THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 106.25

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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772 Responses to Open Thread 106.25

  1. a reader says:

    I couldn’t do the adversarial collaboration, being abandoned by my “adversary”, but I try to communicate the most important parts of the information I gathered, in comments here:

    Transgender Children Desistance

    There are multiple studies, from different countries, from different times, that show that many gender dysphoric children desist (cease to act and feel like the other sex as teens/adults). Some anti-child-transition sources claim 80% desistance. But pro-child-transition people object that many children included in such studies weren’t transgender children in the first place, so the percent is irrelevant.

    The pro people (for example Kristina Olson) say that many children in such studies weren’t diagnosed with “Gender Identity Disorder” (GID), the old name of Gender Dysphoria, but were considered subthreshold. I think that is a justified objection, so I calculated separately the persistence and desistance percent only among GID children, from Steensma et al. (2013), probably the best follow-up study (the most recent, largest n=127), from table 1 (3rd page aka page 584):

    Persisting GID boys: 48.8% (21 out of 43 boys with GID)
    Desisting GID boys: 51.2% (22 out of 43 boys with GID)
    Persisting GID girls: 62.2% (23 out of 37 girls with GID)
    Desisting GID girls: 37.8% (14 out of 37 girls with GID)

    So approximately, 1 in 2 boys with GID persisted and 1 desisted; 2 in 3 girls with GID persisted and 1 desisted.

    Surprisingly, 2 boys and 1 girl that were diagnosed as subthreshold persisted also and transitioned in adolescence.

    Source:
    Thomas D. Steensma, Ph.D., Jenifer K. McGuire, Ph.D., M.P.H., Baudewijntje P.C. Kreukels, Ph.D., Anneke J. B, “Factors Associated With Desistence and Persistence of Childhood Gender Dysphoria: A Quantitative Follow-Up Study”, Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 52, Number 6, June 2013

    (the links are to full articles, via Sci-Hub, not to abstracts)

    • Evan Þ says:

      Those are surprisingly high numbers! My immediate question is, what diagnosis criteria for GID were used in the study? “Did they persist” isn’t a perfect signal, but such huge discrepancies between diagnosis and persistence should be ringing alarm bells that something’s probably wrong here.

      • a reader says:

        My immediate question is, what diagnosis criteria for GID were used in the study?

        Those from DSM-IV-TR:

        DSM-IV-TR Diagnostic Criteria For Gender Identity Disorder

        A. A strong and persistent cross-gender identification (not merely a desire for any perceived cultural advantages of being the other sex). In children, the disturbance is manifested by four (or more) of the following:

        1. repeatedly stated desire to be, or insistence that he or she is, the other sex

        2. in boys, preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire; in girls, insistence on wearing only stereotypical masculine clothing

        3. strong and persistent preferences for cross-sex roles in make-believe play or persistent fantasies of being the other sex

        4. intense desire to participate in the stereotypical games and pastimes of the other sex

        5. strong preference for playmates of the other sex

        B. Persistent discomfort with his or her sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex.

        C. The disturbance is not concurrent with a physical intersex condition.

        D. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

        https://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/pn.38.14.0032

        The child transition supporters say that not all children that met the criteria for GID according to DSM-IV-TR were true transgender children, but for me, this objection seems kind of “No True Scotsman”. They object that:

        – a child could be diagnosed with GID by meeting criteria 2-5 (cross-dressing, cross-sex roles in play/fanatasy, games/pastimes and playmates of the other sex), without saying he/she is or wants to be the other sex

        – even if a child met 1 by “repeatedly stated desire to be the other sex”, he/she wasn’t a true transgender child; a transgender child would have said that he/she IS the other sex!

        • a reader says:

          See a real life example, where the gender-nonconforming behavior appeared in preschool/kindergarten, long time before the boy gathered the courage to say that he wants to be a girl (at 9), and “I want to be a girl” became immediately “I am a girl” when “[p]ressed by the therapist”:

          Raising a Transgender Child: When George Became Jessie:

          Two years ago, my nine year old son tearfully shared with me that “his whole life, he had wanted to be a girl”. Pressed by the therapist (who, thank God, was in the room with us) to clarify whether he wants to be a girl or is a girl, George immediately replied that he is a girl.

          When behaviors that concerned us in preschool and kindergarten – including, but by no means limited to his self portraits (a frequent drawing assignment) consistently depicting a girl in a dress with long, flowing hair – continued with even greater vigor in first-, second- and third-grades we concluded that he was probably going to grow up to be gay, yet didn’t quite buy it ourselves. […] He never met a doll, wig, dress or mermaid tail that he didn’t feel a total compulsion to own – no matter how strongly he had to fight for it.

        • mdet says:

          The pro-trans side often seem to object to the desistance concerns on the grounds that saying “Trans people can just grow out of it” suggests that trans people aren’t a real thing, or suggests that we should deny everyone from transitioning as children / teens. But I think desistance concerns can easily be about “Yes, trans people are real, but the evidence suggests that we’re currently really bad at diagnosing it in children, with 36/80 25/69* false positive rate and 3/??? false negatives”. The fact that the false positives weren’t really trans to begin with is exactly what concerns me, as someone who *does* want to help trans people (rather than cis people!) transition.

          As an aside, the original comment is unclear on whether “Desisting GID boy” means “A male who did not decide to transition” or “A female who desisted in identifying as a boy”.

          *a reader’s comment below clarified that some non-respondents were originally counted as desisters.

    • a reader says:

      Another very interesting paper, also by Steensma and others from Netherlands, gathers recollections from adolescents diagnosed with GID in childhood – some of them are persisters, others desisters:

      Thomas D. Steensma, Roeline Biemond, Fijgje de Boer, Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis, “Desisting and persisting gender dysphoria after childhood: A qualitative follow-up study”, Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 2011

      The persisters and desisters seemed quite similar in childhood:

      Persister #3 [born girl]
      Most children were used to my boyish behaviour and how I looked. Nobody cared, they always accepted me as I was, nobody even asked about it.

      Desister #5 [born girl]
      If there was a new child in our school they always thought that I was a boy. The other children knew that I was a girl, but they still treated me like a boy. They even shortened my name by which it became a boy’s name. […]
      I was always accepted by the boys. For them, I was one of them. But the girls accepted me less; they were always asking me if I were a boy, or why I acted like a boy. That was especially hard because I did not know what to answer. I don’t know why I behaved like I did. I just wanted them to see me as a boy.

      Persister #4 [born girl]
      When I was standing in front of the mirror I did not very much mind seeing my genitals, but it made me very sad that I did not have a penis.

      Desister #11 [born girl]
      I knew very well that I was a girl, but one who wished to be a boy. In childhood I liked the boys better, the girls were always niggling. I was tough and wanted to be as tough as the boys. […]
      My mom told me that I wanted to have a penis, I sometimes put marbles in my underwear and at the beach I once put a shell in my swimming trunk, as if I had a penis.

      The trajectories started to diverge during puberty, between 10-13 years, and continued in adolescence:

      Desister #5 [born girl]
      I gradually wanted to be like the other girls. When I saw girls wearing earrings and bracelets, I wanted to wear them too, but I couldn’t because I looked like a boy. I struggled with this feeling for maybe 2 years. I was scared the other kids would tease me. I very much wanted to start over again and I couldn’t wait to go to high school. […]
      At high school, there was one classmate from elementary school who told the other kids that I was ‘living’ like a boy in elementary school. Although I wanted to make a fresh start, I had no possibility to do so.
      Everybody knew about me and teased me. I really had looked forward to finishing off that period, but they did not give me a chance.

      Desister #11 [born girl]
      At high school, I wanted to make a new start. I did not want people to know that I had looked like a boy, and had wanted to be a boy in childhood. At home, all my pictures had to be removed. […]
      Before puberty, I disliked the thought of getting breasts. I did not want them to grow. But when they actually started to grow, I was glad they did. I really loved looking like a girl, so I was glad my body became more feminine. […]
      I began to play more often with the girls instead of only with the boys. In our class, children started dating and I realized that, just like the other girls, I happened to like the boys in another way than before.

    • a reader says:

      One more thing to consider, from the paper about “The Dutch Approach”, de Vries and Cohen-Kettenis(2012):

      Trans girls who began puberty suppression at a young age often have insufficient penile skin for a classical vaginoplasty and need an adjusted surgical procedure using colon tissue.

      I think that is a good reason (for MTF) to wait until adolescence, to not give puberty blockers to 12 year old boys.

      • AISec says:

        I think a more serious concern is whether puberty blockers interfere with whatever process causes desistence. It seems a reasonable prior that some aspect(s) of puberty leads to desistence in these (surprisingly high fractions of) dysphoric kids.

        In terms of maximum utility, it would be useful (though obviously controversial) to know how transitioned adults would subjectively rate their current state vs. what they think their level of happiness would have been had their puberty resulted in desistence.

        Down an even darker utilitarian analysis trail… If puberty blockers lead to higher levels of persistence, what are the chances that phenotype-specific hormones led to higher levels of desistence, and what would be the comparative ethics of both paths based on the total balance of positive and negative effects?

        • a reader says:

          I think a more serious concern is whether puberty blockers interfere with whatever process causes desistence. It seems a reasonable prior that some aspect(s) of puberty leads to desistence in these (surprisingly high fractions of) dysphoric kids.

          That’s what I think, too: that early onset gender dysphoria is caused by something about prenatal hormones’ impact on the brain and that puberty hormones boost may undo it somewhat (not entirely, because desisting boys are usually gay).

          But I found only circumstantial evidence in support, about the impact of puberty hormones on the brain – like these:

          Cheryl L. Sisk and Julia L. Zehr (2005) Pubertal hormones organize the adolescent brain and behavior

          “Remodeling of the adolescent brain is accomplished through many of the same mechanisms that are used to form functional neural circuits during early brain development. [….] Not surprisingly, structural changes in the adolescent brain are sex- and brain-region specific, and may or may not be influenced by gonadal steroid hormones, as reviewed below.”

          Bramen, Hranilovich, Dahl,, Forbes, Chen, Toga , Dinov ,Worthman and Sowell (2010) Puberty Influences Medial Temporal Lobe and Cortical Gray Matter Maturation Differently in Boys Than Girls Matched for Sexual Maturity

          “As predicted, significant interactions between sex and the effect of puberty were observed in regions with high sex steroid hormone receptor densities; sex differences in the right hippocampus, bilateral amygdala, and cortical gray matter were greater in more sexually mature adolescents. Within sex, we found larger volumes in MTL structures in more sexually mature boys, whereas smaller volumes were observed in more sexually mature girls. Our results demonstrate puberty-related maturation of the hippocampus, amygdala, and cortical gray matter that is not confounded by age, and is different for girls and boys, which may contribute to differences in social and cognitive development during adolescence, and lasting sexual dimorphisms in the adult brain.”

    • IrishDude says:

      Relevant twitter thread I recently read.

    • leahvelleman says:

      Another criticism that’s been raised of those studies is that apparently in at least some of them, people who fell out of touch with the clinic were counted as desisters rather than removed from the sample. (This is a problem because there are reasons other than “deciding you’re definitely 100% cis after all” why someone might lose touch with a particular set of researchers.)

      Have you looked into the possibility of correcting for that?

      • a reader says:

        Those studies were from Netherlands, including Steensma et al.(2013). The Dutch researchers thought that the non-respondents desisted because theirs was the only clinic in Netherlands that offered transgender children/adolescents transition.

        Limiting the sample only to responding adolescents with GID in Steesma et al.(2013) (based on Table 1, 3rd page), there are:

        Persisting GID boys: 58.3% (21 out of 36 boys with GID)
        Desisting GID boys: 41.7% (15 out of 36 boys with GID)
        Persisting GID girls: 69.7% (23 out of 33 girls with GID)
        Desisting GID girls: 30.3% (10 out of 33 girls with GID)

        Not a majority, but stil a plurality of desisters.

    • LadyJane says:

      @a reader: I disagree with your stance, but I appreciate you being so objective and thorough with this study, and for maintaining a respectful attitude towards trans people and trans issues.

      For me, the argument about whether children should be given puberty blockers hinges on two points: how many of the children diagnosed with gender dysphoria actually have it, and whether the harm caused by not giving puberty blockers to a genuinely trans child is greater than the harm caused by giving puberty blockers to a child who later changes their mind about transitioning. With regards to the first point, the rate of false positives is higher than I expected (although significantly lower than anti-transition people think). With regards to the second point, I’m honestly not sure which is worse. I think the people who say that puberty blockers are basically harmless are understating their effects to some extent, but I also know that trans people who start transitioning before puberty tend to be much better off in terms of passability and general satisfaction with their bodies.

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        This looks like a genuinely hard problem, where any policy we adopt will have large costs and the best we can do is try to get the best summed-up outcomes we can reach. And it also interacts with the rules we use for child-welfare and parental medical decisions for children, so we need to think about how any policy we adopt w.r.t. puberty blockers for possibly-trans kids will affect those things.

      • At a considerable tangent …

        Quite a while back, in Future Imperfect, I speculated about the possibility of puberty blockers not in the trans context but in the context of parents who would rather postpone dealing with their children growing up. I didn’t know at the time that such things already existed.

        Has anyone else raised that issue, either as a moral issue or as a practical one? Thoughts?

        • LadyJane says:

          @DavidFriedman: The ‘puberty blockers’ being used for trans children are hormone medications that delay the development of secondary sex characteristics, they don’t prevent other aspects of adolescent development like physical growth. To the best of my knowledge, nothing does.

          But hypothetically, if an all-purpose ‘adulthood blocker’ like you’re describing did exist, I would consider it unethical for parents to use it on children. I don’t think parents should have the right to delay the natural growth of their children just because they feel like it. Now, if the children themselves wanted to delay their growth into adults, I think you could make the case that they should be allowed to. The idea makes me uncomfortable on some almost instinctive level, but the idea of transitioning between genders would’ve probably made a lot of people similarly uncomfortable just a few decades ago, so that alone isn’t great justification for prohibiting people from doing it.

          • quanta413 says:

            Side effects of Leuprolide (used as a puberty blocker, also called Leuprorelin or Lupron) sometimes include bone density decrease and muscle atrophy. It slows growth rate and bone age advancement. It doesn’t stop physical growth, but its side effects are arguably worse in an immediate sense than a drug that somehow managed to truly halt physical development in an evenhanded manner. Of course, a drug that does everything but stop time is so far beyond our current ability that it’s a pretty meaningless comparison. Realistically, something more effective at slowing or stopping childhood development would probably have significantly worse side effects.

          • Do puberty blockers stop the emotional changes associated with puberty? That was what I was imagining. It’s easy to imagine parents who like having little kids, don’t like having teens, and would keep their kids little “just for a bit longer until we are ready for … .”

            Two other variants of the idea suitable for sf purposes. Suppose it turns out that a drug that delays puberty also increases life expectancy, that the relevant clock doesn’t start. One can then imagine a society with a lot of very old people who have never become sexually mature.

            The other version is to imagine a stasis box rather than a puberty blocker. Little children are a lot of work. It would be a great temptation to take a break–just for an hour. Or a day. Or a week. Or …

            Ending up with eighty year old parents with a nine month old baby.

          • LadyJane says:

            DavidFriedman: The psychological and emotional changes that occur during adolescence are partly a result of sex hormones and partly a result of overall brain development. I’d imagine puberty blockers would largely mitigate the first cause, but do very little (possibly nothing at all) about the second. Exactly how much of typical adolescent behavior is driven by the former as opposed to the latter, I’m not sure. Good old-fashioned life experience will probably result in some significant psychological and emotional changes over time too, even in the absence of physiological causes for it. But teenagers on puberty blockers probably have fewer libido-driven mood swings, at the very least.

            The idea of a society of ancients who are all physically still children is an intriguing one, it would make for a great utopian/dystopian sci-fi novel. Kind of like a weird quasi-reversal of Logan’s Run.

          • engleberg says:

            Re: parents who would rather not deal with children growing up-

            GURPS Biotech, David Pulver. Wondered where he got that from.

            Re: The idea of a society of ancients who are all physically still children is an intriguing one, it would make for a great utopian/dystopian novel-

            It did, World out of Time, Larry Niven. Girls colonizing the stars throw Pluto past the Boys on Earth to the Sun.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            There’s Damon Knight’s “The Dying Man”.

            And a Vance story (title forgotten) about a very crowded earth.

          • littskad says:

            And a Vance story (title forgotten) about a very crowded earth.

            You may be thinking of To Live Forever.

          • albatross11 says:

            The interesting moral question (to me, anyway) would be an adulthood-blocker that extended lifespan–like, you can make your kids take 25 years to reach adolescence, and then they’ll get another 10 years of life expectancy.

            [ETA] Should have read further down in the thread!

            One example something like this is the Honor Harrington books, where the life-extension drug has to be started young to work, and it slows physical maturity, so that you have fairly experienced naval personnel who look to low-tech outsiders like teenagers.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            No, not To Live Forever.

            It’s not a novel, I think it’s in a collection of four stories.

            There’s a bit where a mother says to her developmentally stopped daughter, “You can go around the world, but don’t go anywhere else”.

            An explorer finds a planet, and it’s all his. He gives permission to some people from earth to use part of it, and they’re so obnoxious they lose permission.

          • littskad says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz:

            Ah, that sounds like Ullward’s Retreat.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m pretty sure “Ullward’s Retreat” is the right story.

  2. Atlas says:

    What was playing World of Warcraft like in its glory days of, as far as I understand, ~2004-2009? I’ve never played it myself, aside from once playing with a friend on his computer in middle school, but I always hear people speak of it very fondly. (Also the Neal Stephenson novel Reamde made me curious.)

    • WashedOut says:

      I would take the glory days up to the end of Wrath of the Lich King (release 2008). I stopped playing just before the release of Cataclysm (2010), due to the feeling of being on a grind-reward treadmill.

      It was an incredibly nerdy passionate scene. Being a part of well-organised 40-man raids was a blast, and stories of parties that successfully invaded the Alliance capital and assassinated their leader were inspiring, in part because they took so much effort to co-ordinate. Remember this is the relatively early days of MMO as a genre, and being part of something this epic felt really new and good. Theorycrafting was of emerging importance for min/maxing builds and structuring an efficient raid. The guild Elitist Jerks did a lot of technical work in this space until most of their top brass got poached by Blizzard.

      Eventually i think the original generation of mid-20s gamers got too old for it and were replaced with a younger gamerbase, which Blizzard catered to in ways that seemed to be “dumbing down”. At around the same time, the gaming industry had a lot more to offer and the crowds dispersed.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I think WOTLK is actually after the end of the glory days. Or perhaps it was a “we were dead but didn’t know it”.

        Everything about WOTLK said “we don’t want anything to be hard”. Small example, the idea of marking targets in 5 mans stopped being remotely relevant. Nothing was a challenge, except for knowing the “trick” that made the last boss unbeatable if you did not know it, but made him relatively trivial if you did not. Everything else was just a face-roll.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          “Vanilla” WoW was hard, although not quite as hard as EQ, according to some vets I knew. The first expansion, Burning Crusade, was hard at first, and with some of the quality problems of Vanilla resolved. I remember several of us being dismayed when WoW’s head (Tigole) announced he was removing many of the key requirements to beating the main raid dungeons in BC. I understood his motivation; Blizzard put probably as much work into those raids as they did into the rest of the game world, and only 2% of their players would get to see the end in person. For a lot of us, though, it was all about the feeling of accomplishment, and we were going to lose that. Nevertheless, it happened.

          I guess one could call that the end of the golden age. If so, then WotLK was still the silver age. The art was better than ever; the lore was solid; and even the gameplay was pretty good. I remember Uldaur, with its varied bosses and alternate hard modes, as probably their best work. The Lich King raid itself was a very close second.

          That was the last expansion I played. My computer at the time was unable to keep up with all the mods I needed in order to raid effectively, and that seemed like a good time to call it quits. Given what I heard from my buddies who remained, it was a good call. The silver age arguably ended before Cataclysm. I’ve heard Pandaria being regarded as a low point, and the subscription numbers I read seem to bear this out. WoW recovered some of its prestige with Warlords of Draenor and Legion, but it hasn’t rebounded all the way, and probably never will now, short of a WoW 2.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yeah, I was never a raider. Burning Crusade came out not too long after I started playing.

            At a guess, you probably appreciated burning through the 10 levels to 70 and getting gear for the first raid. You, being part of the 2% of people who end boss raided, still got what you wanted.

            But for everyone else who didn’t have the time to dedicate to a raiding guild, Northrend was only really just grinding. It slowly became apparent that there were no challenges to look forward to.

            Compare that to something like Shadow Labyrinth (in BC) where I think my 5 man group never did manage to make it past the second boss.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            That was the gist of the issue as I saw it: gameplay that was challenging for people who wanted a challenge, and engaging for people who wanted a more casual experience. Blizzard seemed to do this with various steps: heroic mode raids, then regular raids, then 5-mans, then open-world elite mobs, then everything else.

            I thought Northrend had a few challenges even for non-raiders, but depending on your perspective, it might only have come with the last few 5-mans before Cataclysm, or not at all.

            There was also the PvP dimension, which was sort of its own track. A lot of raiders PvPed and vice versa, but you certainly didn’t have to do one to do the other. And “Top PvP in WoW” never really got the attention that “World First Kill of Lady Bragnaros” would.

            That was probably unavoidable, given how WoW was structured. Anything challenging for non-raiders was going to be rolled by avid raiders, who commanded the most attention from WoW’s developers.

    • Brad says:

      If you want to understand the magic of vanilla WoW, you need to understand what went wrong with UO and EQ. Briefly an insanely hostile PvP system and ridiculously hard core time requirements, respectively. WoW was the first massively multiplayer game that had a broad enough appeal that massive numbers of people wanted to play.

    • DeWitt says:

      What was playing World of Warcraft like in its glory days of, as far as I understand, ~2004-2009?

      Remember, the null hypothesis is always, always, always ‘the nerds involved were 15’. People that haven’t yet gone jaded and nostalgia are powerful things.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I was in my 30s when I was first playing WoW, so … I don’t think that is quite it.

        • DeWitt says:

          I’ve no opinion on WoW one way or another, as I’ve never played; it may well be that the game has gotten less fun somewhere a decade or so ago, but as a rule I’m always extremely wary of gamers’ nostalgia.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        re “15 year old nerds”

        I don’t know, WoW popped up on my radar because I noticed that lots of people I knew were playing it, who were NOT 15yo gaming nerds.

        WoW probably isn’t the first mmorpg to break out of the 15yo gaming nerd ghetto, but it’s the first one I noticed to have done so.

        • j1000000 says:

          Yeah, at the time I had a roommate in college who was a conventionally cool guy. He got addicted to WoW in a way that mirrored a drug addiction. Dropping out of classes, losing contact with friends, etc. Wasn’t all 15 year olds.

      • In 2004 I was 59, and enjoyed WoW, although I no longer play.

        I think it was different games for different people. Early on, I did almost nothing that involved large group coordination. My wife and son and daughter got into WoW only a little after I did, so we could do things together. My usual response to guild invitations was to explain that I was solitary by nature. Eventually the family created our own guild called “Solitary,” but my daughter became active in another and much larger guild and some of the people from that are still friends of hers, even though she no longer plays WoW.

        That was my first character, a dwarf paladin named Dur. My second was a gnome mage named Torkle, who spoke only in rhymed verse, which was a fun challenge. He joined a guild started by Mixler, another gnome mage, much more into the game and better at it than I was, and very charismatic. Mixler invented achievements before Blizzard did, thinking of some fun and difficult thing to accomplish and inviting a bunch of people to join him in doing it.

        Early on, most of what I was doing was individual quests, which were fun and reasonably challenging, sometimes done with one WoW friend or with my wife. A little later we got involved with the Guildwatch, which was a defensive alliance of guilds and individuals started by Mixler, dedicated to defending Alliance territory against Horde attacks but opposed in principle to attacks on Horde territory.

        Later I had a good deal of fun, largely as Torkle in verse, pushing the idea that Horde/Alliance conflict was a mistake and the people doing it were probably being bribed by the Litch King to get his enemies to fight each other. Part of the fun more generally was trying to play “in persona,” interacting with others as my character not as the player–also one of my main interests in SCA activity. The server I played on was theoretically a role playing server but most players were not actually role playing.

        It became less fun for me over time—hard to tell why. By the end, less than a year ago, almost all I was doing was participating in a once a week raid group and it was clear from the damage meters that I was not a very valuable participant. I wasn’t having much fun, concluded that at best I would make it to mediocre and stopped playing. I’m still not sure if the basic problem was that other players grew up with single player games that taught the same skills or if it was that others were willing to put much more time and effort into the game than I was. And it isn’t as if I have a problem finding things to spend time on—this blog, for instance.

        I still have an account and at some point, perhaps after the next upgrade, might try again, probably back to Torkle (I had several other characters).

        My wife still plays, but at this point none of the rest of us do.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I played it. I was in my 30s at the time. Most of the initial draw was from how much I liked Blizzard’s games up to that point (along with my affinity for games in general). I enjoyed the story, the world, the art. Also, I wanted to see what the big deal was with an MMO.

      To give people a sense of how WoW culture developed due to the game’s structure, a sketch:

      I imagine WoW’s biggest draw was that it was an open-world environment based on an already successful franchise world. Warcraft had had three games by then, with maybe a couple expansions, including a map editor letting players design their own story maps and share them online. They put a lot into the world lore, making it a prime candidate for an MMO.

      Gameplay put you into your own hero, choosing your own race and class. You’d then go on various quests, gaining experience, loot, and equipment, until you reached a maximum of level 60 after several hours of play. Along the way, you’d explore a map that was gigantic at the time (ISTR 20 minutes just to run from one end to the other), and socialize with scores of other players in one of the in-game capitals, and even team up in 5-hero groups to go into mini-dungeons for a chance at even better equipment. All of this was enough fun to sustain a peak of about 11 million subscribers. That base meant one could gather a lot of fame for in-game feats.

      The billboard events were raids – bigger versions of the little 5-man dungeons, requiring 40 people to cooperate to take down one of the game’s most powerful villains. No player could just waltz in with 39 other players on some random evening. Raids required teamwork, and that teamwork extended outside of the dungeon, because it contained several bosses to defeat on the way to the end boss, each yielded equipment necessary in sufficient amounts to beat the later bosses, and the only way to get that amount was to beat earlier bosses over and over – and each boss was available only once per week.

      As a result, any player aspiring to beat the most powerful villain in the game had to join a guild, and agree to its rules of raid attendance, equipment allocation, and even time spent outside of raids gathering materials to boost performance during the raid (healing potions, spell reagents, etc.). A guild could expect to spend months working through each boss in a raid until finally reaching the final one. It was a big project, with days of investment from every player, and therefore loyalty was a big deal.

      The online component probably made for the most endless entertainment. Any guild able to beat a major boss first got a great deal of fame for it, not to mention the best applicants if any of their members had to depart. There was also fanart. People would dress up as their favorite NPCs at conventions, or record them doing something funny (naked gnome races, Leroy Jenkins, etc.).

      For the Reamde tie-in:

      Some of the resource gathering for WoW raids could be done by “farming” – going out to remote parts of the game world and gathering it the tedious way – or buying it in the auction house for gold, from players who did that for you. But that meant you needed gold. You could get that in other tedious ways. Some guilds were good enough at beating raid bosses that they could sell raid slots to non-guild members who wanted a lot of great equipment quickly. But that meant those players needed gold. Clever players could play the in-game auction house – buy one commodity for cheap, resell it for more later.

      Another way to get gold was to trade real money for it. Note that this was strictly against Blizzard policy. Despite that, and despite Blizzard spending a great deal of its own time and effort on crackdowns, it happened anyway. Moreover, it had a high frequency of involving people in mainland China who literally did little more than tediously gather resources, trade them for gold, and then sell that gold to other players for real world cash.

      “Chinese gold farmer” became a popular phrase, literally because of WoW. They were real, and there were real economic forces that made them lucrative and also hard to eradicate. Huge numbers of WoW’s playerbase were themselves Chinese, enough to justify an entire expansion centered on Chinese lore – and no one knows how many of those accounts were really just gold farmers.

      This state of affairs was the backdrop for a large part of Reamde‘s plot. I found the MMO side of the story compelling due precisely to how well Stephenson captured the feel of an MMO, particularly from the economic side.

    • Matt M says:

      I’ve been playing off and on since launch, and still play today.

      I think the long-term arc of WoW has been a transition from grind-based group coordination difficulty to mechanic-based individual difficulty.

      Basically, there are two primary ways you can lose to bosses in WoW. You can lose because you simply aren’t strong enough (haven’t grinned enough to get the highest level gear), or you can lose because you failed to execute some sort of mechanic (stood in the fire and died).

      Raiding (and to a lesser extent dungeons as well) in vanilla WoW was much harder than it is today, as measured by the amount of people who successfully killed high-end bosses and the length of time it took anyone to kill them for the first time. But it was almost entirely grind-based difficulty. The high end guilds that took a month to down classic bosses weren’t dying because they were executing mechanics poorly. A lot of vanilla WoW bosses barely had any mechanics at all. EVERY raid boss in Legion has more complex mechanics than the vast majority of classic or TBC bosses. Kil’Jaden alone has more mechanics than UBRS, Strathole, and Scholomance combined did.

      No, in classic raids would wipe because the tank would either die or lose aggro. Those things basically *never* happen today. Mechanics are very complex and require everyone in the Raid to memorize multiple encounters. Legion alone has four raids, each has about 10 bosses, and each boss probably has 4 or so unique mechanics that one must be aware of to avoid dying. That’s more than 150 mechanics a player must memorize in order to avoid dying to the bosses of this expansion. Failure to execute a mechanic properly will almost certainly kill the player who messes it up, and depending on the particular mechanic, might kill the entire raid. And this is how raids wipe today. Tanks virtually never “just die” unless they make an egregious error or are significantly undergeared for the content. Gearing is far quicker and easier than it has ever been. Aggro has become a joke – it’s virtually impossible to pull aggro off a tank these days, while in vanilla it was quite commonplace, and abilities used to decrease threat were part of the regular rotation for most skilled DPS and healers.

      So in a sense I disagree that the game has “gotten easier.” To a large extent, success in WoW used to be based on your ability to log thousands of hours and get the best gear. Today, it’s largely based on your ability to memorize and flawlessly execute complex mechanics. That’s as much of a “skill” test as you’re ever going to see in an MMO.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Raiding (and to a lesser extent dungeons as well) in vanilla WoW was much harder than it is today, as measured by the amount of people who successfully killed high-end bosses and the length of time it took anyone to kill them for the first time. But it was almost entirely grind-based difficulty. The high end guilds that took a month to down classic bosses weren’t dying because they were executing mechanics poorly. A lot of vanilla WoW bosses barely had any mechanics at all. EVERY raid boss in Legion has more complex mechanics than the vast majority of classic or TBC bosses. Kil’Jaden alone has more mechanics than UBRS, Strathole, and Scholomance combined did.

        No, in classic raids would wipe because the tank would either die or lose aggro. Those things basically *never* happen today. Mechanics are very complex and require everyone in the Raid to memorize multiple encounters. Legion alone has four raids, each has about 10 bosses, and each boss probably has 4 or so unique mechanics that one must be aware of to avoid dying. That’s more than 150 mechanics a player must memorize in order to avoid dying to the bosses of this expansion. Failure to execute a mechanic properly will almost certainly kill the player who messes it up, and depending on the particular mechanic, might kill the entire raid.

        So they traded JRPG-hard for Nintendo-hard?

      • Rebecca Friedman says:

        TL;DR – I disagree with Matt about skill (on specific points), and I don’t really like late WoW and think it got much worse. Also: warning, long ramble.

        To play your class, you must practice your class. To use your emergency buttons, you must practice them. There used to be a baseline skill-at-playing-your-class which you worked up over the period you were leveling and then used on top-level instances and raids. Gear mattered but it wasn’t everything – skill was a lot too. IIRC people in circles I interacted with usually preferred someone competent with low gear to someone incompetent and geared – the former could get gear, the latter was unlikely to learn better or s/he would have by now.

        By the time I left, they had made everything but high-end raiding easy enough not to need any emergency buttons – easy enough that for most of leveling you only needed one heal spell. (Which then made leveling boring and pointless for someone like me, and also left someone like me at max level without knowing how my class worked because I’d never had to actually use it.) Maybe they did introduce a lot of mechanics (most that I’ve seen related to moving) but that’s a specific kind of hard (not one I enjoyed – fair bias warning, I quit a few years back and really meant it). “Know which of six heal spells is exactly correct for this situation and cast it” was the kind I loved, and that basically got phased out. We didn’t just have to be geared in Vanilla – we had to know our class. In BC, being a quick hand with a frost trap arrow was one of the best skills a hunter could have, and a well-timed stun or rage (for a beastmaster) just behind it. It was class-specific skill, not boss-specific skill, but… still skill.

        The mechanics were more whimsical (I miss whimsical) but I certainly remember Gruul’s Lair having mechanics (oh hey I’m a tank now?), and Karazhan and Hakkar way back before then. I only did a couple bosses of MC, so all I really remember is a hunter tactic on the second boss. I suppose more of those were things some people had to do than things all people had to do; that worked well for me but I suppose wouldn’t work as well for everyone, and you could argue requires less skill – though I would argue a different kind rather than less.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      I got into WoW just at the end of that period, and played on and off until midway through legion. My recollections of it are

      :- The raiding content was fun, but everything else was utterly trivial. I believe that wasn’t so true in the era before I started playing.
      :- The PuGing culture was utterly vile and toxic; joining randon groups with people who weren’t horrible to one another was the exception rather than the norm. If you hear women complaining about being treated abysmally in online gaming then my experience suggests that a) it’s probably even worse than they make it sound, but b) it was pretty shit, although on average not as shit, for men too. I think this has since improved a bit, but it’s still not great.
      :- The gaps between expansions were very long, and playing the same content repeatedly got very boring. This has since improved significantly.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The PuGing culture was utterly vile and toxic; joining randon groups with people who weren’t horrible to one another was the exception rather than the norm. If you hear women complaining about being treated abysmally in online gaming then my experience suggests that a) it’s probably even worse than they make it sound, but b) it was pretty shit, although on average not as shit, for men too. I think this has since improved a bit, but it’s still not great.

        Odd anecdote: there was very little toxicity in Lord of the Rings Online. Female players tended to have a great time, though some weren’t identifying as women and probably a lot more were treated well for playing healers.

      • Matt M says:

        I think PuG culture was worse because the mechanics to set up groups were far less convienent and putting a group together in the first place was a difficult act of frustration, often leading to everyone already being in a foul mood before the dungeon even starts.

        Then you add in the fact that dungeons were longer and more difficult (in a gear sense, not mechanic sense as I mentioned above) and people get mad quickly, and when it goes bad, your loss of time invested is much larger.

        On the one hand, auto group finder and easier dungeon content made the experience quicker and less toxic, sure. On the other hand, I feel like something of value was lost in that now dungeons are so trivial that communication is often not required and skipped entirely. You can run 5-mans where nobody says a word to each other the whole time. Might as well be playing with bots as party members.

        • Rebecca Friedman says:

          On the one hand, auto group finder and easier dungeon content made the experience quicker and less toxic, sure.

          By my experience (Feathermoon) you have this backwards. I used to heal for random people in the days when you picked up your groups in Ironforge, long before LFG and LFR existed. Those groups were fine – not that they were always skilled, but they were usually not actively unpleasant. I can remember inept attempts to flirt (which I handled in character) and incompetence, but not particularly nastiness. People did tend to talk to each other and there was a general sense of being allied – the person who answered your “need one more!” request was doing you a good turn, and you knew it. Sometimes you even made friends.

          Then LFG came in. And my memories say that was where the nastiness started – not that the earlier groups had always been wonderful, but that they’d been on average much better. LFG made people… disposable, and easily replaceable. And cross-server LFG made them likely people you’d never see again, too. And manners suffered as a result. I avoided it where I could, and its rise was one of my (many many I am biased here) reasons for leaving.

          … agreed about running 5-mans where nobody says a word to each other. Sorry you’re stuck with that. 🙁 I always hated that. Just disagree about when the changeover happened. In my experience (which may not match yours, etc etc) LFG was a straight downgrade for everything except convenience.

      • Rebecca Friedman says:

        I was a woman playing healers and healing random groups on an RP server, Vanilla through… I quit in Cataclysm, though I’d mostly stopped random healing by then. My characters were all female; obviously you can’t tell online, but I expect I came off as probably-female. I was usually treated well (very well by people who knew me, generic-friendly by randoms). It may depend when/where you are – quite possible my RP server was better than average. But there, have an opposing anecdote!

        (That said I don’t get harassed IRL either so discount as needed for that.)

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I would say that those were the WOW glory days (at least through the end of TBC), but the beginning of WOW should not be included. WOW at launch was fairly unfun for several of the classes. I remember starting as a Tauren Druid on a PVP server (that crashed way too much) and I could barely kill enemies without waiting to drink and eat (I still never make Taurens because of my sheer dislike of their starting area from that experience). Then it also could be frustrating because once you left the noobie areas there were always griefers that rushed to high levels on Rogues and just killed lvl 20 players over and over in the badlands, hillsbrad, etc.

      However, once Vanilla got rolling (and I rerolled to a Dwarf Paladin) and people started segregating PVP to certain areas where lvl 60s would just attack each other in massive raid groups, it was extremely fun, difficult, and rewarding. Even though I never got to do the high level Vanilla raids (Only ever did MC, Ony, and ZG, didnt get to BWL, AQ or Nax). In addition the PVP stuff got more and more fun with some PVP instances a ranking system where you got to have cool names like Knight, Marshall, Warlord, etc.

      TBC was also extremely fun because there were plenty of very difficult 5 mans, eventually 2 different 10 man instances, and several 25 man instances (and most were available at launch, not that you could get to them because they were too hard to unlock). BT is still probably their most iconic raid visually and Sunwell was a very difficult capstone to the expansion. After that, WOTLK was much easier, and seemed gimmicky with too many daily quests and faux-difficulty in Ulduar.

      • I have long thought that Blizzard ought to maintain a few retro servers, letting people lay earlier versions of WoW.

        • Randy M says:

          I believe they do? Or heard about something similar from friends who played, servers that basically rerun the course of the games development from fresh through various additions.

          • Fahundo says:

            They don’t. They announced Classic WoW a few months ago, which is supposed to be a recreation of the original game, but that will be the first time they actually host servers that aren’t running the most recent version.

            Your friends might be talking about private servers, which are hosted illegally by people other than Blizzard.

          • Randy M says:

            Well, it was a few months ago that he mentioned it, so I might be mistakenly remembering a future tense as a past tense, if that makes sense.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          They recently added that feature, but it suffers from some real problems.

