THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Links 7/18: URL Mountains

British soldier James Brooke was wounded in the Anglo-Burmese War and the military wouldn’t let him continue serving with his injury. He decided to go adventuring, got a ship, one thing led to another, and he ended up as king of the northern third of Borneo, founding a dynasty which lasted a hundred years.

You shall not make an image of the LORD your God. You definitely shall not get a bunch of people to make images of the LORD your God and average them together in order to prove something about how different demographic groups visualize the LORD your God. And yet here we are.

A study on vegetarian activism estimates its effectiveness at one pig saved per $150 devoted to activist charities (=$300/pig-year, since factory-farmed pigs live 6 months). The numbers come out to about $6 or so per chicken (=$50/chicken-year). Effective altruist Peter Hurford comments that this compares poorly to charities that work with humans under a wide range of assumptions about relative human-animal value. But it remains compatible with meat offsets; by my calculations donating $100 to the charity involved could offset eating pork one meal per day for a year.

Quanta explains the criticality theory of brain function.

Studies on fish oil in depression have been very inconsistent. A new meta-analysis claims to have figure it all out: fish oil supplements only help against depression if they have greater than 60% EPA (one of the two main fats in fish oil; different supplements have them at different ratios). Biologically plausible as the two kinds of fats may compete for transporters. Some good comments on r/nootropics, including someone pointing out that actual oily fish do not generally meet this criterion, which seems damning although I can’t really explain why.

In 1899, four reporters from the four major Denver newspapers randomly decided to fake a news story for fun. They wrote that China wanted to tear down the Great Wall and was seeking bids from US demolition companies, and each “swore they would stick to this story as fact as long as any of the others were still alive.” Eventually “the story spread to newspapers all across the country and then into Europe”. The hoax continued for decades, and in the 1940s somehow people got it into their heads that the Great Wall demolition plan had incited the Boxer Rebellion.

Related: not worth its own Reverse Voxsplaining article, but still worth calling out: Vox continues to push that terrible air rage study.

Related: The Great Tom Collins Hoax Of 1874 was some sort of weird meme where people would ask “Have you seen Tom Collins?”, and then embellish this with details like that “Tom Collins is looking for you” or “Tom Collins has been talking about you”. Apparently this was what passed for fun in 1874 and went down in history and song and a bunch of newspaper articles were published about it. This may be the source of the name of the Tom Collins cocktail.

A new study confirms my survey’s finding that women in science suffer less sexual harassment than in other fields, with female scientists reporting generally nonsignificantly lower rates of harassment than female non-scientists and engineers, and significantly lower rates than female medical students.

The Royal Game of Ur is the oldest board game in the world, popular throughout the Near East since about 2500 BC, and surviving in isolated communities all the way until the 1950s AD. They seem to have taken it very seriously: “The tablet of Itti-Marduk-balalu provides vague predictions for the players’ futures if they land on certain spaces, such as ‘You will find a friend’, ‘You will become powerful like a lion’ or ‘You will draw fine beer’.” The rules are similar to backgammon, which may be its distant descendant.

A website and forum on post-serotonin sexual dysfunction.

The ACLU, the NAACP, the nootropics community, the kratom community, and the anti-drug-war movement are all concerned about the SITSA Act, a bill which gives the Attorney General (Jeff Sessions, in case you forgot) the power to unilaterally decree any chemical that shares a mechanism with a controlled substance to itself be a controlled substance. This is a well-intentioned attempt to deal with the avalanche of fentanyl derivates (ie changing one atom on the fentanyl molecule and then saying “It’s not fentanyl! It’s not illegal! You can’t ban us until you pass a whole new law saying this molecule is illegal!), but as written it gives the government kind of arbitrary and complete drug-war-expanding power. If you’re worried, r/nootropics explains how best to contact your Senator.

From Less Wrong: A review of Elinor Ostrom’s book Governing the Commons, about how societies solve coordination problems in real life.

SCOTUS links: Slate thinks it’s been “ensured” that Roe vs. Wade will be overturned. I think my previous 99% certainty that it wouldn’t was inexcusably far too high, but still expect the court to avoid doing it openly. Other fields to watch include affirmative action, criminal punishment, gerrymandering. 538 on how Kennedy was not really a moderate, but rather a conservative who occasionally voted with liberals on a few high-profile issues. And Snopes discusses rumors that Anthony Kennedy’s son is connected to the Russia investigations – mostly true, but I would treat conspiracy theories based on this as yet another example of how easy it is to construct a plausible-sounding-but-false conspiracy theory.

Related: Democrats discuss packing the Supreme Court if they win in 2020. Some would say that arguing that if you ever take power again you should win forever by breaking all rules and abandoning all honor – when your opponents are actually currently in power and can also do this – and making this argument in the national public media which your opponents also read – is at the very least a strategic error, if not more fundamentally erroneous. This is a metaphor for everything about the Democrats right now.

Enopoletus has done some good work making Angus Maddison’s GDP data more accessible (1, 2)

Katja Grace on Meteuphoric: Are ethical asymmetries from property rights?

Therapists do not seem to achieve better results when they follow the rules of the school of therapy they are practicing than when they don’t. Some similar results in adolescents and a review.

A “proof” of Trump “dog-whistling” white supremacy recently went viral in the blogosphere and media: a DHS document had a headline reminiscent of a white supremacist slogan. If this sounds kind of weak, the clue-hunters buttressed it with undeniable proof: a statistic in the article said 13 of every 88 immigrants making a “credible fear” claim were accepted in the US. Using 88 as the denominator of a fraction is inexplicable except that 88 is a Known Secret White Supremacist Code Number (88 = HH = Heil Hitler). Somehow we reached the point where only Free Beacon did any investigative reporting; they immediately found that the document used 88 as a reference to another statistic where 88 out of every 100 immigrants made the “credible fear” claim in the first place. Then another tweet went viral noting that the DHS document had fourteen bullet points and fourteen was definitely a Known Secret White Supremacist Code Number; high-powered investigative reporting revealed the document only had thirteen bullet points. The original tweeter then argued that this was proof the DHS was in league with the Devil an unbulleted paragraph was written in bold, which was sort of like a bullet point. I continue to believe this kind of thing is the modern version of looking for pyramid shapes to prove politicians are part of the Illuminati.

I don’t know if everyone is getting constant ads for ELYSIUM BASIS on Facebook, or if they just have me pegged as an anti-aging supplement kind of guy. But here’s a review of the legal and business irregularities of Elysium and how they’ve failed to fulfill their promise. Most people I read seem to think if you want nicotinamide riboside (Elysium’s star supplement) you should get it directly from the manufacturer under the brand name Niagen instead of taking a branded combination nootropic.

Gwern reviews On The Historicity Of Jesus. Short version: the prose is annoying, but the case that Jesus was completely mythical (as opposed to a real teacher whose deeds were exaggerated) is more plausible than generally supposed. Please read the review before commenting about this topic.

If you’re interested in AI alignment, you should be reading Rohin Shah’s AI Alignment Newsletter; future editions available on Less Wrong.

I wrote a while ago about Luna, a planned dating site that would involve a cryptocurrency-subsidized market in message-reading. There was some debate about whether they would ever make a product, but there is now a sort of use-able poorly advertised beta.

California has banned local communities from instituting soda taxes. The state claims it was driven to this extreme by the soda industry’s threats to start a ballot proposition to ban local communities from instituting any new taxes at all without a two-thirds majority. Experts predicted such a proposition would be pass and devastate local finances, so the state gave into blackmail and banned soda taxes, prompting the soda companies to back down on their ballot initiative. This makes no sense to me for several reasons, most notably that if a proposition to ban local taxes would so obviously pass, then you’d expect someone other than soda companies to propose it eventually. What about Republicans? Isn’t this the sort of thing they’re usually into?

Psychology’s gender problem gets worse: 90% of people entering the field are women, and research on female-specific issues outweighs male-specific issues four-to-one.

Tolkien started working on his fictional world after a semi-mystical experience he had when reading an Anglo-Saxon poem containing the line “Hail Earendel, brightest of angels / sent over Middle-Earth to mankind”

Colombian study finds that, among criminals “on the margin of incarceration” (ie whether or not they get imprisoned depends on whether they get a strict vs. lenient judge), their children do better (as measured in years of education) when they are imprisoned, presumably because they were bad parents who had a negative effect on their children’s lives. This one probably isn’t going to end up in any Chicken Soup For The Soul books.

A neat way of representing city street orientations.

There’s been a shift among some of my YIMBY friends to being more willing to acknowledge that building more housing may not decrease housing costs very quickly, effectively, or at all (short of implausibly massive amounts of new housing). Devon Zuegel presents one of the arguments.

This answers a lot of the questions I had about Piketty and straight-line growth: Steady-State Growth: Some New Evidence About An Old Stylized Fact. Confirms that some countries not only recovered from WWII but seemed to get a permanent boost from it. I want to see more on this theme.

“Campaign spending doesn’t help candidates get elected” is one of the most-replicated and least-believable findings in political science, so I guess it’s nice to have a new list of 49 experiments confirming it.

Ozy on three ways of dealing with sexual harassment and assault. Even though both Ozy and I are somewhat against callout culture, I find Ozy’s criticisms of it weak; I think the reasons it is bad are illegible and hard to communicate rationally. Their third method, which they call “expulsion”, is better described as “centralized authority” and (contra the post) can easily work even without a specific space to expel people from; if the authority is powerful enough, it can implement authority-backed public callouts and ostracization. I am disappointed the communities I’m in haven’t gotten more formal institutions for this.

The FDA mulls making current prescription-only drugs non-prescription. I admit I am really shocked by this development and had no idea it was even in the Overton Window. I am vaguely emotionally in favor of it but don’t know enough about statins to have strong views on that class in particular.

Anisha on Less Wrong offers A Step-By-Step Guide To Finding A Good Therapist.

This is exactly the kind of thing that doesn’t replicate, but it rings true to me: Performing Meaningless Rituals Boost Our Self-Control Through Making Us Feel More Self-Disciplined.

Zvi talks about his troubles hiring a nanny, how incompetent most job-seekers are. Two important lessons I take from this: first, if you hear that a hundred other people have applied for the job you want, this isn’t as much reason for despair as it sounds. Second, if you (like me) have heard the advice “show interest in the job/company you’re applying for”, you don’t necessarily need to agonize about exactly how best to express your enthusiasm – the advice is probably aimed at morons who apply for places without even caring what industry they’re in.

@atroyn on Twitter: Things That Happen In Silicon Valley And Also The Soviet Union. Good fun; less culture-war than it sounds.

Two San Francisco supervisors move to ban free workplace cafeterias, obviously directed at tech firms. They argue free cafeterias are denying business to local restaurants and (as per Supervisor Peskin) “depriving [techies] the pleasure of mingling with the rest of The City”, which is impossible for me to read in anything other than a cloying sarcastic bully voice. @theunitofcaring has a typically thoughtful and compassionate take on this. I am less thoughtful and compassionate and my take is wanting to start a petition to ban San Francisco City Supervisors from having kitchens in their house. It’s literally stealing from the restaurant industry! [EDIT: Commenter “Jeltz” has made the petition].

Did you know: even though phrenology is notorious as an example of a debunked scientific field, nobody had actually bothered formally checking whether or not it was true until this year. Now neurologists armed with modern MRI data have looked into it and – yeah, turns out to be totally debunked.

Your regular reminder that the IRS could easily calculate how much each American owes in taxes and send them the bill without any tax preparation required, but tax preparation companies like Intuit and H&R Block keep successfully lobbying against this to “stop depriving citizens of the pleasure of mingling with the tax preparation community” preserve their business model.

