion about sexual politics, and very strong evidence that Donald Trump likes having sex with sexy women. It’s like inferring that Bernie Sanders wouldn’t raise taxes from the fact that if you give Bernie Sanders a wad of cash, he will take it.

      • John Schilling says:

        Tangent: Do the people who are handwringing about “omg Handmaid’s Tale is happening in REAL LIFE GUYS” realize how ridiculous it will make them look when, lo and behold, the right to use money is not taken away from all American women and they are not reduced to chattel slavery?

        They’ve been playing that card for over thirty years, and nobody they care about thinks any less of them because of it.

        In their minds, they’ve defeated the Forces of Gliead five times already – Reagan, Bush the Elder, Dole, Bush the Younger, Mitt Romney – but they can never ever rest because the Patriarchy is Still Out There, and it Will Not Rest until you are Fully Handmaidenized. It’s a basically unfalsifiable prophecy, where whatever they just did was just barely enough to avoid the ultimate doom.

      • Yakimi says:

        Angela Nagle had a good piece in Jacobin about the inappropriate comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale.

        As with so much progressive discourse, we still talk as though it were the 1950s, the nuclear family was still intact, and an ultra-traditonalist, tyrannical patriarchal order reigned. We like to imagine ourselves fighting the simpler battles of the cultural revolutionaries of the sixties.

        What has happened instead, a half century on from the sexual revolution, is something more complicated — a total hegemonic fusion of the corporate and the countercultural, of progressivism, modernity, and the market. It is pregnancy, not birth control, that burdens our current system with awkward unprofitable human functions and needs.

        • albatross11 says:

          I feel like there’s a shortage of widely-known analogies to draw. It’s like everyone knows 1984, Harry Potter, WW2, and maybe one or two others like The Handmaid’s Tale and Star Wars. And so everything must be mapped to one of those stories, no matter how poor a fit it may be.

          WW2 is the trope namer here. It’s like 90% of talking heads level political discussion is made of up people who don’t remember *anything* else from their history classes in school except WW2, so every leader is Hitler or Neville Chamberlin or Churchill.

    • ana53294 says:

      If you assume Trump would use that strategy, how much time would he have?
      My guess is that if after the November elections Republicans lose their majority in Congress, and the candidate hasn’t been confirmed yet, the Democrats could play the Merrick Garland card, and refuse to vote for any reasonable candidate until the Congress composition changes, according to the vote of the people. And, if a blue wave actually happens and they have a crushing majority at least in Congress, they will be more justified than the Republicans with MG to wait until January, when the new Congress members are sworn in.

      So would it be possible, time wise, to present a horrible candidate 1, go through the whole process with the Democrats dragging their feet as much as they can, swaying Republicans from blue states. Then name candidate 2, go through the whole process of background checks, etc., have a congressional hearing, again, with Democrats dragging their feet, and get candidate 2 approved, all before November?
      And if you don’t actually go through the process of seriously naming Horrible Anti-Abortion/Gay Marriage Candidate, the opposition will know that you weren’t serious.

      Considering they have three months of congress time (July, September and October), my intuition is “The US Congress is too disfunctional/incompetent to achieve that”, considering the first candidate hasn’t been named yet, and we are 1/4th into July.

      • albatross11 says:

        Betting on congressional dysfunction is usually pretty safe. But I strongly suspect that we’ll see the Republicans push through Trump’s nominee if he doesn’t decide spontaneously to nominate someone utterly nutty. Congress isn’t dysfunctional because they *can’t* take action, it’s dysfunctional because they usually don’t have an incentive to take action and so they don’t *want* to.

      • Fossegrimen says:

        AFAIK it’s the senate that deals with justices and not congress?
        If this is the case, you got some fairly long odds on democrats getting a majority this time around I think

        • ana53294 says:

          Don’t Republicans have just 2 more senators than Democrats? One of them being absent due to cancer? This means that Democrats have to get just one Republican who agrees to abstain.
          Will it be really that hard to get those seats in November?

          What I mean is, if Democrats gain a crushing majority in Congress, but not in the Senate, they can say “people are so outraged at your suggested candidate that we got a majority support to choose whichever candidate we want, and the only reason you have a Senate majority is the unfair system of territorial representation”.
          Democrats having a majority in Congress will make their obstruction justified in the views of the American public that is sympathetic/would consider voting Democrat. As for those who would never ever vote Democrat, why would Democrats care about how they perceive them?