          First of all, there aren’t enough people to do the things people missed out on, in particular there aren’t enough good, dedicated players who also want the retro experience AND didn’t get it at the time. You aren’t going to have any of the original SK, DnT, Nihlum, etc players on your vanilla server. Plus its going to be an ass grind to get your new toon to 60 (and you can’t progress him onto the non-vanilla servers without paying a fee). I would love to run all the Vanilla content with the guild that I raided with in TBC, but most of them did do AQ40, AQ20, BWL, and parts of Naxx an would have little desire to do so again. Plus, there is still the 40 person problem. And the issue that if you lose 1-2 main tanks to attrition you have to redo months of work.

          • Perico says:

            This is not accurate. You’re probably confusing this with the unofficial servers that do offer this functionality. WoW Classic is still in development with no known release date. It will apparently be based on patch 1.12 (i.e. right before the Burning Crusade). Here is a recent article by Blizzard about the development process which I found quite interesting. They explain how they can’t just load 15-year old code in their servers and call it a day: that version of the game is no longer compatible with their current login and security infrastructure, and there are tons of compatibility issues with modern hardware on the client side. So basically they are trying to get the old game rules and data into the modern engine.

    • Betty Cook says:

      I started playing a few months in and still do, though I have gotten less happy with it in recent years. My whole family (four of us, two kids and two adults) was playing, so we could do things together. Also, my family being better at making connections than I am let me take advantage of their connections.

      Most of the game, as we saw it early on, was exploring the world and your character’s expanding capabilities (and changing capabilities, since Blizzard kept adjusting things.) We mostly did things solo or in small groups, and I, at least, enjoyed having my character learn to make items and figure out what to sell–I liked the economics game. The game was very open ended; you could do a wide variety of different things and there was very little you “had” to do. We didn’t get into raiding until later, and when we did, that was as part of a social group that existed primarily for a combination of role play and defense against the other faction and did raiding as a sideline. When I did get into raiding, it gave me the best appreciation I have ever had for why some people like to play team sports.

      Servers were important, they developed different styles. They were large enough to have many people around, and small enough that you could develop a reputation–and that tended to improve player behavior. I remember a lengthy debate on Ironforge general chat (the closest to universal chat there was at the time) as to whether a particular raid leader had given the best loot to a personal friend rather than the player who had won the dice roll for that item; it clearly mattered to people, and when it was established that the raid leader had, it clearly impacted that person’s reputation–no one wanted to join a raid with someone like that.

      I and my kids recently went out of state to attend the wedding of an old friend we had never before met in person–a close World of Warcraft friend who invited us, some years after he stopped playing. The wonders of the Internet.

  3. RavenclawPrefect says:

    I’m interested in getting a better and broader understanding of economics, starting from relatively little pre-existent knowledge besides what one picks up from SSC-type places online and conversations with interesting people. I found Inadequate Equilibria both enjoyable and informative (and Dark Lord’s Answer if that counts). My goal is to be a somewhat better-informed person on general topics relating to economics and having more conceptual tools with which to think about interesting questions of theory and policy, less so having precise knowledge of Lastname’s Curve and how it applies to Jargony Term. (I don’t mind learning some of this along the way, though.)

    Any suggestions on which avenues would be most promising? Willing to just crack open some standard introductory textbook if that’s the best option, but I would expect this to be a suboptimal rate of return per unit of time invested.

    • Atlas says:

      (Credentials: lowly current economics major undergraduate student)

      My answer as an econ major is: I would say that just reading popular audience books by economists seems like it would well suit your needs here. People like Paul Krugman, Barry Eichengreen, Bryan Caplan, Joel Mokyr, William Nordhaus, Alan Blinder, et cetera, have written interesting books about specific policy issues/historical periods where they bring their academic expertise to bear. (At the risk of humblebragging, at least this is what I did in high school and my economics professors have been pretty impressed with my knowledge and I’ve come to many upper-division courses already having learned the most important results/facts/insights from incidental reading.) Russ Roberts’ podcast Econ Talk is also very good and useful for this.

      However, my answer as an honest man/Nassim Taleb admirer is: are you sure you want to learn more academic economics? Taleb would say that what academics teach isn’t really “economics” but rather a kind of mysticism unbounded by skin in the game, and that the only people who actually know Economics are business owners/traders/entrepreneurs who have to take risks in a marketplace that they will personally suffer from misjudging. I don’t know that I’d go that far myself, but I do kind of feel like what you learn in economics as you progress is split between kind of intuitive, plausible, conjectural conclusions you can arrive at via Socratic dialogue type reasoning and fancy, difficult (at least for social scientists) math that is used in some unknown part to discover new facts about the world and some unknown part to show that you’re smarter than a sociology/political science/gender studies Ph.D because you can do it.

      IDK, maybe people who know more about economics than I do will justly flame me for that/this, but I feel like there are probably fields you could more profitably, no pun intended, become knowledgeable about, honestly.

      • RavenclawPrefect says:

        Thanks for the recommendations, I’ll look into those!

        My goal is to be the sort of person who can evaluate/generate complex but reasonably accurate economic arguments about various topics of discussion; Inadequate Equilibria is definitely something that I felt contributed to this sort of skill. If what academics teach doesn’t generally accomplish that efficiently, I’d rather learn whatever does. (No concerns about the math part, though; the more of that the better.)

        I’m not necessarily aiming to be conversant with an econ grad student about some abstruse topic, just to be a well-informed person about an area which I feel like I’m currently rather ignorant of. But if that’s not very easily done, I have no shortage of other things I’ve been meaning to get around to.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          If you are not a numbers person but want to learn more about economics, I recommend Naked Economics (https://www.amazon.com/Economics-Public-Policy-Analytical-Approach/dp/0536906645), which is very readable and captures many of the most important concepts in economics.

          If you want to go a little further and learn economics with a bit more mathematical foundation (because really, what is economics without math?) I’d consider reading James Kearl’s Economics and Public Policy: An Analytical Approach (https://www.amazon.com/Economics-Public-Policy-Analytical-Approach/dp/0536906645). It’s a disposable textbook with exercises you tear out of the back, which means that its resale value is extremely low, but James Kearl does a good job at readably articulating economic ideas. If you’ve read both of those and understood them, you’re probably at the econ-understanding level of an econ major starting their sophomore year, which is plenty enough for most people most of the time.

          If you have a little more time, the classic economic texts are often better than their retellings. In particular, I recommend Adam Smith and John Keynes as lucid and groundbreaking authors whose ideas are central to all of economics.

          • If you have a little more time, the classic economic texts are often better than their retellings. In particular, I recommend Adam Smith and John Keynes as lucid and groundbreaking authors whose ideas are central to all of economics.

            I would recommend neither of those. Smith was writing before the basics of economic theory were worked out, so although The Wealth of Nations is an interesting and informative book, it won’t each you economics. Keynes’ General Theory is about his approach to a particular set of issues, not an explanation of the core of economic theory, and also isn’t all that readable.

            If you want to learn economics from the classic texts, the place to start is with Alfred Marshall, who more than anyone else put together the core of what is now called neoclassical economics. His Principles is readable, although long, and if you understand everything in it you probably understand economics better than the random undergraduate econ major. Maybe even the random professor.

            For a greater challenge, read Ricardo, who I regard as the first real theorist, creating an internally consistent theory of the economy. He managed to invent general equilibrium theory with no math beyond arithmetic, which is obviously impossible. He did it by depending on a critical simplifying assumption–but starts the argument with a discussion of how large the errors are that that assumption (everything produced with the same ratio of capital to labor) can be expected to produce. For details see Stigler’s article, “David Ricardo and the 93% Labor Theory of Value.”

    • Matt M says:

      Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

    • albatross11 says:

      There are a lot of mental tools for understanding the world that come out of economics, especially microeconomics/price theory[1]. But it seems like they’re mostly things you get from a textbook or class.

      [1] These are generally models of reality simplified enough that you can reason cleanly about them, and bring some mathematical tools to the job. These models lie, as all models do, but they are often useful in understanding important things about the world.

    • SamChevre says:

      Recommendation against interest (I much prefer the more foundations-focused modern approaches), but if your goal is “understand why the tools exist” it’s in my opinion hard to do better than Galbraith’s Economics in Perspective.

      Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson is another good starting point. I recommend reading both, as they have very different perspectives.

    • Incurian says:

      I enjoyed Specialization and Trade, which is a fairly introductory text high on concepts and low on math.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      I’d like to register a mild dissent from the recommendations of Hazlitt. While EIOL would be a good book to read after you’ve picked up the basics of price theory from a textbook or whatever, its content can be summed up as “here’s what basic price theory says we should do about the following contentious issues in political economy”– which is going to come across as ex cathedra if you haven’t made yourself familiar with the theory first. That’s even more so if you’re also going to be reading books about “why basic price theory is teh suxx0r” or, more reasonably, “why basic price theory isn’t sufficient to explain this particular complicated problem”.

    • As far as the contemporary academic field, I found the 100-level stuff incredibly useful and filled with crucial strategic insights, and most everything beyond that heavily infested with pretty math that doesn’t neatly describe reality and/or ammunition for political battles. (I majored in economics, which I now regret as being a pretty bad way to learn economics.)

      My recommendations, in order:
      Wealth of Nations. This remains the most illuminating book on the subject that I’ve ever read, by far. Smith’s methodology is very different from that of modern economists, and is worth understanding.
      —A well-regarded intro academic textbook, until it stops being obvious how the models apply to real life. Skip this step if reading smart blogs has already given you enough understanding that you can, e.g., draw the supply-demand curves for a perfect market vs a monopoly and identify the deadweight loss.
      —Historical case studies of production and trade in economies very different from our own.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      If you want conceptual tools, I would honestly recommend just about any intro on microeconomics. Many of them can be found free online, including SSC regular David Friedman’s own book on price theory. You’d be reading a textbook, which might mean it’s boring, but you’ll also get exercises that are worth doing if you want to internalize the concepts.

      For general topics, you could read Wealth of Nations, but you’ll probably want to skim the sections that digress into details of the markets of that time. Also, take a trip over to Ricardo and understand comparative advantage – that seems to be the singlemost important concept in economics since Smith.

      Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson is good, but I don’t know how much you’ll get out of it. There’s a reading of the whole thing on YouTube, by the way.

    • Wrong Species says:

      You aren’t going to know anything about economics from reading a pop econ book. You need to look at a bunch of supply and demand graphs and do some exercises to get anything out of it. Economics is hard. Reading a pop econ book makes it seem so much easier than it really is.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The financial crisis in 2008 opened up some pretty large divisions within the macro community and exposed major disagreements that you wouldn’t find in textbooks. If you want tools for understanding economics the best avenue that I can think of would be to read the back and forth of economics bloggers at the time, as they are presenting and defending their arguments against other economists about actual events.

      Some suggestions for conflicting viewpoints around that time

      The grumpy economist whose archive goes back to 2011
      The money illusion, archive goes back to 2009
      newmonetarism, archive goes back to 2010

      I would also include Arnold Kling’s writing at econlog, but their archive system doesn’t look so hot at first glance, so I don’t know if you can find his good stuff.

      If you start with these blogs you will end up with tons of links to others as they respond to them, and that is much of the value here (I am not endorsing the views of these blogs, I actually strongly disagree with a lot of what is in them but that is part of the understanding).

    • I have two books that you might find useful, Price Theory and Hidden Order. The first was written as a textbook, the second was the first rewritten for the interested layman. Price Theory is webbed for free, Hidden Order isn’t.

  4. Orpheus says:

    What is the best word in the English language? I nominate flimflam.

    • phi says:

      Going by popularity, it would be ‘the’.

    • RavenclawPrefect says:

      Ever since I read this comic as a kid, “smock” has been the winner for me.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I rarely know the references in the SSC commentariat, but this one I knew where it was going without following the link.

    • Aapje says:

      I really like ‘superfluous’, especially due to the unnecessary letters. You could simplify it to superflous or superflus and still have a unique word that could be used instead.

      Normally I would mark a word down for this, but in this case the weakness is a strength, as it matches the meaning.

    • johan_larson says:

      How about “antepenultimate”, meaning third-last? It’s a weird thing to have a word for.

      • dick says:

        I first learned that word from Have Some Madeira, M’dear, a fun little comedic song about date rape that my mother sang to me as a child.

        • DavidS says:

          Flanders and Swann have quite a lot that doesn’t age well in the regard. See also

          Oh, it’s hard to say…
          “Oly-ma-kitty-luca-chi-chi-chi”
          But in Tonga, that means… “No”!

          If I ever have the money,
          ‘Tis to Tonga I shall go.
          For each lovely Tongan maiden there,
          Will gladly make a date

          And by the time she’s said:
          “Oly-ma-kitty-luca-chi-chi-chi”,
          It is usually too late!

        • Deiseach says:

          A very funny song and really alarming attitude; the people who fret over “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” being a rape song would have kittens about this which is much more explicit in its intentions.

          But the use of English is very funny:

          He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat,
          To view his collection of stamps.
          And he said as he hastened to put out the cat,
          The wine, his cigar and the lamps:

        • DavidS says:

          Indeed! And then

          “She lowered her standards by raising her glass
          Her courage, her eyes… and his hopes!”

          Unlike ‘Baby it’s Cold outside’ it does make clear he’s a bad’un though.

          “She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice,
          She was fair, she was sweet seventeen.
          He was old, he was vile and no stranger to vice,
          He was base, he was bad, he was mean.”

          The attitude is not ‘this is good’ but ‘this is the sort of thing beastly men do and it’s up to women to be smart and sober enough to stop those scamps!’ In particular to not ignore advice given with their mothers’ antepenultimate breaths.

      • Nick says:

        It’s very reasonable when you’re learning stress or pitch accents in languages, which I expect is where the word was first used. It came up all the time in my Greek classes.

        • A1987dM says:

          Not when you can say “third-last” in one-third as many syllables.

          • Nick says:

            The third-last syllable is commonly called the antepenult, so half as many, and if you have to specify “third-last syllable” it’s actually shorter. And the second-last is commonly called the penult, which is shorter than “second-last” too.

    • Fitzroy says:

      I nominate ‘callipygian’ or ‘petrichor’, though for pure mouthfeel ‘lollop’ is excellent.

    • J Mann says:

      I’m a big fan of sequipedalian for its self-referential qualities, but I wouldn’t call it the best word. I’m going to go with Paul and say love.

      Now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

      So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

      1 Corinthians 13:12-13

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        I’ve actually never liked the English word love. Just one syllable and not at all a beautiful or impressive one. “Eros” and “amor” are way better words.

        • James says:

          Its other shortcoming is that it’s very tempting to use in songwriting and poetry, but we have very few good rhymes for it in the language, leading to phrases like ‘stars above’ being abused to force ‘above’ to the end of the line.

          ‘enough’ and sometimes ‘of’ get partial credit.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      I’ve always loved panjandrum. All the more so once I found out that it was not, as I’d always assumed, imported from India, but invented by an 18th-century Englishman.

    • J.R. says:

      I nominate malleable.

    • johan_larson says:

      Worst words? I don’t like limpid, nacreous, restive, or apologist. None of them mean what they seem to mean.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Also: pulchritudinous.

      • James says:

        languishing seems like languidness, but isn’t.

        From your list, I agree that restive is a dreadful cock-up (iirc it just comes from people straight-up misunderstanding the word at one point when it was mostly applied to horses), but I like nacreous.

      • Acedia says:

        Gorgeous is an ugly-sounding word.

    • Maladjusted Poor Ones says:

      I enjoy the hyperspecificity of the word boop – it’s neat that we have a word that has come to mean “to poke someone adorably on the nose”

      • baconbits9 says:

        Must be a regional dialect thing because where I live it means something very different. “To poke some one affectionately on the belly button”.

    • cassander says:

      It’s a tie between finangle and kerfuffle.

    • Randy M says:

      I remember in AP Physics the teacher noticed a large grouping of lab reports that had identical values for several trials (ie, bad dry-labing) and wrote a different archaic word for nonsense on each of them.
      “Flummery!”
      “Balderdash!”
      “Flim-Flam!”

      He also kept some astronomy pictures or charts up in the room so he could reply “No, that’s Sirius!” whenever someone asked if he was.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’ll go with “cleave”–one word, spelled the same, with two opposite meanings. (Stick together and break apart.)

      • Eric Rall says:

        Similarly, “blow” and “suck” are antonyms in their primary literal meanings, but are synonyms in their secondary meanings and their figurative meanings.

      • Nick says:

        There are a lot of these, actually; they’re commonly called auto-antonyms or contranyms. My favorite is peruse, which can mean both to examine something carefully and at length, or casually and cursorily.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      Shenanigans.

    • Rowan says:

      Is no-one going to say fuck?

    • fion says:

      Palaver

    • onyomi says:

      Not a direct answer to the question, but I have not yet ceased to be delighted by the fact I learned, maybe a year or two ago, that “helicopter” is not a combination of “heli” and “copter” as I guess I always assumed it was, but rather “helico” (like helix, helicobacter pylori, etc.) and “pter” (meaning “wing,” like in pterodactyl).

      • Watchman says:

        To be fair though that’s French not English, the speakers of which language just stole and misconstructed the word, as is our wont (a candidate for best word in English there).

  5. drunkfish says:

    The crowd sourced reading list in the last OT is awesome and I plan to pull from it going forward, but (no offense to commenters) I’d really be interested in Scott’s recommendations in particular. Does anyone know if a list exists, or Scott, would you be willing to publish one? Obviously there are lots of book reviews on here, but being reviewed only loosely correlates with being recommended as far as I can tell.

    If I have to specify, I’m interested in a looser criterion for recommendations, basically just: what books are you most glad you read? Super enjoyable fiction, super educational nonfiction, or anything else really.

  6. bean says:

    Naval Gazing returns the Sino-Japanese War, with the Battle of the Yalu River

    Also, one last reminder that I’m doing a meetup at the USS Salem in Boston this Sunday.

    • johan_larson says:

      Bean, the blogging site you are using is really slow. Pages are taking whole seconds to load, which should not be happening in a modern properly run web-based system. I suggest you consider using some other blogging software. WordPress is a common solution if you want to run the site yourself, and Blogger seems to work fine if you are looking for a hosted solution.

      • bean says:

        I know that it’s sometimes slow to load, but I don’t control the server. Said Achmiz does that, and given that he’s hosting for free and basically makes it so that I don’t have to worry about dealing with the web end of things, I’m unlikely to update. Particularly as I’d have to migrate everything, which could be a serious headache.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Hey,

        I’m the admin of the site bean uses. It’s definitely bad if it loads that slowly—it shouldn’t! I have been somewhat busy with life of late, but I’ll try and look into this ASAP. Meanwhile, could you let me know the setup you’re using? (Browser, OS, etc.) And, does it always load slowly, or only intermittently, or only some pages, etc.? Any details would be very helpful. (And in any case, thank you for saying something at all!)

        • johan_larson says:

          It happens every time. Sometimes I notice the Captcha takes a while to appear, but I also see the problem on the main Naval Gazing page, which doesn’t have one, so that may be a different problem.

          Windows 10, version 1803
          Google Chrome Version 67.0.3396.99 (Official Build) (64-bit)
          32 GB RAM on a Dell Precision 7510 laptop

    • bean says:

      Today, Naval Gazing has a guest post. DismalPseudoscience was in Japan this spring, and contributed a review of the Mikasa.

  7. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to survive being thrown out of an aircraft. You don’t know when or where you will be exiting this aircraft, but you do know it will be 1000-5000 m above ground level at the time. If you are still alive three days later, you will receive $10 million and a prompt rescue, should you need it. To survive the experience, you may bring and use any gear you want, but every kilogram you bring lowers your payout by 1%.

    • brmic says:

      Parachute: 10kg
      Life raft in case I get dropped over water: 2kg
      Polar expedition suit with mitts and boots: 5kg
      Weapon: 1kg (in case I end up above a large area with wild animals like a national park)

      I suppose it’s easily possible for them to throw me out at a point above ground that is high enough to kill me but low enough so anyone without extensive training is unable to deploy a parachute or similar. If that doesn’t work, they can drop me into a storm against some coast or among sea ice that can easily crush a raft.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

        The specifications say 1000-5000m, which should be okay for parachutes. And obviously there are scenarios where you’re screwed no matter what. I think the point is to find a solution that gives you reasonable odds over a wide variety of circumstances.

        • 10240 says:

          Yeah, it’s important if the location is determined randomly, or they can choose any location they want, perhaps intentionally choosing the most hostile one.

          E.g. you are not going to survive if you are thrown into an active volcano. You could put on a wingsuit to fly away from the crater, though (I’ve no idea about its weight). Or a paraglider — paragliders are similar to parachutes, but they are not normally launched from planes, but according to google someone managed to make a paraglider that could be used to jump from a plane. Also, a skilled parachutist can move horizontally to some extent, I have no idea if that’s enough.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Wing sits aren’t very big/heavy, but I understand them to require great skill to use.

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      “Not knowing where” includes the possibility of being tossed in the middle of the ocean?

      Assuming it does, here are a couple of items off the top of my head:
      – a parachute. (Surviving the first five minutes would be a good first step.)
      – a lifejacket.
      – how much would the smallest self-inflating boat weigh?
      – a set of warm clothes
      – a small tent
      – two gallons of water
      – emergency rations for two days (one day of fasting should be okay)
      – a smartphone (tremendously helpful if you land in civilized parts of the world)
      – 1000$ cash, and my credit card. (If I’m lucky, I might as well spend the time in style.)
      – a flashlight
      – a handgun powerful enough to stop predators and robbers
      – a Swiss army knife, a lighter, some string and other small camping stuff.

      • johan_larson says:

        Yes, you may be tossed out over the ocean. Or anywhere else at all.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          So, it includes being tossed into the ocean in the middle of a Category 5+ hurricane?

          My guess is that the way these things tend to go, my answer will be “Sorry, rules not specific enough. I pass.”

          • Nick says:

            Technically, if you’re in the middle, you just have to stay in the eye and you’ll be fine.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yeah, let me say that actually managing to stay within the eye wall of a hurricane for 3 days at sea in a rubber dinghy seems … unlikely.

            But technically correct is the best kind.

      • Aapje says:

        @Fluffy Buffalo

        how much would the smallest self-inflating boat weigh

        About 6 kg.

    • Aapje says:

      Is the location chosen randomly or maliciously, to prevent payout? Can it be anywhere on earth or are there limits? Does clothing count as equipment?

      If the location is random, then I would bring a lightweight parachute (7 kg) and a liferaft (6 kg).

      I would wear layered lightweight clothing, to survive potentially very cold temperatures, but to also be able to strip if the weather is better.

      So depending on whether clothing counts, the payout would be lowered by ~13+%.

      • johan_larson says:

        If the location is chosen truly maliciously, you’re probably screwed no matter what. I don’t see what you could do with 100 kg of gear to survive, say, the worst storms in the Southern Ocean.

      • albatross11 says:

        Random location is most likely to be on salt water of some temperature and weather. I think parachute plus life raft plus lightweight layered clothes cover most of what makes sense. A small water desalinator (a few oz but a couple thousand bucks) and a lifestraw means you can probably find safe water to drink. Minimal survival kit–a knife, some rope, sunblock, a little water in case you land in the desert, etc. Waterproof matches and kindling (even just a ziploc bag stuffed with dryer lint) for a fire.

        • Aapje says:

          I was thinking more of taking an empty plastic bottle (or just a plastic bag) and a full bladder. That should ensure having enough water to last 3 days and would be safer than the alternatives.

    • RavenclawPrefect says:

      If maximizing expected monetary gain rather than probability of survival:

      Parachute: 10kg
      GPS emergency distress beacon: 0.3kg, brings wait time to 24 hours
      Some kind of large inflatable object (raft, etc – whatever proves most effective): ~5kg

      This should be enough to make it for 24h until rescue arrives – it’s pretty easy to go without food and water for that long (if somewhat uncomfortable), and the inflatable object should provide some measure of protection from the elements plus ability to not drown in the ocean. Probably gives overall odds of survival of 90-95% if dropped on a random point on Earth, provided I have some knowledge of how to use a parachute (though I might not be very happy by the time of my rescue).

      Adding egoistic concerns (i.e. actually caring about my own survival), I’d probably throw in several layers of lightweight clothing and turn the lightweight raft into a more study boat-like object for better odds in the ocean at the cost of another 10-20kg. Whether to include some water would depend on exact rescue times in remote situations and whether there’s a serious risk of dehydration before then. At that point I think the marginal utility of more kg goes down? Once you have enough layers to make it in polar climes OK and some decent flotation, the remaining risks are harder to defend against: wildlife (minimal risk in most places and firearms are heavy), large waves (I don’t know that anything less than 100kg can really save you if you get into a bad enough spot), very crappy terrain (on the side of an icy mountain, even people with lots of supplies just have to dig a snow cave sometimes).

      If we’re going by weight rather than mass: I want a fully-functioning hot air balloon, tasty rations for a week, a smartphone, and some good books. Gonna do this Around The World in 80 Days style at 0 reward penalty.

      • Rosemary7391 says:

        I should think it would be possible to design a parachute-liferaft hybrid. Or at the very least reuse the parachute material as substitute clothing.

        • Aapje says:

          Then $3 million in expenses later, you’ve saved a few kilograms, saving you a couple $100k…

          I would go for off the shelf stuff as much as possible.

      • JulieK says:

        Gonna do this Around The World in 80 Days style

        Don’t you mean The Twenty-One Balloons?

      • Mark Atwood says:

        You cannot survive 3 days floating in salt water without drinking fresh water. You will probably probably survive 3 days sitting in a rubber raft surrounded by salt water spray without drinking fresh water, but “survive” will involve being promptly medevac’d to a clinic that will promptly start pushing IV into you. And it’s going to be an agonizing experience that will make you start to wonder if dying would be preferable.

        If you know this is going to happen to you, buy the desalinator and the filter straw.

        It’s also worth learning, and never forgetting, in case you find yourself someplace where you need to start making hard priority decisions: 3 seconds without blood pressure, 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without heat, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food. And don’t push that 3, keep it under 1 each, if you can.

        • The Pachyderminator says:

          3 hours without heat

          This one isn’t self-explanatory like the others. Isn’t that completely dependent on external conditions? E.g. I wouldn’t expect to last three hours at -50 degrees F, but I could last indefinitely if the weather was good enough.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            I learned it in the Wilderness Survival unit of a Wilderness Camping course in college. That particular unit was taught by a retired old military SERE instructor, who had some… MEMORABLE… slides in the projector that week. The class was heavily biased towards hike camping in North America.

            Yeah, if you suddenly find yourself in the upper middle of North Dakota in January at midnight wearing just jeans and a tshirt, 3 hours is probably too long. But I think the ordering would still be correct.

    • fion says:

      Is the 1% additive or multiplicative? If I take 2 kg am I on 100%-1%-1% = 98% or 100%*99%*99% = 98.01%?

    • helloo says:

      Surprised noone suggested another aircraft. Or just like a bunch of balloons (hey, you never mentioned any VOLUME limitations).

      Unless the aircraft responsible for delivery is on a one-way trip, it’s at least given that the airborne dropoff location is survivable. Then just stay there. Still might have some concerns regarding local air regulations, but those generally are survivable (or if it’s a war torn area – probably not survivable if you land anyway).

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Hey, if you are net lighter than air, do you get a higher payout?

      • johan_larson says:

        Well, keep in mind that you have to be able to fit whatever contraption you have in mind in the aircraft you start in. The original challenge doesn’t say what aircraft you’re starting in — it could be a Piper Cub or a C-5 Galaxy — but it also doesn’t specify any volume limits, so in fairness you have some wiggle room.

        I’m going to disallow any gear that can’t be launched out the back of a C-17.

    • John Schilling says:

      – One forty-five caliber automatic
      – Two boxes of ammunition
      – Four days’ concentrated emergency rations
      – One drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills
      – One miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible…

      No, wait, that’s for a good weekend in Vegas. Let’s try again:

      9 kg: Mini-Softie main + Preserver I reserve parachute
      5 kg: SOLAS immersion suit
      3 kg: Switlik one-man life raft in belt pack
      1 kg: SRU/31P aircrewman’s survival kit, but with the extra drugs Major Kong specified
      4.5 kg: Four liters fresh water in plastic water bags (seriously, how do people miss this?)
      0.75 kg: 3 x 1200 calorie emergency rations
      0.25 kg: Leatherman multitool, model TBD, mostly to cut the parachute into clothing & shelter
      0.25 kg: Iridium 9575 satellite phone
      0.75 kg: FN Five-seveN pistol w/20 cartridges (half the weight of Kong’s .45)
      0.50 kg: US$6000, €6000, £6000, 元6000, and 10 x 1/4oz gold coins

      25.0 kg total, which is a reasonable balance between odds of survival and payoff.

      • Aapje says:

        It’s only 3 days, not 3 months, John 😛

        • Randy M says:

          Day 1: Landed in Jungle. Preparing survival plan.
          Day 2: Scouting the land while awaiting rescue.
          Day 3: Cancel Rescue. Overthrew local government, installed self as new ruler.

        • John Schilling says:

          The first three days are really the only ones that matter. That’s when you have to survive the landing, arrange shelter and appropriate clothing, find water, start a fire, and come to terms with the local population. If you’ve done that, you’ll survive as long as the food and water hold out. But surviving three days in an unknown environment is harder than you may expect.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        The question that sprang to my mind was how long John took to come up with that list, or whether he already had it lying around.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        FN Five-seveN pistol

        Oooo…. I now have a new wishlist item.

        I need to go try one out, see how it feels in my hand.

      • engleberg says:

        In WWII they tried throwing partisans out of planes with no parachutes, just a steel coffin. Face it, parachute landings on unknown territory are bad. I still want a parachute on the coffin, but it can open automatically, and airbags in case of water, and a couple liters of water to drink, and I’d rather have a light carbine than a heavy pistol. A couple tarps. Several cell phones and a flare gun. A sucker to do it instead of me.

    • Nornagest says:

      You need a parachute, obviously, and some kind of flotation device. A vest would probably be enough in temperate or tropical waters, but cold water would quickly kill you, so you probably need a full-blown life raft. That could double as shelter for three days if you end up on land, so I don’t think you need a tent. A satellite phone and GPS receiver are good thoughts.

      And the basics: warm clothes. Fire-starting materials. At least six liters of fresh water in case you get dropped in the middle of the ocean or a desert. You can go three days without food without endangering yourself, although it won’t be fun, so you probably don’t need that. I’d skip firearms; not enough chance of needing one over three days, although a knife might be worth bringing.

      • Jaskologist says:

        If you end up on land, how likely are you to not be able to reach civilization within a day?

        • John Schilling says:

          Depends on how flexible you are with your definition of ‘civilization’. But the high likelihood of encountering other people in the first day or so, is the reason for bringing guns and money. Unfortunately, a lawyer would eat up too much of the mass budget (but if you brought a satellite phone you can call one).

          • Randy M says:

            Include a translation app!

          • John Schilling says:

            If I need any translating, I’ll use the satellite phone to call an actual translator.

            Though memorizing the phrase, “I will give you a thousand dollars now and a thousand more in three days, if you keep me safely hidden and sheltered”, in a bunch of widely-used languages, would be a useful hedge.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s a lot of places in the world where a pistol is more of a liability than an asset — especially something like the Five-SeveN, which is a high-capacity weapon chambered for ammo that a lot of governments consider armor-piercing. I suppose that’s not such a big deal if the promise of rescue after three days covers springing you from e.g. a Russian jail, though.

            Short of landing in an actual warzone, though, I can’t think of many places you’d need one. Plenty where you might get robbed, but you’re traveling as light as possible and you’ve got a ten-million-dollar carrot in front of you, so downside’s fairly limited there. For wildlife defense, I’d rather have a rifle or a slug gun. Those are heavy, though, and bear spray is pretty light, so it might make a reasonable compromise if you weren’t worried about humans.

          • John Schilling says:

            You always have the option of burying the gun where you land, or turning it over to the first policeman you find with “this was in the survival kit when I bailed out; obviously I don’t need it here“.

            Really, if you have to prepare for a safe landing anywhere, a fair fraction of what you bring down will be useless crap that you want to ditch as soon as you are down.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’d expect this to be pretty bimodal. In most developed areas, even fairly rural ones, walking ten miles in any direction will find you a road if not a settlement. But the least inhabited parts of the world are very uninhabited. Alaska and northern Canada, Siberia, Western China, the Sahara, the Amazon, parts of Central Africa, Antarctica, Greenland. All big places, all barely peopled.

    • johan_larson says:

      I messed around with a globe and rolled some virtual dice, and determined where you are going:

      88 degrees N, 12 degrees W, at 06:13 April 9 2018 (Z) from 3520 m AGL.

    • rlms says:

      I assume that you have to pay for the gear, but if not then as many diamonds as you can carry would be sensible.

    • Lambert says:

      This is hardly a hypothetical question.
      In naval aviation, it’s a very real matter of life and death.
      I’d probably get whatever survival kit Martin Baker put on their ejector seats. If we’re assuming the prompt rescue includes magically knowing our location, you can throw away the flares, dye pack etc.

    • Betty Cook says:

      I’ve got to wonder–is the decision of where to drop me being made by the same entity that has to pay out the $10 million (less whatever the discount is for equipment)?

  8. dodrian says:

    Congratulations commenter, you have been appointed education tzar of SSCLandia, the fictional country founded solely to provide bean with a navy to command.

    Alas, a country cannot build endless battleships without devoting at least a small amount of attention to the education of its youngest citizens, hence your appointment.

    Your initial edicts will focus on secondary education—14-17 year-olds—though feel free to also consider primary or tertiary education. What subjects will be made mandatory, and for how many years? What optional classes will be offered? How many weeks/year will our students be expected to attend school, and for how many hours/week? Will there be homework? Fieldtrips? Work placement? Assessments? A school building? Volunteerism?

    This system will be initially funded by overseas stock investments managed by our hyper-intelligent friendly AI, so consider the state pockets, if needed, to be deep. If you are a forward-thinking individual, it may be prudent to suggest other ways of funding, as it is likely that 20 years down the line we’ll need a more sustainable revenue source.

    • Matt M says:

      I don’t have time to put a ton of thought into developing a highly detailed approach here, but something I’d like to see implemented is the idea of “tracks.” I’m sure this exists in various parts of the world, but I never experienced it in the US.

      My tracks would be based roughly on general academic subject and/or career fields. So, there would be a science track, a math track, a business track, a medical track, etc.

      Each track would start with a course that is essentially “Here’s what this field is about.” It wouldn’t do much in the way of actual teaching about the specifics of the track, but rather, would focus on what the future holds for individuals who pursue further education and careers in the track. It would go into detail about the jobs available, both at the high end, and the low end, in the particular field. It would describe day to day life for these individuals, what skills are needed, who is suited for these jobs, etc. It would talk about the educational path forward and expectations and what subjects would be required in college.

      Ideally, students would be forced to take the “what is it about” course for every track, but if there are too many tracks for this to be practical, perhaps a system could be arranged wherein they pick some amount, and are randomly assigned some others. I would be comfortable with spending an entire year of instruction on nothing but these.

      Then, they pick a track. At the beginning, they must pick one and one only. Later, there will be options to change or to double-up or whatever. The tracks are designed specifically to prepare them for college and entry-level employment within that field. The way I see it, something like 60% of time would be spent in-track, with perhaps 20% being devoted to assigned relevant courses from other tracks where there are common skillsets (the medical track probably needs to interact with the science track, the engineering track probably needs to interact with the math track, the law track probably needs to interact with the business track, etc.) and 20% would be “pure electives” wherein the student can take whatever course from any other track they’d like.

    • johan_larson says:

      Well, to begin with, for some students, the ones who really truly hate school or are really struggling, there simply isn’t any secondary education. The eight years of primary education is all they get. Those eight years are designed with that possibility in mind, so they include some coursework in personal finances and running a household. Instead of more school work, the people in this track get guidance and assistance in finding unskilled work and getting established as independent adults. And if they want to return to school later in life, there are programs to help them do so.

      I’m not sure what portion of students would take this route. 10%, perhaps. No one would be forced to do this, although the system would recommend this path for some. Obviously, this isn’t what most parents would want for their children. But if it’s hopeless, it’s hopeless.

      • dodrian says:

        What I was imagining in my own response (which was vanished when I accidentally hit close tab, and I will attempt to rewrite later when I’m less upset about it) was a dual-
        path type school. The first two years would have a core curriculum, including numeracy, literacy, natural sciences, running a household, etc etc, and the second two years would split into an academic path (preparation for tertiary education), and a more practical path (maybe a large number of shorter classes exploring different skills – carpentry, auto repair, gardening, cooking, etc, and also arts). The two paths wouldn’t be entirely separate, so students would be encouraged to take a few classes from the path they weren’t on.

        Part of my concern would be scheduling, maybe the classes would be offered trimester long so that they could be switched out frequently.

        Do you think that type of school would be beneficial for almost all students, or would there still need to be an out?

        • johan_larson says:

          I think there should be an out at the end of primary education, for two reasons. First, I suspect it’s a waste of effort to try to educate the most hopelessly untalented and reluctant students. Second, trying to include these low-performing students puts downward pressure on standards and expectations, so the school system serves other students more poorly. I’m also hoping the primary education will take itself more seriously, since it will be all the education some students ever get.

          I should add that I’m not in favor of dramatic changes to the school system as it exists in the US and Canada right now. I’m prepared to believe it serves ordinary students OK, although I do think it could be a bit more ambitious and set the bar a bit higher. But I think some substantial improvements are possible for the best and worst students, the top and bottom 10% or so.

      • SamChevre says:

        I’d expand this: any student who wants to quit after primary can–and a lot of skilled trades can be learned by apprenticeship, rather than school.

        So anyone who wants to actually build ships in any capacity would quit school at 14, and apprentice with occasional classwork as it fit the apprenticeship needs. Only the engineers would go to secondary school, and they would be encouraged to apprentice for four years instead.

    • helloo says:

      Considering it is part of the given that a friendly super-int AI exists (that could somehow create islands), even if it isn’t at the point of post-scarcity, the need for jobs (or at least for a majority of the population… assuming similar demographics for humans) will be quite different and a lot of the expectation/goals for education should probably be reexamined.

      Assuming that the AI prevents itself from being copied/recreated/used generally, I think an education that was less… age-fixed and more competence-based might be worth experimenting. Still might be some kind of home-room/peer group/conscientiousness testing classroom of some sort.

    • albatross11 says:

      I am deeply skeptical that anyone knows how to radically restructure education and get huge gains over normal students and normal teachers (as opposed to super-committed very smart teachers and handpicked students). But my very limited understanding of what’s known from educational research is that one-on-one time with skilled teachers is a win, and this tracks well with my own experiences with my kids. And the main barrier to that seems to be some combination of budget issues and administrative bloat.