States consider banning fast food companies from banning employee poaching. No-poach agreements were created to prevent people with trade secrets from disclosing them to competitors, but has expanded to the point where companies use them to prevent McJob workers from going to other McJobs that will pay more. The new government initiative seems to be in the ordoliberal spirit of government regulation that strengthens market principles and makes them work more smoothly.

Blogger who wrote “there is no crisis in the humanities” article in 2013 now writes Mea Culpa: There Is A Crisis In The Humanities. Humanities degrees as percent of college degrees have dropped from 7.5% ten years ago to only 5% today. Time course and major distribution don’t seem to support hypothesis that it’s related to culture-war-type issues; does support a narrative where after the 2008 recession people switched to majors they thought were better for getting jobs. But for some reason the exodus continues even now that the economy is improving.

Marginal Revolution has been especially good this past week. See eg their posts on how household income explains only 7% of variance in educational attainment, changing migration patterns to Europe and a Cowen-Smith immigration debate, non-replicating happiness research, and the history of abortion – which was mostly accepted in the US even in very religious places like Puritan New England until doctors started campaigning against it around the Civil War era.

Related: the “clown vs. chessmaster” debate around Trump still hasn’t died down. “I have just spent a week in Beijing talking to officials and intellectuals, many of whom are awed by his skill as a strategist and tactician.” But consider in the context of the Chinese government having every incentive to flatter him, and to encourage Americans to unite around him especially if he’s a clown.

Glenn Greenwald says Ecuador is planning to hand Julian Assange over to the UK. Proximal cause is “to stop depriving Assange of the pleasure of mingling with the international law enforcement community” Assange’s protests against Spanish human rights abuses in Catalonia; apparently Ecuador and Spain are pretty close. Whatever you think of Assange, this is a stupid way for him to finally get caught and Ecuador has lost whatever goodwill it might have gained in my mind from holding out this long.

Newest big Head Start study finds significant negative effects from free preschool, which it is unable to easily explain. Hasn’t yet looked into the supposed positive non-academic findings that only surface decades down the line.

no_bear_so_low on how to quantify the economic costs of not redistributing money.

Historians during the Classical Age would sometimes speculate that certain old structures must have been built by gods or giants, so inconceivable was it to them that mere mortals could ever do such a thing. I feel the same way about some Minecraft projects sometimes; it boggles my mind to to imagine them being made by ordinary humans. The latest in this line is ArdaCraft, an attempt to simulate the entirety of Middle-Earth at 1:58 scale. Slightly complicated to make it work, but if you do, make sure not to miss Mithlond or Thorin’s Halls.

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1,143 Responses to Links 7/18: URL Mountains

  1. gwern says:

    Therapists do not seem to achieve better results when they follow the rules of the school of therapy they are practicing than when they don’t. Some similar results in adolescents and a review.

    The Dodo bird verdict strikes again.

    • Edge of Gravity says:

      Anecdotally, EMDR therapy seems to work quite well for PTSD and C-PTSD. Not sure about studies on the topic.

    • alcoraiden says:

      It seems like therapists really should be using empathy and social skills more than adhering to a flow chart, so this makes sense. Each patient is very unique. Mental illness is not like, say, getting a weak bacterial infection, where you chuck penicillin at it and it goes away no matter who has it. It’s very nuanced and tied in with non-disease factors like lifestyle and past experiences. Everyone gets the flu at some point; not everyone gets depression, and certainly not for the same reasons.

  2. Erusian says:

    SCOTUS links: Slate thinks it’s been “ensured” that Roe vs. Wade will be overturned. I think my previous 99% certainty that it wouldn’t was far too high, but still expect the court to avoid doing it openly. Other fields to watch include affirmative action, criminal punishment, gerrymandering. 538 on how Kennedy was not really a moderate, but rather a conservative who voted with liberals very occasionally on a few very-high-profile issues. And Snopes discusses rumors that Anthony Kennedy’s son is connected to the Russia investigations – mostly true, but I would treat conspiracy theories based on this as yet another example of how easy it is to construct a plausible-sounding-but-false conspiracy theory.

    The conservative position I’ve seen is basically to return it to the states, which wouldn’t require overturning Roe v. Wade. In effect, they want to remove it as a constitutional right and then let specific states (or national legislation) decide. Naturally, this will lead to something like two-thirds of states banning abortion and a large culture war fight, with the Democrats on the defensive.

    Related: Democrats discuss packing the Supreme Court if they win in 2020. Some would say that arguing that if you ever take power again you should win forever by breaking all rules and abandoning all honor – when your opponents are actually currently in power and can also do this – and making this argument in the national public media which your opponents also read – is at the very least a strategic error, if not more fundamentally erroneous. This is a metaphor for everything about the Democrats right now.

    The last time a president tried to pack the Supreme Court, Congresspeople and Senators in both parties smacked him down. Partisanship makes me think that might not happen this time around. If it doesn’t, we’ll see the Supreme Court reduced from the position it took in 1803 as an equal branch of government to just being an adjunct of the Legislative-Executive branches. Whether that’s good or bad, I suppose, depends on how much you believe legal scholars should steward the law against popular will. (I will say, Republicans seem to be more on the ‘legal scholars’ side and Democrats more on the ‘popular will’ side. But that makes sense: conservatives, by definition, are favored by a system that is less concerned with producing legal innovation.)

    Then again, the belief that Republicans aren’t impeaching Trump due to partisanship seems a relatively weak claim to me. Trump isn’t really threatening the independence of the other two branches or the Constitution and the legislature appears to be accepting or rejecting his policies based on their own political opinions. The leader of the Freedom Caucus famously killed healthcare reform by saying, “The last person who said I had to do something was my pa. And I didn’t listen to him either!” Not exactly a submissive pose.

    Cynically, I have a hard time seeing Democratic calls that the Republicans impeach Trump as anything more than wishfully hoping the Republicans will have a civil war at a time when the Democrats are very weak. Perhaps court packing, a blatant power grab, will result in the Legislative branch uniting. Or the Supreme Court making a stand. But we’ll see. It would certainly be a constitutional crisis.

    I’m curious what other people think.

    • Guy in TN says:

      The conservative position I’ve seen is basically to return it to the states, which wouldn’t require overturning Roe v. Wade. In effect, they want to remove it as a constitutional right and then let specific states (or national legislation) decide.

      Roe v Wade established abortion as a constitutional right. So if you want to remove abortion as a constitutional right, you’ve got to first overturn Roe v. Wade. The constitutional right business is what the Roe v. Wade question was about, “abortion is determined by the states” is the pre-Roe v. Wade system.

      If it doesn’t, we’ll see the Supreme Court reduced from the position it took in 1803 as an equal branch of government to just being an adjunct of the Legislative-Executive branches.

      I’m not a legal historian, but my understanding is that the Supreme Court has gradually taken on a more active role in our legal system over the past 200 years, starting from a point of extremely high deference to the legislature, to the modern day where Supreme Court rulings are scarcely distinguishable from lawmaking. A smack-down of judicial power in the form of looming appointments would make it more subservient and in-line with the legislature, like it was in its early days.

      Strategically, I think advocating for court-packing is a better move than Scott gives it credit for. It’s not like the Democrats gain nothing from saying it: one lesson from the whole post 2016 what-went-wrong analysis, is that people want to vote for politicians who actually fight for what they believe in. Clinton’s problem was that she promised nothing, believed in nothing, and would deliver nothing more than the status quo. Saying “we’re going to give you X, whether the Supreme Court lets us or not!” is a winning line. People generally don’t care about the Supreme Court, but they definitely care about X, and they like politicians who are willing to fight for it.

      And packing the court is not “winning forever”, as Scott says. Its winning until you lose control of the legislature. I mean, the Constitution is still in effect, so we would still have elections, and when the next party gets in power, they would pack the court in the manner that suited them. As for the premptive backfire threat- I don’t think its serious. The Republican coalition is too fragmented. Remember, there was some question as to whether Trump even had the votes to get boring old Kavanaugh through. (Not that I think the Democrats have any better of chance of getting a court-packing measure through if they gain power- but it does help excite voters for the 2018 election, and that’s what matters)

      • Walter says:

        How you gonna lose control of the legislature if you pack the court? If the other side wins just throw their ballots out. Or disqualify their candidates as pedophiles or foreign operatives. Or turn the screws on the social media companies until they don’t allow people to advocate for the other side. Or suggest to the media folks that maybe they ought to not give airtime to bigots and extremists like the other party.

        If anybody sues to stop you your tame court rules in your favor. It isn’t like the constitution is gonna jump up and scream that they are wrong. It says whatever the Court says it does.

        • Guy in TN says:

          How you gonna lose control of the legislature if you pack the court? If the other side wins just throw their ballots out.

          Right now, the conservatives control the supreme court. Yet they don’t appear to threatening to throw the ballots out if the Democrats win in 2018, despite having the power to do so. Why is that?

          The reason for this, is “pack the court” doesn’t mean “appoint random crazy people, so long as they are on my side”. Obviously, if the president and congress wanted to they could appoint judges who are intent on overthrowing the whole social order. But they could also appoint people to do that now, and yet they decline to.

          • Walter says:

            *Blink*

            You assert that packing a court doesn’t guarantee victory.
            I point out that you are wrong, it totally should.
            You respond by saying…that nobody is packing the court now? That packing the court might mean appointing moderates instead of partisans?

            Like, I guess those are true statements, but I feel like you are not so much arguing definitions as straight up being disingenuous.

            I mean, technically I could ‘pack’ a court with moderates equally likely to agree with me or my enemies, but that isn’t, you know, the traditional thing that people mean when they talk about court packing. The general understanding, and I think how OP is using it, is that the judges I appoint are more likely to rule in my favor than otherwise.

            So, as OP said, it is stupid to talk about how you will pack the court once you take power. If you intend to use your tame judges to win elections, then why warn anyone? Coups work better when they are quiet. If you DON’T intend to use your brand new court, then why incur the massive electoral costs of stealing it?

          • zzzzort says:

            There’s a weird definitional issue due to the fact that by court packing everyone seems to mean ‘something like what FDR tried to do’. The way I would interpret it, and I think most other people, is that you expand the number of seats on the court and appoint the same sort of people you would normally appoint to vacancies. In FDR’s time that meant ideologically friendly judges, today it probably means partisan-but-pretending-otherwise. I wouldn’t assume it means totally subservient.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Why would packing the court lead to ballots being thrown out, elections overturned, ect? I’m missing the casual chain here.

            The answer can’t be “because one side would be in power, and they would have an incentive to do so”, because one side has always been in power (at least when the court has an odd number of justices), and they have always had some incentives to do so. Yet they don’t.

            So what changes when we start court-packing?

            If you intend to use your tame judges to win elections, then why warn anyone?

            This is not the purpose of the court-packing plan. The goal is to change the laws, not the fundamental democratic nature of government.

          • dick says:

            Walter, it seems like you’re using some other definition of “pack the court” than the one in the article you’re ostensibly discussing. The tactic being proposed is to expand the number of seats on the Supreme Court so as to retake the majority without waiting for right-wingers to retire. That has nothing to do with the practice of appointing judges who are ideological enough to help their party steal elections, which has always been an option. (Though whether you think that option has not been taken historically, as Guy in TN suggests, would depend on your interpretation of Bush v Gore)

          • Jack says:

            All the plausible candidates for high court positions have been thoroughly indoctrinated from birth through law school and bar exams (which they had to understand and pass) to a career working as part of the legal system. There are no* plausible candidates who would be willing to toss the rule of law out the window.