          • Jaskologist says:

            Only 1/3 of the Senate is up for election in a given cycle. And this particular Senate class has generally been a cursed one for Republicans; only 9 of the 35 seats up this election are not already held by Democrats, so there’s not a lot available for Democrats to flip, and a lot for them to lose.

            Also, 10 of those Democrats are running for election in states that Trump won.

            (As mentioned upthread, the Senate confirms judicial nominees; the House has no part in the process.)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            To add to what Jaskologist said, I’m not expecting a Blue Wave for the House either. The districts are already gerrymandered. Republicans are very happy with Trump. Last I saw was 89% of Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing, which is the highest own-party approval rating in 50 years except for a few weeks post-9/11 for W. You might get some blue districts going bluer, but the red districts aren’t going blue. I expect the Republicans will pick up 2-6 seats in the Senate and I’d be surprised if the House changed more than 5 seats in either direction.

            And none of that has anything to do with voting on Trump’s pick for SCOTUS. The one thing the Trumpists and the NeverTrumpers agree on is “get conservative judges in the courts.” They’ve been operating at light speed (which for government might as well be Ludicrous Speed) on that front. And with a Republican majority in the Senate and the filibuster rule dead on judges (thanks, Harry Reid!), no Democrat cooperation is required nor is obstruction possible. The only way Trump would get stymied on his pick would be if he came in from left field with some liberal or moderate judge, which is extremely unlikely, given both the names of the people floated already and his stated and revealed preferences on the matter.

            I really like Amy Barrett, but I’d also be quite happy with Amul Thapar.

      • Deiseach says:

        if after the November elections Republicans lose their majority in Congress

        That again is something I’d like to see developed; I know there is speculation about a Blue Wave where the downtrodden masses finally recognise their own interests, vote for the Democratic candidates in every election from dog catcher on up, and the People’s Rebellion is on its way!

        But how likely is that? Apart from motivating all the likely Democratic party voters (I’m seeing a lot of appeals to young voters to actually go out and vote, not just complain on social media), do they think there is an absolute Democratic potential voter majority that will beat the Republican voters? Or do they expect all the people who voted for Trump to see that his promises were fake and he has done nothing for them, so now they’ll vote in their own self-interest (actually, I think the idea there is that by calling people ‘racists’ enough times for long enough, eventually they will admit ‘yes, I didn’t want to think so but I am now forced to agree – I am a racist, sexist, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, xenophobic bigot! to atone, I will vote for the trans black candidate!’, thus vindicating the moral superiority of the left rather than simply voting for their pocketbooks).

        In which case, I do wonder if the Blue Wave will turn out to be a Blue Trickle, since the economic results at present look like the ordinary workers are going to see some increase in their pay packet, and the economists can explain all they like how this has nothing to do with Trump and would be the same under Hillary, Jill or Bernie, but the working class white vote is going to stick with Trump?

        EDIT: Under your scenario, if the Democrats are pinning their hopes on a Blue Wave and expecting the new Congress to be a majority-Democrat one, and they think it makes sense to do to Trump what the Republicans did to Obama with Merrick Garland, then wouldn’t it be worth Trump’s while to nominate Boogeyman Candidate, let the Dems drag their feet until January, then apparently compromise on Less Horrible Candidate, so getting his real choice in? Could he fool the Dem majority into “I’ve fought you all this time to get Number One selected but you’ve forced me to nominate Number Two instead”?

        • Brad says:

          Turnout is the whole ballgame. If every person legally entitled to voted, Congress would easily be in Democratic control. One big structural advantage that Republicans have is that one of their core demographics, retirees, historically have voted in much higher numbers than other demographic groups. So while it might seem that alienating the marginal Trump voter is counterproductive, if it energizes people to vote that didn’t last time it can be valid strategy.

          As for whether or not younger people will actually show up this November, that remains to be seen. Special elections over the last two years have had good Democratic turnout, but past performance is no guarantee of future results.

    • BBA says:

      Trump isn’t holding the wheel here, Mitch McConnell is. And unless Trump does something incredibly dumb like nominating his personal lawyer, McConnell will confirm whatever name Trump gives him.