      So my proposal is something that looks a lot like current schools, but with about one teacher per four kids, and a lot of one-on-one time for each kid. Borrow Steve Sailer’s proposal and hire retired NCOs with a putting-punks-in-their-place hobby from bean’s navy as disciplinarians. (But with a high adult:kid ratio, a lot of bad behavior won’t be happening because the kids can’t get away with it!) For really incorrigible kids, you can have reform schools, but that should be a last resort.

      With such a high teacher:student ratio, you can very aggressively track. If each teacher only has 3-5 students, you should be able to keep kids at a similar level in each subject together, and move kids up/down to keep them learning at something close to capacity.

    • ana53294 says:

      Well, if we have unlimited resources, I would start by testing everybody who starts primary schools for all the learning disabilities that are known. Then I would teach them the three R’s well, until age 14. The only compulsory things would be reading, writing and basic arithmetic (with appropriate accomodations for the disabilities), as well as home ec and PE. PE would be quite intense, and would be based on the Soviet PE standards. Since I guess this imaginary country also has a 2nd ammendment, all kids are trained in marksmanship, same as in USSR. Home ec includes the basic abilities to cook (fry an egg, dice an onion, peel a potato), sew a button or a hem, balance a budget, invest savings (just tell them there is nothing better than an emergency fund + index fund for the rest), a bit of carpenting and plumbing. This schooling would be 10 am to 1 pm, and time before or after that can be filled with the optionals, which kids can choose to attend or not. Kids should have plenty of time to play.

      Also, as the head of education, I prohibit the dubbing of all foreign language movies into our language for kids 8 years+.

      Everything else would be optional and voluntary: biology, physics, history and geography.

      And then kids can choose whether they want to study at all or not. Because we tested for the disabilities from the beginning, we can be sure that those who quit did it because they are unsuited for it, not due to some disability that couldn’t be caught on time.

      After that, you have tracks, where kids either go to be apprenticeships or to specialized schools. We would have math heavy or language heavy schools, or life science schools. In language heavy schools, they focus on reading and analysing the Great Books, writing loads of essays, and learning foreign languages. A bit of math, too. In the math schools, we would have a heavy focus on math and physics, with them taking 80% of the curriculum. The life science school is a mix of essay writing and reading Great Books with math and physics, as well as biology.

      And you continue with the physical education throughout their whole education (they can test out or use credit from other sports, but they should be able to swim).

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Study the kids who quit– there are probably more disabilities than you know.

        • ana53294 says:

          Well, that makes sense. I expect that some of them would be the ones with known but hard to cure difficulties, such as ADHD, and there will be some novel ones.

          It will be too late to help them, because finding the cause will probably take 10+ years, but you can probably start catching a lot more stuff every 10 years.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Are we optimizing for people to build and staff battleships or also for designing battleships?

      Should we assume this is a country of people who are just naturally love battleships, or does the educational system need to increase the love and/or the prestige of battleships?

      Would anyone care to help me (and perhaps many others?) out with a description of the specific knowledge needed for battleship specialization?

      Maybe people in SSCLandia would have less need of the more esoteric sorts of rationality than people in less blessed lands because their interests are closer to engineering than more complex fields like biology, medicine, and politics. Or would they need to affect other countries politics so as to maximize the number of battleships? Do they feel a need for their battleships to be in battles, or are battleships cruising around good enough?

      Battleship maximizer vs. paperclip maximizer!

      • dodrian says:

        I have no doubt that bean will later chime in on how he would optimize the education system for building battleships, but as Education Tsar you are welcome to choose your own values for education.

        My question came about after the discussion late yesterday on whether or not learning a foreign language at school was beneficial. I wondered what other commentators think are the most important/useful school subjects (or other changes that could be made to improve the school system), and thought this was a fun phrasing.

      • beleester says:

        High school students learning to crew warships? I’ve seen that anime.

    • Randy M says:

      Begin with a system similar to the US or Europe, except that on the joint recommendation of a teacher, principle, and one outside agent like a school board member, any student can be expelled, stripped of citizenship, and given to johan_larson to be dropped in a random location within 20 miles of a western nation.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      I would fund expanding Khan Academy to cover all the needed practical STEM and trade school topics to the level of working proficiency, with a set of topic focused tutors for 1:1 or 1:3 tutoring when someone gets stuck at a key topic. Also fund the creation of a database of cumulative facts distilled down to memorization flash cards, to be constantly presented using a SuperMemo-type spaced repetition, mixed in with the Khan microlessons. Then my students spend two two hour blocks a day being subject to this. An hour a day of their choice of yoga, weight training, or martial arts, longer if they want.

      No homework. No classrooms. No lecture halls. No age segregated classes. No periods. Complete death of the Prussian model.

      Think the Vulcan student education pits, which was the most “this would actually work” utopian idea I’ve seen in that SF setting.

    • John Schilling says:

      Your initial edicts will focus on secondary education—14-17 year-olds—though feel free to also consider primary or tertiary education. What subjects will be made mandatory, and for how many years?

      If you’ve done things right for the first thirteen years, there’s no reason for anything to be mandatory for the next four. The Amish turn out perfectly good machinists with an eighth-grade formal education and an apprenticeship, and SSClandia will certainly need machinists.

      So, a test at fourteen, to divide students into three categories. Those who are well enough prepared to be trusted with the rest of their own education, those who are lost causes, and those who are bright but deprived and might catch up with intensive tutoring. Best to hope that last group isn’t too large, because tutoring is expensive and labor-intensive.

      For the students with what used to be considered a proper eighth-grade education, homeschooling or unschooling often work quite well, but not all families have the resources and parental bandwidth to support such. So that’s what most of the schools should be about. Including lots of interesting formal classes in interesting/useful subjects, but none of them mandatory except in the sense that e.g. passing the final exam for Basic Calculus is a prerequisite for Advanced Physics. Also, lots of apprenticeship and internship opportunities, because most useful things aren’t best learned in a classroom.

      • Deiseach says:

        What do you do with the lost causes? Remedial education? Turn ’em into paperclips? The bread and circuses dole? Kick them (discreetly) off the island, they can go elsewhere and clutter up somebody else’s society?

        • John Schilling says:

          If we’ve done K-8 education properly, then pretty much anything remedial education can do will have been done already. That pretty much leaves the dole and/or unskilled labor as their economic future, depending on how much need SSCland has for unskilled labor.

          If we’ve done K-8 education properly, this should be a very small fraction of the population, but there are always going to be people whose cognitive or executive challenges make them effectively unemployable. Which raises the question of what education we should provide for people who can’t learn even a basic trade. If it is affordable and for those that can benefit from it, teaching basic life skills so they don’t need a full-time minder to supervise their life on the dole would seem appropriate.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            Make them entertainers. Or sex workers. Or put them in shock collars under the immediate direction of a labor supervisor. (Nobody specified the ethical or social acceptability boundaries of this thought experiment…)

          • John Schilling says:

            Even if we set aside ethics, anything that allows one to e.g. force attractive women into sex work is going to have damaging perverse incentives, and there’s no way I can trust that the test will be fairly administered if the proctor might be getting kickbacks from the local brothel owner. And then we start losing women who could have done a perfectly good job riveting battleships together because they made the wrong first impression when they were fourteen.

            If I’m in charge, anyone who can’t be taught to be at least marginally productive as a free agent we’re going to accept is a “drain on society” in strictly economic terms and eat that cost to the extent that we’re feeling charitable to our fellow citizens. Slavery is too corrosive on the slaveowners, even if we somehow don’t care about the slaves.

          • Incurian says:

            Oh trust me, she’s gonna get a lot of riveting on battleships.

          • Iain says:

            Oh trust me, she’s gonna get a lot of riveting on battleships.

            This seems unnecessary.

          • Deiseach says:

            And then we start losing women who could have done a perfectly good job riveting battleships together because they made the wrong first impression when they were fourteen.

            Thing is, if all this is being financed by a benevolent AI, then technology has Sufficiently Advanced that any battleship rivetting is going to be automated/done by robots, so even people who could do that type of manual labour will have no role in the Brave New World. So the problem of “what do we do with people who aren’t all going to be coders/programmers/maths geniuses, who could do work like brick-laying or commercial cleaning but um we have Super-Brick-Bot 3000 and Maid-Bot 4000 to do those types of jobs?” remains.

      • SamChevre says:

        The Amish turn out perfectly good machinists with an eighth-grade formal education and an apprenticeship

        And not just machinists. Give me a week, and I could point you to a dozen men, with 8th grade educations, running businesses with 7-figure revenues. (One of them would be my brother.) Pretty much all the trades can be learned with a good 8th-grade education and an apprenticeship.

        So I think everyone who actually builds battleships, or parts, or materials, will have apprenticed before they were 16.

    • cassander says:

      I would decide…..nothing.

      Every student gets an equal sized voucher. Voucher accepting institutions are required to (A) have their students take periodic national assessments, (B) Admit all students who apply, and if they have more applications than slots they admit the overflow by lottery (e.g. if there are 100 slots and 120 applicants, they can pick 80 of the students, but the last 20 slots have to be filled by lottery).

      We don’t know the best way to educate people and even if we did, the answer today will likely be different than the answer in 50 years. You want a system with maximum flexibility to adapt to the times and one that can experiment to figure out what works.

      • albatross11 says:

        I like the idea of vouchers. But from what I can tell, most of the improvements we get from private schools are either obvious stuff that we don’t do in some public schools for dumb political reasons (tracking and requiring proper behavior), or they’re basically cherry-picking (hey, if I give all my incoming students an IQ test and don’t let anyone in with an IQ less than 120, it turns out my teachers are all educational geniuses–everything they try to teach these kids seems to work perfectly the first time!).

        If there’s low-hanging or even moderately high-hanging fruit in alternative educational techniques, then hopefully vouchers/competition would help find it. But if nobody really knows much more about how to do good education than the median high school teacher with 10 years of experience, then vouchers probably won’t buy us a whole lot.

        OTOH, mobility between schools, where you realize your kid is miserable in his current school and move him somewhere else, is extremely valuable, IMO. Probably less so in a school where bullying and other misbehavior by fellow students is hard to get away with, but still valuable.

        • cassander says:

          there are a couple substantial effects here. One, a voucher system allows those obvious things public schools get in trouble for. Two, I think vouchers become more powerful the more widespread they are. A few private schools on the fringes won’t drive change, because the public system is going to sit their immovable. if everything is vouchers, there are more options. Not as much as their should be, because school choice is always going to be a lot about signalling conformity, but still some. three, let’s say you’re right, we adopt vouchers, and not much changes. Well, what have we lost, exactly besides a huge pile of mid-level education bureaucrats? there aren’t exactly many downsides to a voucher system, if it’s not any better than public, it’s at least cheaper.

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    We’re also hiring in San Francisco too, of course, and but I’m not as personally-familiar familiar with the teams. If you’re interested in any of the roles or have any questions please let me know! I’d love to bring more SSC readers on board.

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  10. Douglas Knight says:

    Inspired by the Nootropic cormorant on the value post, I ask: What is the oldest example of the opposite of a shiboleth? That is, judging people by whether they can say the opposition’s shiboleth (even if they can also say the home version).

    • dndnrsn says:

      To what purpose? Humiliate them, identify them as someone who is willing to go along to get along, discredit them with their own people, ? Because if the purpose is “them or us” and they’re them but can sound like us, that’s counterproductive, and “them vs us” is the purpose of a sibboleth.

      If we’re taking a figurative definition of what it means to say the opposition’s shibboleth, there’s various accounts from Second Temple Judaism of foreign rulers demanding that their preferred god be worshipped in the Temple, testing Jews by seeing whether they’d eat pork or not, etc, similarly, in persecutions of Christians by the Roman Empire, there was similar stuff.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I guess the modern use of shibboleth is different from the biblical use. The modern use means something endowed with symbolic meaning, whereas the biblical use started as an accident of accent. I don’t mean punishing people for making a symbolic gesture of betrayal. I mean punishing people for going out of their way to pronounce a letter or learning to pass an ITT. Everything that is not permitted is a symbolic betrayal.

        • dndnrsn says:

          OK, now I see what you’re saying. Some groups definitely do “knowing about your enemy? Sounds like something an enemy would say; they’re tricksy like that” more than others, or denounce increased nuance gotten through the learning.

          I thought you meant, like, forcing the shopowner to put up regime propaganda; it’s not proving that he doesn’t disbelieve it, but you’re showing that you’re the boss here.

        • helloo says:

          So fraternizing with the enemy?

          “You know/learned X’s language! You must be a traitor/spy/planning to escape!” kind of thing?
          Or possibly the Mormon banishment for learning technology?

          Probably some older examples of intentional isolationism, but not that familiar with them.
          Closest non-religious one I can recall is the associative ostracizing for merchants dealing with lepers or other “unclean” people.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            the Mormon banishment for learning technology

            The WHAT?

          • helloo says:

            Er… Amish. Brainfart there.

          • SamChevre says:

            I’m unaware of any Amish group anywhere where knowing technology of any sort is a problem; it’s either owning it, or possessing it, or operating it, or using it that’s generally forbidden. (And yes, the four are different. In many horse-and-buggy Plain groups, owning or operating a car is forbidden, but riding in one is not; in some groups, even owning one is acceptable. On the other hand, watching movies is forbidden, not just owning a TV. )

            And it’s central to Christian, including Amish, theology and practice that you can always repent and turn around and come back.

          • Skivverus says:

            They may have been thinking of the Amish.

        • albatross11 says:

          The closest thing I can think of is that I’ve seen many people either:

          a. Express pride that they’ve never read some problematic book/listened to some problematic speaker.

          b. Express outrage or guilt-by-association at someone for reading some problematic book/listening to some problematic speaker.

          Both of these seem to me to be tied to the (utterly toxic) veneration of ignorance that is one part of a lot of American culture. Though in this case, that veneration is happening at the top vs at the bottom. (You also sometimes see people seem to be bragging about how they would *never* learn anything about some problematic field–evolutionary psychology, economics, etc.)

          • Viliam says:

            To me it seems like signaling of political loyalty and purity. You are so pure that it makes you almost physically unable to read wrongthink — if you were forced to, you would probably start vomiting or faint like a lady. However, you don’t need to read wrongthink it order to know with 100% certainty that it is wrong and immoral.

            (Someone please tell me quickly that the political left does not care emotionally about loyalty and purity! /s)

            In former socialist Czechoslovakia, people had to “spontaneously” publicly denounce political statements called “Several sentences” and “Two Thousand Words” (or they would lose their jobs and risk further persecution of themselves and their relatives). But pretty much no one had an idea about what is the content of these documents… other than that it was somehow wrong. Actually, owning a copy would probably buy you a ticket to prison, so people didn’t even try. But they all agreed that the documents were horrible and their authors deserved severe punishment.

            So when I see e.g. people writing articles denouncing, ahem, the reproductive ants, and they sometimes proudly admit they have never read the original zombiepost and would never even look at it if they had a chance (like, if they only had a search engine and a few seconds to find it)… well, there is the saying about the history repeating itself.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The whole moral foundations thing uses a “liberal”/”conservative” split that is very mainstream-American-90s-politics. It doesn’t accommodate very well people who aren’t boring Democrats or boring Republicans. Probably also of note is that people on the left who take positions that seem to be loyalty, purity, etc based, tend to justify them intellectually on care/harm grounds. My guess is that it’s an atavistic intrusion of non-care/harm impulses that is then explained as care/harm: the thing disrespectful to a culture’s traditions isn’t bad because disrespect to cultural traditions is bad in and of itself (that sounds pretty conservative!) but because it is seen as actually harming members of that culture alive today.

    • helloo says:

      Language and accents probably.

      The whole bar-bar-barbarian thing as one example.

    • beleester says:

      Whichever was the first nation to use spies, I would guess. They would value someone who can say the opposition’s shibboleths.

      (Amusingly, this means that it’s older than the original shibboleth, because the Israelites used spies against the Canaanites, while the shibboleth story takes place after the conquest of Israel.)

      • helloo says:

        If it’s praising rather than punishing, I think acting, story telling and theater would come before spying. At least in written records.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I was pretty opaque. There are a lot of ways that things can be “opposite.” I meant “judge” in a negative sense, but I could have just used “condemn.” Originally I was going to quote the Cormorant: “anyone who can candidly enunciate symbols of the opposing tribe is literally Hitler,” but without that context, I should have supplied more detail.

        Spies are useful, but they are often seen as polluted.

    • akc09 says:

      Unrelated, “shibboleth” is now possibly my pick for Best Word from the previous thread up there. 😀

  11. Ketil says:

    Question: is it possible to avert the climate crisis?

    Assuming AGW is correct: the earth is heating up, it is caused by our CO2 (and other gaseous) emissions, and it will have dramatic consequences if it exceeds a certain threshold. What is the solution?

    Most efforts seems directed at limiting emissions locally (e.g. EU caps), or adding renewable energy sources. But aside from these measures being leaky as hell, from a purely economic perspective, fossil fuels will be extracted as long as they are profitable, and eventually end up in the atmosphere. Emission caps one place will at best just move emissions elsewhere, even solar farms in Germany can be seen as trading future German emissions for present-day Chinese emissions (using coal power to produce photovoltaic panels).

    For wind and solar to be effective, they need to drive down the price of energy to the point that extraction is no longer profitable. Is that at all doable? Oil is about $70/barrel, how low must it be driven? How much will energy consumption increase if price gets that low? How many windmills and solar farms are we talking here?

    Or can we realistically reduce global energy consumption (and meat, and conrecte) to the point that it matters, while still continuing on track to meet UN millenium goals of ending poverty, providing education, improving health, and so on?

    • Ketil says:

      Some data:

      The Guardian claims we can release another 700 billion tons CO2 and stay below 2°C.

      Figure by parliament.nz claims there is about 1000 billion barrels of oil extractable with an oil price around $20, and another 1000 under $40. These prices may get rid of shale, tar sands, deepwater, and arctic oil, but at over 400kg CO2 per barrel, that’s still 800 billion tons of CO2, well over the Guardian’s budget. That’s just oil, in addition there’s coal and natural gas. And of course, extraction technology only gets better, and new reserves get discovered.

      • Orpheus says:

        Assuming the Guardian is right (which I very much doubt; computing something like this seems much too difficult to be possible), is going over 2°C really that bad? what would it cause?

        • Ketil says:

          I agree this is all speculative, but we need to set some number. Feel free to provide your own.

          Consequences are even more speculative, I guess the worst-case scenarios are some kind of feedback loop (methane release from the tundra) accellerating out of control, or mass extinctions caused by faster changes in temperature or other climatic factors than ecosystems can adapt to.

          • Orpheus says:

            I don’t know what number to provide, but whatever it is, there better be at least some plausible rationale behind it. If 2°C is all it takes to push us into death spiral territory, wouldn’t it mean that we were basically one particularly hot summer away from it anyway?

          • If 2°C is all it takes to push us into death spiral territory, wouldn’t it mean that we were basically one particularly hot summer away from it anyway?

            I think the 2°C limit is baseless–average global temperatures have been much higher than that in the geological past. People talk about how high temperature has been since the beginning of human civilization to evade that but the beginning of human civilization was in particular geographical locations, not thinly spread over the globe.

            But the distinction between average global temperature and a hot summer day is legitimate. The various (I think implausible, but I could be wrong) doomsday scenarios involve processes that take considerably longer than a day to happen.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The immediate solution would be nuclear. It doesn’t matter if it’s not any safer than it was when current plants were built, it’s still safer than doomsday. This should take the entire base load of electricity. I don’t know about peak load plants.

      Electric cars and trains are already doable, so we’re doing that. All on-grid heating goes electric too. Any industrial process that burns fuel only for energy goes electric or perhaps hydrogen if we need a flame.

      Industrial process which produce CO2 as a byproduct can sequester the CO2; this requires energy, which we get from the nuclear plants.

      That should buy us some time to come up with solutions for the remaining things — ships, maybe peaking plants, off grid stuff for which batteries aren’t sufficient. Then we can consider removing CO2 from the air, capturing natural methane emissions, and other diminishing-returns type stuff.

      All this is ridiculously expensive, but if the alternative is doomsday…

      (oh, and places that don’t have an electric grid but could? The competent nations can give them the choice of doing so or cutting off their fuel supplies and letting them die. Survival mode.)

      • Ketil says:

        I agree that with nuclear it is technically feasible to replace a large part of our energy production. Countries like France or Sweden did exactly this, they replaced fossil-based electricity with nuclear over a decade or so. I don’t even think it would be expensive, a large part of costs seem to be insane security requirements and bureaucracy. It isn’t politically feasible, though.

        I don’t think solar or wind can scale up the same way, solar depends on manufacturing capacity for panels which is harder to scale up than steel and concrete for reactors. Both are more expensive, have intermittency problems (with gas as the only realistic backup), and shorter life times with high maintenance costs.

        But even large-scale nuclear would not make fossils sufficiently unprofitable, which I think is necessary to reduce emissions.

        PS: another benefit from nuclear is very high temperature water as a byproduct, which may (haven’t really checked the numbers) be the most efficient way to produce hydrogen fuel.

    • helloo says:

      Are we ignoring carbon capturing? Or large-scale environmental engineering?

      Also, how far are you going with the “possible”? Ban all private cars/force remote working possible?

      • Ketil says:

        My main thesis is that windmills and solar won’t help. Alternative solutions are welcome.

        CCS could work, rich, climate-conscious countries could buy (subsidize) and burn large amounts of fossil fuels (taking it out of the hands of “dirtier” countries) without emissions. What would the cost be? Can we afford it? Resulting high oil prices would drive down demand elsewhere, but also increase extraction – many processes (tar sands?) have very high emissions themselves.

        Environmental engineering is an interesting and under-discussed option, I think. Could we fertilize the Pacific ocean (nuclear-driven platforms or Stirling engines pumping up mineral-rich deep sea water?) and jumpstart an ecosystem? Or just blow dust into the atmosphere, increasing solar reflection (sort of simulating the effects of a nuclear war)?

        I think I am looking for options that don’t depend on total, global cooperation. So banning all cars could work for a single country, but I expect other countries to choose other paths, possibly benefiting from cheaper cars and oil as a result of the car ban.

        • helloo says:

          I meant carbon capture from the atmosphere/oceans directly.
          And then burying/storing/turning into permanent structures (like making it into plastics or roads or buildings).

          Currently it’s relatively expensive and businesses that invest it don’t have great sequestration options/ideas IMO. But always possible to discover cheaper ways to do so.

          My pet idea is to purposely create captured repeatable algae blooms.

          As for solar reflectance or albedo, easiest way would be more cloud cover or possibly greater white surfaces (no idea how whiter oceans would work). No idea how that would be achieved.

          • Ketil says:

            One obvious implementation of your first paragraphs is just building more stuff from wood. It’s a wonderful material, and where I come from, most houses are predominantly wooden. Not sure how much CO2 we could capture that way. Any numbers?

            Looks like global production of non-transient (fuel, paper) products is about 10^9 m³, equivalent to 1 ton CO2 according to some other link. This is about 3% of global emissions from fossil fuels (35Gt CO2). Not nothing, but even if it can be scaled up, it looks like we need the oceans.

            http://www.fao.org/forestry/statistics/80938/en/

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      and it will have dramatic consequences if it exceeds a certain threshold

      This assumption seems much less plausible than the other two.

      • Randy M says:

        I believe a plausible case for catastrophic global warming relies on a feedback mechanism for increasing temperatures releasing more greenhouse gasses from ice/oceans, etc.

        My question is, if there have been warmer periods in the past, why was the climate able to recover from those?

        • Incurian says:

          Perhaps it only recovered over timescales we’d consider unacceptable.

          • Randy M says:

            Perhaps. That implies a slow negative feedback mechanism as well as a quick positive feedback. Have we identified this and compared the relative rates? Are both taken into consideration for forecasting?

          • 10240 says:

            More important than the recovery is the fact that warming itself didn’t result in a global catastrophe of the sort that humans couldn’t adapt to.

          • Ketil says:

            Or that warming occurred much more slowly, giving ecosystems time to adapt.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          Positive feedback only introduces the idea of a threshold if you’re talking about runaway positive feedback– which is not a realistic possibility for exactly the reason you mention.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Avert is probably the wrong word, and thinks about the problem in the wrong way.

    • John Schilling says:

      Question: is it possible to avert the climate crisis?

      Assuming AGW is correct: the earth is heating up, it is caused by our CO2 (and other gaseous) emissions, and it will have dramatic consequences if it exceeds a certain threshold. What is the solution?

      A nuclear war would about do it.

      On purely technical grounds, so would a hard shift to nuclear+solar power generation, carbon sequestration, and electrifying the parts of the transportation industry that are reasonably electrifiable.

      But that’s not politically feasible. China and India are going to proceed with the fastest, cheapest way to uplift a couple billion peasants to something approximating middle-class prosperity, concerning themselves only with acute local pollution issues, and that still means fossil fuels for most of it. In the developed world, where we can afford to do better, the people who most strongly want to do better aren’t going to decouple that desire from their broader Gaian/Pastoralist environmentalism or their desire to cudgel the Wrong Tribe into submission with True Science. Add all that up, and it’s an impossible collective action problem.

      Nuclear wars, are politically feasible to arrange and don’t require huge numbers of people to sign on to the same plan. Destroy enough industrial centers, oil refineries, etc, and you should cut the problem down to a manageable level.

      • The Nybbler says:

        But that’s not politically feasible. China and India are going to proceed with the fastest, cheapest way to uplift a couple billion peasants to something approximating middle-class prosperity, concerning themselves only with acute local pollution issues, and that still means fossil fuels for most of it.

        Even if we convinced the leaders that they, personally, and all their progeny would die in the inevitable doomsday scenario?

        If they’re that dumb, sure, nuke ’em. If any form of the nuclear winter scenario holds maybe we can just nuke India (less retaliatory capability) and rely on the dust to keep the warming down.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @John Schilling:
        You may want to update some assumptions, as apparently new generation in India is overwhelmingly Solar and Wind.

        In other words, the fastest cheapest way to uplift at this point may very well be renewables.

        • Incurian says:

          Another way to look at it is that because that chart only captures new capacity, it’s not really surprising to see that the newer technologies are dominating it, because the older technologies are already in place. Fossil fuels remain ~80% of their energy supply.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yes, but John’s posit was about the perils of an increasingly electrified India.

            Put this another way, the average life span of a coal fired plant (in the U, anyway) is 40 years. If you make all new generation renewable, you reduce generation emissions to near zero over the next 40 years just based on natural retirement of plants.

        • Ketil says:

          And yet CO2 emissions only keep rising. This is the paradox that I’m trying to get at, we invest in subsidized renewable energy, yet fossil fuels and carbon emissions only keep increasing. I worry that in spite of politicians being aware of the climate problem for decades (the Kyoto protocol dates back to 1992), nothing substantial has happened – only very expensive, but ultimately ineffective measures.

          http://www.climatechangenews.com/2018/01/24/germany-announces-carbon-emission-rise-second-year-row/
          https://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&channel=fs&q=india+co2+emissions&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Germany has rising emissions, and I wonder if it has to do with killing their nuclear as fallout from Fukushima. Although, to be fair, they met their generation targets. But note that overall they have actually reduced their emissions since 1990 by over a quarter.

            And yes, absent significant coordinated effort emissions will continue to rise.

            But it’s a mistake to think, “we aren’t on our desired ocean liner course yet, so turning the tiller must have had no effect”. Let me put it this way, even if we simply make emissions grow slower, we are giving ourselves more time to develop something like cold fusion.

            So you keep fighting to move the tiller.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I think the simplest explanation is that the politicians don’t believe in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.

          • only very expensive, but ultimately ineffective measures.

            Preventing AGW faces a massive public good problem–an individual, state, or country that bears costs in order to hold down CO2 emissions receives only a tiny fraction of any benefit it produces. So things like subsidies to solar or wind are not ultimately driven by the real effect on AGW but by what it is politically profitable to do for other reasons that can be justified by AGW arguments. It’s not surprising that the result is poorly tailored to reducing AGW–with Germany simultaneously pushing renewables and shutting down reactors a particularly striking example.

            Note also that the countries most enthusiastic about doing something are countries sufficiently far north so that warming is quite likely to be a benefit for them, with Scandinavia the obvious example. The countries most likely to be hurt, such as India and Bangladesh, are all in favor of someone else paying them to reduce emissions but not prepared to bear costs themselves. Not the pattern you would expect if what was really driving policy was a rational calculation of costs and benefits.

            One advantage of adaptation over prevention is that it is closer to a private good, hence more likely to happen.

          • albatross11 says:

            The Nybbler:

            Alternatively, most politicians don’t think AGW is going to cause problems that they will be blamed for, or in their lifetimes. Bad things that may happen 50-100 years in the future probably seem a lot less important to most serving politicians than things that can get them voted out of office next year if they go south in a sufficiently spectacular way. The result is a lot of *signaling* to capture votes, but relatively little real action that’s likely to decrease CO2 emissions.

      • Ketil says:

        Nuclear wars, are politically feasible to arrange and don’t require huge numbers of people to sign on to the same plan. Destroy enough industrial centers, oil refineries, etc, and you should cut the problem down to a manageable level.

        I was kinda aiming for something that wouldn’t be so destructive. Obviously, nuclear war is a twofer (at least): dust cloud in the atmosphere, major economic recession, population reduction. What’s not to like?

        (BTW; China is building nuclear as well:
        http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-China-to-start-building-up-to-eight-reactors-in-2018-0703185.html)

      • LesHapablap says:

        I know I could just google this, but would it be feasible to put large reflective sheets into space to block the sun directly?

    • Wrong Species says:

      The thing about solar and wind is that costs keep reducing while batteries are getting better. If that continues, then they’ll be economical on their own in the future.

    • Lambert says:

      If all else fails, dump a load of particulates in the stratosphere to simulate a volcanic/nuclear winter.

      Reducing insolation (or increasing albedo) by a few percent to offset global warming.
      Of course, this does not solve problems such as ocean acidification, and will cause the climate to change in
      unpredictable ways other than warming.
      As such, this is only a temporary solution and should not be relied on for more than a couple of decades.
      Cost estimates are on the scale of $10^10

      • engleberg says:

        Re: If all else fails, dump a load of particulates in the stratosphere: particulates make me cough. Boil the oceans instead. A giant cloud envelopes the world, rain pours on the hot parts of the planet and cools by evaporation, the cold parts get massive snowfalls and we trigger a massive Ice Age, the glaciers spread from pole to pole and global warming is a thing of the past. The atmosphere freezes too. All die. O the embarassment!

  12. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.metafilter.com/175426/WASD#inline-7460928

    How people use their keyboards for games. Hand positions and key-mapping. I don’t have a personal interest, but there are some interesting bits in the discussion, not to mention the mystery of how keyboard choices propagate or not. It’s possible that people who think their keyboard choice is completely obvious haven’t played in the physical presence of other people.

    There are probably some neurological reasons for preferences– I’m exceedingly fond of the Logitech thumb trackball, but find a forefinger trackball to be completely unintuitive.

    • beleester says:

      Another good article, this one talking about the history of default keyboard layouts:

      https://www.pcgamer.com/how-wasd-became-the-standard-pc-control-scheme/

      I don’t think the first article is right about it originating from Wolfenstein 3D’s controls – Wolf3D is so old that mouselook hadn’t even been invented. My theory is that first “left hand movement, right hand mouse” developed, then people used ESDF due to the “home row” thing, and then people realized that shifting one to the left made it easier to hit the ctrl and shift keys. And now we’ve come full circle with someone trying to use WASD from the home row position.

      The really shocking thing, IMO, is that it took so long for “strafe” to become a default action after mouselook was invented. I vividly remember playing System Shock 2 and wondering why the hell A and D were bound to Turn Left and Turn Right instead of Strafe.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some pre-3D WASD. Apple II games often used IJKL (or IJKM), and some of them allowed two players on the keyboard.

        • [Thing] says:

          Using WASD for movement and the mouse to aim and shoot goes at least as far back as 1986’s Dark Castle for the original Macintosh, which consumed many hours of my childhood.

    • Well... says:

      Does anyone here use a non-QWERTY keyboard?

      • Alphonse says:

        I use a slightly modified version of Colemak. For what it’s worth, I highly recommend the layout.

        It makes excellent use of the home row keys, comes fairly close to minimizing finger movement while typing, and it preserves the classic keyboard shortcuts by keeping ZXCV in the same locations as in QWERTY (something Dvorak does not do).

        I also remapped CapsLock to Backspace, which is a reasonably common change for people who use Colemak (and something I genuinely think everyone should do; it’s far, far better). I also shifted the square bracket keys to the right, so I could turn “[” into another CTRL button, which makes deleting words simultaneously with CTRL+Backspace incredibly easy (since it only requires me to hit CapsLock+[).

        I poke typed with two fingers until the end of highschool, although I could do so relatively quickly. I decided I should learn to type properly before heading off to college, so I researched keyboard layouts and then made an intentional decision to transition. I can comfortably type around 100WPM now for extended periods, and when I care to, I can break 125WPM on tests like Typeracer.

        I almost never encounter anyone else who uses a non-QWERTY layout, although I would expect that to be more likely here than most places. I’m also happy to answer any questions.

        (I’m not sure if this is what you meant by “non-QWERTY keyboard”, since I still use a default keyboard just with the letters remapped, but close enough.)

        • Well... says:

          No, that’s exactly what I meant.

          The only non-QWERTY layout I could name off the top of my head is Dvorak, though I knew there were other layouts, as well as entirely different types of keyboards such as Doug Englebart’s chord keyboard.

          Do you ever run into problems, like not being able to use other computers (e.g. at work, or at the library when browsing the catalog)? Or do you know* QWERTY also?

          *Know = have muscle memory in your fingers to be able to type correctly without much difficulty.

          • Alphonse says:

            Dvorak is certainly better known than any of the other alternatives to QWERTY. I think Dvorak is really quite impressive, given that its creator lacked the modern tools for analyzing finger movement that we do, and it’s pretty clearly superior to QWERTY. That said, I think Colemak is genuinely better both in general terms and because of the Ctrl+ZXCV.

            When I made the decision to switch, I actually ran a number of large pieces of text (including the entirety of everything I had written in HS) through a program that compared different typing layouts to see which ones had better performance. QWERTY was an impressively clear-cut last place, but Colemak did meaningfully better than Dvorak.

            I still know how to poke-type on QWERTY and can do so at a decent (albeit unimpressive) rate, so it’s not a huge concern. I also use “Portable Keyboard Layout”, which I can put on any computer I use for any decent amount of time, so I rarely have to type for an extended period on a non-Colemak keyboard. The end result is that I can use other people’s computers fine enough, just without the level of ease I can for my own. Other people can’t use my computer almost at all for anything requiring typing, which is a plus in my book.

            For my personal computers, I use “Keytweak”, which remaps keys at the registry level. This is helpful, since that’s sufficiently far under the system that it continues to use my remapped keys even when I’m running things like exam software on my computer. Some games occasionally have issues with Colemak’s remapping, but it’s usually only a trivial inconvenience to remap everything again.

          • Dvorak is really quite impressive, given that its creator lacked the modern tools for analyzing finger movement that we do, and it’s pretty clearly superior to QWERTY.

            What’s the evidence for that? My understanding is that experiments done by people other than Dvorak show at most a small advantage for the Dvorak layout, and that Paul David’s original argument on the history was pretty conclusively rebutted by Liebowitz and Margolis, who demonstrated that essentially all of its factual claims were untrue.

            I knew one person who switched to Dvorak, and his report was that it wasn’t worth the trouble. But that isn’t inconsistent with some advantage to Dvorak.

          • Alphonse says:

            Mr. Friedman,

            The short explanation is that Colemak positions the keys more efficiently, which means that typing with Colemak (or Dvorak) entails less finger movement than using a QWERTY keyboard.

            As a simple example, the eight most commonly used letters in the English language are (not in order) “ARENSITO”. It would therefore make sense to have those eight letters on the “home row” — i.e. the eight spots where your fingers naturally rest. Instead, QWERTY puts such keys as “J” and the semicolon on those valuable keys.

            For ease, I’ll point to Colemak.com‘s list of Advantages. Fingers move more than twice as much when typing on QWERTY. QWERTY has an order of magnitude more “row jumping” (e.g. typing “vr” on QWERTY, since your same finger has to use the bottom row and then the top row in immediate succession).

            This is not an exhaustive list. I’ll also freely admit that the advantages aren’t necessarily decisive — to my knowledge, the fastest typists in the world use QWERTY, although I think that is more a matter of familiarity than inherent superiority. But QWERTY provably requires that people move their fingers more, and do so in disadvantageous ways, in comparison to more optimized layouts.

            As an illustrative example, when I was selecting a keyboard layout to transition to, Colemak required a couple of percentage points less hand movement for my selected text corpus than Dvorak did, and it only required around 40% as much hand movement as typing all of that material on QWERTY would have taken.

            Flagging a minor caveat, getting into the fine points of optimizing keyboard layouts can trigger more complicated debates. How should we tradeoff between hand alternation versus deemphasizing the bottom row (which is the hardest to use)? But it’s unnecessary to resolve those kinds of debates to recognize that QWERTY forces its users to engage in significantly more finger movement than Dvorak or Colemak.

            As a final caveat, I will confess that I only have a passing familiarity with the history of Dvorak’s experiments. My understanding is that he designed his layout by observing typists and performing comparison tests, and Dvorak provably requires less finger movement when typing a normal passage, but I’m not familiar with the names of the specific critics you mention.

            For what it’s worth, I’m unsure whether it’s worth the trouble for most people to switch either. I switched because I had not previously learned to type “properly” with all eight fingers, and when I decided to make the switch at the end of HS, I was fairly intentional about researching and picking an optimized layout. I also cared enough to practice my typing for a few dozen hours, and I still play typing games from time to time. That said, I think having above average typing speed has been helpful in some timed examinations, and I have never experienced typing fatigue (even after lengthy typing sessions which seem to cause that for others, which is consistent with Colemak requiring less finger movement). But the time investment is non-trivial, rapid and/or more efficient typing isn’t critical for most people, and it does require effort to learn a new keyboard layout.

          • Thanks for the answer. The problem, as I think your comments suggest, is that there isn’t a single characteristic you are optimizing on. Minimizing hand movement is one, alternating hands is another, and there are probably several more that wouldn’t occur to either of us.

            The alternative approach is to train people on different keyboards and see how they perform. My understanding of those experiments is that they don’t find a very large difference.

            If you are curious about the history of the Qwerty/Dvorak dispute, you might want to look at The Fable of the Keys, the Liebowitz and Margolis article that responded to Paul David’s original article.