          • Vosmyorka says:

            All the plausible candidates for high court positions have been thoroughly indoctrinated from birth through law school and bar exams (which they had to understand and pass) to a career working as part of the legal system. There are no* plausible candidates who would be willing to toss the rule of law out the window.

            There is no requirement to appoint plausible candidates, though. There are no formal requirements to be appointed to SCOTUS at all (theoretically not even something very basic like citizenship or age of majority); the President and the Senate can confirm anyone they want, and there is 19th-century precedent for appointing people who were not lawyers.

            If we’re talking about such a radical collapse in the social order that “the Supreme Court throws out ballots” is plausible, “non-lawyers appointed to the Supreme Court” is far more plausible. The latter is perfectly legal and constitutional and would require only a change to norms rather than laws.

          • John Schilling says:

            Right now, and for basically all of US history, the idea of a “conservative majority” in the Supreme Court is a wishy-washy sort of thing tempered by the fact that you are averaging over thirty or so years of drift in what “conservative” meant as justices were appointed, and drift in individual human judges’ opinions over time, and a consistent norm of not nominating or confirming obvious and blatant partisan hacks who will dispense with rule of law in favor of raw tribal power. Same goes for liberal majority, when we’ve had those.

            If we go wit full-on court-packing, we get a partisan majority built around people who were appointed last month based on their being willing (and trustworthy) to be part of a plan to blatantly and obviously elevate partisan politics above rule of law, and confirmed by a senate whose majority has jus indicated its own enthusiasm for such a power grab.

            Such a Court would very likely enable maneuvers well beyond what we’re possible under the weaker ideological balances of SCOTUS’s history.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Such a Court would very likely enable maneuvers well beyond what we’re possible under the weaker ideological balances of SCOTUS’s history.

            True, but the maneuvers would still have to be 1. something the newly appointed justices want to do and 2. something they think they can do without starting a civil war/being assassinated.

            “Suspending democracy” not only doesn’t appear to be part of the Democrats agenda, its highly questionable as to whether they could even physically accomplish it if they wanted to, with the ensuring pushback of physical threats that would be imposed.

            One reason that the court packing measure has any traction at all, is that it appears to be perfectly legal in the framework of the constitution, in the most technical of senses. Suspending democracy- not so much. People care about what is legal, it influences their sense of the rightness or wrongness of an action..

            Another reason, is that the legislature doing the court packing would be empowered by democratic legitimacy. People are not likely to revolt against the very people they just voted for. Elections are security in this sense, and abolishing them would undermine the whole effort.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            One reason that the court packing measure has any traction at all, is that it appears to be perfectly legal in the framework of the constitution, in the most technical of senses. Suspending democracy- not so much. People care about what is legal, it influences their sense of the rightness or wrongness of an action..

            Of course they wouldn’t “suspend democracy.” They’d do what Walter said and tilt the system in their favor such that loss of power is near impossible. You don’t jail your political opponents for having the wrong politics, obviously. You accuse them of being foreign agents, investigate everything ever done by anyone they’ve ever known and prosecute them for 10 year old tax crimes or process crimes or uncover their legal-but-sordid sex scandals and then leak them to a compliant press. This sends the very clear message to political opponents “Do Not Fuck With Us Or We Will Ruin Your Life.” It’s all perfectly legal, and the packed court just ensures the “legal” system will continue to play ball and swat down any challenges to your perfectly legal system.

          • Deiseach says:

            You don’t jail your political opponents for having the wrong politics, obviously. You accuse them of being foreign agents

            See Elizabeth I’s spymaster, Walsingham, and the change of emphasis in policy. We’re not burning these recusants/Jesuits for being Catholics, no no no we don’t make windows into men’s souls, we’re drawing and quartering them for being traitors!

          • Deiseach says:

            There are no plausible candidates who would be willing to toss the rule of law out the window.

            So what then is the threat of packing the court, save that it would appoint judges to rule in our favour? Make decisions in line with our policies? Have no dogmas opposed to ours living loudly within them?

            If the whole point is “well we’ll appoint Republicrat judges but once there they will rule according to the law and not according to their political affiliation/repaying their patrons”, then it’s not a threat, and it’s no use to the Demolicans to have neutral judges on the bench.

            So either the threat is an empty one and the politicians are talking through their backsides, or the threat is not empty and ambitious judges who want to advance their career who are willing to indicate they will deliver verdicts of the ‘right’ kind exist, allied with a ferocious confirmation process where ‘unsuitable’ candidates will have no hope. Which is it?

          • johansenindustries says:

            To be fair, if Putin was calling for resistance against the US government while powerful Republicans were harboring and hiding Russian agents, then there’d probably be a different conversation going on in America.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @ConradHoncho

            They’d do what Walter said and tilt the system in their favor such that loss of power is near impossible.

            Still, makes you wonder why they don’t do that now. You are talking as if court-packing unleashes new powers. But it shouldn’t be any different than the powers that exist when the legislature+judiciary are controlled by the same party, as they are now. Court-packing would just ensure that this was always more often the case.

            @Deiseach
            The role of the judiciary is to tell us what the law means. If the Supreme Court “changes its mind” in the form of vote packing, then the interpretation of the law changes, thus the law changes. There’s no “free-floating law” independent of what the judiciary and legislature want it to be.

            If court-packing is legal, then the decisions rendered from court packing are the law.

            Its true that, under court-packing, judges would be more likely to toss out precedent, and much more likely to defer to the legislature, but none of this has anything to do with the loss of “rule of law”. They can, and do, toss precedent and defer to the legislate already.

          • Jack says:

            So either the threat is an empty one and the politicians are talking through their backsides, or the threat is not empty and ambitious judges who want to advance their career who are willing to indicate they will deliver verdicts of the ‘right’ kind exist, allied with a ferocious confirmation process where ‘unsuitable’ candidates will have no hope. Which is it?

            This question is ill-posed. There is a lot of room between judges who are somewhat more likely to rule the way the appointer prefers on the less constrained parts of constitutional interpretation and judges who will “toss out the rule of law”. The first kind of judge is who gets appointed in the USA these days.

            You can also see this a different way, and think that appointing “neutral” judges will be in party X’s favour because the “correct” interpretation of the constitution is the neutral one. It is party Y’s judges that are ideologically bent. Court packing is to outnumber the existing bad judges with good neutral judges. The fact that there are both Democrats and Republicans who think this of their and the other party’s appointees on issues like that in Citizens United and yet they all agree we shouldn’t toss out the rule of law is evidence of my claim.

          • Dan L says:

            @Conrad Honcho:

            You don’t jail your political opponents for having the wrong politics, obviously. You accuse them of being foreign agents, investigate everything ever done by anyone they’ve ever known and prosecute them for 10 year old tax crimes or process crimes or uncover their legal-but-sordid sex scandals and then leak them to a compliant press. This sends the very clear message to political opponents “Do Not Fuck With Us Or We Will Ruin Your Life.” It’s all perfectly legal, and the packed court just ensures the “legal” system will continue to play ball and swat down any challenges to your perfectly legal system.

            This is pretty clearly formulated as a shot at the Mueller investigation, but are you really posing this as a realistic description of current events? Never mind the evidence against for now – as a starter, it would seem to argue against the theory you yourself articulated a few open threads ago where the investigation was just a intelligence community fishing expedition seeking to cover its own ass with unenforceable indictments. I suppose I can come up with a few explanations to square that circle and encompass both, but then you’d be left pretty explicitly arguing for the existence of a bipartisan criminal conspiracy.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            it would seem to argue against the theory you yourself articulated a few open threads ago where the investigation was just a intelligence community fishing expedition seeking to cover its own ass with unenforceable indictments.

            The pretext for the Mueller probe was the investigation of Russian interference in the election [1], including the possibility the Russians colluded with the Trump campaign. The product of this was

            1) The indictment of Paul Manafort for 10 year old tax crimes that had nothing to do with Russia, with this election, or with Trump, for whom he was campaign manager for a whopping 3 months. The media however gets to run with “Mueller indicts Trump’s campaign manager in Trump-Russia probe.”

            2) The “confessions” of General Flynn and George Papadopolous on shaky process crimes that wouldn’t exist without the Mueller probe.

            3) Pre-dawn raids on the President’s lawyer’s office to snag that sweet evidence of sordid-but-legal sex scandals and maybe something to do with taxi cab medallions?

            Since none of this has anything to do with Russia or Russian interference in the election or Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, Mueller indicts a bunch of random Russians for buying FaceBook ads and some GRU agents for phishing passwords from the DNC. These people will never see the inside of a courtroom much less a jail cell, but now Mueller can pretend he found the Russians hiding under the bed and the media can count meaningless indictments to keep Democrats in a frothing rage that Trump and Putin conspired to steal the election. “Democrats and the media aren’t so clueless and inept to lose to Donald Freaking Trump, it was stolen by evil foreigners!”

            I suppose I can come up with a few explanations to square that circle and encompass both, but then you’d be left pretty explicitly arguing for the existence of a bipartisan criminal conspiracy.

            More like a Uniparty culture. The Democrats and about 50% of Republicans are two sides of the same coin who play fight over social issues but are lock step when it comes to the important stuff: foreign wars to benefit the MIC, cheap labor, financial interests and the consolidation of power in Washington. Call it what you want: the Uniparty, the swamp, the Cathedral. It’s former Clinton official turned ABC commentator Democrat George Stephanopoulos throwing a softball interview to former Republican FBI chief James Comey about this new book about how Trump is a bad, bad man before taking a job teaching ethics (haha!) at William & Mary. R, D, it doesn’t matter, these people are all on the same team, flitting between politics, government, media, higher ed, finance, K Street, etc, and Trump’s populist revolt is an existential threat to them. There is nothing they will not do to stop him because there are trillions of dollars at stake.

            [1] Also, the “Russia investigation” didn’t start with Mueller. It started with Hillary, Obama and the swamp creatures wanting to use the super scary government panopticon to spy on their political opponents. They needed some veneer of legality for using the tyranny machine that’s only supposed to be used on foreigners against their political opposition, so they accused FBI star counterintelligence witness Carter Page of being a knowing Russian agent and cooked up the phoney dossier to get the FISA warrant. No one was ever supposed to know about any of this. Hillary was supposed to win, the surveillance warrant would quietly expire and everybody was supposed to get a discrete pat on the back for a job well done. But then Trump won, the “Russia investigation” morphed into Peter Strzok’s “insurance policy” and Mueller’s gotta find him some Russians and here we are.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Let’s try this again because this is a long-ass post I wrote and it keeps getting eaten by the filter?

            it would seem to argue against the theory you yourself articulated a few open threads ago where the investigation was just a intelligence community fishing expedition seeking to cover its own ass with unenforceable indictments.

            The pretext for the Mueller probe was the investigation of Russian interference in the election [1], including the possibility the Russians colluded with the Trump campaign. The product of this was

            1) The indictment of Paul Manafort for 10 year old tax crimes that had nothing to do with Russia, with this election, or with Trump, for whom he was campaign manager for a whopping 3 months. The media however gets to run with “Mueller indicts Trump’s campaign manager in Trump-Russia probe.”

            2) The “confessions” of General Flynn and George Papadopolous on shaky process crimes that wouldn’t exist without the Mueller probe.

            3) Pre-dawn raids on the President’s lawyer’s office to snag that sweet evidence of sordid-but-legal sex scandals and maybe something to do with taxi cab medallions?