    • Lambert says:

      Initially making a terrible proposal in order to make your actual goal look like the lesser of two evils isn’t 4d chess.
      That’s just standard 2d chess at most.
      I’m not surprised at someone who reckons himself a brilliant negotiator (whether he is or not) at least knows how to make an initial offer of 400% of what they want then ‘bargain down’ to 100%.

    • Alphonse says:

      I doubt Trump will pull this move with the actual nominee, but I do suspect that keeping Amy Barrett in the final-list at this point may be partially intended to have this effect. She would be a particularly divisive candidate, and she isn’t as qualified as some of the others in the running (e.g. Kavanaugh). It wouldn’t shock me if the people managing the appointment process behind the scenes at the WH were happy enough to keep people focused on Barrett in order to make someone like Kavanaugh seem more palatable.

      ETA:
      I express no opinion on the likelihood of a “Blue Wave” giving Democrats control of the Senate in November, but there is clearly some risk of that happening. I expect if the Republicans push the matter, they can confirm the first nominee prior to November, but it would be much more difficult to do that with a second nominee after the first is rejected (and it would make for worse optics). Thus, it’s hard for me to see any rationale for Republicans not to just go ahead and confirm the nominee they actually want (to the extent that such a unitary preference exists). Minor framing, such as releasing lists of final interviewees, is one thing; actually sacrificing the first nominee is another.

      • Nick says:

        This sounds plausible to me. All the attention I’ve seen has been on Barrett, but that’s probably more a function of what I’ve been reading—for instance, First Things published not one but two essays endorsing Barrett this week and not a peep about Kavanaugh or Kethledge. On the other hand, googling Kethledge to verify my spelling, I see National Review‘s done two in a row for him….

  26. ana53294 says:

    Affirmative action seems to be based on the idea that there if a minority has average grades lower than the population, and that minority was subject to a lot of injustice, it is OK to give them a leg up.

    But there is another tipe of affirmative action – the gender balancing type. There seems to be a pretty strong correlation between the so called “rape culture” in some campuses and the gender ratio. Namely, the more females than 50-50 there are, the more hook up culture there is, which leads to sex with unclear consent.
    So a lot of universities try to give points for being male, to get a 50-50 ratio. Is this legal? I don’t think there is any argument you can make to say men are an oppressed minority, because they aren’t.

    Now, in a European university you will accept people by specialization. So if a University has a degree in say, Ancient Greek Philosophy where 90 % are women, you can compensate it by a degree in Civil Engineering with 90 % men. This way you can ensure that the University population is gender balanced, which is especially important in cities where the University is a big % of the population. I don’t think there will be a big problem if a university in NY has 90% women, because NY city itself is a big dating pool.

    I do favour affirmative action to favour men in some fields where women have taken over. It would be great to have, for example, more male primary school teachers.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The biggest reason there aren’t more male primary school teachers is that everyone (parents, other teachers, administrators, politicians) considers men who want to teach primary school to be kind of weird and likely pedophiles. As long as that holds, getting more men into the field will result in nothing but more widely publicized stories of male primary school teachers being credibly (or perhaps not) accused of being pedophiles, providing a negative feedback loop which will keep the numbers low.

      • ana53294 says:

        Does this happen that much? It may be just an American/English problem, because I have never seen any news stories in Spain. My primary school had just 2 men – the PE teacher and an old teacher. When the older one retired, they went to just 1 (out of 10) and then to 0, when a female PE teacher came. The ratio was more or less even in high school and University, but I think it is less important then.

      • 10240 says:

        I don’t think I have read such stories either. (I’ve read a few stories with female teacher “rapists”, but mostly only in the statutory rape sense.) My first guess is that more men don’t become teachers because they don’t want to.

      • fion says:

        I don’t think that’s the reason. I think the reason is that working with large numbers of young children is hard and women are better at it.

        • albatross11 says:

          The obvious guess is that few men go into primary education because of some mix of:

          a. Men tend to find a career working with young children less rewarding than women, overall. (Not all men, not all women, I’m assuming you know what a statistical distribution is and can visualize overlapping but distinct bell curves, etc.)

          b. Primary education is a pretty good career path for a woman who intends to have a few kids of her own–taking a couple years off won’t derail her career too much, she’s not looking at a decade of 70-hour weeks to make partner/get through her residency/get tenure before she has enough of a life to have kids, etc.

          c. As it becomes more female-dominated, it may also become more appealing to women and less to men. (I don’t know for sure whether it works out this way.)

          d. There’s probably more social acceptance for women than men taking such a job. I don’t know how important this is, and I don’t assume male primary school teachers are pedophiles, but they’re definitely rare enough to get extra attention and scrutiny.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I don’t particularly favor AA for men, despite being a man. One thing to note, is part of the M-F ratio problem at universities is less men applying (kind of the inverse of sports and Title IX, which is why the policy there is so stupid).