          • Alphonse says:

            Mr. Friedman,

            I definitely agree that fully optimizing a keyboard layout has multiple factors which have to be balanced against each other, which makes it a hard problem. But I don’t think that prevents us from identifying QWERTY as an objectively worse layout than some alternatives.

            For instance, we know that it’s less convenient to type with your pinky fingers than your other fingers, and that it’s preferable to avoid jumping rows with multiple keypresses on the same finger. We can imagine an anti-optimized keyboard that does things like assigning “t” and “h” to the same finger, which would be inconvenient since that combination is routinely typed. Likewise if we replaced “q” with “e” and “z” with “n” on a QWERTY keyboard — even if we could debate exactly how bad that would be, I think it’s fairly clear that such a layout would be worse than the current QWERTY keyboard, which suggests that such analysis can be useful even if imperfect.

            At minimum, removing keys such as “j” and “;” from the home row, in favor of some of the most commonly used letters, seems like an obvious improvement. I think remapping CapsLock to Backspace is also a clear and substantial improvement for any general user.

            I agree that the ideal study design would be to train people with alternative layouts and see how they perform. I do wonder about how difficult it would be to run that kind of study properly though, since most people are already familiar with QWERTY and it may be difficult to get people to commit equally to learning an alternative layout if they don’t expect to use it long-term. For me, it took several dozen hours of practice and at least a month for the muscle memory with Colemak to fully develop, which is a fairly long time horizon for such a study.

            Thanks for the reference to that article; I’ll have to check it out.

      • dodrian says:

        I learned to touch type on QWERTY in middle school, and averaged about 70wpm no errors. In HS I somehow got it into my head that learning Dvorak would be a good idea. It took about two very frustrating weeks of vacation time of only using Dvorak and practicing lots of exercises.

        My typing speed is now maybe 75WPM. I can still use a QWERTY layout fairly easily, not quite as fast anymore, though I’m sure I could bring it up to speed pretty quickly. Dvorak does ‘feel’ easier, as my fingers move less. I don’t have RSI, though I don’t know if I would be at risk if I had stuck with QWERTY.

  13. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I was thinking about the future of the American economy, and it seems reasonable to expect substantial inflation, what with a trade war (plausible if not inevitable) and a high deficit. Is there a better currency available?

    • Mark Atwood says:

      Maybe stop converting everything into USD? Paypal already lets you keep multiple currency kinds in your account, roughly the dozen most popular fiat currencies. I often keep about a hundred EUR floating in it, and a smattering of UKP and AUD, without bothering to convert them to USD, because I regularly have them flowing in and out.

      I wish PayPal would add XAU, XAG, BTC, and ETH as options.

      Or else I wish Coinbase should add then dozen or the top 100 fiat currencies.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Oh God, not paypal. They can shut down your account and keep the money.

        I’ve seen complaints online. I don’t know whether anyone has lost their money permanently.

        I don’t recommend using it for anything crucial.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Since we’re talking about Paypal, I don’t get it. What’s the point of using it? What advantage does it offer over just using your credit/debit cards to make purchases online?

          • dick says:

            Since we’re talking about Paypal, I don’t get it. What’s the point of using it? What advantage does it offer over just using your credit/debit cards to make purchases online?

            If we both use Paypal, I can use Paypal to send you $20. If we both use Visa, I can’t use my visa card to send you $20.

            Nowadays there are a lot of other options but Paypal still enjoys the network effect of being the first really usable option.

          • Wrong Species says:

            But I don’t really know anyone who uses PayPal so it doesn’t seem very useful. I just send people money over Facebook.

          • mdet says:

            I was under the impression that if I input my credit card number on many websites, then if ~any~ of them are hacked / insecure my card can get stolen. But if I put my card number in PayPal, then I can buy from many sites (some of which may have questionable security) while keeping the number of sites I actually give my number to at one.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          Some banks let you keep multiple currencies on account. Probably not your local corner retail bank, but ones with higher service levels do. I don’t know any that will let you keep XAU on account, but I do have one that lets me keep EUR, UKP, JPY, CNY.

          Banks and credit unions also do “popmoney”, which is substantially similar features as PayPal, only with a much less polished UX. But it does have regulated bank safety.

  14. semioldguy says:

    Why do people want/need role models that look similar to themselves?

    When I was a child none of my role models looked like myself, and they were made up of both men and women. In fact, it ended up being one of my female role models who I most closely followed in her footsteps in life and career. There were very, very few prominent figures that looked like I did to choose from as role models as a child; there are some more today, but still very few. Despite this, I never thought of my role models being so physically different from myself as something strange or unusual and I didn’t long for a role model who looked like me. I don’t think a lack of similarly-looking-to-me role models had a negative impact upon me, if anything it’s been positive. I’m very happy with who I am today.

    People bring up the representation and role model thing a decent amount in today’s culture and it always perplexes me a bit when they do. I’ve never seen it that way. What causes other people feel this need when I didn’t? Why do people so strongly identify with a characteristic that they have little or no control over?

    • Incurian says:

      This question only serves to highlight your privilege.

      (I am kidding, but I bet I had you going there for a minute)

      • semioldguy says:

        As far as privilege goes, I’m certain I have some amount of it, but not sure how to measure that or the differences that different privileges or lack of privileges make. I live in a good place and have a family that cares about me, but looking back we weren’t very well-off. Neither of my parents have college degrees and my father didn’t even graduate from high school.

      • Viliam says:

        Having something more interesting in your life than watching TV is indeed an underestimated privilege.

        • albatross11 says:

          Everyone here has vast privilege by the time we were born, the resources we have access to, and the intelligence and education necessary to be able to participate in discussions here. Imagine if someone offered you the choice to swap your life with that of a random life lived anytime in the past–most of the available swaps would land you someplace with no indoor plumbing, no dentistry or medical care worth a damn, and where you were likely to end up hungry a lot.

    • John Schilling says:

      Most of my role models came from books that had very little physical description (that I noticed), so I don’t know what they looked like. But the names allowed me to mentally model them as white males, if I cared. I don’t think I did.

      Probably “look similar to themselves” is the wrong metric here. Have similar life experiences as them, may be more important. If you are black and grow up in a culture where being black means having to keep a low profile whenever there’s a policeman around or you’ll be arrested, if you’re female and grow up in a culture where girls are constantly told that they should aspire to be flight attendants because they can never be airline pilots, a role model who at ten likes watching the airplanes and then has everyone he meets encourage him along the path to becoming an airline pilot may not be quite as effective as they should be.

      The catch-22 being, if this is the case, that as a culture becomes sufficiently egalitarian to provide “diverse” role models, it has less specific need of them.

      • AG says:

        “Have similar brain processes” is as much a factor. Rationalist fic arose out of a whole group of people feeling that people who thought like themselves were not adequately represented in fiction. The codification of “Idiot Ball” as a trope to be avoided stemmed from a sense that characters did not act like real human beings (instead forced to advance the plot by senseless means), unrepresentative of their audience.

        The other aspect of representation is not just an absence, but also a counter-narrative. If a gay person has grown up with no stories or role models of gay people but ones in which they die alone, having one happy ending is powerful. As there are more and more examples of happy endings in stories and real life available, the negative consequence of a gay character dying is lessened. Part of the debate is over if the balance has been met.

        In one of the open threads a long time ago, I recall that someone crunched the numbers and found that black people have won Oscars approximately in proportion with their percentage of the population. But if they’re all for period piece films where they play slaves, servants, or gangsters, it’s still building a narrative for who they are supposed to be.

        Finally, I don’t think everyone has the same level of need for representation. Some people are trailblazers precisely because they are insensitive to the narratives around them about who they should be. Some people are trailblazers because they’re more sensitive and are rebelling out of spite. Some people are subconsciously so in tune with the narratives that they cannot conceive of stepping out of them without a role model. (You see that last model in a lot of testimonials. “I never would have thought of trying to pursue this career, except I saw Y.”)
        And I really cannot relate to people who have described having an actual intense physical reaction to a character death, but they seem to exist in a large enough population that the tradeoff to distress them a little less seems worth it.

      • Incurian says:

        Thanks, John and AG, this is the best explanation of this I’ve ever heard. I’m much more sympathetic to it now.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      Identifying with your pure rational soul and not any of your ethnic, physical, social, or sexual characteristics is easier for some children than others for both individual and cultural reasons. People draw various kinds of lines between “us” and “them”, and it’s harder to identify with one of “them” than one of “us”. I think this is a pretty basic human psychological tendency. Scott has talked before about how different people seem to have stronger or weaker gender identifications. In communities that are divided along cultural or ethnic grounds, or in groups that have shared experiences of oppression on the basis of some characteristic, those features tend to play a strong role in how this line is drawn.

      One thing you want from a role model is a kind of vision for how you could become that person. If you’re a poor black girl in a racist southern town, it’s going to be a lot easier to see yourself in a doctor who was also a poor black girl in a racist southern town than a Jewish son of northern academics.

      Another related issue is that it is not just a matter of the possibility of identification – it’s a matter of the availability of role models. And in communities and social groups united by certain features, the salient role models will also tend to be drawn from people with those features. If you live in a poor black community, for example, the salient role models are likely to be black. And if those role models tend to be, say, rappers and basketball players, then you’re more likely to have a rapper or a basketball player as a role model, even if you could identify with a Jewish doctor. So one reason people might want more representatives of certain groups in a range of desirable positions is that it increases the availability of that kind of role model to people in those groups. One thing notable about your experience is that you said you had very few figures like you to choose from as role models (perhaps you grew up in a community of people very dissimilar to you). So naturally, you found role models that did not look like you. Perhaps you would have been indifferent even if you had many role models to choose from that looked like you – I think most people would not. In any case, most people grow up in communities of people similar to them, and often they are not lacking in potential role models that look like them. But people worry, I think reasonably, when those role models present a narrow picture of possible aspirations.

      FWIW, looking back, as a white male who never felt a particularly strong identification either with maleness or whiteness, every role model I had until I went to college was both white and male.

      • albatross11 says:

        I agree that the need for this seems to vary widely. I’ve watched my three kids be influenced in different ways by this. My daughter seems to be pretty interested in female role models. (So I’ve been careful to introduce her to my female coworkers, so she sees that lots of scientists are women and that’s a reasonable thing to be.) My middle son DGAF what anyone else expects him to be interested in, as far as I can tell–and this is very much how I was as a kid. I would expect him not to be in much need of role models, OTOH he’s a white kid with a lot of easily available smart-people role-models, so maybe it would matter if he were black or hispanic.

      • mdet says:

        One thing that sometimes annoys me is that, for the people who primarily blame the culture among inner-city black people for holding them back (“Those kids all want to be thugs, rappers, and basketball players instead of studying hard for a real career!”), then the proposal “What if we infused pop culture with a bunch of positive role models for those kids? Made a bunch of movies and tv shows about people who are like them, but who managed to succeed through hard work and good character?” seems like an easy and workable way to address the problem. And yet I don’t get the impression that many of them support it.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          For a large subset of the people you’re talking about, attributing the problems in inner city black communities to culture is either a) a way to promote the idea that those people are at fault for their own problems and therefore help is not warranted or b) a defensive maneuver against claims that those problems are a result of racism by whites or some policy they favor. Neither of these are grounded in a serious concern about the best way to fix these problems so it doesn’t surprise me that they don’t take the thought any further in that direction.

          That said, I’m not sure it really is very easy and workable to infuse pop culture in some specific targeted community with positive role models in a way that will stick.

          • Lambert says:

            It’s very easy to do it badly.
            Either ham-fistedly, or getting the details wrong, or just missing something nobody can put their finger on.
            To succeed requires talented artists who understand (preferably grew up as) their audience and who really care about the project.

          • mdet says:

            So you can start at the premise “Culture is the primary thing holding back poor black communities” and still manage to arrive at the conclusion “If we find artists who grew up in those kinds of neighborhoods and encourage them to make books, movies, tv shows representing characters who grew up in and overcame those life experiences, then it *might* actually help inspire people in struggling communities”? And here I thought the calls for more representation were just PC virtue signalling. (sarcasm off)

            I admit that there are probably additional steps and considerations that someone might object to, and that if the people making “representation” arguments spent less time trash talking straight white men, then they might get more presumption of good faith. But still, I feel like the “it’s culture” crowd should be more sympathetic to representation arguments than they are.

          • Aapje says:

            @mdet

            It seems to me that very few people who claim to want representation, are actually content with it, and that they actually want racially proportional outcomes*. That is a very different goal and when the latter is presented as the former, I would argue that it is a motte-and-bailey.

            In fact, it seems that representation is often sacrificed to more easily achieve proportional outcomes. For example, a affirmative action policy that would favor producing role models would heavily weigh parental education and/or income and/or postal code (doing the opposite of redlining). Such a policy would greatly favor the people who manage to get fairly well educated despite not having parental and/or community role models.

            In contrast, the actual affirmative action that we get heavily favor black people with affluent parents and/or from affluent communities and very heavily disfavor whites and Asians that lack role models. It’s much easier to educate these people, as they already have a culture that is much closer to the one that tends to succeed.

            I don’t think it is fair to chastise people for not taking people’s arguments seriously, when those people are not taking their own arguments seriously either.

            * Based on a fairly subjective view of racial proportionality, where some groups are actually allowed to be disproportionately represented.

          • That said, I’m not sure it really is very easy and workable to infuse pop culture in some specific targeted community with positive role models in a way that will stick.

            I doubt it is doable as a policy from above. If it happens it will be due to an individual artistic genius who can create works that inspire others, someone like Ayn Rand or George Bernard Shaw. Or Horatio Alger.

          • albatross11 says:

            Or Lin-Manuel Miranda.

        • Nornagest says:

          That’s a good point, and it makes me a lot more sympathetic to some forms of the representation argument. But there’s some stuff complicating it.

          – Representation arguments don’t often include proposed solutions. The folks on the other side of the aisle are therefore free to read in their least charitable possible solutions, and political bias means they will. There are high-profile people that accept both sides of your point (President Obama, for example, often hit both the “more representation” and “culture” notes), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the connection made explicitly before.

          – Those that do propose solutions, often propose that existing, mostly non-black, content creators should make their works more representative. That’s a recipe for failure: it’s asking people to speak for communities they don’t affiliate with and don’t know much about. Watch your average Western anime remake to see how that usually goes. It’s also got some some White Savior stuff going on, in that it’s calling for people outside those communities to shape them in positive ways.

          – Economics gets in the way. Minority communities, everything else aside, are minorities. Blockbuster movies are incredibly expensive, therefore incredibly risk-averse: since this whole argument assumes that people identify better with protagonists sharing their accent or skin color, it also implies a financial incentive for their producers not to cast them as minorities. (TV might help us break out of this trap, though — fifteen years ago it was at least as risk-averse as film, but now, in the age of Netflix, niche or risky shows are a lot more feasible. Also, more global audiences should weaken this.)

          • mdet says:

            Yeah, rethinking my wording, I’d probably say a “simple” rather than “easy” way to address the problem. Minorities from rough backgrounds who go on to be successful are by definition in short supply, so demanding more of them doesn’t necessarily make them appear.

            But I do use this example as evidence that people on the left don’t entirely reject the “culture is the problem” argument, it’s just that if it sounds like you’re saying “Those kids are all thugs and it’s not my problem” rather than “We need more mentors and role models” you will (pretty understandably) not be received in good faith.

          • DavidS says:

            For second bullet you also intermittently get the ‘you can’t write about X as you are not X’ claim (was it on SSC someone talked about how young adult books have a big thing about whether a straight white man is ‘allowed’ to have book whose main character is gay/black/female?)

            The solution people have in mind is ‘just let people from minorities create their own authentic art’ but of course we don’t have a centralised culture machine so it’s not sure what this involves other than (as e.g. in the case Lionel Shriver complained about) mainstream publishers/funders favouring things because they add to representativeness rather than making judgements based solely on artistic merit.

            Whether that works depends of course on a factual question: is there loads of amazing art created by minorities and unknown for that reason, such that giving it the oxygen of publicity will resolve the issue, or will you end up with art that isn’t as good and so won’t be as popular.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I mean, it’s nonsense to say that we have no large powerful organizations that heavily influence what media content is made.

            I’m highly sympathetic to arguments that requests for “inclusive” content are frequently far too simplistic. But I think you only have to look at Shonda Rimes to realize that the argument that these shows could be made, and could be successful were actually right.

          • Deiseach says:

            Economics gets in the way. Minority communities, everything else aside, are minorities.

            Look at the latest controversy over the Scarlett Johannson movie. The protesting over casting a cis female instead of a trans man in the part was successful, so now the movie won’t get made.

            To the surprise of nobody, who understands how the movie business works and that a Big Name Actor or Actress being cast in a part is all about “we want this movie to be successful and make money. Oh yeah, and this kind of movie is Oscar bait”. Cynical? yes, but that’s how the sausage is made.

            Now it’s all “why can’t the movie still be made, we want a movie about trans people!” Well, when you find a Big Name Trans Man Actor that will pull in more of an audience than “six art house movie theatres for three weeks”, then it’ll happen. Since there probably isn’t a comparable Big Name Trans Actor, it won’t. Congratulations, representation seekers, you have just cut off your nose to spite your face.

          • mainstream publishers/funders favouring things because they add to representativeness rather than making judgements based solely on artistic merit.

            That only works if the publishers can identify minority works that will inspire minorities, which they may be incapable of doing.

            One nice thing about the modern world is that it is becoming increasingly easy to make works widely available at low cost–web pages and self-publishing and YouTube being obvious examples. So if someone has produced a work that will inspire and appeal to lots of people from his subculture, he doesn’t need a major publisher to provide it to them.

          • DavidS says:

            @DavidFriedman: or you just get them funding/publishing a bunch to meet some expectation but it sells less well. Which doesn’t really help anything but makes the stats look better.

            The issue here is that all the pressure etc. is really about stats rather than achieving anything or responding meaningfully to the situation. Here in the UK companies are under pressure to reduce their gender pay gap and I expect some at least will achieve this by outsourcing cleaners so they’re no longer low-paid largely female employees.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s worth remembering that neither conservative nor liberal (nor SJW) cultural critics are a single person with a single view–there’s a huge group in each case, with conflicting ideas and beliefs and incentives. There is no reason to expect a big amorphous group to be intellectually consistent–that’s hard enough for an individual to achieve.

            So it’s quite possible for some folks in the SJW movement to be clamoring for more representation in media, while others are protesting something problematic in ways that make that representation less likely.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Deiseach:

            Look at the latest controversy over the Scarlett Johannson movie. The protesting over casting a cis female instead of a trans man in the part was successful, so now the movie won’t get made.

            Haha, that was so funny. The real-life person she was going to play was a biological woman who presented as a man. S/he was not altered by hormones or surgery, so the role is just like several female characters in Shakespeare (except those were originally played by boys, for another level of laughs). The LGBWTFBBQ were basically saying “it’s offensive for other people to mainstream us by acting.”

          • LadyJane says:

            @Deiseach:

            Now it’s all “why can’t the movie still be made, we want a movie about trans people!” Well, when you find a Big Name Trans Man Actor that will pull in more of an audience than “six art house movie theatres for three weeks”, then it’ll happen. Since there probably isn’t a comparable Big Name Trans Actor, it won’t. Congratulations, representation seekers, you have just cut off your nose to spite your face.

            I think you’re misunderstanding the issue here. It’s not just about representation, it’s about respecting the gender identity of the person being portrayed.

            As a trans woman, I would be utterly horrified if someone cast a man to play me in a biopic. That would feel tremendously insulting, invalidating, and disrespectful. I’d imagine that such a depiction would probably look quite inaccurate too, and likely in a very unflattering way.

            Ideally, I would want to be played by another trans woman, but if that wasn’t feasible – and I understand that it might not be, given the shortage of trans actors – I would still vastly prefer to be played by a woman, period. (CelebsLikeMe suggested Jenny Slate and Alia Bhatt.)

            Since Dante Gill is dead, we can’t know for sure what he would’ve wanted, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that a trans man wouldn’t want to be portrayed by a woman. If they couldn’t find a sufficiently famous trans man to play him, they could’ve at least found a sufficiently famous cis man to play the role. Hell, just from a purely aesthetic perspective, I’m not sure why the filmmakers would cast Scarlett Johansson to play someone who looked more like Philip Seymour Hoffman.

          • quanta413 says:

            Hell, just from a purely aesthetic perspective, I’m not sure why the filmmakers would cast Scarlett Johansson to play someone who looked more like Philip Seymour Hoffman.

            Boy, no kidding. Wtf?

            Probably actually a bullet dodged for the trans community though if the goal is more acceptance where they aren’t already accepted. Reading the Pittsburg Post-gazette obituary of Dante Gill made me think that’s really not the sort of person you’d want a popular biography about if your desire is increased positive representation of trans people or too many negative stereotypes about trans people.

        • LewisT says:

          Wasn’t that a large part of the appeal of Bill Cosby? He was a successful black man with (outwardly) middle class values and an apparently happy, stable family. In his TV shows, stand up, books, writings, and public speeches, he regularly promoted those middle class values, particularly hard work and a focus on education, among the African American community. The Cosby Show is probably the best example of this, centered as it was around Cliff Huxtable (a doctor), his wife (a lawyer), and their four kids, all living in an upper middle class neighborhood in New York. But even Fat Albert included some educational or moral lesson in every episode.

          Of course, Cosby was criticized for some of his views even before his sexual misbehavior became public knowledge, and now that he’s a convicted sex offender, he’s lost pretty much all credibility. The question is whether it would be possible for anyone else to pick up where he left off.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The question is whether it would be possible for anyone else to pick up where he left off.

            “Upper middle class black family guy” absolutely exists in the current media market.

            Black-ish for one.

            It even already has a spin off, just like The Cosby Show.

          • mdet says:

            My comment was partly inspired by the incident where Roseanne (the show, but also the person I guess) mocked shows like Blackish, seemingly for being just PC token minority shows. I thought that was dumb (not racist, just dumb), because A) If conservatives think that poor black communities need to better embrace middle-class family values, why denigrate a Middle-Class Family Values Sitcom for trying to connect with a black audience? and B) The whole reason Roseanne came back on the air is because Red Tribers were upset that people like themselves didn’t have shows that they could look to and connect with, shows that spoke to a Red audience in particular. Shouldn’t it be understandable that others want the same thing?

  15. Alliumnsk says:

    If there a way to look all comments I made on SSC?

    • Randy M says:

      Not through the commenting software, like at LW. The best way I know of is to use google and include site:slatestarcodex.com and your username. (There appears to be some lag; it only shows one comment for you)

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Also, it won’t work for certain users, unless you use common responses to them such as “Go away, John.”.

    • b_jonas says:

      There is no convenient way, as far as I can tell. For at least one WordPress blog, I had to resort to downloading the HTML pages of each post, which includes the comments, and then make a list sorted by commenter. I published this at “http://math.bme.hu/~ambrus/pu/aaronson-commentlist” to allow each commenter to find their own comments. You’ll of course have to remember what names you have used.

  16. ana53294 says:

    Inspired by one of my favorite Heinlein’s books, Have a Space Suit, Will Travel.

    Say you think taxes are theft, and you don’t really like the IRS, but you don’t want to go to jail and you want to work within the law. How would you pay your taxes in the most annoying but legal way possible?

    This is how Kip’s father did it:

    Dad didn’t bother with banks-just the money basket and one next to it marked “UNCLE SAM,” the contents of which he bundled up and mailed to the government once a year. This caused the Internal Revenue Service considerable headache and once they sent a man to remonstrate with him.

    First the man demanded, then he pleaded. “But, Dr. Russell, we know your background. You’ve no excuse for not keeping proper records.”

    “But I do,” Dad told him. “Up here.” He tapped his forehead.

    “The law requires written records.”

    “Look again,” Dad advised him. “The law can’t even require a man to read and write. More coffee?”

    The man tried to get Dad to pay by check or money order. Dad read him the fine print on a dollar bill, the part about “legal tender for all debts, public and private.”

    In a despairing effort to get something out of the trip he asked Dad please not to fill in the space marked “occupation” with “Spy.”

    “Why not?”

    “What? Why, because you aren’t-and it upsets people.”

    “Have you checked with the F.B.I.?”

    “Eh? No.”

    “They probably wouldn’t answer. But you’ve been very polite. I’ll mark it ‘Unemployed Spy.’ Okay?”

    • johan_larson says:

      Dad didn’t bother with banks-just the money basket and one next to it marked “UNCLE SAM,” the contents of which he bundled up and mailed to the government once a year. This caused the Internal Revenue Service considerable headache and once they sent a man to remonstrate with him.

      First the man demanded, then he pleaded. “But, Dr. Russell, we know your background. You’ve no excuse for not keeping proper records.”

      “But I do,” Dad told him. “Up here.” He tapped his forehead.

      “The law requires written records.”

      “Look again,” Dad advised him. “The law can’t even require a man to read and write. More coffee?”

      Any tax accountants or tax attorneys want to comment on the feasibility of what Kip’s father is doing here? I’m having trouble believing the IRS would just have to accept this practice. If nothing else, a person reporting income all in cash with no records of where it came from and what he did to earn it smells to high heaven of something being hidden.

      • hls2003 says:

        I don’t specialize in tax, but Kip’s father is being, at minimum, stupid. Anything he can’t document will be disallowed; so he might just be penalizing himself by missing deductions. And the IRS can absolutely require you to fill out written forms. I believe, though I don’t know the citations, that it is also illegal to pay with deliberately obfuscatory means (e.g. dumping $100 in pennies to pay a parking fine), or at least that the authorities could refuse to accept it.

        The whole passage reminds me of when a younger family member became enamored of the online “Sovereign Citizen” arguments. He seemed sufficiently serious that I took the trouble to tell him that, right or wrong (note: almost entirely wrong), technicality or not (note: almost always not) if you get cute, you will go to jail. Kip’s father is getting cute.

        • johan_larson says:

          In a tax audit, who has the burden of proof? Does the taxpayer have to prove his claims on the tax return are correct, or does the agency have to prove they are incorrect?

        • Deiseach says:

          My view of the matter, when reading the story even as a teenager, was that Kip’s father was getting away with this precisely because he was hooked into government as a spy/intelligence gatherer/something something deep state something.

          Some poor schlub who’s a Grade III clerk with the IRS local office goes to interview him, goes back to the office to write up the report and recommend he be audited/brought to court – his boss tells him ‘file it and forget it’ because his boss has been directly instructed from headquarters, who got a nice visit from someone belonging to one of the three letter agencies, that they really don’t want to poke about in the affairs of this nice professor living in that small town, not saying anything bad will happen if you do but…

          So i disliked that part because it wasn’t about liberty and freedom and the right of the sovereign citizen, it was mean-spirited: Kip’s father making fools of the guys just trying to do their job, and he can get away with it (and laugh about how much smarter he is than these noodles, he even knows the rules of their job better than they do!) only because he’s linked with that very same government bureaucracy at a much higher level than they are.

          • johan_larson says:

            My take on the matter is that it’s a pure power-trip fantasy on the part of Heinlein, and if anyone actually tried it, the taxation agency would find some way to make them miserable enough to stop.

          • Deiseach says:

            it’s a pure power-trip fantasy on the part of Heinlein

            Exactly. Kip’s father can get away with it because he still goes off on missions for the guys in the suits and shades (I’m betting that whatever agency or agencies use his services, they have a clerk or secretary quietly dealing with all this paperwork on his behalf, creating the paper trail the IRS needs). Ordinary Joe Soap will get hammered.

        • ana53294 says:

          So, if you happen to be very rich, and have to pay, say, 100,000 USD in tax, can you pay it in 100 $ bills?

          Is insisting in paying cash instead of through a bank deliberately obfuscatory?

          • Evan Þ says:

            Yes, you can pay your taxes with cash, but only up to $1000/day. Your very rich guy had better get started in January.

          • ana53294 says:

            Well, they also charge you for it, so that probably means that they get the same amount of money for it. So there wouldn’t be a point, I guess. $3.99 per payment is outrageous, by the way.

          • John Schilling says:

            As with the Cook County Assessor’s Office, you can pay the whole thing in cash at one go, but you have to actually get the cash to their office – I think any of the twenty or so regional offices will do for this purpose, but you can’t just e.g. drop off your cash at the post office and say “you’re part of the federal government, so can I get a receipt for this?”

            If you are e.g. in the quasi-legalized marijuana industry, this may be the only way you can pay your taxes.

            As with the Cook County Assessor’s Office, any wacky hijinks on the way to deliver your cash to their office, are your problem.

          • Beck says:

            Am I reading that right on the linked page? The payments are to be made at 7-Elevens?

          • ana53294 says:

            “At the department of revenue, they have armed guards there waiting for you,” Perryman said. “So they have armed guards, we have armed guards, and they meet — it’s secure all the way through.”

            It’s also expensive, both for the cannabis companies themselves and for the tax authorities that have to devote resources to counting and processing all that hard currency.

            Well, this is a good enough way to annoy the government. The way seems to be to have a legitimate reason to be annoying, so this doesn’t work for everybody. I’m sure the IRS will eventually solve it by either getting rid of the whole industry (improbable) or by having them have bank accounts.

          • Deiseach says:

            I would imagine paying a large tax bill in cash to be risky, unless you had the same level of security as cash in transit vans, else if it gets out that Mr Moneybags is heading off to the local tax office with a briefcase full of $100 bills, it would be very tempting to the local criminals. Mr Moneybags (or more likely the employee tasked with delivering it) would be in danger of physical harm, if not death. Or a low-level employee with a briefcase full of $100 bills might well decide “Stuff Mr Moneybags, this is more money than I’d make working for him for ten years, I’m having this!”

            Writing a cheque or EFT transaction would be much more secure.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            if it gets out that Mr Moneybags is heading off to the local tax office with a briefcase full of $100 bills, it would be very tempting to the local criminals.

            Note also that in the US the “local criminals” are quite likely to be the police.

      • dndnrsn says:

        (Not country-specific) No tax agency would just accept you giving them an amount and saying that was your tax, unless there was some kind of bribery going on. If you really did do your business without paper records, they’d probably do something like eyeballing your house and car and take a stab at how much you earn. It’s not just paying the taxes that’s required, it’s submitting the return.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Power-trip fantasy seems reasonable, but I also wonder whether it was more nearly true when the book was written than it is now.

        • Nornagest says:

          The IRS only started doing withholding in 1943. That’s fifteen years or so before Have Space Suit — Will Travel, so there’d still have been living memory of going out back and digging up a buried coffee can full of cash to throw on the tax collector’s wagon, or however they did it back then.

      • pontifex says:

        In California, we’ve got mandatory e-pay for anyone who makes serious money.

    • dick says:

      Am I the only one who doesn’t mind paying taxes? I don’t tinker with my investments to minimize my taxes, I pay everything I owe and I’m proud to do it. It doesn’t feel as good as writing a check to a charity, but it’s in the same general direction. I think tax cheats are about morally on par with burglars. Am I correct in assuming I’m in the minority?

      • Nornagest says:

        The government makes a very poor charity. But it could have implemented a much simpler tax code (and therefore one much harder to game), if that’s what it wanted. The tinkering you can do to minimize your taxes is possible only because people in government created those loopholes and exceptions, and they generally did that because they wanted to encourage the kinds of behavior they represent. E.g. saving for retirement, or making productive investments, or donating to charity. So you shouldn’t feel bad about organizing your finances to minimize taxes within the scope of the tax code, and you shouldn’t consider it cheating to do so.

        If you feel like cutting the government a check, of course, you can always just do that.

        • dick says:

          The tinkering you can do to minimize your taxes is possible only because people in government created those loopholes and exceptions

          I’m not talking about starting a 529 for your kids or claiming the mortgage tax deduction, I’m talking about grey area stuff. Sorry if that was not obvious.

          • Viliam says:

            The grey area stuff was also created by the people in government, often on purpose. It is a way to shift the tax burden on people who do not have enough resources to navigate the loopholes correctly.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I pay what I owe, after deductions.
            You exploit loopholes.
            He is a tax cheat.

          • Randy M says:

            I appreciate every penny I get back, but I don’t rearrange my life in any way for tax purposes (other making sure to file correctly, etc.)

          • dick says:

            I pay what I owe, after deductions.
            You exploit loopholes.
            He is a tax cheat.

            The notion the difference between taking deductions and cheating on your taxes is a matter of perspective will not survive much familiarity with tax avoidance as it is practiced by the wealthy. The Cheating of America is a little old but probably not outdated.

          • dndnrsn says:

            There’s not that much “grey area” stuff that’s actually grey area in the sense of outside of the definitely legal/definitely illegal binary, unless you really have money to spend on wacky international tax planning. There’s a lot of stuff that seems grey area but is really just illegal. Most tax scams are like this: often they present themselves as showing you the secret tricks rich people use, now available to you, the less-affluent person.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            On the other hand, there are a number of gray areas which seem to exist for no other reason than that the people in charge of drawing bright lines have never bothered to do so– and some of these apply to people well below the super-rich level. As far as I know, we still don’t have any definitive rule for what does and does not count as a “substantially identical” security for purposes of the wash-sale rule; or on the legality of “backdoor” Roth IRA contributions. I’ve had to make best guesses about both of these at various times, and I’m not at all the sort of guy whose money lives in the Caymans.

            I really don’t think I need any more familiarity than I already have with the way different groups try to minimize their taxes. What I could use is an argument in which the great difference between the way We avoid taxes and the way They avoid taxes appears as a conclusion rather than a premise.

          • SamChevre says:

            There’s not a lot of gray area stuff for individuals, earning wages–but for corporations, there is a LOT.

            My employer has been involved in an argument for almost a decade, which they finally won, over how to accrue for amounts determined in one tax year and paid in the next. The tax impact is on the order of $250 million.

          • dick says:

            There’s not that much “grey area” stuff that’s actually grey area in the sense of outside of the definitely legal/definitely illegal binary, unless you really have money to spend on wacky international tax planning.

            Ye-e-es… which is just another way of saying, “There is a bunch of grey area stuff if you do have money to spend on tax planning,” which is what I’m saying is morally on par with burglary.

          • dick says:

            What I could use is an argument in which the great difference between the way We avoid taxes and the way They avoid taxes appears as a conclusion rather than a premise.

            Is it your position that all tax avoidance methods, from ticking the “standard deduction” box on your 1040 to hiring a crooked appraiser to inflate the value of a piece of artwork before donating it to charity, are equally moral/immoral? My position is that they aren’t, and I don’t think you need to be able to define precisely where the line is between the good ones and the bad ones to assert that the line exists.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Paul Zrimsek

            Significant here is that taxation agencies usually give themselves a window where they can more or less retroactively decide something isn’t legitimate. They haven’t decided now, but if they decide within the x-year window to go back and look at someone’s tax return for a given year…

            @SamChevre

            Yeah, the more money, the more chance there’s some wackiness. But I think we should also separate “legitimate arguments” from doing sketchy stuff.

            @dick

            I don’t know if the word “bunch” is the right descriptor. There’s a lot less of that stuff than people think. It’s relatively inaccessible, too.

            (And art-flip scams usually involve the organizer of the scam hiring a crooked appraiser, or just making one up, selling the art “wholesale” but counting the donation amount by the already-inflated supposed retail value… it’s very rarely the people actually claiming the donation amount who are doing the scam; they should know better, but they’re not the originators)

          • dick says:

            I don’t know if the word “bunch” is the right descriptor. There’s a lot less of that stuff than people think.

            Which people? Me? You’re arguing that tax avoidance is less than some unspecified amount. Which is true, I guess? So, okay.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            My position is that, even assuming a general moral obligation to obey the law, tax evasion is purely malum prohibitum without a trace of malum in se, and all legal ways of evading taxes are therefore equally moral. I can make no sense of the proposition that anyone can have a moral obligation to pay more than the government is demanding of them.

          • pontifex says:

            If you believe in the rule of law, then you must also accept that there are sometimes grey areas. Resolving grey areas in the law is a big part of what judges do, at least at the higher levels of the legal system.

            The reason why the tax code is so complex is ostensibly to motivate certain types of behavior. For example, people get a deduction for taking out a mortgage, because Congress believes that homeownership is good. Am I a tax cheat for buying a house and claiming the deduction? No, I’m just someone responding to an incentive that someone else set up. Similarly, big companies get a tax incentive to move certain types of work abroad. Are they tax cheats for responding rationally to incentives? No, they’re just doing what they need to do to do the best for their shareholders.

            The real problem with taxes in the US is that some people in the government can’t resist the urge to add more and more complexity over time. If monetary policy were set by congressmen, we’d be using conch shells as currency by now, I’m sure. Perhaps we need to take the tax code out of the hands of congress and give it to a quasi-independent organization staffed by experts, like the Federal Reserve.

          • dick says:

            …all legal ways of evading taxes are therefore equally moral.

            You say that as if what is and isn’t legal were an objective matter. If I knowingly underpay my taxes and and instruct my lawyers to drag out the case for several years and end up settling for 30% or so of what (in my opinion) I really owed, would you call that legal or illegal?

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            You can only “knowingly underpay” if the amount you’re supposed to pay is known.

          • dick says:

            You can only “knowingly underpay” if the amount you’re supposed to pay is known.

            Jesus Christ, is the principle of charity completely unknown here? You can’t imagine a scenario in which someone doesn’t know exactly how much they owe but is quite certain they’ve underpaid? Well let me help. John Q. Richguy has a great year and makes a bunch of money and fills out a tax form that says he’s broke and lost a bunch of money. Does he know the precise Platonic ideal quantity of money he would owe according to an omniscient accountant? No. Did he knowingly underpay? Yes. If the IRS sues him and his lawyers countersue and after three years the IRS decides to cut their losses on legal fees and says, “We think your real tax bill should’ve been a million dollars, but we’ll let you pay 20% of that to settle this damn case,” and he agrees, was that legal or illegal?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Jesus Christ, is the principle of charity completely unknown here?

            That was the charitable response. The uncharitable response would be to assume you were knowingly making a circular argument and acting as if it proves something.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            But those phrases “makes a bunch of money” and “lost a bunch of money” strongly imply that we’re not in a gray area, since these nearly always have to do with what does or does not count as income or loss for tax purposes. Perhaps what we need is a system that doesn’t require the services of omniscient accountants?

          • dick says:

            By not in the grey area, do you mean it’s definitely illegal, or definitely legal (and hence, in your view, no less moral than a Roth IRA)? I mean, a bunch of lawyers and a judge all signed off on it, and the guy didn’t get convicted or fined or anything. My position is that some tax avoidance is both legal and immoral, so I chose the most extreme – most immoral while still being legal – example I could that fits. Should I have gone with Return of the Jedi losing money?

            Not that it really matters, I think it’s pretty clear this is not going somewhere fruitful. Man, I didn’t expect a lot of agreement but if I’d known I would have to prove on graph paper that “getting away with paying less tax than one should” is a thing which occurs, I would not have commented.