            Since none of this has anything to do with Russia or Russian interference in the election or Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, Mueller indicts a bunch of random Russians for buying FaceBook ads and some GRU agents for phishing passwords from the DNC. These people will never see the inside of a courtroom much less a jail cell, but now Mueller can pretend he found the Russians hiding under the bed and the media can count meaningless indictments to keep Democrats in a frothing rage that Trump and Putin conspired to steal the election. “Democrats and the media aren’t so clueless and inept to lose to Donald Freaking Trump, it was stolen by evil foreigners!”

            I suppose I can come up with a few explanations to square that circle and encompass both, but then you’d be left pretty explicitly arguing for the existence of a bipartisan criminal conspiracy.

            More like a Uniparty culture. The Democrats and about 50% of Republicans are two sides of the same coin who play fight over social issues but are lock step when it comes to the important stuff: foreign wars to benefit the MIC, cheap labor, financial interests and the consolidation of power in Washington. Call it what you want: the Uniparty, the swamp, the [word for a big church that’s maybe banned because death eaters?]. It’s former Clinton official turned ABC commentator Democrat George Stephanopoulos throwing a softball interview to former Republican FBI chief James Comey about this new book about how Trump is a bad, bad man before taking a job teaching ethics (haha!) at William & Mary. R, D, it doesn’t matter, these people are all on the same team, flitting between politics, government, media, higher ed, finance, K Street, etc, and Trump’s populist revolt is an existential threat to them. There is nothing they will not do to stop him because there are trillions of dollars at stake.

            [1] Also, the “Russia investigation” didn’t start with Mueller. It started with Hillary, Obama and the swamp creatures wanting to use the super scary government panopticon to spy on their political opponents. They needed some veneer of legality for using the tyranny machine that’s only supposed to be used on foreigners against their political opposition, so they accused FBI star counterintelligence witness Carter Page of being a knowing Russian agent and cooked up the phoney dossier to get the FISA warrant. No one was ever supposed to know about any of this. Hillary was supposed to win, the surveillance warrant would quietly expire and everybody was supposed to get a discrete pat on the back for a job well done. But then Trump won, the “Russia investigation” morphed into Peter Strzok’s “insurance policy” and Mueller’s gotta find him some Russians and here we are.

          • Dan L says:

            @Conrad Honcho:

            Let’s try this again because this is a long-ass post I wrote and it keeps getting eaten by the filter?

            I know I saw it appear as ~new at two different times, so something odd happened? In any case, I appreciate your persistence in battling WordPress, the reply is appreciated.

            I apologize in advance for rearranging your comment’s structure, but I think it allows for more value in my response:

            More like a Uniparty culture. The Democrats and about 50% of Republicans are two sides of the same coin who play fight over social issues but are lock step when it comes to the important stuff: foreign wars to benefit the MIC, cheap labor, financial interests and the consolidation of power in Washington. Call it what you want: the Uniparty, the swamp, the [word for a big church that’s maybe banned because death eaters?]. It’s former Clinton official turned ABC commentator Democrat George Stephanopoulos throwing a softball interview to former Republican FBI chief James Comey about this new book about how Trump is a bad, bad man before taking a job teaching ethics (haha!) at William & Mary. R, D, it doesn’t matter, these people are all on the same team, flitting between politics, government, media, higher ed, finance, K Street, etc, and Trump’s populist revolt is an existential threat to them. There is nothing they will not do to stop him because there are trillions of dollars at stake.

            It sounds like you’re evaluating Mueller’s investigation as part of a larger political narrative. I hate dealing with Grand Narratives – too many free variables, too many ways for evidence to be recontextualized to protect pet theories. It becomes difficult to deal with things on a scale smaller than full-on Culture War without a great deal of precision… but I think that effort is usually well-spent.

            The first point I’d like to make is the Democrats are very much divided on this axis as well, and I’m saying that as a professional swamp-dweller. Clinton won the 2016 Democratic primary convincingly, but not without more of a fight that one might have expected. I don’t give Sanders too much of that credit; not much effort is required to see broadly similar fractures between Hillary and then-candidate Obama in 2008.

            The second is that depending on exactly which of those industries one is in, “Trump’s populist revolt” has been great for business. Cable continues its long, unlamented death, but have you seen Maddow’s numbers? They’re outright disgusting. The financial markets certainly aren’t feeling what one might have expected from a “populist revolt”. And lobbying as an industry doesn’t seem to be feeling the restrictions any more than it did under Obama, which is to say that the restrictions exist but barely affect the already-successful.

            That’s not to extend the conspiracy, far from it. But I think there’s a definite Toxoplasma here, and Grand Narratives simply don’t have the finesse to escape the dynamic.

            More specific points about the investigation now.

            The pretext for the Mueller probe was the investigation of Russian interference in the election [1], including the possibility the Russians colluded with the Trump campaign. The product of this was

            […]

            [1] Also, the “Russia investigation” didn’t start with Mueller.

            (emphasis mine)

            There are definitely indications that Mueller’s investigation is leveraging some existing counterintelligence operations. To name one example, apparently Maria Butina has been on the FBI’s radar since 2015 or so*. But in any case it’s clear that the investigation includes resources that are still not privy to the public, and is still proceeding apace. I’m willing to wait for the inevitable Congressional report before describing it in the past tense.

            (*It is definitely worth noting that the Burtina case is not an offshoot of Mueller’s investigation in any formal sense, but the timing’s downright providential. I doubt Mueller’s team was unaware of it, or any other similar cases that might be ongoing.)

            I’ll also question your use of the word “pretext”. Mueller served as FBI director after being appointed by Bush and continued under Obama. He was picked for this position by Rod Rosenstein, after Jeff Sessions recused himself from the matter. The latter two are both Trump appointees. Of Mueller, Rosenstein, Sessions, and Trump, exactly which of them are “swamp creatures”? When did they earn this status? When did you realize they earned that status? If “swamp creature” just means “currently opposed to Trump’s goals” it’s an odious piece of pure rhetoric.

            It started with Hillary, Obama and the swamp creatures wanting to use the super scary government panopticon to spy on their political opponents. They needed some veneer of legality for using the tyranny machine that’s only supposed to be used on foreigners against their political opposition, so they accused FBI star counterintelligence witness Carter Page of being a knowing Russian agent and cooked up the phoney dossier to get the FISA warrant. No one was ever supposed to know about any of this. Hillary was supposed to win, the surveillance warrant would quietly expire and everybody was supposed to get a discrete pat on the back for a job well done. But then Trump won, the “Russia investigation” morphed into Peter Strzok’s “insurance policy” and Mueller’s gotta find him some Russians and here we are.

            Be careful not to confuse your arguments for your evidence. I’m not as well versed in Page’s case as others, but for now these conclusions are far enough down the inferential chain I wouldn’t put much weight on them. I’m content to wait to see what comes of Page.

            Glad Strzok’s out, though. Even before rendering moral judgement, he’s clearly fallen below a necessary level of professionalism.

            1) The indictment of Paul Manafort for 10 year old tax crimes that had nothing to do with Russia, with this election, or with Trump, for whom he was campaign manager for a whopping 3 months. The media however gets to run with “Mueller indicts Trump’s campaign manager in Trump-Russia probe.”

            Come on, you have to know that “10 year old tax crimes” is a massively disingenuous framing. The charges he’s currently facing allege a money laundering operation that started in 2006 but continued through till 2015. The freshest charge on the list is a point of bank fraud predating the investigation itself by a month.

            I’m honestly surprised to read you minimizing things, to be honest – surely Manafort is as swampy as they come? Or is the fact that he’s refused to turn state’s evidence enough to save him from that label?

            Because if he is a compromised “swamp creature”, it raises serious questions about how exactly he got on that campaign and the integrity of those he in turn recruited. Swamps spread on contact.

            2) The “confessions” of General Flynn and George Papadopolous on shaky process crimes that wouldn’t exist without the Mueller probe.

            Apply Pressure -> Catch Mistakes -> Flip Witness is pretty standard tactics for this sort of investigation. That’s not morally unimpeachable, but it is typical and I’m not seeing many unselfish calls to change that. It is a topic worth considering, but it’s certainly not an excuse.

            3) Pre-dawn raids on the President’s lawyer’s office to snag that sweet evidence of sordid-but-legal sex scandals and maybe something to do with taxi cab medallions?

            That raid was pretty extraordinary, which says interesting things about everyone involved. It looks now like Cohen is going to also turn state’s evidence. Does that make him a “swamp creature”? Were his former employers “swamp creatures”?

            Notably, Cohen’s case was referred from Mueller to the Southern District of New York – the implications being that Mueller acknowledges limits to his mandate and that there was no obvious link from Cohen to any Russian affairs. Very interesting, and worth watching as that case develops.

            Since none of this has anything to do with Russia or Russian interference in the election or Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, Mueller indicts a bunch of random Russians for buying FaceBook ads and some GRU agents for phishing passwords from the DNC. These people will never see the inside of a courtroom much less a jail cell, but now Mueller can pretend he found the Russians hiding under the bed and the media can count meaningless indictments to keep Democrats in a frothing rage that Trump and Putin conspired to steal the election. “Democrats and the media aren’t so clueless and inept to lose to Donald Freaking Trump, it was stolen by evil foreigners!”

            You put scare quotes around “confession” for Flynn and Papadopoulos, but they’re still involved. That’s not nothing. Manafort is on trial this very day. That’s not nothing. The GRU agents likely won’t see a courtroom, yes, but the evidence leading to their indictments isn’t nothing.

            I don’t subscribe to your frothing-rage narrative, everything about that screams more heat than light. If anyone wants to re-litigate the 2016 election but only has one bullet point on their list, they’re a colossal idiot.

            And now it’s time to open your model up for falsification:

            1) What outcomes from the Mueller probe would serve as evidence that it is in fact a professional investigation of legitimate concerns? Would it help if he started implicating some Democratic “swamp creatures”?

            2) What would it take to convince you personally that there was collusion between Russian officials and “the Trump campaign”? Are you holding out for convictions, or is the the refutation of alibis enough?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Of Mueller, Rosenstein, Sessions, and Trump, exactly which of them are “swamp creatures”? When did they earn this status? When did you realize they earned that status?

            Mueller. Rosenstein and Sessions I believe have just made mistakes.

            I’m honestly surprised to read you minimizing things, to be honest – surely Manafort is as swampy as they come? Or is the fact that he’s refused to turn state’s evidence enough to save him from that label?

            Manafort is basically a hired gun. I don’t think he really shares the culture of entrenched interests that comprise the swamp. My point is that he wouldn’t be being prosecuted if it weren’t for his having worked for Trump.

            And “turn state’s evidence?” For what? When one “turn’s state’s evidence” they’re being charged with the conspiracy they’re part of. You and your buddy knock over a liquor store. You both get charged with knocking over the liquor store. You plead guilty to the knocking over of the liquor store, and in exchange for leniency for the knocking over of the liquor store you testify against your accomplice in the knocking over of the liquor store. The cops don’t get to pick somebody up for shoplifting bubble gum and then give them the screws for the shoplifting until they finger somebody for double murder.

            So are you suggesting Trump was involved in Manafort’s tax schemes? I have not heard this before. What crime did Trump and Manafort commit together such that Manafort could turn state’s evidence against Trump? If it is not the tax schemes, what was it, and why hasn’t Manafort been charged with it yet?

            Apply Pressure -> Catch Mistakes -> Flip Witness is pretty standard tactics for this sort of investigation. That’s not morally unimpeachable, but it is typical and I’m not seeing many unselfish calls to change that. It is a topic worth considering, but it’s certainly not an excuse.

            Again, that’s not how turning state’s evidence works. You have to finger your co-conspirators, for the crime you’re pleading guilty to. Was Trump part of Flynn and Papadopolous’s lies? And they’re going to implicate Trump in lying with them…?