      Another is that men have worse high school grades, but have parity on test scores, so the problem is with high schools and middle schools and grade schools. There, you have a point, IMO the public schools in the US are environments that are overwhelmingly hostile towards little boys and teenage males, and that is a problem.

      • ana53294 says:

        I did not study in the US, but from my personal experience schools were kids are forced to spend ~ 8 hours a day in a closed environment with constant supervision are jails for kids, and are not good for *anybody*.
        But if you are going to be in a jail, it is better to be in a female jail than in a male one (less likely to be raped). So schools are more hostile to boys than girls, which leads to worse grades.
        Universities cannot do that much about it, other than AA. By then, it is too late.
        To be clear, I am a woman, and I think that most of the things that MRA say is bonkers; they do have some points, though.

    • Education Hero says:

      Affirmative action benefiting males is considered sexist and discriminatory, regardless of the under-representation of males, because males are not a favored class.

      When the topic of affirmative action favoring males in college admissions first entered public discussion, it eventually prompted an investigation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Commission concluded that any admissions policy favoring males violates Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in college education programs, without a hint of irony.

      From 2013 to 2015, Brigham Young University gave a single extra point on a 100-point scale (76 points depend on GPA and test scores), but shifted to holistic (read: opaque) admissions in order to avoid regulatory scrutiny. That should tell you everything you need to know about the prospects for (transparent) affirmative action favoring males.

      • ana53294 says:

        That probably means that, except for more technical universities such as Caltech or MIT, they either cook their admissions in a very misterious and opaque way, or have very skewed gender ratios.
        This probably means that the worst thing is to be is an Asian woman.
        This could be solved by accepting by degree offered, instead of to the University as a whole.

        • quanta413 says:

          My vague memory is that the male/female imbalance is reversed among Asians as a group. Qualified women definitely outnumber men among African Americans. Women still outnumber men but with a smaller difference among whites and latinos. But the trend flips for Asians.

          • 10240 says:

            My vague memory is that the male/female imbalance is reversed among Asians as a group.

            Whether that offers any help to Asian women depends on whether the “balancing” happens separately based on race and sex, or it’s based on (race,sex) combinations. (If sex balancing actually happens.)

        • Education Hero says:

          This could be solved by accepting by degree offered, instead of to the University as a whole.

          They do. Selectivity varies significantly by major.

          This probably means that the worst thing is to be is an Asian woman.

          No, the worst possible situation is to be an Asian male applying to a technical major.

          That probably means that, except for more technical universities such as Caltech or MIT, they either cook their admissions in a very misterious and opaque way, or have very skewed gender ratios.

          Could you clarify what you mean here?

          • ana53294 says:

            Well, I mean that I expect universities that are more technical to have a more even gender ratio, or more males than females.

            And liberal arts colleges will either have gender ratios similar to the ratios of applications, which can go as high as 70:30 F:M, or they use some kind of opaque system to give more points to men. I don’t know, maybe give more points for playing American football than gymnastics?

          • Education Hero says:

            Thanks for the clarification.

            Well, I mean that I expect universities that are more technical to have a more even gender ratio, or more males than females.

            This gets balanced out by a combination of technical majors that do attract more women (pure mathematics, chemistry, etc), the presence of non-technical majors, and affirmative action.

            And liberal arts colleges will either have gender ratios similar to the ratios of applications, which can go as high as 70:30 F:M, or they use some kind of opaque system to give more points to men. I don’t know, maybe give more points for playing American football than gymnastics?

            Part of this gets balanced out by the fact that although there are significantly fewer male applicants, the male applicants are also significantly stronger on average. This is because males have a flatter distribution on most traits (including those that affect academic and standardized test performance), and the smaller male applicant pool represents the right side of that flatter distribution.