            I did learn one thing, at least: if I have lunch with anyone from here, I’ll be requesting separate checks.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            While it’s always wise to use epistemic caution when dealing with someone else’s underspecified hypothetical, if the IRS is prosecuting the guy it would be kind of nice to think that it’s for something illegal.

      • johan_larson says:

        The pattern my parents handed down to me was to not complain about taxes or go out of one’s way to minimize them, but on the other hand to not feel any obligation to give money to charitable or community organizations.

        I don’t feel the taxes I pay are particularly onerous, but I’m not under any particular financial pressure. If I were, perhaps I would resent them more.

        • keranih says:

          The pattern my parents handed down to me was to not complain about taxes or go out of one’s way to minimize them, but on the other hand to not feel any obligation to give money to charitable or community organizations.

          I myself find this pattern loathsome. This assumes that the government is almost entirely populated by 1) good hearted people who are also 2) competent people who 3) share all my priorities.

          (I would like to point out that my best guess is that your parents fulfill categories 1 & 2 but not 3.)

          I can do more good with my money than the government can, year over year. Given what is at stake, I feel that I have an obligation to attempt to do so.

          • dick says:

            So why not leave? Do you think “My landlord doesn’t share my priorities! My landlord is incompetent! I can do more good with my money than my landlord!” morally justifies you in refusing to pay your rent?

          • pontifex says:

            So why not leave? Do you think “My landlord doesn’t share my priorities! My landlord is incompetent! I can do more good with my money than my landlord!” morally justifies you in refusing to pay your rent?

            You already admitted that your beliefs about taxes put you in the minority in the US. Why don’t you leave?

            Your beliefs are also obviously different from the congressmen who are writing the laws, more than half of whom are millionaires with a good grasp of tax law and a willingness to use it.

            Don’t forget to pay the IRS expatriation tax for the next ten years after renouncing your citizenship.

          • keranih says:

            @ dick –

            …I think we have very different concepts of who owns who, wrt citizens and their government.

            Coming from your perspective, I think I can see where what you said is sensible, but from mine, it’s farcical.

          • dick says:

            You already admitted that your beliefs about taxes put you in the minority in the US. Why don’t you leave?

            Living here is a transaction; it has a cost, and for that cost I get some value. Being governed by jerks who don’t reflect my values is part of the cost, like taxes. Right now I still think living where I live is my best bang for the buck. That’s why I suggested moving; to assert that the US is a bad value means somewhere else must be better, right? Because prices are only good or bad relatively.

            More generally, I don’t think government being shitty and the morality of paying or not paying your taxes are related. If you want someone to pave the roads and arrest the drunk drivers and put the books back on the shelves at the library, giving money to an inefficient bureaucracy run by greedy jerks who don’t represent your values is the best way we’ve come up with so far. Your opinion, or your “concept of who owns who” or whatever, doesn’t enter in to it; it costs what it costs, and if one person pays less then someone else has to pay more.

          • Randy M says:

            to assert that the US is a bad value means somewhere else must be better, right? Because prices are only good or bad relatively.

            Nah; keranih thinking he could spend his money better than his government doesn’t imply where he thinks other governments are on that ranking.
            It also doesn’t mean that he enjoys living in a country built by taxes he doesn’t want to pay and is therefore a hypocrite; it could be that the things he stays for are social/cultural/geographic rather than bureaucratic.

          • dick says:

            it could be that the things he stays for are social/cultural/geographic rather than bureaucratic.

            Yep, same here. Sadly, “live in the US but be governed by the laws of somewhere else” isn’t one of the options on offer.

            It also doesn’t mean that he enjoys living in a country built by taxes he doesn’t want to pay

            Well, I don’t enjoy eggplant. How much am I morally obligated to pay for an eggplant, compared to someone who thinks it’s delicious?

          • Randy M says:

            Well, I don’t enjoy eggplant. How much am I morally obligated to pay for an eggplant, compared to someone who thinks it’s delicious?

            Maybe the emphasis didn’t translate. You pay the same, but you’re not a hypocrite for thinking it is overpriced.

          • dick says:

            I didn’t call them one, did I? What I’m arguing with is:

            I can do more good with my money than the government can, year over year. Given what is at stake, I feel that I have an obligation to attempt to do so.

            Which is admittedly vague, but I’m interpreting it to mean “Given that there is some difficult-to-quantify-but-it-still-exists amount of tax that someone in my position is supposed to pay according to the law, I think it’s morally justifiable to try to pay less than that given how terrible the government is.” And I don’t think it is.

            If what they actually meant was, “I’m morally required to pay my share like anyone else, and I do, but I really dislike it” then I can only apologize for misunderstanding.

          • Randy M says:

            I didn’t call them one, did I?

            No, I was trying to anticipate a counter argument.
            I also read “why don’t you leave” as implying if he stays he doesn’t really mean what he says. My bad.

            I’ll let keranih says whether he wants to qualify his state with “within the law” or not. Given Johan said “minimize” rather than “avoid” paying taxes, I suspect he means legally, but I’m a poor mind reader.

          • Living here is a transaction; it has a cost, and for that cost I get some value. Being governed by jerks who don’t reflect my values is part of the cost, like taxes.

            Living somewhere where there are burglars is a transaction too. There are probably places I could live where that risk would be lower.

            Does it follow that the burglars are morally justified? That it is wrong for me to try to keep them from taking my stuff?

            From your standpoint, what’s the essential difference? Your argument so far for my obligation to pay taxes is that I could avoid it by moving, which is true for suffering burglary as well.

          • dick says:

            This is a terrible metaphor, unless these burglars also also build bridges and work at the DMV, and also publish a list of what they plan to steal, and let people vote on it, etc etc. Just because two things share some essential similarity doesn’t mean they’re interchangeable rhetorically. The right metaphor is probably being born in to a condominium with an HOA you’d prefer not to be bound by.

          • IrishDude says:

            @dick

            This is a terrible metaphor, unless these burglars also also build bridges and work at the DMV, and also publish a list of what they plan to steal, and let people vote on it, etc etc.

            The mob provides protection services but that doesn’t invalidate the immorality of their shakedowns. The act of voting doesn’t by itself make an immoral action become moral.

            There are a variety of arguments for why State coercion is morally justified, but a detailed examination of each of those arguments (social contract, majority rules, state as landlord, etc.) don’t stand up to scrutiny.

          • This is a terrible metaphor,

            I wasn’t offering a metaphor, I was responding to an argument you made. Why doesn’t that particular argument apply to burglary?

          • actinide meta says:

            @dick writes

            if one person pays less [tax] then someone else has to pay more

            I think, as a purely descriptive matter, that this claim is probably wrong. Take a simple general public choice model of government in which some kind of leaders subject to some kind of competition have to reward supporters in order to stay in power. It doesn’t matter if the supporters are voters, campaign contributors, army leaders, feudal vassals, etc or if the rewards take the form of good policy, bad policy, pork, corruption, etc, or if the intentions of the leaders are good or selfish or evil, so I think this should apply to a wide range of political orders. As long as higher taxes (in and of themselves) cost (an ever increasing amount of) such support and things that can be bought with tax revenue gain (an ever decreasing amount of) support, we expect that there is some tax rate that maximizes the net amount of support and that this is roughly the equilibrium tax rate. At equilibrium, increasing the tax rate to collect $1 of extra revenue costs 1 unit of support, and spending the $1 of extra revenue on optimal bribes for your supporters produces 1 unit of support, because calculus.

            Now imagine that, exogenously, a bunch of people start flagrantly (and successfully) evading taxes. At any given tax rate, the amount of revenue the government can actually collect goes down 10%, and hence the amount of support that can be purchased goes down, so the tax rate must change to restore equilibrium.

            Which way? Well, now increasing the tax rate the same amount as before still costs 1 unit of support, but gains only $0.90. Spending the $0.90 presumably produces less than 1 unit of support. So increasing taxes makes things even worse for the leaders. Instead you would expect the tax rate to decrease to restore equilibrium.

            I’m not at all certain of this argument; I just thought it up on the fly and I’m not any kind of expert. I would be curious if anyone can correct any errors or knows of any good theoretical or empirical work in this area. But for now, I’m guessing that when someone avoids (or evades) taxes, the first order effect is decreased government revenue (and spending) and the expected second order effect is decreased tax rates.

            What, if anything, this means for your normative opinion of tax avoidance or evasion of course depends both on your opinions about taxes and your metaethics.

          • I’m not at all certain of this argument; I just thought it up on the fly and I’m not any kind of expert.

            It is not correct. You are forgetting that with the starting tax rate now bringing in only 90% as much revenue, the government can no longer spend as much as before, so drops whatever expenditures produced the lowest amount of support per dollar. So the marginal return in support from one more dollar of expenditure is now higher than before.

            That effect could be larger or smaller than the fact that a given rate increase now produces only 90% as much as before, so the government might respond by either raising or lowering tax rates. Total expenditure ends up lower than before, but the tax rate might end up higher or lower.

          • actinide meta says:

            @DavidFriedman

            That is convincing. It could go either way. Thank you!

            I guess an analogy would be someone responding to higher taxes by working more hours (because they are poorer) rather than less (because they keep less of what they earn marginally).

          • dick says:

            I wasn’t offering a metaphor, I was responding to an argument you made. Why doesn’t that particular argument apply to burglary?

            As I said, because burglars don’t spend the money they steal from you on fixing potholes and building bridges. “Taxation and burglary are literally the same thing” is plainly false. “Taxation and burglary are similar in some respects” is a metaphor, and it’s only useful if the way in which they are similar is relevant to the point you’re making. In this case, it’s not, because an organization you’re not part of taking your stuff for themselves is not morally equivalent to an organization that you are part of taking your stuff and spending it on the common good.

          • The Nybbler says:

            As I said, because burglars don’t spend the money they steal from you on fixing potholes and building bridges.

            Neither does the state of New Jersey.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @IrishDude
            All human interaction has both voluntary and involuntary aspects. Ethically speaking, the involuntariness of an interaction only factors somewhat into most culture’s sense of morality. The outcome of the action is also important. As is the sense of how that action supports orderliness and tradition.

            Its true that both the state and the mob use the implied threat of violence for non-compliance to get what they want. (By the way, so does the enforcement of private property). That people generally view the state as legitimate, and the mob illegitimate, appears to undermine Huemer’s thesis that voluntariness is the primary axis in which people are basing their morality.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Guy in TN

            Ethically speaking, the involuntariness of an interaction only factors somewhat into most culture’s sense of morality.

            Strong presumptions against hitting and stealing are universal western values. It’s what I teach my kids, “don’t hit, don’t steal”, as the very basic prerequisites of being a decent human being. It’s the behavior I expect of my family, friends, neighbors, employer, and strangers.

            The only people I don’t expect this basic moral behavior from is State agents and criminals, but I still judge the State’s bad behavior in the same way I would if my friends or family engaged in similar actions. That is, I don’t give special moral status to state agents; I hold them accountable as moral equals to the rest of us plebs.

            That people generally view the state as legitimate, and the mob illegitimate, appears to undermine Huemer’s thesis that voluntariness is the primary axis in which people are basing their morality.

            One reason people might not generally view the State with sufficient suspicion is because they generally haven’t carefully examined the arguments, and critiques against those arguments, for its existence. That was certainly the case for myself at one point in time.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Strong presumptions against hitting and stealing are universal western values.

            I seriously question the hitting aspect. Where I’m from there is plenty of glorification of the police and troops, placing these jobs as the highest pillars of morality. And their basic job is to “hit” people. At the non-state level, there’s also a great love on gun culture, rifles hanging over the mantle and such.

            And there’s also the whole Western-tradition of supporting private property. Which involves a lot of hitting against those who don’t respect its authority.

            The only people I don’t expect this basic moral behavior from is State agents and criminals, but I still judge the State’s bad behavior in the same way I would if my friends or family engaged in similar actions. That is, I don’t give special moral status to state agents; I hold them accountable as moral equals to the rest of us plebs.

            Does the average person who supports taxation really assign special moral values to the state? I know I don’t. I don’t support taxation by the state because of who they are, I support it because of the outcomes it produces. Like, if a group of random people got together a militia and forcibly took a chunk of people’s money at a progressive rate based on income level, and then set up an apparatus that built roads and distributed the money to the poor, I would support them as well. Especially if it was done at a large scale, highly orderly fashion with democratic input.

            One reason people might not generally view the State with sufficient suspicion is because they generally haven’t carefully examined the arguments, and critiques against those arguments, for its existence.

            That’s true. But it works as an argument against making claims regarding any ethical intuition. “One reason why people might be inclined to support libertarianism is that they haven’t carefully examined arguments against it…” ect. ect.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Should also point out that the reason parents feel the need to tell their kids not to hit people, is that kids sometimes have an innate desire (an ethical intuition, if you will), that hitting the other kid is a good idea.

            If we’re looking for who is the better example of pure biological intuition, untainted by the logic, reason, and morality of the world, then I think the kid would have to win this one.

          • albatross11 says:

            So if someone robs you and then spends the money filling in potholes and feeding the poor and funding worthy arts and culture, does it make the robbery morally acceptable?

          • “Taxation and burglary are literally the same thing” is plainly false.

            I didn’t say they were the same thing. I suggested that a particular argument you had made with regard to one also applied to the other.

          • dick says:

            I suggested that a particular argument you had made with regard to one also applied to the other.

            Don’t be specious; I quite obviously didn’t argue that the fact that someone can move is what morally justifies taxes. (I said someone could move if they didn’t like *their* government. I don’t know of anywhere one can move to avoid governments generally, other than Hagbard Celine’s yellow submarine.) I’ve since said twice that the essential difference between taxes and burglary that makes avoiding one moral and the other not is that taxes get spent on stuff we all need, stuff we haven’t yet discovered a better way to provide than having a government of some kind.

            So if someone robs you and then spends the money filling in potholes and feeding the poor and funding worthy arts and culture, does it make the robbery morally acceptable?

            “Is government morally acceptable?” is an abstract question I didn’t sign up for. What I said was, given that we are stuck with a government, it’s not morally acceptable for a rich guy to cheat on his taxes. If you want a Poli-sci 3xx discussion about whether it’s more moral for governments to exist or not exist, I’m pretty sure David Friedman is the guy you’re looking for.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @albatross1

            So if someone robs you and then spends the money filling in potholes and feeding the poor and funding worthy arts and culture, does it make the robbery morally acceptable?

            Well, if they targeted me individually I would think that is a bit unfair. Ideally they would be targeting everyone, and at a progressive rate.

            The predictability, universality, and democratic accountability of taxation are important to me. If you strip enough of those factors away, I might not support it. But by then we’re no longer talking about taxation as-we-know-it.

    • actinide meta says:

      Y’know, I think the whole “taxation is theft” analogy is actually a bit unfair to theft. From a utilitarian perspective, a typical theft is a transfer of wealth to a recipient with (demonstrated!) high marginal utility of income, which is in and of itself an improvement. The harm of theft comes from the deadweight losses created by (a) potential victims consuming (difficult to steal) leisure rather than working or saving, and making other efforts to avoid theft, (b) the costs of any violence or accident incidental to the theft, and (c) the thief’s effort and investment in his unproductive profession.

      In addition to these same harms, taxed wealth goes to a government which (d) spends a large portion of it on actively harmful activities (wars which kill hundreds of thousands of people for probably negative strategic benefit; the “war on drugs” and other efforts to prevent people from doing as they wish with their own bodies; keeping people who would like to come here peacefully and work mired in poverty and oppression elsewhere; tulip subsidies and supply restrictions in education, housing and health care; threatening teenagers with military slavery; I could go on and on but I don’t have all day), (e) destroys a large portion of it (through inefficiency, principal/agent problems, spending on neutral activities and rent seeking), (f) spends a portion of it providing private goods that could be better provided by the market, (g) transfers a portion of it to recipients with low marginal utility of income (rich old sick people; owners of agribusinesses; etc), and (h) transfers a portion of it to poor recipients with high marginal utility of income with lots of conditions and limitations that create further deadweight losses.

      At the margin maybe I would rather give a dollar to a thief.

      (That said, if left unchecked, competing thieves would raise the “theft rate” to nearly 100%, far above the Laffer peak, causing even worse deadweight losses, and then destroy most of what they collected through rent seeking competition among themselves, while governments (see: “stationary bandits”) are often willing to make do with less. But “not destroying basically everything of value in the world”, while an important and underappreciated feature of a political order, isn’t alone sufficient to make me content with one.)

      • dick says:

        This sounds like a teenager explaining why pirating movies is actually more moral than buying a DVD.

      • Garrett says:

        Sadly, sometimes there are much greater losses. Stealing banknotes is pretty efficient. Stealing the plumbing out of someone’s house for the scrap value of the copper destroys almost all of the value.

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah, I think a fairly common feature of most crime is that you do $X worth of damage to the world in order to extract $1 for yourself. Busting out the windows of a car to steal the cellphone inside is an example. Another is beating someone senseless or stabbing them to take their wallet–you get $50 to feed your meth/crack/heroin habit, and they get a year of recovery time and permanent retirement on disability.

          And when there’s a lot of crime, you also get a lot of avoidance costs. Everyone gets an alarm system and a mean dog and a shotgun and six locks for the door. People no longer let their kids play on the sidewalk in front of the house, and social ties between neighbors decay as a result. People move out to distant suburbs and quietly ignore that in their new suburb, there’s not much crime because the local cops beat up anyone who looks like they’re coming from the city to cause any trouble. (And now they have a two-hour commute and spend lots more money on gas and make lots of pollution.) Stores close earlier because nobody wants to be open at night when some gang of thugs is likely to come empty the cash register at gunpoint. Public spaces become unsafe, and so stop being used–nobody takes their kids to the park across the street, because gangsters or junkies have taken it over.

          • actinide meta says:

            To be clear, these very real costs are what I referred to as (b) (your first paragraph) and (a) (your second paragraph).

            (I should have used a word like “damage” rather than “accident” in (b); I didn’t mean to exclude intentional harm to property from my accounting of costs)

        • actinide meta says:

          You are right, that doesn’t fall squarely under any of my (a)-(c). A thief may steal something that is drastically less valuable to him than the owner. I suppose there is a vaguely analogous situation where someone is forced to liquidate an asset on which they place an idiosyncratically high value, but on the whole this is a disanalogy in favor of taxation.

        • Another is beating someone senseless or stabbing them to take their wallet

          That’s robbery, not theft. As is most taxation.

          • albatross11 says:

            Sure. I think it’s true of a large chunk of crimes with victims–it’s like the old joke that stolen goods are never sold at a loss. The criminal only cares about the costs he has personally incurred in getting $X from you (or $X of value), not the costs borne by his victim or the rest of the world in order for him to get that $X.

            I wonder what the biggest ratio of costs-to-the-world:benefit-to-the-crook looks like. It’s probably either spamming or malware-writing–some amoral jackass spends a million hours of skilled humans’ time in order to get paid a couple thousand bucks.

    • Incurian says:

      What are some ways to harass the government that aren’t likely to get you in trouble? I’m asking for a friend.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Vote for Trump?

      • albatross11 says:

        Investigative reporting? Going to city council meetings, paying attention, and objecting when things sound wrong to you? Filing FOIA/open records requests when something looks smoky? Filing or funding lawsuits against government actions to which you object? Building technology to make whistleblowing or evading surveillance easier? Organizing public protests? Writing books and articles calling them out for bad behavior?

      • Aapje says:

        Make lots of FOIA requests.

  17. Alexey Feldgendler says:

    Hey Scott, thank you so much for voicing the very concern I had about Friston’s rally to unify precision of predictions with desirability of outcomes, which you did at the end of “Friston on Computational Mood” in March. As I was trying to make sense of what I could glean from your essay on his free energy paradigm, I couldn’t help but think: “What, I’m the only one who sees a problem here?”

    How are they the same thing? They’re not even necessarily synergetic. When I see that a needle approaches my body, I can predict with high precision that very soon I’m going to feel the needle breaking my skin and penetrating the muscle. When the sensation eventually comes and perfectly matches the expectation, why doesn’t this little triumph of prediction make the experience pleasant?

    Conversely, when I watch a thriller, the last thing I want to hear is a spoiler. But shouldn’t more certainty about the film’s ending make it even better? It turns out that the situation in which I desire not to know something (to have a less accurate model of the world), is not as rare as it may seem.

    To summarize: Bad things predicted with high precision still suck. Some good things depend on low precision (ignorance) to feel good.

    • engleberg says:

      Re: when I see a needle approaching my skin, I can predict with high precision that soon I’m going to feel the needle penetrating my skin and and muscle:

      Depends on the needler. Lots of skilled people stretch your flesh slightly painfully, aim skillfully, and tap the vein while your (low precision) senses are still feeling the very slight pain of stretched flesh. Cherish them. Avoid guys like me qualifying for EMT basic. Seriously, avoid us like the plague.

      • Alexey Feldgendler says:

        Alright, but if that happens, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. How come the failed prediction made me happier, instead of frustrated by how unpredictable the world is?

        • engleberg says:

          Because Didn’t Hurt! It’s Over!. Also the pleasure of meeting a capable nice person momentarily buries your very real frustration with piloting a personality of finite predictive capacity through infinite oceans of unpredictable crap. Also Didn’t Hurt! It’s Over!

          • Alexey Feldgendler says:

            This doesn’t really answer why there is such a thing as a pleasant surprise.

  18. Mark V Anderson says:

    Myth #9: That the free market helps the rich but hurts the poor. Many of the rich do better under government regulation than under free markets. The government likes to have business partners of those businesses that are considered to be “good” companies. That way politicians can claim they support free enterprise without actually giving up control. Some of these firms receive lots of business from the government and others thrive due to restrictions placed on their competitors. Large companies can often make lots of profits in highly regulated environments.

    Of course these highly regulated industries will result in higher prices, because of costly regulations and lack of competition. This will hurt all consumers, including the poor. Often these regulations are intended to protect consumers, but it is the industry that usually controls the regulations, so it is only high prices and little competition that is ensured in such markets.

    Other regulations are intended to protect workers. Regulations such as minimum wage and safety regulations make some jobs better for the poor. But it also takes away poor people’s decision-making powers. If a poor person is willing to work for wages lower than minimum wages, or for a firm with a less than stellar safety record, they cannot. As a result, many of those that have difficulty getting a job, such as minorities, or those with a lower than average intelligence or lack of social skills, may never be able to get a job. If they could take a lower paying position to start with, they might be able to build up their skills so that other firms would hire them. It is always the hardest for the worker trying to get his first job out of high school or college, as employers are very suspicious of those who have never previously held a job. Minimum wages sometimes result in the marginally employable never successfully obtaining that first job, and thus becoming permanently unemployed.

    One effect of keeping a permanent class of unemployed by forcing a minimum standard of employment is to shift the balance of power between employer and employee. If there are always unemployed available to take a job, it gives the employer the power to force the employee to do things they wouldn’t otherwise agree to. When firms have to compete for workers just as workers compete for jobs, then the balance of power is much more equal between worker and firm. A more even balance makes life much easier for the worker. A worker may rather have an employer that treats him well for fear of losing him, than one that pays him a little more, but he doesn’t have this choice under government regulations.

    Other common regulations are zoning, occupation, and business statutes that control business at the local level. This makes it much more difficult for the poor to start up their own business. The main entrepreneurs in the ghetto are those that sell illegal drugs or sex. There would be many more entrepreneurs amongst the poor if they were allowed to have retail establishments, service businesses, or even small manufacturing out of their homes. Why can’t poor people sell products to compete with the over-priced stores in their area, do taxes or bookkeeping, provide haircuts or nail work, or do plumbing? All these are skills that exist in any poor community. There are zoning issues in almost all cases, but also most of those vocations are regulated, and so hard to get approval from the state or locality. It is usually rather difficult starting up a business in the ghetto because of all the regulations to finesse, much less the problems of getting customers and making a profit. The government makes it much more difficult to start a business.

    If all a poor person wants to do is to live off of welfare all his life, then government is better for the poor than the free market. But even then, it can be difficult to get through all the regulations to receive welfare. If a poor person wants to pull himself out of poverty and create a better life, fewer regulations are always better than more. It’s the free market that will more likely save the poor than the government.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      In response to my last myth, one person asked me to put all my myths in some repository. Well, I did have a blog I gave up on, and the web site is still out there. So I put the 11 Myths there. I would be happy to respond to comments on any of my Myths.

    • Deiseach says:

      There would be many more entrepreneurs amongst the poor if they were allowed to have retail establishments, service businesses, or even small manufacturing out of their homes.

      Oooh, oooh, I can answer this one!

      Because it really pisses the fuck out of your neighbours, is why. People will ring up to complain that so-and-so is running a business out of their house, and isn’t this against the terms of the tenancy, and stop them now or else (when I worked in social housing, I saw several examples of people ringing in to complain that so-and-so was running a hairdressing/dressmaking/whatever business out of her council house). As for the “selling products to compete with the over-priced stores in their area”, people do do that, with catalogue sales and being agents for companies. It generally never lasts long because it’s hard to generate a sufficient volume of business, repeat business, and sales (your neighbours are poor, too, and can’t buy the products every week or in bulk). I’ve seen several of these around my own neighbourhood over the years and (a) I’ve never bought anything out of these kinds of catalogues because it’s easier, more convenient, and cheaper to go to the shop to buy (say) cleaning products when I need them than order them and wait three weeks for delivery of some product whose quality and effectiveness I don’t know (b) there’s a lot of turnover of people signing up to these schemes, trying to be a small business, not making enough reliable income, and giving up. Some people do stick with them and make a living (I’m thinking the Herbalife agent I see around who seems to have lasted a few years) but not a lot out of all those who get involved.

      I don’t know what kind of model of “poor people’s houses” you have in your mind, but most houses in estates are not set up to be businesses. Having people arriving on the street in a constant stream at all hours, parking (if they’re driving) their cars half up on the footpath or in the spaces in front of the neighbour’s houses, any noise and disturbance – people don’t like it, they complain.

      So how about tenants in private rented properties? They can do so with the permission of the landlord, but there are legal ramifications to this. The law in the UK has been changed to encourage small businesses/working from home, ensuring that even if a tenant starts a home business, their lease with you the landlord remains a domestic one and not a commercial one:

      Previously, running a business from home could lead to the tenant acquiring business tenancy rights, even if the business activity was done in breach of the terms of the tenancy. Now, even if the landlord has agreed to the tenant using the property for business purposes (or agreed to it by failing to take action once discovering it), the tenant still does not obtain business tenancy security of tenure where the business use is solely for the purposes of a “home business”. This is defined in a new section that has been added to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 by section 35 of SBEEA.

      Why can’t poor people sell products to compete with the over-priced stores in their area, do taxes or bookkeeping, provide haircuts or nail work, or do plumbing?

      Some people do run small businesses out of their homes. Things like plumbing and handiwork – the archetypal ‘man with a van’. Not everybody can do this or is suited to do this.

      There’s also the problem of the black economy – people claiming welfare payments and working side jobs like this, or working and not paying taxes and so forth. And there is the perennial problem of the cowboy, where you may pay a small tradesman for a job and they botch it, don’t complete it, keep finding new expenses that have to be paid on top to complete the job, etc. It’s very hard to recover your losses when all you have is a mobile number and no address for the guy.

      And yes, there is the problem of regulation. But a lot of that is driven by public sentiment – take unregistered childminders. It used to be relatively easy to set up to mind a few kids in your home on a small-time basis. But now, thanks to the whole child sex abuse scandals, scandals about residential/care homes/abuses of children in care/foster homes, TV exposés about “see the terrible way kids in this commercial creche were treated!” and general parental anxiety where it’s no longer “granny/a neighbour I know well/a friend minds the kids while mother and father are working”, it’s “how do I know I can trust this woman, how do I know she won’t park my kid in front of the telly and just give them sugary drinks instead of the healthy snack and ignore them all day?”, there is a lot of legislation being introduced. A lot. And this pushes towards people being registered and setting up as a proper business:

      – Decide how you want to run your Childminding service, full-time or part-time? What will your rates be? How many children can you mind?
      – Get your home ready – Child proof the house and make sure you have enough toys and equipment!
      – Find out if you should register with Tusla or if you can notify your local Childcare Committee.
      – You must register with Revenue as self-employed within a year of starting.
      – Get Garda Vetting as a Childminder. Parents expect it and evidence of Garda Vetting for Childminding is a mandatory requirement for registration with Tusla.
      – Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
      – Prepare simple advertising – advertise on Childminding Ireland’s website (free to members) or put a small ad in local shops, toddler groups or on Facebook. But remember, word of mouth often works best!
      – Develop a working agreement to use with parents to help your arrangements run smoothly.
      – Hold interviews with parents. Use your working agreement to discuss the care needed and your approach to managing your service.
      – Arrange for the child or children to come for some settling in visits before you sign an agreement and get going properly.

      • The Nybbler says:

        And after that long list of child-minding requirements pushes the price of child-minding out of reach of most of the population, the poor continue to mind each other’s children under the table…. and the middle classes are stuck minding their own children, so they refrain from having them because children are a burden they can never set down.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Yep. Registered childcare is too expensive for half the folks with kids, because of all the regulations. I have heard that Washington, DC is going to require a college degree for all childcare workers! Just in case there are any middle class folks out there who can still afford it. If you raise your own kids, so far you don’t need to register with the state, verify that every item in the house has no possible danger to the little tykes, have a care plan to make them good little citizens ready to be institutionalized by the schools when they are old enough, or have a college degree. But if someone else takes care of the kids, you have to pay someone else to do all this. It’s kind of funny that the same people that creating all these regs are the same folks that claim they are in favor of women being out in the workforce.

        • Deiseach says:

          Part of the trouble is that the long list of requirements comes in due to public outcry and demand that Something Must Be Done and Will Nobody Think of the Children?

          For example, a while back our national TV and radio station had its current affairs programme do an exposé on three crèches. This got a lot of publicity, there were court cases suing the creches over it, and of course one result was “why isn’t the government doing something about things like this?”

          So the tightening of standards, qualifications, inspections, etc. People can still child mind in their own homes and do not have to be registered but they can only look after a very limited number of children. Registered child minders resent the unregistered and in some cases will inform on them (to child welfare agencies, the tax office, or wherever their spite leads them). Parents have higher and higher expectations of standards of care, even from informal arrangements – if you’re paying someone, you expect a business level of service. In that latter case, what Mark V says “verify that every item in the house has no possible danger to the little tykes” does very much apply; in our days (long ago when dinosaurs walked the earth) parents might accept that little Johnny or Susie will fall down and scrape their knee or get a bruise or bump at the child minders or in school. Nowadays this entails a doctor’s visit and if the parents are sufficiently aggrieved, a court case, and if your household insurance doesn’t cover “sorry, not for running a business out of your home” (if you even have insurance in the first place) what do you do?

          From that 2013 exposé:

          Reporter Oonagh Smyth appears on camera to introduce the programme and says it will investigate childcare in Ireland and ask “if the system of regulation that upholds standards of care is good enough”.

          Asking “is the system of regulation good enough?” is begging for a CYA response from the government of the day (any party, it doesn’t matter) to introduce an extra layer of bureaucracy, because otherwise you’re inviting national media to paint you as “heartless ministers don’t care about the welfare of your precious little tots!”

          I do hope none of you with children have ever tried to get them to sleep by telling them ‘no more silliness’ or covering their heads! Don’t you know this is degrading and harmful, according to Real Experts?

          “We’re not going to have anymore silliness,” the worker says as the child begins to cry. “Go asleep,” the worker repeatedly says. More undercover footage shows a worker attempting to get a child to lie down and sleep by covering their head with a blanket. Hayes (below) says this is “very degrading behaviour” while Greene describes it as “emotionally and physically harmful”.

          • DavidS says:

            For what it’s worth, my kid’s in a nursery and gets bumps and scrapes there (as do other kids) and you just sign a form saying ‘they told me this happened at nursery’. Never seen anyone kicking off about it.

      • bean says:

        Wait. The Irish childcare registry is in Oklahoma? I guess stranger things have happened.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Yes there are downsides to the neighborhood to doing business out of your home, traffic and parking being the biggest issue. But zoning to keep out businesses altogether is clearly overkill in my mind. Some businesses cause extra traffic, like if you have new clients every 15 minutes to do their nails, but plenty of businesses do not cause this amount of traffic, such as bookkeeping, or those who travel, such as your example of plumbers. I think all of these may nevertheless run into problems with zoning. And for some locations, having lots of clients won’t be an issue, because they don’t drive, or the area isn’t very crowded.

        Instead of discouraging entrepreneurship, the laws should discourage what is bad — causing a lot of traffic should be what is illegal. Especially since causing traffic and parking issues are often not due to businesses. It may well be that a house contains four teenage drivers, each with their own vehicle, and constantly go here and there. It may be a bit more difficult to define such a law, but I think the downside of current laws severely discouraging entrepreneurship out of the home is much greater than the benefits of zoning residential only in most places.

    • rahien.din says:

      This is a tough one for me. I’m sympathetic to the general thrust of “overregulation is harmful to companies and consumers, yet still exploitable by the powerful” but the post boils down to “Any regulation with false positives and/or verifiable costs and/or possible exploits is made invalid by them.” Which seems so glib to me.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Yes, it is somewhat glib, because it is a short post, and it really isn’t about regulations. And in fact I readily agree that some regulations are undoubtedly more beneficial than harmful, although in the US at least I think this is a small minority of the regulations that exist. But this too is a pretty short comment, so I’m not trying to convince anyone of this here, just stating my opinion.

        I probably did emphasize regulations too much in this post, just because it is my hobbyhorse. My main point is that it is to provide a counterpoint to the widely accepted meme (at least by the left in the US), that more government is usually good for the poor and bad for the rich. I do think that most labor regulations such as minimum wages and other such requirements are a net loss for the poor. Of course many will disagree. I don’t expect to change the minds of these people, but I do hope everyone on SSC will at least accept that there are trade-offs here, and that there are significant downsides to the poor of protective labor regulations.

        And on the other side, I hope everyone will accept the benefit of regulations to the rich. I don’t think regulations will cause net benefits to the rich, but will definitely result in net benefits to SOME rich.

        • Aapje says:

          Much of that depends on what the natural equilibrium is and in what direction the regulation pushes the state of the world away from the natural equilibrium.

        • rahien.din says:

          The post really isn’t about regulation

          The post is about regulation. You directly contrast regulation with the free market when you say “Many of the rich do better under government regulation than under free markets.” Moreover, a market is free only to the degree it is not burdened by regulation.

          it is somewhat glib, because it is a short post

          I am entirely sensitive to the difficulty of distilling an idea while not getting overly prosaic.

          What I find glib is statements such as “[Safety regulations] also take away poor people’s decision-making powers.”

          In a previous job, one of my former coworkers made foaming agents for a small chemicals company. One day, he was given only the upper half of an isolation suit and told that his job was now to handle volatile blister agents, or he had to walk. He walked because, surprise, everyone who tried ended up with horrible blisters on the parts of them not covered by an isolation suit. The company had such dangerous practices (homemade naked plywood fume hoods! pile up those water-soluble bags from Grignard agents under an open-air shed!) that the local fire company refused even to spray water on the building from a distance. They routinely dumped waste products into a ditch across the street from low-income housing.

          Every cost-saving bit of this was strictly illegal, but, neither was it enforceable. The de facto legality was made possible by the hamstrung and cash-strapped enforcement agencies in the great state of Florida.

          My buddy moved out of Florida because all the companies he looked at in Florida had adopted those kinds of practices with Malthusian enthusiasm. He deliberately moved to a state with a stronger regulatory regime because he didn’t want to be presented with the “choice” to torture himself with chemical weapons or lose his job. That’s not a genuine choice, nor is it meaningfully freedom. As a single guy with simple tastes, he had the financial ability to do buy his way out. His only source of meaningful freedom was his savings.

          In this way, safety regulations preserve the essential part of people’s decision-making abilities, by excising these kind of unjust ransom-like “choices.” This is especially true for the poor who, unlike my buddy, can’t endure any interruption of their cash flow.

          I’m genuinely curious about several things. What is your perception of my buddy’s decision to actively seek a stronger regulatory regime. Do you just think he’s chickenshit for choosing safety over dignity? If you think his choice was valid (perhaps because entities seeking constituents can compete with safety nets, too?), and yet still maintain that safety regulations aren’t net-positive, then what recourse would you offer the poor who are unable to pay for such a choice? What do you think of things like truck wages?

          • 10240 says:

            One day, he was given only the upper half of an isolation suit and told that his job was now to handle volatile blister agents, or he had to walk.

            Why didn’t he buy himself an isolation suit? Or tell his employers that he is willing to work for a slightly lower salary if they give him one?
            Q: “Why should he spend his own money on that, or take a lower salary?” A: Irrelevant. If the company is obligated to give him an isolation suit, in all likelihood he would get a salary lower than if they don’t have to give him one, too, by approx. as much as it costs the company to give him an isolation suit.
            This is my opinion about every similar question.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I’m genuinely curious about several things. What is your perception of my buddy’s decision to actively seek a stronger regulatory regime. Do you just think he’s chickenshit for choosing safety over dignity? If you think his choice was valid (perhaps because entities seeking constituents can compete with safety nets, too?), and yet still maintain that safety regulations aren’t net-positive, then what recourse would you offer the poor who are unable to pay for such a choice? What do you think of things like truck wages?

            I think his choices were certainly rational, given his wishes and what he saw as reality. He found every firm in Florida (in whatever profession he was in I guess) to be unsafe in his estimation, and other states to have safer firms. I suspect he was quite exaggerating, but have never lived in Florida, so I don’t have direct knowledge. I am sure not all jobs there cause injury, because not all jobs are inherently dangerous — white collar, retail, and even a lot of blue collar. So presumably he meant some defined area that he worked in.

            Yes, sometimes people with low skills have a lot less choice as to where they work. But I think a lot of that lack of choice is DUE to the regulations. These regulations create a minimum cost to firms for every worker, which will lower the demand for low paid workers. I think that’s a major reason why low skilled have much higher unemployment. This is turn gives the employer a lot more power than the worker, since the worker can’t afford to lose his job. I think this is the cause of much of the exploitation of low skill workers. You may still think that strong safety regulations are worth it, but I hope you can at least see the trade-off of less empowered workers due to regulations.

          • rahien.din says:

            10240,

            Why didn’t he tell his employers that he is willing to work for a slightly lower salary if they give him sufficient protective gear?

            If a worker needs [equipment] to work, their wages should be reduced by [cost of equipment].

            That’s my answer for everything.

            I don’t know how to interface with the version of reality you depict – it’s positively alien to me. And genuinely, I truly mean that not to be pejorative. Just want to communicate how weird this seems to have gotten.