            What they did to Flynn and Papadopolous was the same plea bargaining scam they do all through the criminal justice system where they threaten you with piles of charges and financial ruin unless you take a plea, even though you didn’t commit the crime or don’t think you did. Their real crime was supporting Trump.

            RE: Frothing rage. Have you not seen the unhinged leftists screaming “F**K TRUMP” at the awards shows, holding up his bloody severed head, etc? Just go read /r/politics. The fact you don’t see the frothing rage makes me question your perceptions.

            And now it’s time to open your model up for falsification:

            1) What outcomes from the Mueller probe would serve as evidence that it is in fact a professional investigation of legitimate concerns?

            If he were to investigate other foreign interference in the election and foreign lobbying, particularly from China, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. I don’t doubt Russia interfered in our election, but it seems like pissing in the ocean. There is so much interference, from so many actors, that singling out Russia seems like ulterior motive to me. They’re small potatoes.

            Would it help if he started implicating some Democratic “swamp creatures”?

            Perhaps, so long as it had something to do with specifically Russian interference in the 2016 election. Not “find some Democrat and charge him with old tax crimes and process crimes.” For instance, the only US campaign we know colluded with Russians to influence the election was when Hillary and the DNC paid the law firm to pay Fusion GPS to pay British national Steele to pay Russian intelligence agents to make up stuff about Trump and Russian prostitutes. And yet there’s no investigation of that. If you really want to talk about “Russian attacks on our democracy,” the results of that one have been enormous, with large swaths of the country believing the President is illegitimate or blackmailed and demanding his impeachment.

            So, Mr. Mueller, please investigate the one of piece of Russian collusion we’re absolutely sure happened. The fact you don’t do that and instead are going after Trump associates for tax and process crimes really makes it seem like the goal is “find some way to punish people who work with Trump” and not “discover the extent to which Russians meddled in our election.”

            2) What would it take to convince you personally that there was collusion between Russian officials and “the Trump campaign”? Are you holding out for convictions, or is the the refutation of alibis enough?

            First off I would need someone to make a falsifiable claim as to what the “collusion” is. Does this require a quid pro quo? Coordination? Something. And I need specific actions taken by both the Russians and the Trump campaign. “Someone with a Russian-sounding name tried to talk to someone in Trump’s campaign once” doesn’t cut it as that sort of thing happens all the time. Also it would need to be with agents of the Russian government and not merely with someone from Russia.

            So I would need to know

            1) What exactly is the collusion?

            2) Why is it bad, and is it bad in a way that all the other politicking done with foreign nationals is not?

            Really for all of this I need some specifics. People keep talking about targets of Mueller’s investigation “flipping,” but never what the specific crime is that they’re going to flip on. They keep talking about “collusion” but don’t define what that is, what the specific actions were, and why they’re uniquely bad.

            Likewise, what would it take to convince you that Trump did not collude with the Russians? If Mueller is not able to charge Trump or Trump associates as co-conspirators with Russians in election-related crimes, will that just mean Trump was too clever a criminal to get caught?

          • Matt M says:

            How bout this one?

            SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – New details emerged Wednesday about how a mole for the government of communist China managed to stay by Senator Dianne Feinstein’s side for nearly 20 years.

            It happened five years ago, but additional information is just surfacing about how the Bay Area senator’s office was infiltrated by a Chinese spy.

            The Bay Area is a hotbed for Russian and Chinese espionage. Late last year, the feds shut down the Russian consulate in San Francisco.

            It’s nice of them to make sure to assert RUSSIA IS ALSO EVIL AND DANGEROUS into an article entirely about a Chinese spy working for a Democrat tho

          • Doctor Mist says:

            When one “turn’s state’s evidence” they’re being charged with the conspiracy they’re part of.

            Huh. Today I learned.

            Still, it strikes me that Dan L is just being sloppy about the terminology (in a way I would have been before seeing your wikipedia link). My understanding is that cops threaten somebody with prosecution for minor crimes All The Time, if they think the threatenee can give them useful information about some more major crime, whether they were explicitly a part of it or not. OK, that’s not “turning state’s evidence”, but it’s a perfectly plausible interpretation of what went on with General Flynn.

            (Not that I approve of what went on with General Flynn. I’m mainly on your side regarding the Mueller investigation.)

          • Dan L says:

            @Conrad Honcho:

            Of Mueller, Rosenstein, Sessions, and Trump, exactly which of them are “swamp creatures”? When did they earn this status? When did you realize they earned that status?

            Mueller. Rosenstein and Sessions I believe have just made mistakes.

            Thank you for the clarification, but I still want something like an operating definition of “swamp creature” that isn’t just a rhetorical slur.

            Manafort is basically a hired gun. I don’t think he really shares the culture of entrenched interests that comprise the swamp. My point is that he wouldn’t be being prosecuted if it weren’t for his having worked for Trump.

            “Hired gun” sounds pretty swampy, we are both talking about the international influence peddler, yes? But I guess I can’t confirm that correspondence without a more precise definition. Ball’s in your court.

            And “turn state’s evidence?” For what? When one “turn’s state’s evidence” they’re being charged with the conspiracy they’re part of. […] The cops don’t get to pick somebody up for shoplifting bubble gum and then give them the screws for the shoplifting until they finger somebody for double murder.

            Again, that’s not how turning state’s evidence works. You have to finger your co-conspirators, for the crime you’re pleading guilty to. Was Trump part of Flynn and Papadopolous’s lies? And they’re going to implicate Trump in lying with them…?

            I suppose you’re envisioning a narrower range of tactics than I. In some sense, yes, state’s evidence only applies narrowly to a specified charge. But we’ve already seen Mueller take advantage of some unorthodox types of immunity “deals”, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if a case was being built with Flynn and Papadopolous’ testimony that had yet to be released publicly. “Give us a bigger fish and we’ll stop looking, otherwise I guess you’re as good as we get and we might as well drop the hammer” isn’t the most kosher tactic, but it’s not unusual. Also, pretty effective.

            What they did to Flynn and Papadopolous was the same plea bargaining scam they do all through the criminal justice system where they threaten you with piles of charges and financial ruin unless you take a plea, even though you didn’t commit the crime or don’t think you did. Their real crime was supporting Trump.

            Again, I can’t help but see this as an isolated plea for leniency. Ken White gets to claim he’s been against this practice all along but it’s less credible when it’s coming from the prosecuted’s allies. Same deal as with FISA Court – if the Republicans want to reform it I’m all in favor, but until then I can’t condone one-off leniency.

            RE: Frothing rage. Have you not seen the unhinged leftists screaming “F**K TRUMP” at the awards shows, holding up his bloody severed head, etc? Just go read /r/politics. The fact you don’t see the frothing rage makes me question your perceptions.

            I browse /r/all enough to be aware of what passes for political sophistication on that sub. I repeat: colossal idiots. If you want to argue on their level, be my guest.

            (Standard complaint about the term “leftists” being thrown around too often and too broadly on SSC, but that’s a digression.)

            If he were to investigate other foreign interference in the election and foreign lobbying, particularly from China, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. I don’t doubt Russia interfered in our election, but it seems like pissing in the ocean. There is so much interference, from so many actors, that singling out Russia seems like ulterior motive to me. They’re small potatoes.

            That’s your prior, anyway. Neither of us can prove it one way to the other.

            But Mueller’s mandate is what singles out Russia, and if you take exception to that blame Rosenstein. Or are you saying you want Mueller to dramatically expand the scope of his investigation?

            Perhaps, so long as it had something to do with specifically Russian interference in the 2016 election.

            Wait, but you just said… but… oh, nevermind.

            Not “find some Democrat and charge him with old tax crimes and process crimes.” For instance, the only US campaign we know colluded with Russians to influence the election was when Hillary and the DNC paid the law firm to pay Fusion GPS to pay British national Steele to pay Russian intelligence agents to make up stuff about Trump and Russian prostitutes. And yet there’s no investigation of that. If you really want to talk about “Russian attacks on our democracy,” the results of that one have been enormous, with large swaths of the country believing the President is illegitimate or blackmailed and demanding his impeachment.

            First off, this is classic whataboutism.

            Secondly, glancing downcomment this looks like a massive double standard. You can’t both be sure that this happened and it’s definitely collusion and later pretend that you don’t know what people mean by collusion.

            Third, noted. If the Mueller investigation does implicate Democrats, I’m glad you have committed to updating on the evidence. I honestly don’t think it’ll come up, but it’s something and it’s real.

            First off I would need someone to make a falsifiable claim as to what the “collusion” is. Does this require a quid pro quo? Coordination? Something. And I need specific actions taken by both the Russians and the Trump campaign. “Someone with a Russian-sounding name tried to talk to someone in Trump’s campaign once” doesn’t cut it as that sort of thing happens all the time. Also it would need to be with agents of the Russian government and not merely with someone from Russia.

            Offering my own sketch of a definition, I would call collusion something like “the offering or solicitation of illegal services (i.e. campaign support) by one party, and acceptance by the other”. But you are correct in that this is not a legal definition, and the gap between an assessed probability of “collusion” and legal proof of a crime is significant. Still, evidence of malfeasance can be gathered without knowing the specific target.

            2) Why is it bad, and is it bad in a way that all the other politicking done with foreign nationals is not?

            Oh, I’m no fan of politicking with foreign nationals. But the legal line has to be drawn somewhere, and I tend to argue for the enforcement of laws.

            Really for all of this I need some specifics. People keep talking about targets of Mueller’s investigation “flipping,” but never what the specific crime is that they’re going to flip on. They keep talking about “collusion” but don’t define what that is, what the specific actions were, and why they’re uniquely bad.

            Don’t give much credence to “people” who aren’t being filtered for competence. No, the outrage industry that masquerades as the media is not such a filter. And I mean “media” much more broadly than is typical.

            Likewise, what would it take to convince you that Trump did not collude with the Russians? If Mueller is not able to charge Trump or Trump associates as co-conspirators with Russians in election-related crimes, will that just mean Trump was too clever a criminal to get caught?

            I’m glad you asked! No, seriously – I look forward to opportunities to expose my beliefs for falsification. But to answer your question, you’ll notice I specified “the Trump campaign” earlier. That’s because I have always realistically entertained the notion that people within Trump’s campaign are guilty of “collusion” but that the rot doesn’t extend to Trump personally*. Every uneventful day that passes is weak evidence of innocence not-guilt, and if Mueller presents a report exonerating Trump I’m prepared to accept it. But even at a break-neck speed, we have a long way to go. Buckle up.

            *Worst case scenario – Trump himself is innocent but Trump Jr. is implicated and convicted. 45 pardons, and we get a full-blown Constitutional crisis.

          • Dan L says:

            @ Matt M

            Why did you choose to link that tumor of a website when the original reporting is far superior? Please don’t feed in to the outrage industry.

          • Dan L says:

            Please forgive me if I’m somewhat terse here, this is my third attempt at a response. Every time I try to meaningfully engage on this website, the technical implementation of the comments section reminds me why I usually don’t bother.

            @Conrad Honcho:

            Of Mueller, Rosenstein, Sessions, and Trump, exactly which of them are “swamp creatures”? When did they earn this status? When did you realize they earned that status?

            Mueller. Rosenstein and Sessions I believe have just made mistakes.

            You forgot Trump. That’s not glib – he’s been in and around politics for quite a while now, surely he has a noteworthy record.

            The clarification is appreciated, but I’m still holding out for an operating definition of “swamp creature” that’s more than a rhetorical slur.