            There’s also the presence of technical majors at liberal arts colleges, as well as selection based on the needs for campus activities (sports, academic competition teams such as robotics/debate/etc, and so forth) that effectively serve as minor affirmative action for males.

          • I’m not sure anyone here has mentioned the obvious argument in favor of biasing college admissions in order to get the number of men enrolled closer to the number of women.

            Mate search is one of the main human activities, college students are in the relevant age group, and most people are looking for a mate of the opposite sex. That works better if the m/f ratio is reasonably close to even.

            It’s the same reason that I am happy when I observe libertarian activities with a significant number of women in them—still more the exception than the norm. Political action is producing a public good, production of public goods is largely motivated by side benefits, one of the main side benefits is the opportunity to interact with people who have a lot in common with you, and one of the most important forms of interaction is mate search.

          • 10240 says:

            This gets balanced out by a combination of technical majors that do attract more women (pure mathematics, chemistry, etc),

            Math doesn’t have more women at all, in my experience. At least in theoretical, research-oriented courses it’s like 10%. Some statistics show more women in math than in IT or engineering, but that seems to be because they include those who study to become math teachers, and even then it usually doesn’t reach 50%. And I guess not too many future teachers go to heavily research- or engineering-oriented universities.
            Even biology and chemistry tend to be barely more than 50% women at most, I think.

          • Education Hero says:

            @David Friedman

            I was explaining why gender ratios are currently not more skewed, rather than the full set of related incentives faced by colleges.

            That said, I agree that mate search is a major reason to keep gender ratios relatively even, and colleges have indeed found that as the gender ratio becomes too skewed towards female, the quality and size of their female applicant pool actually diminishes.

            @10240

            To clarify, my claim is not that there are more women than men in those majors, but that those technical majors have more women than do other technical majors.

          • 10240 says:

            @DavidFriedman Let’s say that a university admits a fixed number of students, and it admits men instead of women to n places to balance out the sexes. This has two effects for women: n women don’t get to go to the university, and n women who would’ve otherwise had to look for a mate outside of the university can find one at the university. I doubt it’s a good deal for women overall.

            colleges have indeed found that as the gender ratio becomes too skewed towards female, the quality and size of their female applicant pool actually diminishes.

            In other words, the “problem” sort of sorts itself out by itself out, as to the extent the overrepresentation of women bothers women, fewer women (and perhaps more men) apply to a university where women are overrepresented.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Are the women in math majors planning on being mathematicians, or math teachers?

            One summer in college I took two courses, Differential Equations and Number Theory. They were both in the same building, one second period and one third period. I looked at the schedule and showed up 2nd hour at the room for Diff Q, and was pleasantly surprised: of the ~30 people in the class, 25 of them were girls. And cute. “This is great!” I thought. “I’m pretty good at this math stuff, maybe somebody needs some tutoring, maybe get a little study group going…who knows! I know they’ve been trying to get more girls interested in math, and I guess it’s working, this is great!”

            Then the teacher walks in and takes roll to make sure everyone in the class is registered. My name is not called. So at the end I raise my hand and say, “Uh, just to be sure, this is MCS4592 (or whatever) Differential Equations?” A giggle goes through the room. “No. This is Mathematics for Elementary School Teachers.” I look at my schedule and notice the classes were listed in order by course number rather than by period. I go upstairs to the room for Number Theory, which consists of nine nerdy looking guys like me. Damn it.

          • Education Hero says:

            In other words, the “problem” sort of sorts itself out by itself out, as to the extent the overrepresentation of women bothers women, fewer women (and perhaps more men) apply to a university where women are overrepresented.

            The main problem is that this typically causes irreparable harm to the specific institution in question.

            And at the risk of diving deeper into CW territory, I’d like to point out that this can also be generalized to other instances of entryism.

          • I doubt it’s a good deal for women overall.

            I wasn’t offering an opinion on that–it could go either way. Fewer women are getting to go to that college, but the ones who do are in an environment better suited to mate search, which is one of the things many women (and men) are doing there.

            My point was simply that there was a significant reason for colleges to aim at a roughly even gender ratio, having nothing to do with issues of equality—either equal treatment (which results in more women) or equal outcome (which, arguably, means as many men as women in the college).

      • 10240 says:

        AFAIK race-based affirmative action is mostly in the form of “holistic” admissions, too, while explicit point or quota systems are generally illegal in the US.