            All,

            In some sense, it’s very clarifying to read that, for now it seems the source of all our disagreement here is a distinct mutual other-ness. And at once, that’s suddenly very discouraging. Not sure there is common ground here, at all.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It’s spherical widget world. The one where there can’t possibly be a stock market.

            Slightly more to the point, the employer would never have gone for this. “Why does Hank have a full haz-mat suit and I have these latex gloves?” is not a question these guys want there employees to even think of asking.

            Look, Econ models are just that, models. They are good enough at modeling broad economic behavior, but it’s a mistake to think that each interaction will comply with the model.

            Not only that, but Econ models already predict that externalities will be exploited if not regulated in some way. This is not particularly novel or confusing.

          • Jiro says:

            Why didn’t he buy himself an isolation suit?

            How would that make sense? A company-bought isolation suit would be used by a number of employees and the effect of its cost on salary would therefore be split between the employees. Buying an isolation suit himself won’t work unless he starts a co-op where all the employees pool their funds to buy a suit, and any benefit would be eaten up by coordination costs and transaction costs.

            Or tell his employers that he is willing to work for a slightly lower salary if they give him one?

            Since the company doesn’t routinely give salary reductions in exchange for protective equipment, the cost of doing this would be dominated by the cost of creating the procedures to allow that, not the actual cost of doing it. And just like the cost of the suit itself, this cost would not be spread among the many employees who would benefit from the existence of such procedures.

            In fact, the company probably would just refuse, because even listening to a request to create new procedures has costs.

          • Not only that, but Econ models already predict that externalities will be exploited if not regulated in some way.

            That is correct. Dumping dangerous chemicals in a ditch is an externality. Having employees do dangerous things is not.

            The same analysis predicts that the political market will routinely produce the wrong outcome, since almost all decisions are being made by individuals who bear almost none of the cost and receive almost none of the benefit, hence cannot be expected to have an incentive to take all and only those actions that maximize the net benefit–externalities typically of over 99%.

            If that isn’t obvious, consider the case of the individual voter on whose behavior the whole democratic system is supposed to rest.

          • IrishDude says:

            @rahien.din

            In some sense, it’s very clarifying to read that, for now it seems the source of all our disagreement here is a distinct mutual other-ness. And at once, that’s suddenly very discouraging. Not sure there is common ground here, at all.

            It would be clarifying to know your exact position when it comes to safety regulation:

            Do you think additional safety always comes at no cost?
            Do you think additional safety comes at some cost but is always worth it?
            Do you think additional safety comes at some cost but is sometimes worth it and sometimes not?

            If your answer to the last question is yes, then you acknowledge there are trade-offs when it comes to implementing additional safety measures. Safety brings benefits but imposes costs. Sometimes the net benefit is positive and sometimes negative.

            The calculation of net benefit will vary across individuals since people have different preferences on how to balance pay, working conditions, safety, job security, and other compensation. If a particular policy of increased safety gives X benefit but at Y cost to one of the other compensation elements, some workers may approve of that policy and some may not since X and Y will be valued differently across workers. Do you disagree?

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            If the negotiating position of the employee is so weak that he can demand little more than what is required to stay in working shape (a minimum to live on) in the short term, then the desires of the employee are rather meaningless and adding safety regulation will improve the position of the employee by making it impossible for him to be legally undercut by another worker.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Aapje
            I’ll ask you the same questions I asked rahien.din:

            Do you think additional safety always comes at no cost?
            Do you think additional safety comes at some cost but is always worth it?
            Do you think additional safety comes at some cost but is sometimes worth it and sometimes not?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            Dumping employees’ health problems into the external market is another externality. To the extent that the various forms of risk the employer is forcing employees to take is not priced into the costs of various insurance (health, disability, other social insurance) then the employer is exploiting an externality.

            In addition, unlike models that assume that employees have the same knowledge of risk and costs associated with those risks as the employer, in the real world knowledge is frequently asymmetrical. This is why the stock market can exist, why con men can make money, and why exploitive employers can get employees to assume the real costs associated with work place risk. They merely have to establish (by intention or accident) a work place where knowledge of those risks are low.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @IrishDude:
            I think our innate understanding of costs/benefits/risk is poor for a modern environment. In addition, they aren’t uniformly distributed (and therefore are subject to exploitation).h

            Thus, actual study of these factors has to be done. Cost benefit analysis is part of any sane regulatory scheme. It seems like a straw man to posit the question in the manner you are.

          • IrishDude says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I think our innate understanding of costs/benefits/risk is poor for a modern environment.

            Transparency on costs, benefits, and risks is valuable so I’m supportive of efforts* to bring relevant information to consumers and employees to help them make informed decisions. I’m not supportive of paternalism to tell adults which mix of costs, benefits, and risks they are and are not allowed to take on.

            *Non-state efforts, though if there’s going to be a state this is towards the bottom of the list of things I’d oppose them doing.

            Thus, some measure of actual study of these factors has to be done. Cost benefit analysis is part of any sane regulatory scheme. It seems like a straw man to posit the question in the manner you are.

            Some people pay to jump out of a plane. Some people would need to be paid an exorbitant amount to jump out of a plane. What’s the benefit of jumping out of a plane versus the cost and how does that net out? The answer varies from person to person. I support letting individuals make the decision about which risks they’re willing to take on and which they’re not.

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            It is sometimes worth it. That’s why the law doesn’t demand maximum safety measures from employers, but we have specific rules, decided upon by the polity by means of democracy.

            Your rebuttal that the employee should be allowed to negotiate safety regulations based on his or her needs is not a universal value, since we disallow many other kinds of voluntary choices, like:
            – selling yourself into slavery
            – marrying multiple people
            – buying or selling a gun without a permit

            Your desire to exclude safety regulations from this list is noted, yet rejected by a majority of the people in both our respective nations.

            Vox Populi, Vox Dei 🙂

            @DavidFriedman

            When employers don’t pay the full cost of the damage done to employees when accidents happen, and they don’t, then it is an externality.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Aapje

            It is sometimes worth it.

            Do you think whether a particular safety regulation is ‘worth it’ will vary from individual to individual?

            since we disallow many other kinds of voluntary choices

            I think it’s worth being specific. “we” is one collection of people, a combination of voters/politicians/unelected bureaucrats/state enforcers, sometimes a majority of people and sometimes not, disallowing consenting behavior from other collections of people, sometimes a majority and sometimes a minority, that disagree.

            That’s why the law doesn’t demand maximum safety measures from employers, but we have specific rules, decided upon by the polity by means of democracy.

            I understand what is, I’m concerned with what ought to be. Do you think if a majority voted to ban sky diving, riding mountain bikes, or engaging in casual sex due to safety concerns, that it would be justified for the state to use physical force against people participating in those activities? Do you believe in any limits on what decisions majorities of people should be able to enforce on minorities?

          • albatross11 says:

            IrishDude:

            One thing that’s interesting about safety culture/technology is that a lot of it involves changes to the whole workplace and your whole practices–you redesign the machines on your production line, you change the procedures for how your employees work, you require everyone wear protective equipment, etc. So this probably makes it pretty hard for an individual employee to negotiate better safety equipment for himself. (That’s not always true, but it’s often true.) That’s a situation where some kind of collective negotiation is likely to work better than individual bargaining.

            In a free market where there were a lot of available jobs, what you’d expect to happen is that over time, everyone would know that working at company X or in industry Y was very risky, and so most potential employees would prefer to do something else unless offered a lot of money. With perfect information, there would then be an incentive for companies to improve their safety so they could get cheaper labor/better labor at the same cost. But to the extent that information doesn’t flow so freely, you could plausibly get a situation where everyone knows coal mines are deathtraps, and very few people notice that Acme Coal Mines has 30% fewer fatalities per year and their retirees don’t die of black lung.

            And there’s a collective action/race-to-the-bottom problem here–it’s a lot easier to raise your costs by 10% to improve employee safety if everyone else in the industry does, too. That’s important if the incentives for individual companies to improve safety are either not all that strong in practice (due to imperfect information and the all-or-nothing nature of some of the safety measures), or are not clear to the management (who maybe think that raising their operating costs 10% for what look like humanitarian reasons is a good way to get replaced by someone a little harder-headed, even if long-term it might be a good deal for the company).

            My intuition is that this is a situation where either union bargaining or government regulations can make things better. Now, that’s not the same as saying they *will* make things better–voters, bureaucrats, and politicians all have incentives that don’t actually align with making an optimal cost/safety tradeoff, and they wouldn’t know enough to do so even if they wanted to[1]. OTOH, maybe I’m letting my own status quo bias get the better of me here.

            [1] If anyone knew how to do that, it would be factory operators or the workers.

          • IrishDude says:

            @albatross11

            That’s a situation where some kind of collective negotiation is likely to work better than individual bargaining.

            I’m supportive of individuals voluntarily grouping together to support and communicate their shared interests. That type of coordination can be valuable.

            But to the extent that information doesn’t flow so freely, you could plausibly get a situation where everyone knows coal mines are deathtraps, and very few people notice that Acme Coal Mines has 30% fewer fatalities per year and their retirees don’t die of black lung.

            If information doesn’t flow freely, then states are as bad off as individuals in knowing what policies to follow. If Acme Coal Mines is a much safer work environment, it seems in their interest to advertise that fact to attract a wider pool of employees.

            Re: this whole safety discussion, here’s a nice short video from Mike Rowe on “safety third”. No matter what regulations get passed, it’s good for each individual to assume responsibility for their own safety.

            ETA:

            Now, that’s not the same as saying they *will* make things better–voters, bureaucrats, and politicians all have incentives that don’t actually align with making an optimal cost/safety tradeoff

            One of the main points I’m trying to make here is the trade offs vary by individual, and so optimal policy will vary by individual. In the car market, not everyone buys the safest car available. People value safety, yes, but they also value luxury, reliability, low prices, looks, performance, etc. One-size-fits-all approaches invariably ignore the particulars of any person’s preferences, but allowing the markets to respond to consumer preferences allows a multitude of approaches to proliferate, each tailored to the needs of particular sets of preferences, allowing more people to satisfy their preferences than policy fiat would allow.

          • If the negotiating position of the employee is so weak that he can demand little more than what is required to stay in working shape (a minimum to live on) in the short term,

            As I have pointed out before, average real income in the developed world at present is twenty to thirty times what the global average was through most of history. So your “minimum to live on” is irrelevant to the discussion, which concerns employees in the developed world.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            You made a statement about externalities. I believe that statement to be incorrect and have made an argument why it is incorrect (that transferring the cost of risk onto external risk pools is an externality).

            Do you acknowledge my argument? Was it incorrect?

          • @HBC:

            we have specific rules, decided upon by the polity by means of democracy.

            Rules decided on by the polity by means of democracy have in the past included putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps, criminalizing sodomy, an age of consent of seven (Delaware in the 19th century), and a fair number of other things that I expect you would disapprove of.

            Shouldn’t a consistent approach apply the same analytic strategy to both the market and the political system? For the market, you ask the question “will rational behavior by the individuals concerned lead to the optimal outcome” and offer various reasons why it sometimes won’t. For the political system you simply accept what it does as what it ought to do.

            Try applying the same standards to both. The problems, such as externalities and imperfect information, that you expect to cause problems in the market all exist on a much larger scale in the political system. The individual worker has imperfect information about the risks of his job, but much better information than the individual voter has about the risks of someone else’s job or the competence or honesty or altruism of the politicians and administrators who are making decisions about what risks employees should be allowed to accept. Changing from one job to another isn’t costless, but it’s a whole lot easier than changing from one country to another. Very nearly every player in the political system, from the individual voter down to the president, is taking actions with externalities of close to a hundred percent—if you vote for the wrong candidate, the cost is spread over three hundred million of your fellow citizens.

            A simplified model of the market—perfect competition, full information, no externalities—gives what is in some sense an optimal outcome. The equivalent model of democracy is consistent with sixty percent of the population enslaving forty percent—there is nothing in the logic of the system that pushes it towards the optimum.

            So why do you take it for granted that allocating decision-making power to the political system instead of the market can be expected to lead to improved outcomes?

            @albatross1:

            But to the extent that information doesn’t flow so freely, you could plausibly get a situation where everyone knows coal mines are deathtraps, and very few people notice that Acme Coal Mines has 30% fewer fatalities per year and their retirees don’t die of black lung.

            If that’s the problem, shouldn’t you be supporting regulation that is limited to the government producing such information and making it available?

            And there’s a collective action/race-to-the-bottom problem here–it’s a lot easier to raise your costs by 10% to improve employee safety if everyone else in the industry does, too.

            If potential employees prefer the safer workplace by more than the safety costs, the change lowers the cost of labor by more than it raises the cost of safety precautions, so no need for collective action.

            When regulation (or a union) forces all the companies to raise their costs by 10% and they don’t get compensated by being able to get labor at a lower cost, the cost is being pushed off on their customers—the union or regulators are functioning as a cartelizing agent. I think I have read that that’s part of what the United Mine Workers ended up doing—holding down coal production in order to force the price of coal up and taking a share of the resulting monopoly income for its members.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            You are now misattributing a quote. That statement was made by Aapje, not me.

            Again, in a system where there is pooled risk and imperfect knowledge, will businesses benefit by pushing the cost of that risk onto the external pool? Do you acknowledge this argument?

          • Guy in TN says:

            The problems, such as externalities and imperfect information, that you expect to cause problems in the market all exist on a much larger scale in the political system[…] Very nearly every player in the political system, from the individual voter down to the president, is taking actions with externalities of close to a hundred percent—if you vote for the wrong candidate, the cost is spread over three hundred million of your fellow citizens.

            Why do government actions result in nearly 100% externalities, while private actions don’t? The act of creating and maintaining private property results in negative externalities for everyone who isn’t that resource’s owner. Their position is made worse off by non-market means, when the private property is created or maintained.

            A simplified model of the market—perfect competition, full information, no externalities—gives what is in some sense an optimal outcome. The equivalent model of democracy is consistent with sixty percent of the population enslaving forty percent—there is nothing in the logic of the system that pushes it towards the optimum.

            The issue is that your simplified model is internally contradictory. How can a market of goods exist without having property in those goods, which necessitates creating negative externalities? A no-negative-externalitiy world would, of course, be paradise. The argument isn’t that such a world is bad, its that it is impossible, and learning increasingly heavier on an externality-filled market in hopes of achieving a utopian ideal is not a useful position.

          • (that transferring the cost of risk onto external risk pools is an externality).

            I agree that any part of the cost that is born by insurance, private or public, that isn’t able to charge for the increased risk ex ante is an externality.

          • You are now misattributing a quote.

            My error.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            You said:

            That is correct. Dumping dangerous chemicals in a ditch is an externality. Having employees do dangerous things is not.

            The bolded statement appears to be untrue.

          • 10240 says:

            If a worker needs [equipment] to work, their wages should be reduced by [cost of equipment].

            @rahien.din It’s important to specify compared to what their salary is reduced by the cost of the equipment. What I said was that their salary is lower than if they do the same job but without the company providing safety equipment. Not compared to a job where you don’t need equipment to do it safely — the market-clearing wage in such a job is presumably the same as the market-clearing wage in a similar job where you need safety equipment and the company provides it (while if the company doesn’t provide it, the wage is presumably higher).

            And it’s not a question of whether their wages should be lower if the company provides the equipment than if it doesn’t; my point is that they will be lower, whether it has an obligation to provide the equipment or it does so voluntarily.

            In some sense, it’s very clarifying to read that, for now it seems the source of all our disagreement here is a distinct mutual other-ness. And at once, that’s suddenly very discouraging. Not sure there is common ground here, at all.

            I think it’s a difference in our understanding of some economic arguments (or a lack of understanding of certain arguments on the part of one of us), not a fundamental difference.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            If the state knows enough about the externality imposed (ahem) jointly by the businesses and workers in this case to address it through direct regulation, it probably knows enough to internalize it by imposing some sort of health-care surcharge on them. Then we can move on to the Dude’s still-unanswered question about why all the other health risks people take don’t come in for similar treatment.

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            I understand what is, I’m concerned with what ought to be. Do you think if a majority voted to ban sky diving, riding mountain bikes, or engaging in casual sex due to safety concerns, that it would be justified for the state to use physical force against people participating in those activities? Do you believe in any limits on what decisions majorities of people should be able to enforce on minorities?

            It’s only very rarely possible to define hard limits either way. The devil is in the details/circumstances.

            That’s why we have complicated laws and even then, we have judges/juries to add in a little (un)common sense.

            I also want to point out that you have a very strong bias in favoring the producer of externalities over the recipient. A society without limits is heaven for inconsiderate assholes who mind someone else’s business and horror for those who mind their own. The law is about finding a balance between various desires in a world that cannot accommodate everyone’s.

          • Aapje says:

            @Paul Zrimsek

            If the state knows enough about the externality imposed (ahem) jointly by the businesses and workers in this case to address it through direct regulation, it probably knows enough to internalize it by imposing some sort of health-care surcharge on them.

            We could set up a regulation agency to figure out when companies are creating large externalities and then make then pay a sum to the government if they do. I suggest the term ‘fine’ for that payment.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Aapje

            It’s only very rarely possible to define hard limits either way.

            Though hard, it’s worth thinking through what liberties you think people ought to have that majorities can’t vote away.

            I also want to point out that you have a very strong bias in favoring the producer of externalities over the recipient.

            Disagree. Also, I think the State is the ultimate externality, where everyone tries to live at everyone else’s expense.

            Relevant to this particular discussion, if politicians pass a regulation imposing safety level X such that Bob’s compensation package changes to increase safety at the cost of worse compensation elsewhere (pay, working conditions), and Bob preferred the former package, it is the state imposing externalities on him.

            The law is about finding a balance between various desires in a world that cannot accommodate everyone’s.

            Agree. I just think law is too important to be run by the State 🙂

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            A sum equal to the size of the externality and no larger, yes?

          • IrishDude says:

            From my ultimate externality link:

            Consider a simple example: In some U.S. states people cannot buy alcohol on Sundays. As in many other instances, the majority here uses the state to bend the minority to its will without taking adequate account of the desires of the minority.

            Imagine someone entering a voting booth to vote on a ballot initiative to outlaw Sunday alcohol sales. Perhaps this person has a genuine religious belief that no one should drink on Sundays. He votes for the initiative.

            But what has this person done but unilaterally act to satisfy his own desires at the expense of others who wish to enjoy the option of buying alcohol on Sundays? Just like the factory owner who robs his neighbors of clean air, this voter robs his neighbors of something valuable. And the reason is that, when casting a vote, this person (just like the factory owner) doesn’t have to take the interests of his neighbors into account. He can costlessly impose his will on unconsenting third parties.

            Careful readers might object, “No! Every adult citizen can vote. The voting process registers the preferences of both the proponents and the opponents of the ban. The losers in an election had their say. Their preferences just happen to conflict with those of the majority.”

            This objection fails. The mere ability to express opposition to behavior that imposes costs on you does not alone protect your interests if those who wish to impose these costs remain free to do so. Suppose that you tell the owner of the polluting factory that you object to his stealing your clean air. Without an effective ability to prevent him from continuing to pollute, he will likely do so. That you spoke out against the pollution to the factory owner—that “your voice was heard”—doesn’t change the fact that the ongoing pollution imposes a negative externality on you.

            It’s the same with bans on Sunday sales of alcohol. Each person who votes to ban these sales does so without having to take account of the preferences of others. By simply pulling a lever, each voter acts to inflict his moral views on peaceful others, making them worse off. The votes cast against the ban don’t stop its proponents from voting for it without taking account of the interests of others.

            The greater the scope of government power, the greater the number of instances in which each of us, as a voter, can impose our preferences on others. Moreover, because the personal consequences to each voter of yanking this lever rather than that lever are nil, each voter is fundamentally irresponsible. Each can express his views about how others should live without in the least taking serious heed of the consequences to others. And whenever those who prefer to restrict the freedom of others are in the majority, the minority are obliged to obey.

            A state that stands ready to coerce those with less political power to do the bidding of those with greater political power is a constant source of negative externalities to the losers. To promote the state as the solution to what few private externalities exist is a bizarre irony and a dangerous hoax.

          • Aapje says:

            @Paul Zrimsek

            Regulation usually doesn’t catch all cases and/or takes some time to respond, so if you merely fine to the size of the externality, it tends to incentivize companies to outsource their regulatory processes to the government, trusting that the government will miss enough cases for this to be profitable.

            So it seems better to add something extra to the fine, as a deterrent.

        • IrishDude says:

          @rahien.din

          What is your perception of my buddy’s decision to actively seek a stronger regulatory regime. Do you just think he’s chickenshit for choosing safety over dignity? If you think his choice was valid (perhaps because entities seeking constituents can compete with safety nets, too?), and yet still maintain that safety regulations aren’t net-positive, then what recourse would you offer the poor who are unable to pay for such a choice?

          People have different packages of preferences when it comes to employment, and I don’t think one set of preferences is inherently superior to another. Some people go into logging, fishing, or flying which are the most dangerous occupations, because they feel they gain more than they risk. They might like the pay, hours, camaraderie, perhaps even get some thrill out of the risk they take, or at the very least appreciate the other benefits enough to feel the risk is worth it.

          Should people not have the freedom to choose to work in these more dangerous occupations? Each of these dangerous occupations likely already incorporates some safety equipment and procedures, but surely the state could implement even higher safety standards. However, these additional safety standards would impose costs, perhaps substantial costs, that would result in fewer jobs or lower compensation on some other dimension.

          You might say no matter the cost of any additional safety standard, if it increases safety by 0.1% it should be imposed on all businesses and for all employees. Or you could let businesses compete on the level of safety, pay, hours, vacation, general working conditions, etc. that they provide and let individuals choose which package they prefer. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your friend’s preference for a higher safety job, I do think there would be something wrong with him imposing that preference on everyone else.

          • Lambert says:

            > Or you could let businesses compete

            To the extent they can compete.These are jobs and workers, not barrels of oil or ounces of gold.
            The friction in the labour market is rather high, to both demand and supply. It takes time for a worker to learn the ropes and become net-positive. And it takes time to search and apply for new jobs. And if you have to relocate, that’s an enormous friction.
            And your CV looks bad if you change jobs every 12 months.
            There are also a lot more employees than employers.
            A worker suddenly leaving tends to hurt the employee more than the employer.
            And neither side has anything like complete information, but the employer has various organs (HR etc.) to gather and interpret that information more efficiently than the employee.

            It’s not a choice between working at company A vs company B, it’s a choice between working at company A and getting evicted before company B has a chance to interview you.

          • albatross11 says:

            Lambert:

            So why aren’t we all working in salt mines at subsistence + epsilon? The econ 101 model of worker safety seems like it’s too simple, but your model seems just as wrong.

            Employees have substantial choice of where they work and what kind of job they do. Most people could work as long-distance truck drivers–a CDA isn’t that hard to get, and millions of people drive. Few people want the job, because it’s not all that pleasant of a life. This is common.

            I suspect that we can end up stuck in a less-than-optimal tradeoff between safety and cost via normal market processes, and that makes me somewhat sympathetic to safety regs imposed by law, but it’s not like the world without those is one in which we’re all slaves to the local coal mining company.

    • MrApophenia says:

      This seems like one of those ideas that works really well in economic theories, but never actually manifests in reality. Is there even a single real world example where lack of regulations on employers actually helped the poor? Because it seems like all the examples we have in the real world are either our own past before the labor movements in the developed countries got these regulations put into place, or the current developing nations/third world.

      And in all of those cases, the lack of regulation doesn’t create a better situation for the poor. Quite the contrary.

      • 10240 says:

        In these cases the main cause of the difficult life of the poor is/was a low productivity of the economy, rather than the lack of regulation. I agree that it’s hard to find empirical evidence on how countries with different levels of regulation but otherwise similar economies would develop, but the past and poor countries are non-examples, not counterexamples.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Is there even a single real world example where lack of regulations on employers actually helped the poor?

        One example that is crystal clear that helped the middle class was the de-regulation of air travel, which made air travel dramatically cheaper. Even the poor fly sometimes, so this helped them a bit. Also, the de-regulation of freight has decreased the cost of all goods, so that helped the poor dramatically.

        Of course one difficulty of coming up with examples is that de-regulation doesn’t happen very often. It almost always goes in the other direction. I certainly believe that long-term unemployment of the poor has increased much since minimum wages and other employee “protection” has become more popular. See the attached to show that employment is much lower when education (and probably income) is lower. I think the regulations have a lot to do with that. My original post gives other examples of zoning and occupational licenses that hurt the poor. I don’t have proof of any of this, but it is certainly logical that putting obstacles in the way of employment will drive unemployment even more for the uneducated. Maybe you like to believe that no real world regulation hurts the poor, but it is clear to me that most of them do.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Deregulation, which is really just “minimize or remove some but not all regulations” is the not the same as “lack of regulation” which at least implies a complete absence of regulation.

          I think it’s relatively easy to see examples where “lack of regulation” would help “the poor” by examining some (quite popular) edge cases. Hair braiding is the go to example, where those who have credentials want those who do not have credentials from being able to legally offer hair braiding. It’s hard to argue that someone who merely wishes to braid hair, and clients who wish merely have hair braided, benefit from a scheme where all hairbraiders must be credentialed in the cutting of hair.

          That said, a regulatory scheme wherein a basic understanding of how to stop the spread of head lice was required might be easily shown to be of net benefit. Certainly I would want my hair braider (and the hair braider of my child’s friend) to know how to do this, regardless of whether they were credentialed as such.

          One of the things that frustrates me about arguments like this is a tacit assumption that all of the individual parts of well-being are somehow fungible. I find it almost axiomatic that the pursuit of well-being requires a certain balance between competing factors; merely giving someone one billion dollars won’t compensate for them being miserably lonely, filling their lives with friends won’t compensate for a lack of a sense of purpose, etc.

          Regulation, like democracy, is the worst system … save all the other ones.

          • Regulation, like democracy, is the worst system … save all the other ones.

            The line about democracy is normally taken as a defense of democracy, but I think it’s more natural to take it as a critique of government. If even the best form of government works terribly, that’s a reason to do as little as possible via government.

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah, I think occupational licensing schemes designed to protect existing people from competition (like requiring six months of classes and a certificate to be paid to braid hair) genuinely hurt a lot of poor people. And zoning all the cheap housing (flophouses) out of existence has probably made a lot of poor people worse off. Both of these made people at the bottom worse off in order to make people closer to the middle better off. Taxicab medallion type regulations made everyone but medallion owners worse off. I very strongly suspect that schemes to require preschool/daycare workers to have a bunch of training make the whole world a worse place, while making voters/politicians feel good about themselves.

          In general, making any kind of independent attempt to make some money doing something useful require a bunch of paperwork and training also means that a lot of low-level entrepreneurship never happens or is stamped out when it arises. That makes the world a worse place overall.

          Tariffs overwhelmingly make almost everyone worse off–only the protected industry is made better off.

          • 10240 says:

            While tariffs are detrimental overall, if they are on products that are made with mostly low-skill work, and against countries that have a much higher proportion of low-skilled workers than yours, then I think they might be beneficial for poor people in your country — albeit with probably more deadweight loss than other measures such as income redistribution.

  19. Well... says:

    Just watched Eyes Wide Shut for the second time. The first time I was in high school and didn’t really get it. This time (about 15-18 years hence) I got it but thought it was pretty dumb. I suppose the whole “Which one of them was actually dreaming” thing is kinda neat, but not anywhere close to worth the 2.5 hours of contrived dialog, stiff acting, naive writing, jolty editing, and unappealing-looking starved nudes I had to sit through.

    • Viliam says:

      Yep. Reminds me of an advice I used to give repeatedly to new wannabe authors when I was active in SF fandom: “If you write a long boring story with a cool and surprising twist at the very end… that will not do any good, because no one will read a boring story to the end.”

      • Well... says:

        To be clear, it wasn’t the length and slowness of the pacing of Eyes Wide Shut I disliked, it was the stiffness.

        2001 is long and slowly paced and I love every second of that movie; none of it feels forced to me.

    • Brad says:

      That was the first movie where I realized that Nicole Kidman is a terrible actress.

  20. a reader says:

    An interesting and thought-provoking (and well written) article in Quillette:

    I Was a Female Incel

    It made me remember Scott Alexander’s Untitled & Radicalising the Romanceles (or Scott Aaronson’s famous comment 171). It seems these things can happen to women too, even the temptation of the dark side.

    Do you think it is genuine or fiction? I tend to think it’s genuine (to know some things, you must have been there); if it is fiction, its author is a (future) remarkable writer.

    • Randy M says:

      The biggest thing I got out of that is to keep kids and teens away from social media.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Knew she was going to be a lesbian as soon I saw “hockey”. I’m not sure if fulfilling the stereotype makes the story more or less likely to be true, but I’m a bit concerned about Quillette’s newfound propensity for pseudonymous conversion stories. I don’t buy this one either.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      The title seems misleading at the very least. As a commenter on the article put it, “She was an incel for so long, she banged her prom date.” The article is vague about timelines, but it sounds like she couldn’t have been involved in the incel community for more than a couple months before leaving and subsequently deeming it pathetic.

      Given that, I’m inclined to think it’s true: surely a liar would’ve taken the opportunity to craft an optimal story and leaned harder into the incel narrative. But does it matter? Statistically, there are surely at least a couple woman-hating lesbians, does it matter whether or not Quillette really managed to track one of them down and get an article from her?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        does it matter whether or not Quillette really managed to track one of them down and get an article from her?

        Are you reading the work as entertainment and treating it as fiction?

        Or are you actually trying to update your map of reality?

        • Ninety-Three says:

          I struggle to come up with a map of reality that would be substantially updated by learning that one of over 300 million Americans is a lesbian who spent a couple months sympathizing with r/incels. That’s why I say it doesn’t matter, it’s not like we’re debating whether Quilette went out and forged an N=1000 study, this is an anecdote and using those as any update stronger than “proof of possibility” is supposed to be bad practice.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            If you confuse “I imagine it exists” for “I have evidence that it exists”, you are doing it wrong.

    • mdet says:

      The podcast Reply All had an episode about how the original Involuntary Celibate blog / website was started by a Canadian lesbian woman named Alana. I don’t know whether this Quillette story is fiction, but it’s definitely not unprecedented.

      Note — Alana didn’t use the blog to be angry or resentful, she was specifically trying to avoid the negative emotions that come with inceldom by building a friendly and supportive community around it.

  21. ana53294 says:

    To those who support the US Constitution’s Second Amendment not just because you like your guns and want to keep them (a perfectly understandable position), but because you actually want to defend yourself against a tyrannical government, how do you imagine doing it?

    To me, it seems like modern armies, with their nuclear weapons, unmanned drones, tanks and missiles can squash any open rebellion in a ruthless, quick and efficient way. The only modern (last 50 years) revolutions that worked were revolutions where the army either did not actively participate, was divided, or was on the side of the revolution. And, if the army with its tanks and drones is on your side, why do you need your guns?

    If the Armed Forces are not on your side (and tyrannical governments know they need to keep the army on their side; even in Venezuela, where people have lost around 10 kilos on average, they pay the armed personnel a better salary than civilians), what do you do? It seems to me that, unless you want to become a martyr, the best you can do is to not fight openly. And that, in this day and age, means terrorism (as they say, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”). You don’t have to become the terrorist organization like the Islamic ones, which seem to enjoy hitting soft targets and relish in the number of victims. ETA would usually give a phone call whenever they were going to hit a civillian target; IRA did the same.

    So, as terrorists go, ETA had an honor code, and avoided killing civilians (although they had a flexible definition of civilians that did not include police, judges, politicians or engineers working at politically important construction sites). They did not seek to kill politically unimportant figures, just to make a point. Still, the image of terrorists as freedom fighters has been utterly destroyed, and, even leaving aside the ethical aspect, they were largely unsuccessful in achieving anything meaningful. So how do you think guns in civilian hands will help, if you decide to go against the might of the US government and its army? The IRA was slightly more successful than ETA in achieving their political objectives, but I think that was mainly due to the higher squeamishness of the UK government. If they wanted to destroy IRA, and didn’t care about the human cost, they could have done it.

    • Incurian says:

      The Taliban seemed to do ok.

      • ana53294 says:

        The Taliban are part of a proxy war against the USA. They are not alone.

        • Incurian says:

          Oh, good point. I can’t think of any governments or non-state actors who have anything to gain by supporting a resistance against a tyrannical US government.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        The Taliban aren’t good examples of “home grown insurrectionists seeking to overthrow their own government”.

        • Well... says:

          So your position is that their difference in motive matters? Why?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            My position is that using asymmetric warfare against invaders and their local allies is wayyyy easier than trying to use it effectively against the local “home grown” government. One of the biggest reasons being that the invaders can actually go home.

            Then you have the problem that the Taliban are operating in a local geography that are highly conducive to asymmetric warfare. They just seem like a bad example to base your prior probability of success upon.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m pretty sure the numbers are on HeelBearCub’s side with regard to win/loss ratios of guerrilla war against home governments versus against foreigners.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, I suspect a major way guerilla warfare can work is that the foreign occupiers don’t actually care all that much about who governs Afghanistan, so making it expensive to keep trying to have a say in that question might actually make a much bigger power (USSR, US) give up and go home.

          • keranih says:

            My position is that using asymmetric warfare against invaders and their local allies is wayyyy easier than trying to use it effectively against the local “home grown” government.

            …which depends on how you define “home grown”, does it not?

            It is very true that the nation is over all ‘purple’ rather than distinctly red or blue…but that doesn’t mean that there are not many places of deep redness or blueness, where most of the outlyers are “not from around here.” This applies to parts of both Texas and New England, by my own experience.

            Added to this – if one has family in various parts of the country, as many people do, then deciding ‘theck w’d dis noise’ and buggering off someplace else to live out your life in the same county as your sister or cousin isn’t as huge a deal as it would be if all your kin were in the same zipcode.

          • so making it expensive to keep trying to have a say in that question might actually make a much bigger power (USSR, US) give up and go home.

            And England in the previous century. They won the first Afghan war—and withdrew. The second Afghan war they again won. That ended with some gains for England, but Afghanistan still independent.

    • Randy M says:

      It seems to me that, unless you want to become a martyr, the best you can do is to not fight openly. And that, in this day and age, means terrorism

      Actually it means guerrilla fighter; the distinction between that and terrorist comes down to choice of targets I think.
      Of course, a losing guerrilla army will probably start turning to softer targets, especially as it won’t have the discipline and command structure of a state army (which will already turn to soft targets if losing an existential war), so it’s a very bad idea to actually start a revolution.

      It’s probably not a bad idea to have the government fear that a revolution would be costly for them as well, though. Hence the utility of the guns. It’s MAD writ small.

      • ana53294 says:

        How would you define the difference between a guerrilla and a terrorist group? Depending who you ask, FARC were one or the other.

        Islamic terrorists acting in the West are terrorist groups, because they have so far never attacked a hard target (an army base, a police station, a well guarded place). But a lot of other groups have a mixed group of targets that mostly depends on their political objectives.

        • Randy M says:

          How would you define the difference between a guerrilla and a terrorist group?

          Choice of targets, primarily. Perhaps organizational structure, but then the term terrorist loses it’s moral force.
          I would say that to the extent Islamic groups are targeting armies, western or indigenous, they are acting as guerrilla fighters*. To the extent they are bombing indiscriminately or attacking the civilian allies of those armies or neutral parties, they are terrorists.
          Infrastructure destruction is a bit more nebulous–is a courthouse a civil building or a tool of the occupiers? Might vary.

          Of course, one can be a guerrilla force fighting a morally dubious cause. And one could be a terrorist with admirable goals on the face of it. But the former’s means can be justified while the latter’s cannot.

          *I think the freedom in freedom fighter basically means free from foreign rule, not necessarily that they fight for personal liberties, but on account of the ambiguity it’s probably a bad term for clarity.

          • And one could be a terrorist with admirable goals on the face of it. But the former’s means can be justified while the latter’s cannot.

            In particular, the WWII allied bombing campaign cannot be justified? That’s a pretty clear case of terrorist methods used for admirable goals.

          • Randy M says:

            The WWII allies are neither a guerrilla force nor a terrorist cell. (Except for the ones that were, mind, but I read you as referring to aerial bombers)
            And I am under the impression that most of the bombing campaign was targeted against infrastructure which had a military purpose.
            I am willing to say that there may well have been unjustified bombing targets among those bombed by the allies.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M

            Strategic bombing was frequently on civilian targets, on the basis of reducing morale, especially of workers. The sort of bombing that you needed to do to hit a city versus a ball-bearing factory was different, and the latter tends to be relatively more costly and difficult.

          • Randy M says:

            @dndnrsn
            I think you are right, and I need to remember one can never make generalizations around here. I am ambivalent about such acts. It rests on the “factual” but unknowable question of at what cost the war could have been won without that.

            Do you feel that I am using the proper criteria to distinguish between “guerrilla” and “terrorist” or are the terms basically subjective based on the evaluation of their goals?

          • Do you feel that I am using the proper criteria to distinguish between “guerrilla” and “terrorist”

            Yes.

            The allies in WWII used terrorist tactics in addition to waging war against the enemy’s military. As did the other side, of course. In both cases, a lot of the bombing (and missile attacks by the Nazis) was deliberately aimed at civilian targets.

            Which makes me critical of the current fashion of “they are terrorists, that proves they are the bad guys.” Very few people who take that position are willing to argue that FDR and Churchill should have been executed for war crimes.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M

            Some people would categorize what we think of when we think of “terrorism” – bombings in urban centres (which may be designed to kill or merely to make the authorities look incapable of stopping it, which may be intended to force the government to crack down and thus anger civilians and make them dislike the government, etc), to give an example, as an “urban guerrilla” approach.

            I think it’s very hard to differentiate the two. Targeting civilians is often done when military targets are harder or more costly to hit. Bombing of cities did not cause quick morale collapse and surrender like interwar theorists predicted (there were some who thought that strategic bombing alone could win a war) but high-altitude bombing of civilian targets (which tend to be spread out) by night is easier and safer than low-altitude bombing of precision targets (eg a factory) by day, especially given the technology available.

            There’s a lot of commonality between the strategies of the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (Viet Cong) and the IRA – a stick-and-carrot approach to civilians, attacks on military forces (preferably ambushes, and against off-duty troops as much as possible) to make them look weak, screw with enemy morale, and provoke reprisals against civilians to serve as a recruiting tool. Were they the same thing? (Very often “guerrilla war” just means “gee, sure are a lot of trees around here” – you’ll see descriptions of combat between American troops and North Vietnamese regulars as “guerrilla war” sometimes)

      • Well... says:

        There’s an interesting point hidden in there: when we think of standing armed against a tyrannical government, we think of an unpopular dictator and his henchmen, and then the worried “just wanna do my job” army that takes orders from him. But the US government is expansive. Who are the rebels really armed against? Bill down the street who has a bit job at the IRS? Stacy from your last job who’s now a project manager at a large medicare distributor? Your cousin’s husband who’s a cop?