            Manafort is basically a hired gun. I don’t think he really shares the culture of entrenched interests that comprise the swamp. My point is that he wouldn’t be being prosecuted if it weren’t for his having worked for Trump.

            “Hired gun” sounds pretty swampy – we’re both talking about the international influence peddler, right? This is one of those points where a definition would be helpful.

            And “turn state’s evidence?” For what? When one “turn’s state’s evidence” they’re being charged with the conspiracy they’re part of. […] The cops don’t get to pick somebody up for shoplifting bubble gum and then give them the screws for the shoplifting until they finger somebody for double murder.

            You have to finger your co-conspirators, for the crime you’re pleading guilty to. Was Trump part of Flynn and Papadopolous’s lies?

            I suppose you’re assuming a narrower tactical range than I. Sure, state’s evidence is technically a narrow technique, but we’ve already seen Mueller take advantage of some unconventional immunity “deals” to further his cases. There’s nothing to prevent a prosecutor from inviting a target to divert their attention to a bigger target, and I would be surprised if Flynn and Papadopolous don’t end up contributing to another case down the line. (Count that as a falsifiable prediction.) By the same logic, Manafort might be expected to know more dirt than Mueller can necessarily pin on him in a court of law. That could be worth pursuing.

            What they did to Flynn and Papadopolous was the same plea bargaining scam they do all through the criminal justice system where they threaten you with piles of charges and financial ruin unless you take a plea, even though you didn’t commit the crime or don’t think you did. Their real crime was supporting Trump.

            Ken White gets to argue he’s been against this practice all along, but in partisan matters I’m going to doubt just about everyone else. Same deal as FISA court – as soon as the Republicans want to push legitimate reform I’ll back them, but one-off leniency is suspect.

            RE: Frothing rage. Have you not seen the unhinged leftists screaming “F**K TRUMP” at the awards shows, holding up his bloody severed head, etc? Just go read /r/politics. The fact you don’t see the frothing rage makes me question your perceptions.

            I browse /r/all often enough to get a sense of the place, but I repeat: colossal idiots. I don’t recommend using that as a benchmark for the quality of your arguments.

            (Insert typical complaint about SCC comment section’s overuse of the term “leftist”, but that’s really a digression here.)

            If he were to investigate other foreign interference in the election and foreign lobbying, particularly from China, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. I don’t doubt Russia interfered in our election, but it seems like pissing in the ocean. There is so much interference, from so many actors, that singling out Russia seems like ulterior motive to me. They’re small potatoes.

            That “ulterior motive” flows from the mandate written by Rosenstein. Are you arguing that Mueller should dramatically increase the scope of his investigation?

            Perhaps, so long as it had something to do with specifically Russian interference in the 2016 election.

            Wait, but you just said… but… oh, nevermind.

            Not “find some Democrat and charge him with old tax crimes and process crimes.” For instance, the only US campaign we know colluded with Russians to influence the election was when Hillary and the DNC paid the law firm to pay Fusion GPS to pay British national Steele to pay Russian intelligence agents to make up stuff about Trump and Russian prostitutes. And yet there’s no investigation of that. If you really want to talk about “Russian attacks on our democracy,” the results of that one have been enormous, with large swaths of the country believing the President is illegitimate or blackmailed and demanding his impeachment.

            First, this is classic whataboutism.

            Second, glancing downcomment reveals a massive double standard. You can’t both declare this to be collusion and claim not to know what collusion refers to.

            Third, noted. I don’t expect a Democrat to be implicated, but if it does I’ll hold you to that update.

            First off I would need someone to make a falsifiable claim as to what the “collusion” is. Does this require a quid pro quo? Coordination? Something. And I need specific actions taken by both the Russians and the Trump campaign. “Someone with a Russian-sounding name tried to talk to someone in Trump’s campaign once” doesn’t cut it as that sort of thing happens all the time. Also it would need to be with agents of the Russian government and not merely with someone from Russia.

            If I were to sketch out a definition of “collusion”, it would be something like “the offering or solicitation of illegal services (i.e. campaign contribution) by one party, and acceptance by the other”. You’d be right that that’s not a legal standard, but it’s still something worth talking about.

            Keep in mind that plausible deniability is a useful thing though, and as such is actively used – no points are awarded for pointing out that Natalia Veselnitskaya isn’t officially a government agent.

            1) What exactly is the collusion?

            TBD. This investigation really is moving quite quickly, but that’s a relative thing.

            2) Why is it bad, and is it bad in a way that all the other politicking done with foreign nationals is not?

            Oh, I’m not a fan of other politicking either. But the legal line has to be drawn at some place, and I generally argue in favor of enforcing the law.

            Really for all of this I need some specifics. People keep talking about targets of Mueller’s investigation “flipping,” but never what the specific crime is that they’re going to flip on. They keep talking about “collusion” but don’t define what that is, what the specific actions were, and why they’re uniquely bad.

            I wouldn’t put much stock on what “people” keep saying when “people” isn’t a group that’s being filtered for competence. No, the outrage industry posing as informative media. And that group is a hell of a lot broader than merely “the media”.

            Likewise, what would it take to convince you that Trump did not collude with the Russians? If Mueller is not able to charge Trump or Trump associates as co-conspirators with Russians in election-related crimes, will that just mean Trump was too clever a criminal to get caught?

            I’ll call your attention to the fact that I specified “the Trump campaign”. I think there is a non-negligible chance that the rot reached pretty high, but Trump himself isn’t criminally liable*. I count every passing day as weak evidence in favor of everyone not currently indicted, but the significant piece is going to be Mueller’s report. If he finds nothing on Trump personally, I’m prepared to accept that.

            And if he gets in front of a camera to publicly berate Trump for being “extremely careless” but without accompanying charges, I’m going to have a fucking aeurysm.

            *Worst case scenario – Mueller exonerates Trump, but gets a conviction of Trump Jr. 45 uses the pardon. All hell breaks loose.

        • engleberg says:

          Re: What outcomes from the Mueller probe would convince you that it is in fact a professional investigation of legitimate concerns?

          If Mueller went back to the Clintons taking a half-billion dollar bribe from Microsoft’s competitors, and appointing the lawyers who covered for them to high office in the FBI and Justice Department, now investigating Hillary’s opponent, I would see Mueller as a legitimate prosecutor. Otherwise never.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            engleberg,

            I get where you’re coming from, but surely that would be completely and unambiguously outside Mueller’s mandate. I mean, he’s already strayed a ways from his mandate, but there’s a narrative you can tell to try and justify it. But there are limits.

          • Dan L says:

            I said “serve as evidence”, you responded to “would convince you”. This is why I don’t like Grand Narratives – an interdependent inferential web quickly falls into a few predicable failure modes.

          • engleberg says:

            Re: that would be clearly and unambiguously outside Mueller’s mandate-

            It’s an adversarial process. Mueller has a clear and unambiguous duty to respond to his adversary Trump saying ‘this whole thing is fake’.

            Re: I said ‘serve as evidence’, you responded to ‘would convince you’-

            It would serve as evidence that would convince me. Whoa, that was tough.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            It’s an adversarial process. Mueller has a clear and unambiguous duty to respond to his adversary Trump saying ‘this whole thing is fake’.

            Ah, I guess I misunderstood your point. You’re not merely saying that the alleged Clinton crimes are worse and therefore much more worth investigating, but rather that those pursuing the alleged Trump crimes are doing so as part of a quid pro quo, or at least a cozy relationship, stemming from their alleged coverup of the alleged Clinton crimes.

            I don’t disagree. I’d love to see somebody wipe that smirk off Strzok’s face and force him to at least get honest work somewhere.

            But I do share Dan L’s worries about the Grand Narrative, despite my history of worries about the Deep State. Mueller was appointed to the FBI by Bush, and Rosenstein was appointed to his current job by Trump himself, and was instrumental in the case to fire Comey. If your model is that they are toadies of the Clinton Crime Family, they seem like unlikely candidates. If the final outcome of their investigation is that nobody on Trump’s team did anything particularly wrong, their background means that they’ll be excoriated as toadies of the Trump Crime Family instead.

          • engleberg says:

            Re: those pursuing Trump are part of the Clinton Crime Family-

            Some are. All are D party or Never Trump R like Bush.

            Re: If the final outcome of their investigation is that Trump did nothing wrong-

            There’s a big gap between ‘nothing wrong’ and ‘demands investigating and impeachment’. If a special prosecutor had investigated Obama’s real estate deal when he moved to Washington, they’d have found a lot more than Mueller’s found on Trump. And they’d have been wildly overreaching into politicized persecution, like D and Never Trump are now.

            Trump has no obvious smoking gun. Like a 1.5 billion dollar slush fundation started with half a billion from Microsoft’s competitors for sending the Justice Department after Microsoft. I liked the dot-com boom. Really can’t believe the Clintons are acceptably honest, they just accept billion-dollar donations to their favorite charity from people they do favors for.

          • Dan L says:

            @engleberg:

            It’s an adversarial process. Mueller has a clear and unambiguous duty to respond to his adversary Trump saying ‘this whole thing is fake’.

            That doesn’t even slightly resemble how this works. You can’t expect to have an accurate impression of politics if you don’t understand standard procedure.

            It would serve as evidence that would convince me. Whoa, that was tough.

            You are committing a pretty serious epistemological error. I could go into detail, or you could read the previously posted link.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            engleberg,

            You and I are mostly on the same side, I promise. I agree that “Trump has no obvious smoking gun”: in contrast to Watergate, nobody has even pointed to any clearly defined crime, which would surely be a prerequisite to pinning such a crime on Trump or his associates. I also agree that there is a lot that looks shady about the Clinton Foundation, and even Snopes is willing to agree that Obama’s net worth was multiplied by 7 during his time in office.

            What I’m trying to get you to see is that your argument regarding Trump is stronger if you don’t keep dragging in the other matters. It makes you look unnecessarily partisan yourself, exactly what you are decrying in others. (It’s too late for this thread, of course.)

          • engleberg says:

            Re: it makes you look excessively partisan, exactly what you are decrying in others-

            No, I’m exactly decrying taking 1.5 billion in bribes, appointing the lawyers who cover for me to the FBI and Justice department, then sending them after my annoying political opponent who beat me. Partisanship is fine by me.

            Re: you are committing a pretty serious epistemological error.

            When did you start thinking epistemology meant the above?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            OK, my mistake. I thought the subject was Mueller.

      • Erusian says:

        I’m not a legal historian, but my understanding is that the Supreme Court has gradually taken on a more active role in our legal system over the past 200 years, starting from a point of extremely high deference to the legislature, to the modern day where Supreme Court rulings are scarcely distinguishable from lawmaking. A smack-down of judicial power in the form of looming appointments would make it more subservient and in-line with the legislature, like it was in its early days.

        The Supreme Court has not been slowly getting more powerful, it declared it had significant powers in 1803. Prior to that, it had no ability to declare legislation unconstitutional, for example. After that, it operated in a fashion recognizable to us today. For example, it ruled on a slavery case and tried to basically declare the slavery debate over. Jackson fought mightily with it over the legality of his policies. So, it would be returning to the early days before Thomas Jefferson was President.

        Strategically, I think advocating for court-packing is a better move than Scott gives it credit for. It’s not like the Democrats gain nothing from saying it: one lesson from the whole post 2016 what-went-wrong analysis, is that people want to vote for politicians who actually fight for what they believe in. Clinton’s problem was that she promised nothing, believed in nothing, and would deliver nothing more than the status quo. Saying “we’re going to give you X, whether the Supreme Court lets us or not!” is a winning line. People generally don’t care about the Supreme Court, but they definitely care about X, and they like politicians who are willing to fight for it.