    • dndnrsn says:

      The major incentive for a university that wants to goose things to have a higher % of men around isn’t giving a leg up, it’s more alumni babies down the road.

      • albatross11 says:

        They might also want to have an approximately 50/50 sex ratio among students because they think this will make things more pleasant overall. I suspect you can’t explicitly target that without some sex discrimination, but I expect that plenty of universities have figured out some 100-parameter model where there are selections of their parameters that let them get their desired gender ratio.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Yeah, 50-50 or as close as possible probably makes it more pleasant for everyone. Majority male past 60% or so seems to make things less pleasant for both men and women (women get more unwanted attention and a lot of women don’t like the kind of culture that majority-guys tends to produce; men who want to date women have a worse position in the “market”) and majority female past 60% or so seems to be crummy for women (they have a worse position).

          What’s interesting is that majority women doesn’t seem to produce a distaff counterpart to majority-male producing certain sorts of culture; on the other hand we have a lot of formerly-all-male institutions that went co-ed, and few formerly-all-female institutions that went co-ed to compare to.

          Anecdata, as well, but what I saw in university (I went somewhere probably about 2/3 female) didn’t back up notions that more women gets men to behave better, or creates a more female-friendly culture, or even results in women having each other’s backs in open ways. Guys did not treat women better than the norm, the culture was still pretty focused around men, guys with social status who treated women badly (varying from “shitty boyfriend” to “straight up sexual predator”) were not punished more than one would expect in a 50-50 or majority male context, said guys didn’t get frozen out of elected student positions by the majority-female electorate. I didn’t see anything to support the idea that adding more women to a given social context makes that social context nicer to women.

          • albatross11 says:

            If you think of dating as a market[1], then you’d expect that having a high female:male ratio would improve the bargaining position of men in the dating market relative to women. If men in general prefer more casual sex and fewer demands for commitment[2], then in that environment, you’d expect more casual sex and fewer commitments. Cads would abound–piss off one girl and all her friends, and there are plenty more fish in the sea, after all. Less attractive women would lose out relative to more attractive women. And only the very most attractive women would be able to make strong demands (like a long-term commitment before sex, or a lot of personal time and attention from their boyfriends, or lots of boxes of chocolates and flowers, or whatever).

            By contrast, you’d expect that having a high male:female ratio would make the dating market favor women. Assuming women want commitment and attention more than they want casual sex[2] on average, you’d expect this to lead to less casual sex, and more committed relationships. You’d expect plainer women to be able to do pretty well in that environment–to get attractive men to be interested in them, to hold out for some commitment/attention before sex, etc. You’d expect the less attractive men not to do so well in this environment.

            Some places to look for these patterns:

            a. In the US, blacks have a high female:male ratio due to mass incarceration and (I think) higher demand for black men than black women on the dating market overall. There are about a zillion confounders, and plenty of blacks date people outside their race, but this is one place to look.

            b. STEM fields and STEM-heavy schools tend to be very heavily weighted toward males. This is another place to look for this pattern.

            c. Many other fields/schools, such as education, psychology, social work, veterinary medicine, nursing/medicine, etc., are skewed toward women. This is a place to look for the alternative pattern.

            d. I wonder what the male/female ratios look like across social classes/regions in the US. It would be really interesting to see how that relates to rates of unwed motherhood or premarital sex.

            e. I have the impression that Asian women are in higher demand in the dating market than Asian men. That could create a male:female imbalance among Asian-Asian couples, but I don’t know what the numbers look like. And again, there are tons of interracial dating going on in the US, so who knows if this effect even matters?

            f. There are several countries (notably China and India) with a very high male:female ratio due to sex-selective abortion. I bet there are other countries, and many subcultures/societies within those two enormous countries, all of which might be interesting places to look.

            [1] All models lie, some models are useful. This model is wrong, but maybe in an interesting way.

            [2] I think this is true on average.

          • bean says:

            @albatross11

            I went to a 75% male STEM-focused school, and for a long time thought that what I’d encountered there was strong evidence for the “Too Many Women” (there’s a book by that title, which I found in the school library there) thesis you describe. On further reflection, the school was IIRC about 70% STEM, 15% STEM girlfriends, and 15% people who liked the resulting environment (many having dropped out of STEM majors). This may not be a representative sample of the popul