        Are the owners of all those pickup trucks with the black-and-white-American-flag-w/one-blue-stripe bumper stickers going to become willing to shoot at the martial officers who come marching down the street? Or at the firemen and other first responders who inevitably but willingly provide their support in whatever way they can to putting down the insurrection?

        I do think the notion of having to subdue neighborhoods full of armed Americans is a pretty good deterrence against tyrants — better than any other deterrence I can think of — but I worry sometimes about what would happen if a tyrant actually tried his luck. He might succeed.

        • Randy M says:

          There’s an interesting point hidden in there

          I do my best.

          I worry sometimes about what would happen if a tyrant actually tried his luck. He might succeed.

          You don’t really win a civil war, all the moreso now.

      • Deiseach says:

        Actually it means guerrilla fighter; the distinction between that and terrorist comes down to choice of targets I think.

        Michael Collins

        It was at this time [1919] that Collins created a special assassination unit called The Squad expressly to kill British agents and informers. Collins was criticised for these tactics but cited the universal war-time practice of executing enemy spies who were, in his words, “hunting victims for execution.” Campaigning for Irish independence, even non-violently, was still targeted both by prosecutions under British law entailing the death penalty and also by extrajudicial killings such as that of Tomas MacCurtain, nationalist mayor of Cork City.

        In 1920 the British offered £10,000 (equivalent to GB£300,000 / €360,000 in 2010) for information leading to Collins’ capture or death. He evaded capture and continued to strike against British forces, often operating from safe-houses near government buildings, such as Vaughan’s and An Stad.

        In 1920, following Westminster’s prominent announcements that it had the Irish insurgents on the run, Collins and his Squad killed several British secret service agents in a series of coordinated raids. In retaliation, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary went to Croke Park, where a G.A.A. football match was taking place between Dublin and Tipperary. The police officers opened fire on the crowd, killing twelve and wounding sixty. This event became known as Bloody Sunday. A stampede of panicking British operatives sought the shelter of Dublin Castle next day. About the same time, Tom Barry’s 3rd Cork Brigade took no prisoners in a bitter battle with British forces at Kilmichael. In many regions, the RIC and other crown forces became all but confined to the strongest barracks in the larger towns as rural areas came increasingly under rebel control.

        Both terrorist/freedom fighter (he is supposed to have quoted Lenin’s “The purpose of terrorism is to terrorise”) and government minister, and in recent years rather ironically invoked as “founder of the party” (since in our Civil War he was on the pro-Treaty side) by Fine Gael (which was very opposed to the IRA in the North, for instance, and was the seedbed for our version of a Fascist movement, the Blueshirts – they, or a remnant, fought on Franco’s side in the Spanish Civil War).

        Politics is complicated! The live terrorist becomes the dead hero-martyr, even for those who would have opposed his terrorism in another context!

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Standing armies have always had massive advantages over rebellions WRT symmetric warfare.

      The issue is in the occupation, particularly in the instance of an armed populace. You can’t ‘occupy’ a country with artillery, tanks, and drones. You need foot soldiers. And those foot soldiers will most always be vulnerable and heavily outnumbered in any given area. If the larger, hostile population is armed then the occupiers will have trouble.

      Venezeula enacted gun control measures in 2012 so it’s not a surprise they can take liberties with their citizens. [no pun intended]

      Nukes are useless at securing compliance from a non-central authority. They are primarily a tool for state-on-state negotiation.

      I should point out though that ultimately the army does have the advantage if they are willing to go the full way. They need to be willing to totally destroy the populace and any tax assets associated with it though. Enormous expense must be incurred and millions of people [depending on the country size] will have to be killed depending on how willing the locals are to keeping up the fight. In absolute terms the army must commit more to win, in relative terms perhaps the insurgency must commit more.

      I’m not an expert on the topic but the first and second boer war may be case studies on this ‘willpower’ dynamic.

      • ana53294 says:

        How effective was gun control in Venezuela, though? I don’t think it’s a country that is or was very effective in enforcing its laws. They have a big drug trafficking problem, with the army involved in it.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      To those who support the US Constitution’s Second Amendment not just because you like your guns and want to keep them (a perfectly understandable position), but because you actually want to defend yourself against a tyrannical government, how do you imagine doing it?

      To a first order of approximation: by simply existing.

      If I and tens of millions of my fellow citizens are armed and reasonably trained in usage, a typical government would never bother planning to become tyrannical in the first place. If that government were somehow brainwashed or replaced with one that was tyrannical, it would never bother trying to take us over. If it were dumb enough to try, it would quickly find itself without a supporting military. If our military were likewise brainwashed, it would quickly find itself running out of supplies. If it seized what it could find, it would find itself resisted by raiders. The US government and military is smart enough to realize all this, as well as being culturally against it in the first place.

      If things really went that far south anyway, I’d grab what I could carry and try to disappear underground, finding the nearest retired veteran or police officer I could trust, and offer them assistance.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The easiest way to fight a tyrannical government is to prevent it becoming tyrannical in the first place, not to wait until they dominate every aspect of life and then start a (doomed) resistance. The shift from a relatively free society to a tightly controlled society isn’t going to happen with one sneaky guy promising to be a totally great president and then ordering the military to occupy major american cities, it will happen more so in a mostly gradual way where the government continually pushes the boundaries of its ability to dictate daily choices of its citizens. The more that the government can encroach without push back the more likely that a crisis can be turned into a power grab by the opportunist in power (who might be an idealist, or a psychopath or both), and there are often many fragile points after such a grab that can topple early governments.

      Gun ownership can prevent such a process in multiple ways. First is the initial rejection of authoritarianism, gun control measures are literally the government saying “we get to decide what you own, and how you own it” which is a necessary component of tyranny. Cruel intentions without power aren’t particularly effective. Secondly you have fragmentation, there are often factions within the military, and during a crisis these divisions are going to be amplified. In a world where only the military is armed it is far more likely that the winning faction is going to be the one that dominates a command structure, and that the will to power is going to be a major contributor to success. In a world with armed civilians a weaker faction could bolster itself by aligning with the population, you see this in parliamentary style politics where a relatively weak group can have large influence by altering the power balance between two stronger groups. Thirdly you have a literal threat of violence. Running on a platform to persecute (in other language of course) all of group X is more dangerous if group X happens to be well armed. Implementing such persecution is also going to be more costly, time consuming and obvious if they can resist violently, even if they can’t overthrow the ruling party themselves.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        If the government turns tyrannical by very small steps, how do you decide when to have a revolution?

        • Randy M says:

          I believe the usual strategy is to attempt to provoke the government into harsh overreaction which sways a sufficient amount of the civilian populace to your cause.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I dunno, it depends on whether General Liberator feels the government has finally crossed the line. It also depends on whether there is anything good on TV that night, because then everyone stays home. It also depends on whether the umps blow a big call against the Washington Nationals in Game 7 of the World Series: maybe that will piss enough DC citizens off to start a mini-riot that President Evil Overlord responds too aggressively to, and that’s the straw that breaks the camels back and convinces Senator Smith to finally vote for impeachment conviction.

          There’s a lot of serendipity to mass movements.

        • baconbits9 says:

          You prevent them from taking small steps. If some of those steps are restrict gun ownership and you (effectively) say “no way, no restrictions” then the only options are that those steps don’t get taken or that they get taken all at once.

        • pontifex says:

          Traditionally, it’s when they start taxing tea. If you wait for them to tax coffee as well, you might as well just check yourself into the gulag straight away.

      • There is less direct way in which gun ownership makes tyranny unlikely.

        The less able individuals are to protect themselves against crime, the more they are dependent on government protection, hence the more willing they will be to accept increases in the power and authority of government law enforcement.

        I argued long ago that for the original purpose of the 2nd Amendment, insofar as that was a populace able to win a war with the army, the modern equivalent was unregulated encryption. Future conflicts between government and populace will largely consist of information warfare.

        • Well... says:

          I think the underlying logic is sound, but in practice I can easily think of real-life examples that seem to contradict it. For example, the English aren’t allowed to own guns for the most part, yet despite what relatively expansive power and authority the cops there might or might not be authorized to exercise (I don’t know much about that), I believe they are usually far more sheepish toward civilians than cops in the US are.

        • ana53294 says:

          I agree about the information warfare. Closing Telegram in Russia was an offense in that war, where Telegram refused to give the Russian government the information, whereas Livejournal and others did share. I hope that Chinese citizens eventually learn a way to avoid online censorships, although I am not sure how to do that (actually, if the US government wanted to act against China, they could create and distribute some kind of online messaging system outside of the government’s control).

          I find the government’s arguments towards forcing companies to collaborate not compelling. Sony collaborates with governments, but the Brussels terrorists still used PlayStation 4 to communicate during the attacks. So they take our privacy and electronic freedom for nothing?

          My understanding of US politics comes from international media, which may be biased against Republicans. It is my understanding, though, that it is Democrats who are usually against giving law enforcement too much power to snoop, and who supported Chelsea Manning, even against Obama?

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            It is my understanding, though, that it is Democrats who are usually against giving law enforcement too much power to snoop, and who supported Chelsea Manning, even against Obama?

            Yes, it is true that historically Democrats have been a lot stronger on civil liberties than Republicans. But I think we are in a bit of inflection point here, so things are changing. There have been a lot more Republicans publically worried about such things in the last decade. Part of that might be because Obama was President, and just plain partisan politics, so it may not be a long term trend. Certainly the flip on Russia since Trump has been astounding to me, with the Democrats attacking Russia unmercifully, and the Republicans cozying up to them. Just the opposite of say four years ago. We shall see.

            Edit: Oh I should add the thing one sees on SSC a lot, the loss of many civil liberties on college campuses of free speech and rights of the accused. This is driven by the left (Democrats). I don’t know if this will get worse or better, but another sign of a possible inflection.

          • ana53294 says:

            I view the problems of free speech on campus as orders of magnitude less bad than the NSA collecting all electronic data on me, and knowing every detail of my internet history.

            Bullying on campus is something that has been happening since forever. Students protested McNamara; they protested the Vietnam war; they protested the apartheid. Requiring trigger warnings is not a big deal: if a girl was raped, and we are going to discuss a book with a rape scene, isn’t it better to allow her not to attend class and be reminded of her trauma?

            And maybe in the Anglo-saxon world professors get fired for innocuos comments. In most cases I have seen, it wasn’t that they were fired, but reprimanded and whatever. That is why tenure exists; so professors can voice unpopular opinions.

            In the Spanish-speaking world, professors don’t get fired for insulting their students by saying that females don’t have four neurons put together; that a gang rape victim who was forced to do all kinds of things probably asked for it; or a professor telling a story all but confessing commiting spousal rape. So, you know, I actually think they deserve to be fired. And the guy who confessed to spousal rape should be prosecuted, although that would be hard if his wife does no collaborate. Women make 50% of the student body. Why should they listen to such insulting opinions during class? Free speech doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that you have the right to stand in front of students whose grades you can ruin and thus are more vulnerable, and insult them.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I view the problems of free speech on campus as orders of magnitude less bad than the NSA collecting all electronic data on me, and knowing every detail of my internet history.

            The point is more that things are changing, not that the flipping has happened yet (other than Russia). The Dems are still more concerned than the Reps about NSA privacy, although the party differences are shrinking. My point about shrinking campus rights is it is possible that this is a precursor to the Dems supporting free speech restrictions in the broader society, since they’ve already accepted the principle.

            Of course how much the Dems support civil rights is partly determined by how important you consider various civil rights. I am a lot more concerned with free speech than privacy, so the campus restrictions worry me more than the NSA spying.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Broadly speaking, the left wasn’t been a big fan of Russia/Putin before Trump either. Yeah, you’ve got Jill Stein (quite fringe) and some others, but generally speaking Putin has been seen as an autocrat in charge of a conservative society. Pussy Riot is generally seen as on the correct side of things by the left. The left has pretty much always opposed Putin’s Russia, but the reasons for it and the preferred approach to confrontation have been different than the right.

            So, I think it’s a mistake to say the left and right have switched positions. I think the left is basically where it has been, the right is well off their rails.

          • BBA says:

            I’ll differ from HBC here. For most of the Obama years, Dems didn’t care much for Putin but didn’t take him that seriously as a threat either. We saw him as a tinpot dictator struggling to maintain a crumbling empire, and laughed at Romney for suggesting he was the biggest geopolitical threat to us – no, isn’t that our best frenemy China?

            And then Russia invaded Crimea and the left quietly started taking Putin more seriously.

            And then 2016 happened and all hell broke loose. Now the pantsuiters see Russian infiltration hiding behind every corner, with everyone besides good centrist machine Democrats suspected of collusion. (Certainly Tad Devine is suspicious, but jumping from that to “Putin set up the Sanders campaign to weaken Saint Hillary” is a really big stretch.) The rest of us haven’t gone that far, but still are far more anti-Russia than we were six years ago. There’s been a real change.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @BBA: A change for the worse. The pantsuit wing of the Party comes across as disturbingly close to willing to declare war on Russia for being too conservative.
            Since Bernie wasn’t even a registered Democrat, that “wing” feels like potentially the entire Party apparatus.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Bernie himself says he knew at the time that Russia was attempting to divide the Democrats and foster tension between the left wing and the rest of the party.

            I agree that Democrats broadly take Putin much more seriously as a geopolitical foe, but that seems to me to be based in reality. The broad movement to stoke conservative, nativist nationalist agendas, which has been growing roughly since 9/11, has been quite successful.

            Russia isn’t responsible for that, but they seem to have been successful in helping those groups gain a measure of power. Certainly they seem to have been funneling money and support into these efforts, whether you think that was effective or not. I’d say Trump and Brexit back to back should cause one to judge it more likely that they have been effective.

          • albatross11 says:

            ana:

            How do you feel about professors being openly atheist and dismissive of religion, in a country where a substantial portion of the students are religious?

            [ETA]

            I think that defining free speech in a way that excludes speech that offends a lot of people who hear it limits a lot of speech I think is worthwhile. It forbids history classes that cover topics that look really bad for some class of people from whom the students are drawn–slavery, colonialism, pogroms, pretty much every genocide ever carried out, etc. It forbids biologists from teaching evolution to religious students, and philosophers teaching moral ideas that contradict their students’ current beliefs.

            Learning about reality *should* be making you uncomfortable from time to time. If not, you should suspect you’re being spoonfed a set of comforting lies or you’ve somehow blinded yourself. Deciding that offensive speech should be suppressed or punished is a good way of making *sure* that you never learn those uncomfortable truths. (Though in practice, what gets banned is what is offensive to the powerful people in a given place, so religious minorities can still be offended and insulted, but mentioning the Armenian genocide will get you locked up.)

          • BBA says:

            @HBC: Based in reality or not, it is a change in position, and you were saying the left’s position hadn’t changed, to which I take exception.

            Obviously, the liberal universalist consensus has broken down, and obviously, Putin and his oligarchs are broadly aligned with the global right-wing resurgence. But that’s a long way from the conspiracy-mongering I’ve seen about how everyone who’s ever rolled their eyes at Hillary is a Putin plant.

          • ana53294 says:

            If a professor says something like “All practicing Christians are idiots who cannot learn anything useful due to their prejudices”, which is equivalent to saying women have fewer than four neurons, then yes, that professor should be fired.

            If you saw in the example, the professors were either expressing opinions that favored a crime (saying a rape victim “deserved” it), confessing to a crime (marital rape is a crime, although hard to prosecute if the wife does not testify), or directly insulting his students (women have less than 4 neurons).

            Expressing opinions like: “people should stick to the gender roles society gives them” (also an attack on women), or “I think that Bible literalism contradicts scientific knowledge and is thus wrong”, or “atheists have done terrible things in communists countries trying to suppress religions”, though, should not be fireable offences. But saying “Blacks deserve slavery” is a fireable offence. This is an incitement to crime (enslaving others), and really insulting to students.

            As a student, I accept that there will be topics that challenge my beliefs. Personal insults are not covered by free speech, though, and neither is crime apology. So I refuse to listen to opinions that denigrate me for being white, or female, or atheist. And I also support the right of non-white, non-females, and non-atheists to not be insulted directly.

          • @Albatross11:

            How do you feel about professors …

            Your argument doesn’t distinguish between ordinary freedom of speech and freedom of speech for teachers paid by taxes and, in some cases, with students compelled to attend–K-12 in the U.S. and, I think, many other countries.

            There is a problem with compelling other people to listen to and pay for teaching of views they believe are false, even if I believe they are true. Along those lines I have long argued that a system of public schooling is inconsistent with the strong version of separation of church and state that is common in other contexts. Teaching that someone else’s religion is false isn’t neutral, even if I happen to agree with it.

            It’s hard to see how one can do a good job of K-12 teaching without taking a position on some issues that religions disagree about. Consider, for example, the Mormon view of the history of the New World.

          • ana53294 says:

            About free speech:

            An atheist professor writing a book on, say, how terrible Christianity is, is free speech. But him assigning that book and forcing students to express that opinion in the exam or else fail is not free speech. Professors have power over students – so them forcing students to listen to what they say is not free speech. A professor can go and give an open seminar that is not part of any course and say whatever he thinks – and those who don’t want to listen can leave. But leaving a class can ruin your career, so you may be forced to listen to stuff you don’t want to listen to.

            Edit: If something is stated before a course starts, and a student signed up for it, then they have less right to complain. So if the courses are named “Genesis: the story of how the world was created” or “Evils of Christianity: from Torquemada to the Salem Witch Trials” or “Sharia and feminism: how religious laws oppress women”, students should know what they signed up for, and not complain.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @BBA:

            My original statement was “I think it’s a mistake to say the left and right have switched positions.”

            Broadly speaking, I think the left (especially establishment left) regarded Putin as a bad actor. I agree that the Democrats judged Russia as much less of a threat to the US before, but I don’t think there is anything really inconsistent in the approach the broad Democratic Party is taking towards Russia.

            Now, maybe you read more into this statement than I intended: “ I think the left is basically where it has been”. I wasn’t intending it to mean that there has been zero change, but rather that it was fairly consistent with earlier positions. I acknowledge that the specific words I chose may not adequately convey that.

            Even the Romney kerfuffle, where he criticized our approach by pointing out changes in numbers of specific military assets, isn’t inconsistent with this attitude. The current conflict isn’t a direct military one, and doesn’t seem amenable to military solutions.

          • Aapje says:

            @ana53294

            “people should stick to the gender roles society gives them” (also an attack on women),

            I disagree that this is an attack on women. Some women and some men favor those gender roles, while other women and men do not. Favoring gender roles goes against the desires of that latter, mixed gender group, while disfavoring gender roles goes against the desires of the former, mixed gender group.

            When looking at the effects of gender roles on welfare and the ability to freely choose, it is also far from obvious that the current gender roles are more damaging and/or restrictive to women.

          • ana53294 says:

            Well, I guess I am just more used to hear “don’t be a tomboy”, “be more girly”, “girls should be polite”. I have been told that as a woman, I should try to get into a profession were there is a lot more caring (teaching, nursing). I acknowledge it may also be an attack on anybody who is not really gender conforming.

          • Aapje says:

            @ana53294

            As a man you get told not to cry, to man up, to solve things yourself, to take charge, to get a job that earns well, etc.

            If you don’t like those things and/or they don’t fit your personality/skills/etc, you are not very well off, just like a woman who doesn’t fit the female role well.

          • My casual and poorly informed impression is that describing a man as effeminate is more of an insult than describing a girl as a tomboy.

          • ana53294 says:

            OK, I guess that our current society’s gender roles may be more limiting for men than women. It just wasn’t so long ago when being a woman meant “you shouldn’t have a job after you get married” “women’s role is at home, not at work”, etc.

            So while men’s gender roles are more limiting in the West, women’s gender roles are more limiting in, say, Saudi Arabia (where women cannot travel or have a job without their male guardian’s permission; that male guardian can sometimes be their son).

          • Aapje says:

            @ana53294

            At the same time as some women were disallowed or discouraged to work outside of the house, men were not allowed to be house-husbands at all. So in some ways women had more choice than men back then as well. Of course, you can argue whether housework is less pleasant than paid work, although this is a complicated discussion when you take it out of the modern context where most jobs are fairly comfortable office jobs. Would you rather farm in 1900 rather than run the farm household? Be a miner or a run the miner’s household? Be an accountant or run the accountant’s household?

            You might answer differently for the last question and it seems to me that the nature of jobs greatly changed during the latter part of the industrial revolution, to be a lot more pleasant on average. Coincidentally, feminism got much more popular at the same time and many more women wanted to work those more pleasant jobs (running a household also became much easier at that time and thus less prestigious & less of an achievement).

            Of course, I support their right to have and make that choice, but I object to the (implied) claim that for much of civilized history, women were denied pleasant jobs en mass by men who kept those nice jobs for themselves. Such a claim can be defended for the top few percent of society, but for most of society and for most of history, men and women had it very tough, where it was a challenge to merely provide the basic necessities for most and people had very limited choice.

            As for Saudi Arabia, they (and a lot of Muslims) are responding to modernity by clinging to an anachronist system that cannot function in a globalizing, wealthy world. The majority of Saudi university graduates are women and quite a few members of the elite let their daughters study abroad. Much of the housework is done by foreign servants.

            Of course it creates a lot of friction and discontent when the female gender role doesn’t actually match reality, so Saudi women cannot have a fulfilling life even if they try to fulfill (and like) their gender role.

            Saudis cling to the rules for a provincial lifestyle, yet they cannot resist the temptations and opportunity provided by globalism. It doesn’t work.

            In contrast, my mother truly had a provincial childhood, the least so because of a lack of freedom of choice, more so because of a lack of opportunity provided (to her brothers as well) and mostly because of a provincial mindset where ‘our kind of people do our kind of things’. I think that it is fairly easy for modern globalist people to imagine someone yearning to make a choice, yet being prevented from doing so by law, policy or a lack of money; but that it is very hard to imagine someone who would like something, but considers it so out of reach that they don’t even yearn or who is not even aware of the possibility at the time.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I think the feminist framing (if there is a single feminist framing) is not so much about women not being permitted to seek pleasant jobs as about women not being permitted to pursue interesting jobs and/or jobs which confer status.

          • ana53294 says:

            Housework was not really prohibited for men. Men wouldn’t do it because they could get a better paid, higher status work, and homemaking was low status then. Caring for children has become higher status since then, which is why there are more men willing to become homemakers (and because their wives can make a decent living).

            About farming: I come from a family of farmers, and I know how unpleasant the work is. But what gave you the idea that women didn’t do the farmwork, and just run the house? That is not true. Women mostly didn’t plough the land, but that was because that was more suited to the much stronger men. But they did do backbreaking work in hoeing gardens, collecting the crops in the heat (together with the men, of course). But when nicer, better paid jobs in factories appeared, men went there, and women stayed in the farms.

            Also, what gave you the idea that women didn’t work in mines? There are reasons that mine work had to be prohibited for women and kids.

            You also have to remember that back when people had to work their land with horses, there weren’t any washing machines. Also, cooking on an open fire was much less safe than now, with modern kitchens.

            I agree that for most history, all jobs were unpleasant. The problem is, women’s jobs tended to be lower status, too.

            For me, the argument of why women’s jobs were worse than men’s is the following question: Why did women march and protest to get to do the jobs men could do (accountants, doctors, etc.), but men didn’t demand to be allowed to become nannies, maids, and servants?

            And for me, the answer is that men didn’t want to have the jobs that women had. I do support the rights of men to do women’s jobs, I just don’t see that many men who want to do them. I wish them the best, anyway.

          • The Nybbler says:

            For me, the argument of why women’s jobs were worse than men’s is the following question: Why did women march and protest to get to do the jobs men could do (accountants, doctors, etc.), but men didn’t demand to be allowed to become nannies, maids, and servants?

            When servants were common, there were male servants, so that one doesn’t apply. But the general answer is there weren’t and aren’t formal barriers to men doing female-specific work, and the informal ones aren’t amenable to protest.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:

            You seem to be making the argument that servants’ roles weren’t gendered. That does not seem to me to have been true.

          • Note that in Saudi Arabia a man’s wife is mostly chosen for him by his mother, possibly assisted by his sisters. That’s an almost inevitable result of the strict gender segregation–the typical Saudi man doesn’t have an opportunity to socialize with Saudi women, so is dependent on his mother and sisters, who do. Further, the set of potential wives is pretty limited, since he is expected to marry within his own clan, ideally to a cousin.

            My last year of teaching, my class on legal systems very different from ours was mostly made up of Saudi LLM students, including one woman with whom I had some interesting conversations about how their system worked. I believe her mother was a law professor.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @HBC

            I am only arguing that the category of “servant” was not gendered. Particular positions were.

          • Aapje says:

            @ana53294

            Most laws prohibiting women from working (some) jobs when married were actually very recent, from the 20th century (I would argue that just like in Muslim nations now, this was an example of people desperately trying to uphold an obsolete social order). Before that, it was social gender policing and sometimes legally the husband’s decision.

            Similarly, house husbandry was and still is mainly prohibited though social enforcement, mostly by men who choose that being considered unmarriageable. The occupation requires the presence of a provider, where acquiring a female provider was quite hopeless in the past and still very difficult today.

            I’m also aware that farm wives typically did help on the land during some periods and that especially lower class women did labor, sometimes in awful conditions. But as you point out, when women did those things, the elite considered that unsuitable work for women and kept women out of the mines and such, while being fine with men working in the same conditions.

            This disparity in society’s willingness to have men work hard and dangerous labor, but being less willing to accept this for women is part of the answer for:

            For me, the argument of why women’s jobs were worse than men’s is the following question: Why did women march and protest to get to do the jobs men could do (accountants, doctors, etc.), but men didn’t demand to be allowed to become nannies, maids, and servants?

            Good question. One explanation is that men were and are still somewhat forced into a sink or swim situation, where society allows them to make the kind of sacrifices that puts them on top, but is far less willing to help them if they don’t have the ability. Furthermore, men used to and still get somewhat pressured to maximize their status. The logical outcome of this is that men end up both at the top and at the bottom of society (pressure to get to the top and very little safety net if they fall out of the race with an injury).

            For women, the outcomes were and are far more middle of the road, which is highly advantageous for less capable women or those with bad luck, but not so great for those who are highly capable and/or lucky. So the ideal change for women is to preserve special treatment for less successful women, but to give women the choice to try for those top jobs if they want. I would argue that for the most part, that is what feminism ended up fighting for (in a Molochian way, where this was not necessarily considered ideologically ideal, but where demands that fit this outcome gain traction in a way that demands for true equality can’t).

            So the equivalent fight for men to what women fought for, to get more gender equality, is not to demand entry into women’s jobs so much, which fundamentally doesn’t help them much, but rather to get this safety net and to be allowed to live a decent life in the shadow of someone else, which is at least as much about social status and social approval as about laws.

            However, fighting to get this is inherently a fight to legitimize a choice for (perceived) weakness and mediocrity, which is far, far, far, far, far harder to do than to demand to be allowed to go for a position of strength, what (mostly upper and middle class) women fought for. Aside from the message, the women that fought for feminist ideals were the top achieving women that many other women wanted to be like, while the men who fight for MRA ideals tend to be loser men who at best invite pity and at worst invite hatred. Neither are conductive to be role models for a better gender role.

            Ultimately, the main criticism of people who struggled against their gender role has always been that they failed the other gender. Women who worked were accused of not taking care of the household and their children, while men who refused to man up were accused of not provide (enough) for their wife and children.

            However, the women who worked could outsource the household work and child care to other women or do it next to their job, while men who wanted to work less or in a less demanding job had no ability to hire a provider; nor was the argument accepted that they provided enough while not trying to maximize their income. So any man who would protest to demand to be allowed to be a house husband or to be allowed to have a ‘female’ job could just as well hold up a sign with ‘Misogynist’ on it and an arrow pointing down at himself.

          • ana53294 says:

            The problem with giving these MRA the same safety net as that afforded to women is for practical reasons, not because somebody wants to discriminate against them.

            So, as you say, a woman can try to find a well-paid job, or she can try to find a husband that is willing to support her. This choice is actually becoming less available for women, though; few non-religious men are willing to maintain a woman who doesn’t want to work. Low-status men will be unwilling to do so; they earn little, and will be unwilling to further lower their status. And in order for a woman to gain a high status husband, she has to be of equal status; so she has to be able to get a high status job, and then want to give it up. So I think that low-status women who are non-religious have a smaller safety net in the sense you use it here (i.e., finding a husband who is willing and able to support them).

            But the reason low-status men have no chance of finding a wife to support them, is that money means power. Typically, in a couple were the man brings the money and the wife takes care of the home and kids, the wife gives her husband the power of decisions for things outside the house, and she will make the decisions about the household (what to teach the kids, etc.).

            But if a low-status man marries a woman who is willing to support him, he is unlikely to be willing to wield her the power in decision-making for matters outside the family, because his masculinity will be wounded (and MRA activists want to keep that power; I don’t see them willing to gender flip Mad Men and become the perfect husbands who cook and clean and tolerate infidelity). Women are also biologically more attached to the kids, due to hormones and the natural bond of pregnancy and breastfeeding. So women are unlikely to yield domestic power to the husband. They will tell him to clean as she wants, and to take care of the baby as she would take care of him.

            Low status men are also a lot more unpleasant than low status women. Men are physically stronger than women. How are men likely to respond when the power in the relationship flips because she brings the bacon, but he can so easily beat her into subordination? This will seem like an attractive alternative, making this men unattractive husbands even to women willing to work and maintain a housekeeper (which is why women who are rich enough to keep a husband and unable to find one equal to them in status, are more likely to go alone than to get a lower status husband).

            Edit: From what I have heard about US gender-race relationships, black men are more likely than white men to be low status. So why are low status black women who want to have kids more likely to go it alone than to marry a low status man? After all, if she can save on childcare costs, and he can work half-time sweeping stairs or whatever, their family’s life will become easier. The reason why this doesn’t happen is that a low status woman is going to be more functional than a low status man. She will be less likely to have commited a criminal offense; she is also more employable, because there are more low-status female jobs (cleaning, elderly care, childcare, are all low status unpleasan jobs that are more likely to go to a woman).

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m also aware that farm wives typically did help on the land during some periods and that especially lower class women did labor, sometimes in awful conditions.

            Far more than “some periods”: for most of history, women worked as much as men did, though not necessarily as physically hard as men. Textile production before industrialization was done mostly at home, was incredibly labor-intensive, and was considered women’s work, although we don’t think about it much outside of a few fairytales and such. You might have heard the phrase “distaff side of the family”; the distaff was a female emblem because women spent all their free time spinning (or carding wool, weaving, etc.). Similarly “they toil not, nor do they spin”: “toil” in that verse refers to manual labor in the fields, “spin” to spinning thread. Then, on top of that, came all the things we still think of as female-coded: childcare, sewing, washing (also very labor-intensive for most of history), cooking, cleaning. Helping with the harvest and with keeping animals fed and healthy. In large houses, clerical work.

            Idle housewives are a very recent thing.

          • Aapje says:

            @ana53294

            Of course, women ultimately can’t have their cake and eat it too. Women moving into the workplace has intensified the positional status fight, as a double income gives more resources to buy high status houses, education, throw high status weddings, etc. So what was a fight for more choice has turned into a new social norm, which is stifling. One reason why many people are ‘intolerant’ of others getting more freedom is because it is very easy for much of society to then become intolerant of the old behavior and/or sticking with the old behavior results in a positional loss. The Amish have their Ordnung to prevent this from happening.

            Furthermore, the relative ease of running a modern household has in general made it far less necessary to find a mate, so men and women have become more demanding, preferring singlehood over mediocre relationships more often. Women working more often and for higher salaries has also lowered the status of the provider, so there is less incentive for men to be one (just like there was not and is not a substantial incentive for women to be a provider, when it comes to the positional game of attracting the best partner). The increased size of government and various kinds of welfare has resulted in workers with decent incomes (who are more often men) to have become providers for the state, which in turn provides more for women than for men. This has broken the quid pro quo, allowing people and especially women to benefit from providers without giving something in return. It’s not surprising that libertarians who want to reduce the size of the state are overwhelmingly (well-earning) men, as it is in their interest to have spending in the hands of workers, rather than the state.

            Women are also biologically more attached to the kids, due to hormones and the natural bond of pregnancy and breastfeeding. So women are unlikely to yield domestic power to the husband. They will tell him to clean as she wants, and to take care of the baby as she would take care of him.

            This is also where feminists tend to be semi-traditional, by demanding that men do household and child care work according to the women’s demands. This is not equal responsibility for the household and/or child care, but just a perpetuation of the idea that the woman is responsible for managing the household. It places the man in the role of a servant, not in the role of a partner whose desires should be weighed equally. Then research finds that women are less happy with mates who act as servants, rather than partners…

            Low status men are also a lot more unpleasant than low status women. Men are physically stronger than women. How are men likely to respond when the power in the relationship flips because she brings the bacon, but he can so easily beat her into subordination?

            (Low status) women have ways of being abusive that don’t depend on having greater physical strength. Our society is far more tolerant of abusive women and is actually quite intolerant of men even complaining about it, so one would assume that even if men and women are actually equally unpleasant to each other, that your perception would be that men are more unpleasant, because society is presenting a slanted view on reality.

            For example, survey studies consistently find that women are more often abusive towards men than vice versa. Yet the media are obviously painting a very different picture, telling people that men are abusive far, far more often.

            The reason why this doesn’t happen is that a low status woman is going to be more functional than a low status man. She will be less likely to have committed a criminal offense; she is also more employable, because there are more low-status female jobs (cleaning, elderly care, childcare, are all low status unpleasant jobs that are more likely to go to a woman).

            There are also large sectors with jobs for low status men (construction, military, transportation). I’m not aware of any evidence showing that lower status women have far more access to jobs than lower status men and doubt your claim.

            You ignore that welfare is much more accessible to women than to men, especially since women can decide to become a single parent way more easily than men (and often, if a low status woman makes that choice, the government will go after the low status man who fathered the child for child payments, driving that person towards crime). Of course men are more often criminal in a society that drives women with limited prospects to welfare and men with limited prospects towards crime. It’s rather silly to then call those women much more pleasant, functional and/or employable. It’s like arguing that during the time of Jim Crow laws, white people were much more inclined to get an education, based on the observed outcomes in society. Without equal access to education, that is not a conclusion that one can draw by merely looking at the outcomes.

            Anyway, ultimately a major issue is that in many ways society in general and women specifically demand that men fulfill their gender role, but the conditions have changed to make this impossible for many. Women are not going back into the kitchen, so the norms have to change to match reality. Otherwise more and more men will rebel. They probably won’t do this as feminists did, because feminism is heavily influenced by the female gender role and designed around what society allows women to do, demand, etc. Men are not allowed to do and demand the same things, so they cannot use the same tactics.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nornagest

            Your comment is based on an misreading of what I wrote. In this sentence:

            I’m also aware that farm wives typically did help on the land during some periods and that especially lower class women did labor, sometimes in awful conditions.

            “during some periods” applies to “farm wives typically did help on the land,” but not to “lower class women did labor.” If I had meant to say that women only did paid labor during some periods, I would have constructed my sentence differently, perhaps by placing “during some periods” after “lower class women did labor.”

            Also, I didn’t claim that farm wives were lounging about when they weren’t working the land, but merely that they weren’t working the land anywhere as much as the farmers themselves.

            While English is my second language, I nevertheless believe that your interpretation of this statement is so uncommon that it cannot be considered reasonable.

          • ana53294 says:

            There are also large sectors with jobs for low status men (construction, military, transportation

            I think you and I don’t have the same view of these professions’ status. I view military work as higher status than being a cleaning lady. The military has quite a few requirements when recruiting: young, fit, no criminal record, and a high school diploma. Even the lowest rank soldier has a stable salary, medical insurance and a pension.

            most construction work requires skills. A small part of it requires little skill, but there are less jobs like that than there is demand for cleaning. And I don’t exactly know what you mean by transportation; but being a train driver also requires a high school diploma and some schooling. Sailors need a lot of skill. Truck drivers need to be legal workers with a license and the ability to work very hard.

            In Spain, when the recession came, construction went bust and jobs like supermarket cashier started requiring a Master’s diploma, low skill households were supported by savings, charity and female odd labour. This is my personal observation, but what I saw was that, even when middle class people decided not to do the expensive home repairs, somebody still had to take care of Grandma, who has dementia and requires a lot of work. Taking care of the elderly is very unpleasant; they can be violent, verbally abusive and the job is very dirty. But it is a recession proof job, because unless middle class workers lose their jobs, they will prefer to pay for it than diy.

          • Aapje says:

            I talked about jobs that are fairly accessible to low status people, which is different from jobs that are low status. I don’t see how the latter matters when talking about the employability of low status men and women.

            In my country the requirements are increasing for pretty much all jobs as well. You can’t get a paid job in elderly or child care without a specific education. Cleaning is really exceptional in that you usually don’t even need to speak the language.

            However, there are somewhat common jobs for men with minimal requirements. You seem to be able to get a junior ditch digging job with just a safety certificate and a traffic control job surely has minimal requirements as well. I see a lot of men doing those kind of jobs.

            I also think that merely having a high school diploma is very low status and strongly suspect that men with just that amount of schooling are not very attractive to marry.

          • ana53294 says:

            You can’t get a paid job in elderly or child care without a specific education.

            Requirements in Spain for working in a child care center or elderly care center are quite high, too. This is a job with a 40 hour workweek, a contract, Social Security and health insurance. I wasn’t referring to those jobs. I was referring to self-employment jobs in childcare and elderly care. Self employed workers can choose to contribute to Social security (in Spain, social security and health insurance are the same organization). Choosing not to do so is illegal, but most of them do not report their income to the tax agencies, and do not pay Social security, because this would significantly decrease their income. Because most of these jobs are semi-legal (I give you the money in cash, and you pretend to pay taxes on it), nobody asks for any qualification, other than having recommendations.

            Is the Dutch market for this much stricter? Even in Sweden, I was told that you can hire workers and pay them up to 200 euros per year, without reporting this. Reporting their income is the responsibility of the worker. Everybody knows that they won’t, but pretends like they do.

            During the recession, women still found jobs in this informal market, while men got less jobs. There were still jobs for them, in agriculture mainly; but the problem with agricultural work is that it is very seasonal, whereas the female work is not seasonal.