        And packing the court is not “winning forever”, as Scott says. Its winning until you lose control of the legislature. I mean, the Constitution is still in effect, so we would still have elections, and when the next party gets in power, they would pack the court in the manner that suited them. As for the premptive backfire threat- I don’t think its serious. The Republican coalition is too fragmented. Remember, there was some question as to whether Trump even had the votes to get boring old Kavanaugh through. (Not that I think the Democrats have any better of chance of getting a court-packing measure through if they gain power- but it does help excite voters for the 2018 election, and that’s what matters)

        True. I agree it’s strategically sound. But norms and rhetoric are important. It was strategically sound to be highly partisan and obstructionist to the unpopular President Bush II towards the end of his term. To throw away bipartisan norms. Then the Democrats screamed when the Republicans used their same tactics against Obama. And now that’s the norm.

        It’s important not to throw away norms to win because otherwise it becomes a race to the bottom.

        • Guy in TN says:

          It’s important not to throw away norms to win because otherwise it becomes a race to the bottom.

          Its not that the norms are in-of-themselves good, they are a detente, a truce based on fear of mutual harm. They only makes sense, from a strategic pov, if the two parties are of relatively equal power. It’s the reason why the Libertarian and Green Parties don’t have the same norms applied to them during elections. The math changes when one party can no longer harm the other in equal proportions.

          The Democrats are likely banking on the prospects of long-term electoral domination, based on demographics, and are wanting to start laying the groundwork to be able to re-shape things when that times comes, unencumbered by these norms. So, ratcheting up the rhetoric for things like statehood for territories, court-packing, ect, is a good plan for them to get started now, since it will likely be a decade or more before these come into fruition.

          • Erusian says:

            Fair point. It’s one hell of a gamble, though. I feel like Democrats have been about to dominate everything for decades. Still hasn’t happened yet.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            The general sentiment among the… feistier Democrats is that the Republicans have already broken detente on a variety of issues. And that continuing to follow pre-2010 norms is equivalent repeatedly choosing “cooperate” in an iterated prisoner’s dilemma where the opposition is repeatedly choosing “defect” and has signaled its willingness to continue doing so whenever convenient.

            Thus, for instance, the Republicans in the Senate punting the vote on a replacement for Antonin Scalia until after the election when Gorsuch could be appointed feels, to Democrats, like a betrayal of the overall principle that the sitting president gets to appoint Supreme Court justices.

            If Red Tribe feels entitled to ignore the principle that when it’s Blue Tribe’s turn to sit in the big chair, Blue Tribe gets to nominate Council Elders even if Red Tribe retains veto power… Well, Blue Tribe is going to start viewing the rules around appointing Council Elders with considerably more cynicism.

            Similar cynicism is emerging among feisty Democrats on other issues, at both the federal and state levels. Basically, the more parliamentary shenanigans, rule-bending, and violation of unspoken norms you engage in, the more blatantly your opponent starts talking about violating the same norms. And this is an iterative process that is perfectly capable of spiraling out of control if either side fails to exercise self-control about not grabbing for literally everything it can get.

          • Erusian says:

            And the general sentiment among the feistier Republicans is that the Democrats have broken detente too. It’s never very hard to pile up evidence there. We’re already stuck in something resembling the bad state of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

            There are (imo) basically two ways to solve it. The first is an outside party (preferably the American people) starts punishing defectors on both sides. The big trouble here is that few people actually care about democracy as such: they care about policy victories. Do the Democrats care about all the parliamentary BS and strained legal logic that was pulled to get the ACA through? Do you think Republicans care about why they have Gorsuch or more conservative judges?

            If anything, it seems like both parties’ bases are increasingly embracing charismatic, national leaders who lead by force of personality. Both sides seem like they’re becoming parties of people and not laws, to appropriate a term.

            The second is some sort of independent monitoring, but that’s difficult in the American system because it’s baked in that the administrative state is under the thumb of elected officials. And on top of that, one of the party’s is ideologically anti-administrative state.

      • Alex Zavoluk says:

        My understanding of SCOTUS history is the reverse of yours. They had for a long time been willing to declare mundane laws unconstitutional, under a strict interpretation of the 9th and 10th amendments. Anything that wasn’t explicitly called out as a federal government power in the Constitution, the US government couldn’t do. This changed during the 30s, when the Court was prepared to rule against many of FDR’s recovery programs, and so he threatened to pack the court, and SCOTUS gave in.

      • Anonymous` says:

        The Constitution is still in effect

        We’re only one more activist justice away from this ceasing to be true.

    • Vosmyorka says:

      Well, you would have to strike down Roe v. Wade in order to return abortion to the states; it was the Roe decision that took the matter out of the purview of the states in the first place, so as long as it is not explicitly overturned, the matter has not been returned to the states.

      Roberts generally likes to make the narrowest decisions possible (from a legal standpoint; ones changing the status quo as little as possible), and is strongly averse to explicitly overturning precedent, especially in ways that are very public; I cannot off the top of my head think of non-unanimous cases where he’s joined a majority that overruled a precedent other than Citizens United, Trump v. Hawaii, and Janus. Unless Trump gets to replace a liberal Justice, or replaces Roberts himself, I would stick with the 99% probability that Roe won’t be overturned. I do think it’s likely that Roberts steadily reduces the law’s scope, but I don’t imagine Roe getting overturned except in the aftermath of a more explicitly religious-right President than GWB being elected.

      Court-packing is, right now, a proposal at the very left end of the Democratic Party; I think it existed on the right end of the Republican Party during the Obama years. It would essentially serve to make the Court subservient to the political moment, since every incoming President nowadays comes in with a congressional majority built up over the preceding President’s midterms, and make whoever is in office at a given moment more powerful, which I think is something neither party seriously wants in such a polarized moment. Likelier departures of norms by a near-future Democratic majority are abolition or serious curtailing of the filibuster; SMLs of both parties have been reducing its scope since 2013 and it seems both parties agree it should eventually be done away with, if not right now; and Puerto Rican statehood, since it seems right now that both enthusiasm for statehood and enthusiasm for the Democratic Party on the island are at historic highs.

      • Mercrono says:

        Trump v. Hawaii didn’t involve overruling precedent; the majority and dissent disagreed on the proper way to construe the relevant precedent, but that happens all the time).

        But Roberts did join the plurality in McDonald v. City of Chicago, which incorporated the Second Amendment against the states, and in effect overruled three nineteenth-century cases (Cruikshank, Presser, Miller) that had held that the Second Amendment was only a limit on Congress. Of course, these cases preceded — and were sharply out of step with — all of the Court’s twentieth century “incorporation” cases, so this practical overruling of precedent was hardly surprising or significant.

        Citizens United, McDonald, and Janus were also all cases in which the Court overturned precedent that was (in the Court’s view) erroneously permitting ongoing constitutional violations. The Court is much more likely to overturn precedent in that direction (in favor of greater constitutional protections) than the converse (in favor of lesser constitutional protections). To my knowledge, the last time the Court formally did the latter was in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, in 1937. In large part for this reason, I think it’s fairly unlikely — maybe around a 25% chance — that the Roberts Court (with Kavanaugh) will formally overturn Roe (as modified by Casey).

        • Vosmyorka says:

          I was referring to Trump v. Hawaii non-unanimously overruling Korematsu, which was a minor part of the decision but received a lot of press in the popular media. You are correct that I shamefully forgot McDonald, which was a significant case.

          The point that the Court has not overruled precedent that protects constitutional rights since the 1930s is an interesting one, though it seems like if a liberal majority were to come on to the court anytime in the near future overturning Citizens United would be likely to be among the first acts of business, which would end that streak.

          • Mercrono says:

            Oh, good call on Korematsu — I hadn’t been thinking about that side of Trump v. Hawaii, because obviously that case isn’t really operable precedent today, but you’re right that it purports to overrule the decision (though to be fair, that point would certainly get unanimous support in a case where it was clearly presented).

      • Iain says:

        I cannot off the top of my head think of non-unanimous cases where he’s joined a majority that overruled a precedent other than Citizens United, Trump v. Hawaii, and Janus.

        Shelby County v. Holder?

        • Mercrono says:

          Shelby County is a relatively aggressive, non-deferential decision (as is basically any case holding unconstitutional an act of Congress), but it doesn’t really involve overturning precedent. Katzenbach upheld Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (the pre-clearance requirement) on the ground that “exceptional conditions can justify legislative measures not otherwise appropriate.” But Shelby County didn’t overrule Katzenbach. It simply held that while the coverage formula for states subject to Section 4 may once have been permissible, it no longer was, in light of dramatically changed circumstances.

          I’m not saying the decision is necessarily correct, but it’s a different sort of issue than the flat reconsideration of (purportedly) erroneous precedent, like in Citizens United and Janus, and kind of McDonald.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Shelby is also egregiously wrong. Congress is explicitly allowed to act to secure voting rights – That is very explict in the reconstruction amendments, the voting rights act was duly legislated and renewed.. and a as a question of fact, as soon as Shelby vent into effect, states set about fucking people out of their voting rights.

    • S_J says:

      Does anyone who is looking at this mention that Planned Parenthood vs. Casey has already superceded most of the findings and logic of Roe vs. Wade?

      Conversely, does anyone think that the Supreme Court should revisit Doe vs. Bolton first? That is where the “right to privacy” was first mentioned, if I recall correctly.

      It seems like the public discussion is so fixed on the most-famous Supreme Court case that commentators have lost the ability to study the history of the decisions, and see how well (or poorly) the decisions fit into the history of Constitutional Law.

      • Erusian says:

        For those of you mentioning any changes to abortion being a constitutional right involve overturning Roe v Wade, this. Roe v Wade is famous so it gets 90% of the attention but it’s not the only case about abortion.

        • S_J says:

          As I look back at it, I may have mis-identified Doe vs. Bolton…I was likely thinking of Griswold vs. Connecticut, as identified by @EugeneDawn below.

          A judicial finding that States could limit abortions based on scientific/medical advances since the 1970s (detection of fetal heartbeat, detection of fetal brain-waves, advances in premature-birth survival rates, something similar) would be called “repeal of Roe vs. Wade” by many partisans.

    • Deiseach says:

      My opinion, which is worthless:

      (a) Roe vs Wade is terrible law. Emanations belong in a Blake poem, not a court of law.
      (b) Nevertheless, for social reasons, nobody wants to touch this. The whole “keep your rosaries off my ovaries” narrative is too entrenched, there will be screaming blue murder if it was attempted.

      I also think packing a court is a horrible notion, it’s taking away from the interpretation and rule of law and making the court a political arm of the government in power. The legislative power is already established, if they want to make laws they have the avenue to do so. Deciding cases not on the established law and precedent but on “am I Team Green or Team Purple?” is as bad as going back to the days of Titus Oates. Anyone who cares about justice should be appalled.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        The “emanations” are actually from Griswold v. Connecticut, not Roe.

        • Eric Rall says:

          The majority opinion in Roe cited Griswold and explicitly referenced its “penumbras and emanations” logic (search the text of the decision for “penumbras”) as one of several precedents for a constitutionally-protected “right of privacy” that could be protected under a 14th Amendment substantive due process doctrine. My read is that Roe did rely in part on Griswold, but was part of a process of backing away from the “penumbras and emanation” doctrine in favor of less-dubious arguments.