            I don’t know about the Dutch marriage market, but a man with a steady job and an income above the minimum wage is desirable in the marriage market in Spain, for a woman of similar status. A construction worker earns 17,000 euros/year, a base soldier 14,000 euros/year (not including extras for deployment, risk, and whatnot). The minimum salary is 10.303 euros/year, the median is 19.466,49 euros/year. The problems come when the income is unstable. Stability of income is highly valued in Spain. This is why the soldier may be a better match than a construction worker, because you can expect his salary to rise with bonuses and stuff, and his job is stable.

          • Aapje says:

            An income of 200 euros per year means that it is not a job, but a hobby, I would say.

            In my country, both elderly and child care is either unpaid or very professional. The only real exception are nannies for the rich, but those are temporary jobs that are typically for young (foreign) women. It’s not something that a woman can make a career out of.

            Home cleaning seems to be mostly illegally paid, but it can also be done legally fairly cheaply. There is a special exception so if you employ a cleaning person, you don’t have to pay for healthcare or unemployment insurance. You do have to pay minimum wage.

            Agricultural work seems to have been mostly taken over by Eastern Europeans (the shittiest work is now done by Romanians and Bulgarians, while Polish people do better work). Dutch men cannot compete with that (if they are so low in skills that they cannot get a better job than agricultural work, then they are competing with way higher skilled Eastern Europeans).

            I’m not really an expert on the Dutch marriage market, especially at the bottom end, so I’ll pass on discussing that.

        • ana53294 says:

          The 200 euros is the amount paid for an odd job. But you can get different people to hire you to do gardening or cleaning, and if you have at least 50 people hire you, you get 10000 euros, which is about minimum wage.

          The fact that you can pay them minimum wage and don’t have to pay healthcare but they still choose illegal ways is probably because they don’t want to pay taxes. I assume you mean minimum wage per hour, right? No single household can afford a full time worker nowadays. From what I know, domestic workers get way higher than minimum wage (around 15 euros/hour). Of course, they may not be able to fill all the hours they are willing to work for, but they can still make a decent living.

          I have on occasion read reddit conversations by MRA. They usually are not saying that they want to get agricultural jobs from Eastern Europeans, or get the gender roles that women played before the mid century. We can’t go back to times past; a lot of this men are unemployable at the current levels of technology. What can be reasonably done to help them?

          • Aapje says:

            I don’t think that demanding jobs in itself is a major MRA issue, but rather gender discrimination.

            My personal opinion is that we should oppose and disallow discrimination by gender. For example, in my country there are jobs that are only open to women. My father was also once discriminated against when applying for a job, for not being a woman. Apparently, the constitutional ban on gender discrimination doesn’t exist for men.

            In the US, Obama’s stimulus bill was altered after feminist lobbying to no longer stimulate the hardest hit sectors, like construction, where mostly men work and which could have used a lot of spending given the poor state of infrastructure in the US, to instead stimulate sectors where mostly women work. IMO, that is gender discrimination as well.

      • Brad says:

        The problem with this is that, in practice, it seems that the intermediate goal gets confused for the ultimate goal. I can imagine a violent mass movement of gun owners over the decision to ban guns, but not a violent mass movement of gun owners over any other plausible move to authoritarianism. Particularly if the would-be authoritarian happens to be Republican.

        It reminds me a bit of the Senate in the early Roman Empire. The patricians may not have stood for its abolition, but preventing its literal abolition was about all they could / were willing to do.

        • John Schilling says:

          …but not a violent mass movement of gun owners over any other plausible move to authoritarianism.

          Could you imagine a violent mass movement of gun owners over, e.g., an attempt to ban or subjugate Christianity? Seems plausible enough to me.

          Particularly if the would-be authoritarian happens to be Republican.

          Gotcha. You associate gun ownership specifically with Republicans, and you associate tyranny specifically with Republicans. Given that hypothesis, it is reasonable to expect that gun ownership will not be an effective safeguard against tyranny.

          I think the first part of your hypothesis is negotiable, and the second part is ludicrous. But, yes, if only one tribe has guns, I can make a pretty good guess as to which side is going to be the tyrants in any future tyranny. And you have correctly identified one of the problems with the “let’s tell the would-be tyrants that they have to give up their guns” strategy. Alternative strategies are left as an exercise for the student.

          • Matt C says:

            We didn’t used to live in a country where stormtrooper police routinely kick in the doors of people’s homes and hold everyone inside at gunpoint while the police ransack the place. Now we do. This isn’t even a big deal to most people, including most gun owners.

            I agree with Brad. Sure, maybe there are some extreme (and implausible) scenarios where a blundering government screws up and ends up provoking an uprising. But I don’t think there’s anything (except gun confiscation) that gun owners are going to stick at as long as the authoritarians have a good PR machine and don’t move too fast.

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt C:

            +1

            I grew up with the idea that tyranny could never arise here because we had too many guns. But then we militarized our police forces and routinely have jackbooted thugs kicking in doors, and an armed society didn’t stop that. All these guns everywhere don’t seem to have served as much of a check on something I would have expected to be pretty certain to be made a lot harder by civilian gun ownership. No-trial seizures of property, similarly, didn’t get stopped. Nor did spying on everyone all the time.

            I have zero desire to take away anyone’s guns (modulo criminals or obviously crazy people), but I no longer expect that American gun ownership is anything more than a really small speedbump on our path to building the high-tech police state we’ve always wanted.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Last I checked, stormtroopers still needed a warrant to kick in a door, and that’s still nontrivial to get.

            Maybe you think warrants are easy to get for certain cases? If so, which ones? Maybe they need to be harder to get for those cases. Or maybe they’re already about as hard to get as they should be. Or some other maybe that hasn’t occurred to me.

          • Matt C says:

            Last I checked, stormtroopers still needed a warrant to kick in a door, and that’s still nontrivial to get.

            We have about 20000 no knock raids a year in the USA.

            Cops do 20,000 no-knock raids a year. Civilians often pay the price when they go wrong.

            Maybe you think warrants are easy to get for certain cases? If so, which ones? Maybe they need to be harder to get for those cases. Or maybe they’re already about as hard to get as they should be. Or some other maybe that hasn’t occurred to me.

            I live in a country where the police kicking in people’s doors and holding everyone inside at gunpoint is reasonably described as a routine occurrence. Yes, this is within a system that generates paperwork fully approving itself to smash down nearly every door that it smashes, but that part doesn’t seem very important to me.

            Sam Lowry: Uhm, I do assure you, Mrs. Buttle, the Ministry is very scrupulous about following up and eradicating any error. But if you do have any complaints you wish to make, I’d be, well, only too happy to send you the appropriate forms.

            Mrs. Buttle: What have you done with his body?…

            Sam Lowry: Uhmm, I don’t know anything about that, Mrs. Buttle. I’m really just delivering the check. So if, uhm, look, if you wouldn’t mind just signing these two receipts, I’d be only too happy to, uh, to leave you in peace…

            Mrs. Buttle: He hadn’t done anything. He was good! What have you done with his body?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Based on the article, the problem doesn’t seem to be “stormtrooper police routinely [kicking] in the doors of people’s homes and [holding] everyone inside at gunpoint while the police ransack the place”. That phrase describes a very general category that includes sinister things like pressure on enemies of the head of state. But the article cites a relatively small and (in the context of current US laws) more understandable subset of that category: drug dealers.

            No one’s getting their door busted down for running against an incumbent President. Nor an incumbent governor, Congressperson, or even state senator. No one’s getting busted for publishing critical articles of elected officials. No one’s having their files looted by SWAT. No one’s getting plundered or even hassled for running a local gun club, even if they talk about how the state is a bunch of lying bastards. No one’s having their assets frozen, unless the state has evidence it was acquired via drug dealing.

            And the no-knock and quick-knock door bust-downs are only there because said drug dealers have been discovered to be either quick to destroy evidence or to be genuinely dangerous.

            That tells me we have a drug law problem, not necessarily a problem of gun owners being selectively blind to creeping authoritarianism.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            Paul Brinkley claims there are no police raids for running being political, no SWATs going through people’s files, there is no criminalization of political organizing.

            Ahem: https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/04/wisonsins-shame-i-thought-it-was-home-invasion-david-french/

            When this was finally quashed, the state supreme court decision was 4:2 instead of 6:0, with the 2 giving reasons that break down to “free speech is less important than the political party that I prefer”. And D partisans, even as far away as Seattle, are STILL butthurt about it.

          • ana53294 says:

            Bound by comprehensive secrecy orders, conservatives were left to suffer in silence as leaks ruined their reputations, as neighbors, looking through windows and dismayed at the massive police presence, the lights shining down on targets’ homes, wondered, no doubt, What on earth did that family do?

            Can anybody explain me how police can raid your house, and demand you not to tell anybody, and not to contact your lawyer? How can this be legal?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The article doesn’t quite explain how, but it does state that these are “John Doe investigations” (which I’ll call JDIs in this comment). You can look that term up in a lot of other places, including some that you could probably rely on to give you the other side of the story.

            So I just spent the last hour or so digging around to find information about JDIs. Know what I found?

            The issue Mark cites goes back as far as 2010 (the article is dated 2015). It involves Scott Walker, which I’m guessing is probably how Mark became aware of it.

            The law permitting JDIs appears to be Wisconsin state law 968.26. https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/968/26

            State records show an act modifying 968.26 as early as 1989, but I can’t tell how or when it was introduced.

            The law “dates back to Wisconsin’s days as a territory and is unique to the state”, according to The Cap Times (search for “John Doe investigation, explained” – I’m trying to cut down on the number of links in this post so it’ll pass the filter).

            Other than that? Nothing. There’s a Wikipedia article on it, but it’s barely more than a stub, and the talk page has nothing more than a short discussion on deletion (they obviously left it alone). I can’t find any explanation of why it even became a thing. Politifact says nothing about its history. Neither does Mother Jones. Every article that purports to be an explanation of JDIs merely explains why they became a big deal with regard to Governor Walker. None of those articles seemed to ask why a state saw fit to set up laws for secret investigations; they just take it for granted and then it’s overshadowed by reports of whatever Walker was alleged to be up to. One article even claimed that Walker was trying to make politicians exempt from JDIs, clearly implying that that was the sinister thing.

            So while I didn’t explicitly say police were kicking down doors of owners for their political views, I clearly implied it, and if someone had asked a couple hours ago, I would have said that wasn’t happening, and so now I guess I have to back off from that claim. (There’s an outside chance that I’m being Erdely’d by the link, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that JDIs exist.)

            (I could make a case for secret investigations. There literally are times where the only way to find a genuine bad guy is to hunt for him and not tell anyone you are, and also to tell anyone who notices anyway that they shouldn’t tell anyone else. I don’t like the contempt of court threat going along with a JDI, but FWIW, that’s the core of the case.)

            On the bright side, so to speak, I don’t see JDIs being adopted by the rest of the country any time soon. So I think my point that gun owners aren’t selectively blind to stormtroopers still stands, albeit slightly weaker.

          • ana53294 says:

            It’s good that the law is limited to Wisconsin. How does it not break the 6th Ammendment, though?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m reasonably sure there’s some sort of federal investigation which includes not being allowed to say you’re being investigated, though possibly no home raids.

            Memory isn’t turning up any specific details, though.

          • Matt C says:

            I took it for granted that everyone already knew most no knock raids in the USA are drug related. I doubt you are really surprised by this news.

            I think smashing in doors and shoving guns into people’s faces counts as police state tactics even when it’s mostly done to suspected drug dealers. I think it counts even if there are warrants issued before hand.

            I can understand people feeling like these extreme measures are necessary. I don’t agree, but obviously it’s a commonplace view. But if you think stormtrooping drug dealers is justified, but that you’re otherwise against police being stormtroopers, I think you’re seriously kidding yourself. If you bought the justification this time, you’ll buy the next one too.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I took it for granted that everyone already knew most no knock raids in the USA are drug related. I doubt you are really surprised by this news.

            Aye, I’m not surprised.

            My point here is that drug-related no-knock raids aren’t really the same thing as no-knock raids in general. To wit, there exist many people who will tolerate the former, but will get very grumbly over the latter, depending on what the justification is. Consequently:

            If you bought the justification this time, you’ll buy the next one too.

            I think the above claim is not the case most of the time. I can see how you might think that, and I suspect there are more people for whom it holds than I’d like, but I think many more people would get upset over, say, no-knock raids over political beliefs.

            Moreover, I’ll make an additional claim, that there are people in both tribes who would get upset over stormtroopers raiding homes of even their political opponents, and that there are enough such people that incidents such as in Wisconsin are unlikely to spread into other states any time in the near future. Both tribes apparently don’t like using stormtroopers for anything beyond drug dealing and child pornography.

            For the record, I don’t like using stormtroopers for even drug dealing. I find no-knock raids to be understandable, however, if one has decided that drug dealing is so grave a threat that it merits prison time even if its clients are consenting adults.

            ETA: you didn’t seem to suggest this, but I think you could make the case that, in a world where drug raids are sufficiently common, people may come to witness a raid and assume it’s drug related, even if it isn’t, and therefore a malicious actor could get away with secret raids for political reasons. I think that’s a valid concern, at least until details of one or two of those raids was leaked, after which the backlash is likely to be fierce.

          • CatCube says:

            (I could make a case for secret investigations. There literally are times where the only way to find a genuine bad guy is to hunt for him and not tell anyone you are, and also to tell anyone who notices anyway that they shouldn’t tell anyone else. I don’t like the contempt of court threat going along with a JDI, but FWIW, that’s the core of the case.)

            I could definitely see a case for an investigation where you can’t disclose publicly that you’ve been investigated, but the part where you can’t even tell your own lawyer? Straight-up Star Chamber.

          • ana53294 says:

            It also doesn’ make sense for the fact that an investigation is ongoing, once stormtroopers march through your kitchen. Unless you happen to live in the middle or nowhere, neighbours will see loads of police marching through your yard. If you actually happen to be a criminal, your criminal buddies will know why you are being investigated. The only way you wouldn’t know why you are being investigated, is if you didn’t commit a crime, or it’s a bullshit* crime like lying to the FBI.

            *Meaning it is a very serious crime with jailtime, but it shouldn’t be a crime.

          • albatross11 says:

            IMO no-knock raids are appropriate only for very rare situations where (for example) someone is believed to be held hostage in the building with the suspects. Doing it for drug enforcement seems nuts to me.

    • SamChevre says:

      You don’t try to win all at once. You don’t try to win entirely. You try to make it difficult and risky to bother you in specific ways, or specific enclaves. You try to keep a clear line between the occupying army and the civilians, and make civilians afraid to work with the army. There are a significant number of neighborhoods in the US, for example, where the police would show up for a murder, but will ignore a a kicked-in door–and no one will give them any information in either case.

      • ana53294 says:

        You try to keep a clear line between the occupying army and the civilians, and make civilians afraid to work with the army.

        This means that you have to have some kind of disincentive for collaborators. That does mean attacking civilians, which means, again, you are classified as a terrorist instead of a revolutionary.

        You try to make it difficult and risky to bother you in specific ways, or specific enclaves.

        In Spain, and some other countries with a big Roma population, police usually avoid places where they are concentrated. But that is because they don’t represent any threat to the policies and institutions the Spanish government cares about. If the Roma started saying that their enclaves should become a separate government, then they would have all the might of well armed militarized Spanish police on them. So I believe this only works if it is a small enough community that doesn’t represent a threat to the government, because nobody will try imitating them, so they are not worth the bother. But if you manage to build a community that is desirable to vasts numbers of people, the government will go after you.

        The Amish and other religious community that work slightly outside society are not attractive to anybody but its own members, so they are no threat to the government.

        EDIT: I guess the Chechens have more or less created a mini-state inside Russia where they get away with almost anything. But then again, I don’t think any Russian region wants to imitate Chechnya (I cannot imagine a non-Muslim wanting to live in a place where they almost openly practice Sharia law). And if the mini-society you are creating is worse than the life the government can offer you, why bother? The point of a revolution should only be to get a better life afterwards.

        • SamChevre says:

          Remember that my central example is Redemption. First they occupy your country, then they pass laws forbidding assembly, then they pass laws allowing military enforcement of civil law, then they give up and go home (and renege 50 years later, but that’s how it goes when you try to make deals with the Devil. Or Massachusetts.

    • John Schilling says:

      The great objective is to not have a tyrannical government to begin with. To that end, you need to weaken the arguments that governments use to justify acquiring tyrannical power, of which the greatest has always been “you must give us this power so that we can protect you from the Forces of Evil”. And the Forces of Evil are real and dangerous, so you’re not going to win by denying that.

      But there was a significant increase in gun purchases following 9/11. And risk compensation is a thing. People demand a certain level of security, and to the extent that they feel (even incorrectly) that they can get it via armed self-defense, they don’t need that same quota of security to come from e.g. ubiquitous surveillance. So we got more guns and we got the Patriot Act but we didn’t get CCTV cameras on every streetcorner.

      If that doesn’t work, and if the other sorts of nonviolent resistance don’t work (and they don’t have a very good track record against tyrants playing the “security” card), then you go to defensive resistance. Ideally with only a threat of force, but if it comes to actual shooting, Ruby Ridge and Waco worked. Eighty people died, but so did the relentless militarization of Federal law enforcement, for the most part. The perceived cost of laying down the Law on refuseniks hiding out in remote enclaves, escalated to the point where the Feds rarely bothered and were conspicuously restrained when they did.

      Blue Tribe doesn’t have any comparable wins that I know of, and so we’ve still got the relentless militarization of local law enforcement. But the same tactics should work in urban areas, establishing for real the sort of “no-go” areas that conservatives imagine dominate European cities. And I believe are real in some Latin American cities. But it takes serious guns to make a no-go area for a tyrant’s policemen.

      It also takes a sympathetic local population, and works even better if you have a measure of sympathy from the rank and file of the police and/or army, so you really want to focus on the defensive nature of any violent resistance here, and in particular eschew any foreign entanglements.

      That gets you enclaves against tyranny, which might be enough. If it isn’t, you need active measures to make regions ungovernable. This doesn’t mean fighting the army, at least not very often. It means destroying whatever of the necessary infrastructure of government isn’t protected by the army right this minute. Tax collectors, obviously, and the banks that do their bidding. Police stations, and prisons. Television stations, and in this era you’re going to want to mix physical and cyber attacks on the internet. Targeted assassinations.

      This is going to take guns, bombs, and computers combined. And it’s at this point that you probably are going to start accepting foreign assistance. But, IIRC, the US Army War College estimates that it takes ~2% of a region’s population actively resisting, to make that region ungovernable, of which about 15% need to be primary armed combatants and the rest in support roles. A million dedicated Americans with AR-15s would about do it.

      If even that doesn’t work, classical Maoist insurgency doctrine should approximately describe how you escalate to the level where you do directly take on the Army and win, and I don’t think I need to repeat that here.

    • SamChevre says:

      The best article on guerilla warfare I know of is the article on the Arab Revolt by Lawrence of Arabia, from the 1929 Encyclopedia Britannica.

      Rather, let the enemy stay in Medina, and in every other harmless place, in the largest numbers…The ideal was to keep his railway just working, but only just, with the maximum of loss and discomfort to him.

      The Turkish army was an accident, not a target.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Say the state decides to round up some people (sex offenders, bloggers, muslims, immigrants, etc) and take them off to camps. The decision to do it is an economic and political one: it will cost a certain amount of money and political capital to make it happen.

      If the populace is armed, the political and financial costs will be 10x-100x higher than otherwise. With an unarmed populace the state can disappear someone in the middle of the night using two thugs with machetes and an old van. Armed, you’d need soldiers or a SWAT team. Soldiers are very expensive financially, and seeing videos of soldiers arresting citizens would be expensive politically. If there was organized resistance, the state would start needing armored vehicles and other expensive toys, the costs of which are even higher.

      Here’s a quote from Gulag Archipelago, page 23 Gulag

      S. And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things
      have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say
      good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example
      in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not
      simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs
      door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had
      nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of
      half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?
      After all, you knew ahead of time that those bluecaps were out at night for no good purpose. And you could be sure ahead of time that you’d be
      cracking the skull of a cutthroat. Or what about the Black Maria sitting out
      there on the street with one lonely chauffeur-what if it had been driven off
      or its tires spiked? The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of
      officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed
      machine would have ground to a halt!

      Having said all that, the best counterargument to these points is the US drug war. Millions of non-violent “criminals” with doors being kicked down, dragged off to jail or prison, tarred for life by the system, creation of a militarized police state. Gun ownership hasn’t made any difference at all. In fact in some ways it has made it worse, in that SWAT teams justify militarization on the premise that they might get resistance from gun owners.

      • Viliam says:

        Even using guns in self-defense from ordinary criminals has a political dimension. The government can use criminals strategically to harass the population with plausible deniability.

        The more time you spend thinking whether it is safe to walk outside after 9PM, the less time you spend thinking about e.g. Panama papers. A citizen busy worrying about their personal safety is a politically harmless citizen. If your house was burglarized yesterday, ISIS and Russia become completely unimportant to you.

        But the criminals do their crimes from their own will, so the government can plausibly deny any responsibility. Accusing them sounds like a conspiracy theory that gets its facts obviously backwards: it is actually the Big Daddy who protects you from the criminals (and to help him do it better, you need to give him even more money, and give up more of your privacy and liberties).

        Okay, so how specifically can government deploy criminals against the average citizen?

        * Laws that give high penalties for crimes that bother the government, but relatively low penalties for crimes against an ordinary citizen.
        * Investigation that prioritizes crimes that bother the government, and mostly ignores crimes against an ordinary citizen.
        * Amnesties that include crimes against an ordinary citizen, but exclude crimes against the government.
        * Making self-defense illegal, or allowing it only under so limited conditions that effective self-defense becomes de-facto illegal.
        * Disarming the population, which decreases the “job risk” for the criminals. And makes everyone helpless against a mob.

        Government having a monopoly on violence means that when the government decides strategically not to employ violence against a specific violent group, it puts the ordinary citizens in that group’s mercy.

        More quotes from The Gulag Archipelago:

        Here is what our laws were like for thirty years—to 1947: For robbery of the state, embezzlement of state funds, a packing case from a warehouse, for three potatoes from a collective farm—ten years! (After 1947 it was as much as twenty!) But robbery of a free person? Suppose they cleaned out an apartment, carting off on a truck everything the family had acquired in a lifetime. If it was not accompanied by murder, then the sentence was up to one year, sometimes six months.

        The thieves flourished because they were encouraged. Through its laws the Stalinist power said to the thieves clearly: Do not steal from me! Steal from private persons! You see, private property is a belch from the past. (But “personally assigned” VIP property is the hope of the future. . . .) And the thieves . . . understood.

        The twenties, the thirties, the forties, the fifties! Who does not remember that eternal threat hovering over the citizen: Don’t go where it’s dark!. Don’t come home late! Don’t wear your watch! Don’t carry money with you! Don’t leave the apartment empty! Locks! Shutters! Dogs!

        […] sentences were bound to be reduced, and of course for habitual criminals especially. Watch out there now, witness in the courtroom! They will all be back soon, and it’ll be a knife in the back of anyone who gave testimony!

        […] In the Criminal Code of 1926 there was a most stupid Article 139—”on the limits of necessary self-defense”—according to which you had the right to unsheath your knife only after the criminal’s knife was hovering-over you. And you could stab him only after he had stabbed you. And otherwise you would be the one put on trial. (And there was no article in our legislation saying that the greater criminal was the one who attacked someone weaker than himself.) This fear of exceeding the measure of necessary self-defense led to total spinelessness as a national characteristic. A hoodlum once began to beat up the Red Army man Aleksandr Zakharov outside a club. Zakharov took out a folding penknife and killed the hoodlum. And for this he got… ten years for plain murder! “And what was I supposed to do?” he asked, astonished. Prosecutor Artsishevsky replied: “You should have fled!”

        The state, in its Criminal Code, forbids citizens to have firearms or other weapons, but does not itself undertake to defend them! The state turns its citizens over to the power of the bandits—and then through the press dares to summon them to “social resistance” against these bandits. Resistance with what? With – umbrellas? With rolling pins?

        […] the thieves were our allies in the building of Communism. This was set forth in textbooks on Soviet corrective-labor policy (there were such textbooks, they were published!), in dissertations and scientific essays on camp management, and in the most practical way of all—in the regulations on which the high-ranking camp officials were trained. All this flowed from the One-and-Only True Teaching, which explained all the iridescent life of humanity … in terms of the class struggle and it alone.

        And here is how it was worked out. Professional criminals can in no sense be equated with capitalist elements (i.e., engineers, students, agronomists, and “nuns”), for the latter are steadfastly hostile to the dictatorship of the proletariat, while the former are only (!) politically unstable! (A professional murderer is only politically, unstable!) The lumpenproletanan is not a property owner, and therefore cannot ally himself with the hostile-class elements, but will much more willingly ally himself with the proletariat (you just wait!). That is why in the official terminology of Gulag they are called socially friendly elements. (Tell me who your friends are . . .)

        I grew up in a communist Czechoslovakia, and what I learned about self-defense was… that it is very difficult to do without breaking a law.

        The law said that the self-defense “must be proportional (cannot exceed) the threat”. What did it means specifically?

        First, if someone uses a knife to attack you, you are not allowed to use a gun (assuming you would somehow have it, e.g. as a soldier or a policeman), but you are allowed to use a knife in self-defense. If the attacker uses bare hands, you are not allowed to use any object. Shortly, there is a ranking of weapons “hand < knife < gun", and you are not allowed to use a stronger one to defend from a weaker one. You cannot use a knife even against a group that attacks you with fists and kicks. (If someone attacks you with an axe… quickly, call someone with a textbook to find out where exactly the axe is positioned on the weapon list! My guess would be higher than a knife, but lower than a gun.)

        Second, there are comparisons even within the category. Suppose someone attacks you with a knife, and you somehow luckily happen to have a knife with you, and you somehow luckily succeed to survive the stabbing match. Then, the lengths of the blades shall be compared… if your blade was longer, it will still be classified as a "disproportional defense" (which is almost like being an initiator of the attack yourself).

        (When I attended karate lessons as a teenager, I was also told that once you have a formal martial arts training, your body is considered to be higher on the "weapon list" than a body of a person without formal martial arts training. So in case of self-defense in unarmed combat, we will be legally required to disarm the opponent without hurting him; because in theory we should have the necessary skills. I don’t know whether this part is a fact or a myth.)

        So, to defend yourself effectively, you would need to carry without yourself a collection of knives with different blade lengths. (And a few axes.) And you better have really strong muscles, because that’s the only thing you can use against an unarmed opponent with really strong muscles. Etc. — In effect, you are unlikely to have an exactly balanced weapon with you at the moment of attack, so you are de-facto required to defend yourself with a weaker weapon. Otherwise, you are the bad guy!

        Or run away, of course. Of course, this assumes that it is always possible to run away, and that you are fast enough runner. (Faster than a thrown axe, maybe?) Otherwise, sucks to be you.

        • ana53294 says:

          Yes, this is one of the things that bothers me. If using a gun for any reasonable self-defense will give you ten years in jail, what is the point of being allowed to have a gun legally?

          If having a legal gun and being poor and black will get you shot by police, even if you are innocent, what is the point of having a gun? You will be safer without a gun.

          About the martial training: I heard the same thing when I was getting martial training in Spain, so either it is a very pervasive myth, or it’s true.

          And having laws that allow self-defense in cases when you are already dying from the attack, and only with a lesser weapon, is actually misoginistic. The only way a random woman can defend herself against a random man will be by using a far superior weapon. A gun against a knife, a knife against beating, martial training against somebody who doesn’t have any, and give up and hope for the best otherwise (which is why laws that require a woman to explicitly complain are also ridiculous; the only way to hope to be safe when you are facing overwhelming odds against you is to be quiet and acquiesce).

        • John Schilling says:

          Yes, this is one of the things that bothers me. If using a gun for any reasonable self-defense will give you ten years in jail, what is the point of being allowed to have a gun legally?

          Well, presumably it’s better to be an outlaw than to be dead. Particularly if you start your career with +1 in badass. Depending on the circumstances, there may also be the option of walking away and not telling the police, or of bribing the police.

          But better still is to not live in a place with such atrocious laws regarding self-defense. In the United States, at least, deadly force is deadly force, period, and if any variety of deadly force is used or threatened against you(*), you are allowed to send any variety of deadly force back at them.

          * or any other innocent person nearby, and if you didn’t start it, other terms and conditions may apply.

          • ana53294 says:

            Well, but then maintaining the reasonable self defense laws is more important than maintaining legal guns. Anyways, in most countries the sentence for unjustifiably killing in self defence is much higher than the illegal gun posession sentence (although I’ve heard Japan has draconian gun laws). In Spain is 1 to 6 years vs 1 to 3.

            So if you prohibit guns and everybody, even criminals, stop using them (as happens in Japan) it is very important to be able to be able to defend yourself. It is my understanding that killing a person is usually easier than stopping them by non-lethal means.

            You should try to defend those laws in the US. The ones we have in Spain mostly defend criminals and are nuts.

            There was a case in Spain this year were an octogenarian shot a robber who entered his house and beat his wife. Her sister was in the bathroom. The jury still determined that he could have done something less harmful and sentenced him to jailtime, although he won’t go due to his age and lack of a criminal background. They charged him against the recommendations of the prosecutor, who thought that the force was proportional and only wanted to charge him for illegal gun posession.

            I cannot imagine what an octogenarian could possibly do against two young males, when he needs to defend his wife and her sister, other than using disproportionate lethal force.

          • John Schilling says:

            Well, but then maintaining the reasonable self defense laws is more important than maintaining legal guns.

            With guns but no reasonable self defense laws, you defend yourself and you’re probably an outlaw. With reasonable self defense laws and no guns, you defend yourself and you’re probably dead. Explain why that’s better, again?

          • ana53294 says:

            Because there is almost no country in the world (except for Japan, maybe) where a mentally sane person willing to jump through some hoops cannot keep a gun in their home.

            And well, is it that easy to carry a gun wherever you want even in the US? In rural areas, probably; but you can also carry a gun in rural areas in Spain, mostly because that is where people hunt and there is less police. But can you carry it in most big cities (which are predominantly blue tribe, and are at the same time the more dangerous areas)?

            Also, in most countries where owning a weapon is illegal, the punishment for owning the weapon is not that big (except for Japan, as far as I know). In Spain, you are only allowed to own a gun for hunting. Guns cannot be automatic and have to be modified to hold three bullets max. But you can still own a gun.

          • And well, is it that easy to carry a gun wherever you want even in the US?

            Easy, yes. Legal, that depends.

            Ten states now allow concealed carry without a permit and thirty-one more require the authorities to issue a concealed carry permit unless they can show good reason to withhold it. So that leaves nine states where you may not be able to get legal permission to carry a firearm even if you are willing to go to some trouble and do not have some obvious disqualification such as a felony conviction.

            Of course, even with a permit there are some places, such as a courthouse, where you will not be permitted to carry.

        • Aapje says:

          In The Netherlands, there was a case where a woman illegally carried a gun in her pocket and used it to shoot two robbers who threatened her with a knife. She had bought the gun illegally. She got a 1 month suspended sentence for illegally owning a weapon.

          There was another case where a jeweler bought a gun illegally and his wife used it to shoot two robbers, after the jeweler was attacked by the robbers. The jeweler got sentenced to 100 hours community service and a 3 month suspended sentence for illegally owning a weapon.

          In both cases, the shootings were deemed self-defense and no one was convicted for them.

        • johan_larson says:

          I’d be a bit surprised if those were the actual laws. The martial arts community typically does not study the law formally, and has a lot of folklore, some of it pretty hard to believe.

          The Canadian laws about self defence were consolidated and clarified in 2012, and seem pretty reasonable.

          34 (1) A person is not guilty of an offence if
          (a) they believe on reasonable grounds that force is being used against them or another person or that a threat of force is being made against them or another person;
          (b) the act that constitutes the offence is committed for the purpose of defending or protecting themselves or the other person from that use or threat of force; and
          (c) the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances

          A second section elaborates on what makes an act reasonable under the circumstances:

          34 (2) In determining whether the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances, the court shall consider the relevant circumstances of the person, the other parties and the act, including, but not limited to, the following factors:
          (a) the nature of the force or threat;
          (b) the extent to which the use of force was imminent and whether there were other means available to respond to the potential use of force;
          (c) the person’s role in the incident;
          (d) whether any party to the incident used or threatened to use a weapon;
          (e) the size, age, gender and physical capabilities of the parties to the incident;
          (f) the nature, duration and history of any relationship between the parties to the incident, including any prior use or threat of force and the nature of that force or threat;
          (f.1) any history of interaction or communication between the parties to the incident;
          (g) the nature and proportionality of the person’s response to the use or threat of force; and
          (h) whether the act committed was in response to a use or threat of force that the person knew was lawful.

      • John Schilling says:

        Having said all that, the best counterargument to these points is the US drug war. Millions of non-violent “criminals” with doors being kicked down, dragged off to jail or prison, tarred for life by the system, creation of a militarized police state.

        You know that there aren’t millions of drug users being dragged off to jail or prison, right? Hundreds of thousands, perhaps, but mostly for aggravating circumstances like “we’re pretty sure he’s really a dealer”.

        Dealers, yes, lots of those get locked up, and their existence drives a militarized police force etc. But…

        Gun ownership hasn’t made any difference at all.

        Drug dealers, as a class, are fairly heavily armed. And the “War on Drugs”, at least in the United States, seems to have settled down into a stalemate where the drug dealers can live their lives and pursue their careers at what they consider to be an acceptable risk. Would be interesting to see statistics on how many manage to retire alive and free.

    • fion says:

      The best way to make the second amendment work for the purpose of citizens defending themselves from a tyrannical government is to let people buy more than just guns. The rule of thumb should be that if armies in other countries* have it then it should be available to buy over the counter. Admittedly tanks and jets and things are expensive, but people who knew and trusted each other could pool their resources.

      *It would be nice if it could be “everything the US army has should be available for US citizens to buy”, since it’s the US army that the citizens might need to defend themselves against. The problem with this is that the US needs to keep ahead of other countries’ armies.

      • John Schilling says:

        The best way to make the second amendment work for the purpose of citizens defending themselves from a tyrannical government is to let people buy more than just guns. The rule of thumb should be that if armies in other countries* have it then it should be available to buy over the counter.

        The heavier sorts of military ordnance are of limited use in armed revolutions. Particularly to the revolutionaries, who lack the necessary logistical support for things like tanks and fighter planes. And if it does get to the point where the government is sending its own tanks and planes to crush a rebellion, you’ve probably got plenty of people willing to quietly (or not so quietly) deliver anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to the rebels.

        Almost all of the value of arming would-be dissenters in peacetime, comes from their ability to either replace or resist the police. So long as the quality of armaments generally available is comparable to that of a (possibly militarized) police force, it is sufficient.

    • rahien.din says:

      ana53294,

      I don’t think anyone is going to answer your actual question.

      • ana53294 says:

        Well, that’s probably because I made it too broad and put too many qualifiers. My actual question is something like:

        Would you support terrorism if that’s the most effective way to fight against the oppressive forces of government by using guns, who are not some people you don’t know, but your neighbor Jack, who is a policeman, and his wife Sarah, who is a judge, and your cousin Michael, who works in City Hall?

        Because that’s how I see using guns to stop a tyrannical government in a remotely effective way. I think there are plenty of other ways that do not involve guns to defend against a tyrannical government. David Friedman makes a compelling argument that the fight against tyrannical governments nowadays happens in the realm of information. But if you insist that you have to use guns, then you have to use guns for their actual purpose, which is to kill people. And if you want to survive after that, it means killing people and then hiding or running away. Or dumping the bodies so no suspicion falls on you.

        • The Nybbler says:

          My neighbor Jack, who is a member of the secret police. My cousin Michael, who is a clerk responsible for cataloging local kulaks. Jack’s wife Sarah, who sentences said kulaks to death after Jack picks them up.

          Yeah. If it’s “terrorism” when those people get shot by the resistance, so be it. Michael in particular it might be said I have a family responsibility to take care of. Just because they look like nice normal people doesn’t mean they’re not part of the mechanism of tyranny.

          • ana53294 says:

            Except that in most cases it’s not that clear cut.

            The US government acts in a similar way in Guantanamo. Would you understand if a terrorist cell starts acting agains all those (were they judges?) who send people to Guantanamo, were prison guards in Guantanamo, support the existence of Guantanamo?

            In most cases, your neighbour Jack is a member of the police who tortures the people (obviously evil terrorists) he detains and keeps incommunicado, his wife Sarah the judge ignores detainees who present clear wounds and your cousin Michael makes sure that the good policeman Jack can advance in his career.

            They are not literally SS, you know. Spain is a country that is considered largely democratic, but still silences dissent by accusing them of terrorism sympathising (they have closed several newspapers on those charges, were none of the journalists were terrorists themselves). They have tortured, made government paramilitary groups that somehow get pardoned, and prohibited popular politicians from running.

  22. thevoiceofthevoid says:

    Scott, I apologize if you’ve answered this elsewhere or don’t want to draw attention to it, but where’d all the posts on your old livejournal go? (the Jackdaws Love etc. one)

  23. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Doxx Wars Episode Dunbar’s #: Trumpists fed up with director James Gunn publicized his pedophilia jokes, getting him fired by Disney.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Ben Shapiro came out against the firing https://twitter.com/benshapiro/status/1020392549167448064

      Handing ammo over to your ideological opponents so they’ll use it on one of their own… I guess that’s following Alinsky’s rules, but it would certainly make me feel dirty.

      • mdet says:

        What’s the deal with Alinsky? I’ve read the Rules for Radicals (the list of rules themselves, not the book) and it seems like pretty innocuous tips for any activist cause. Yet people seem to refer to it like it’s some kind of terrible and forbidden Leftist scheming.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Because a lot of right-wingers are really bad at telling the difference between liberals, wishy-washy social democrats, harder core but still reformist social democrat/democratic socialist types, and some NKVD guy who just got done liquidating his predecessor.

          • Zorgon says:

            While you’re quite right, part of the reason for this is that people keep shifting across that spectrum unexpectedly as the cultural wind turns.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I don’t think people shift as much as the rhetoric does. There’s a whole bunch of people who present themselves as leftist radicals, and whose rhetoric is that of blowing up the whole damn system. Except, when you look at what they’re actually demanding, very frequently they’re just fighting for elbow room for themselves, and nothing they demand isn’t easily slotted into the way things are.

            There’s also a great deal of… I remember seeing an “X’s Law” formulation of it, but can’t for the life of me remember the name. Anyway, it was to the effect that within any group, the advancement of the group will take a backseat to the advancement of individuals within the group: forget about winning the next election; what’s important is that I get elected party secretary! This is endemic across the political spectrum, but I think that in some contexts, there’s brands of left-wing activism that are particularly prone to it right now.