          • Vosmyorka says:

            I’ve always found the justification of the right to privacy based on the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to be very strange, since it is nearly explicitly written in the 4th:

            “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

            Hard to read “the right to be secure in their persons and effects” as not meaning a right to privacy, to be honest. It seems to me that Founding Fathers using modern phrasing would have written in a right to privacy here.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Yes, the 4th Amendment does enumerate a right to privacy, but it’s a different sort of privacy than the one the Justices talk about in Roe and Griswold. The 4th protects very specifically against the feds rifling through your stuff, seizing it as evidence, holding you for questioning, etc without jumping through the appropriate procedural hoops to establish the violation of your privacy as “reasonable”.

            The “right to privacy” in the context of Roe and Griswold is different and broader than the 4th Amendment right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. According to what I remember of the constitutional law lecture series I listened to a while back (Mary Cheh’s “Sum and Substance: Constitutional Law”), the Roe/Griswold right to privacy is more appropriately thought of as a right to bodily autonomy and intimate association. The “bodily autonomy” part does have some adjacency to the 4th Amendment , but it’s a lot broader than just a right “to be secure in their persons … against unreasonable searches and seizures”.

            Griswold’s “penumbras and emanations” argument is a confession that the text of 4th Amendment and other constitutionally enumerated provisions don’t stretch to cover the issues at hand, but they do show the framers caring about privacy in general (this is historically dubious: the 4th amendment in particular was a reaction against specific procedural abuses in anti-smuggling law enforcement in the pre-revolutionary period), so the court will apply a broadly-defined general right to privacy anyway.

          • SamChevre says:

            But I’d note that in Griswold, the “penumbras” were from the very-well-established rules of privacy in marriage (for example, spouses can’t be required to testify against one another). “Penumbras and emanations” of the 4th Amendment’s “secure in their persons and effects” seems a bit more of a reach.

          • Deiseach says:

            the “penumbras” were from the very-well-established rules of privacy in marriage

            So how does that apply to the unmarried, as in the Roe case where an unmarried woman was seeking an abortion? If there’s no marriage, then there can be no privacy expectations. And if being married has nothing to do with having sex and getting pregnant, then the other marital privacy (e.g. not compelled to testify against a spouse) is out of place here also.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Also, keep in mind abortion laws restrict providers, not the women. The power of the government to regulate the medical profession, banning medical providers from performing abortions doesn’t have anything to do with the right of a woman to be secure in her person.

          • Adam Kadmon says:

            The power of the government to regulate the medical profession, banning medical providers from performing abortions doesn’t have anything to do with the right of a woman to be secure in her person.

            Granting that this is a distinction, is it a difference? Consider:

            “The power of the government to regulate interstate commerce, by banning the import, manufacture and sale of any and all firearms, doesn’t have anything to do with the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

            My intuition is that medical care is rather intimately tied to being secure in one’s person. If President McCarthy made the DTaP vaccine a Schedule 1 drug I’d certainly consider my bodily autonomy to be in jeopardy.

    • zzzzort says:

      The most generous explanation I’ve heard about the court packing strategy is that discussing it is a warning shot to the supreme court. Talking about turning the court into a partisan institution focuses people’s attention on the partisan nature of the current court, and the ways in which it does not reflect popular will. It is a threat to the legitimacy of the court, and justices care about the legitimacy of the court (which is very reasonable for an institution without the direct democratic legitimacy and which the other branches can, and have!, ignore).

      • Erusian says:

        Is that really better? That’s only a step removed from court packing. It’s basically ‘the court derives legitimacy from agreeing with our policy preferences’. More directly, “agree with us or else get packed.”

        And the things Democrats want to pack the court to protect (abortions, unions, the ACA, etc) are opposed by one of two major political parties. The popular will isn’t unified about them. You could argue that the court shouldn’t decide winners and losers between them. But that’s not the Democratic argument at all.

        • zzzzort says:

          the court derives legitimacy from agreeing with our policy preferences

          I’m confused about who’s doing the action and holding the opinions in this line of reasoning. In my mental model, the public will have a sense of court legitimacy based on, for instance, how much deference it receives from the political establishment, how non-partisan it is, and how reasonable the rulings seem to be.

          For the institutional party, the question is whether it is worth spending political capital to hurt the legitimacy of the court. This strategy doesn’t make sense if the court is only ‘calling balls and strikes’; they can’t become more fair. But if the court wants to use novel doctrines (right of privacy, free speech of corporations) in service to consistent partisan program (always ruling against supporters of one party), then the loss of deference from one of the two parties may be constraining. Obviously a party will only spend capital if the court is ruling against them, but to the extent that attacking the court is a costly action the equilibrium is still a fairly independent court.

          tl;dr checks and balances, somewhat extra-constitutional, but not in a game-breaking way.

          • Garrett says:

            > how non-partisan it is, and how reasonable the rulings seem to be

            I’m not sure that matters. I’m not a lawyer, though I do read Supreme Court and appellate-court decisions on a regular basis. They are usually well thought out and well-written, even when I disagree with the conclusions.

            But most people don’t, and get their summary from the media. And frequently the presentation of the case and issues at hand are done so poorly that the impression that someone would be left with would be vastly different from the thoughtful and nuanced work in the opinion. The most obvious recent example was the Citizens United case.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            +1

            Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia, also. The media does a terrible job reporting on everything, and decisions of the Supreme Court are no exception.

      • Deiseach says:

        the ways in which it does not reflect popular will

        The job of a court is not to reflect the popular will (that’s why we have trials, not lynching parties), it’s to administer and uphold the law. Whether the popular will is all in favour of pink pussycat hats or red trucker caps is irrelevant.

        Politicians are there to serve the popular will. Judges should not be deciding to hang a man based on the latest tabloid headline.

      • Vosmyorka says:

        The Supreme Court is not incredibly popular, but it seems to have much more legitimacy than Congress in most polling:

        Cool but kind of misleading infographic: https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2018/06/29/the-institutions-americans-trust-most-and-least-in-2018-infographic/#439407372fc8
        Data it came from: https://news.gallup.com/poll/1597/confidence-institutions.aspx

        Note that the statistic that 37% of people trust the Supreme Court and the presidency is rather misleading: that poll found that only 18% distrust the Court, with the rest undecided, while 44% of Americans distrust the Presidency. The Court is presently the branch of government with the most legitimacy, which I highly doubt was the case the last time court-packing was discussed (in the 1930s).

        • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

          I suspect this popularity is exactly because it is not perceived as controlled by everyday politicians and their populist everyday needs, but has a more elevated position. But if the Congress succeeds in dragging it down from the pedestal – either by packing, or by threat of packing, or by any other means – the result would be not elevating the popularity of Congress but the popularity and trust in the court dropping down to that of the Congress.

          • Matt M says:

            Agreed. Also, the court has ruled with overall popular opinion on the major issues of the day in the last few recent years.

            Show me that poll again if Kavanaugh goes through and Roe v Wade is repealed by the end of 2018.

      • notpeerreviewed says:

        The most justified strategy I can see here is “threaten to pack the court, as leverage to implement 18-year term limits for Supreme Court justices.” This lowers the stakes for each Supreme Court nomination, which helps reintroduce the possibility of respecting norms regarding the nomination process. Also, I suspect that this is the actual strategy planned by many Democrats.

        • Matt M says:

          implement 18-year term limits for Supreme Court justices

          There is zero chance of this happening.

          • Iain says:

            You present a compelling case.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I can see both parties agreeing to the 18-year terms. You could transition by declaring the terms now, assigning each Justice to that term, but grandfathering the current Justices.

            Because, really, the elephant in the room is that this latest shitstorm was caused by Scalia dying off schedule.

          • John Schilling says:

            You’re not going to get three-quarters of the state legilslatures to agree to this, which is the standard that matters. Not when, A: everybody is wondering whether they are being sold a bill of goods by an unholy cabal of party insiders whose political stock is none too high right now, and B: there’s a competing amendment in the works saying that SCOTUS is nine life-tenured justices, amen hallelujah, and appealing to the status quo bias.

            Changing the U.S. Constutution is really really hard, by design, and this won’t be one of the easy amendments. “I can see both parties agreeing…”, is not the standard you are looking for.

    • fluorocarbon says:

      The way I interpret it, is that the Democrats are implying that there’s a game-theoretic equilibrium of keeping the court less politicized than the other branches. Talking about court packing is a threat, essentially saying, “if you appoint an explicitly political justice, then we’ll no longer be in this equilibrium, meaning we’ll punish you when we’re in power. We’ll also all be worse off.”

      I think that the reason this is even being talked about at all is because one equilibrium already fell apart when congress refused to confirm Merrick Garland (and it could be argued that happened because Democrats broke the equilibrium of filibusters for non-Supreme Court nominees). This is also why it’s important to have politicians in office that respect norms.

      • Erusian says:

        The way I interpret it, is that the Democrats are implying that there’s a game-theoretic equilibrium of keeping the court less politicized than the other branches. Talking about court packing is a threat, essentially saying, “if you appoint an explicitly political justice, then we’ll no longer be in this equilibrium, meaning we’ll punish you when we’re in power. We’ll also all be worse off.”

        That requires believing that a Republican president appointing conservative judges is unusually political.

        If the Democrats really wanted a less politicized court, they had a perfect opportunity with Merrick Garland. The Republicans weren’t going to confirm him, so they could have withdrawn the nomination and tried to nominate someone both parties would approve. Or at least someone conservative enough several Republicans would have broken ranks to vote for them. Instead, they decided to wait until election time, using the exact same strategy McConnell was using and betting on the exact same thing he was (that they would win). The only difference is McConnell was right and they were wrong.

        The left doesn’t want a depoliticized court, it wants a leftist court. And the right wants a rightist court. And this was the pre-Trump state of affairs.

        I think that the reason this is even being talked about at all is because one equilibrium already fell apart when congress refused to confirm Merrick Garland (and it could be argued that happened because Democrats broke the equilibrium of filibusters for non-Supreme Court nominees). This is also why it’s important to have politicians in office that respect norms.

        I agree it’s important to respect norms, but what norm did Republicans break by refusing to confirm Merrick Garland? The Senate has every right to not confirm any appointee they wish. The President is not owed approval. What’s the point of having a confirmation process if the Senate has to confirm the candidate? Merrick Garland is not the first Justice to not get confirmation.

        The norm that was broken was waiting until a new President was in office, which had happened before with Congressional elections but not Presidential ones. And I agree that is probably going to be problematic and increasingly politicize the court. But that distinction is important. Demanding the Republicans confirm Garland over their own wishes is demanding the Senate give up its right to refuse consent to the President.

        • ana53294 says:

          IIRC, the rule that was broken was not that the candidate wasn’t approved by the Senate; it was that the Senate didn’t have a vote.

          • Erusian says:

            That’s what the Democrats claimed. But that seems like a relatively weak smokescreen to me. The Republicans controlled the Senate. Is Democrats’ objection really that the Republicans refused to reject their nominee? At any rate, the norm was invented. As I said, the Senate has delayed confirmations before.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            There have been plenty of times the Senate just didn’t have a vote. Bush whined about it a lot, insisting his candidates should get “up-or-down” votes in his public speeches.

            You can draw a line between the different kinds of things the Senate refuses to vote on. Fine. But the problem with norm breaking is that it’s laughable to say “okay, we broke the old norm, and so the new norm is right here where we are, and no further.” There is no guarantee or even a moral requirement that the other side interpret just what norm was actually broken the same way you wanted. They are capable of line-drawing, too.

          • Iain says:

            There have been plenty of times the Senate just didn’t have a vote. Bush whined about it a lot, insisting his candidates should get “up-or-down” votes in his public speeches.

            Are you talking about Alito? Because a) that was about a threat to use the already-common filibuster, not a refusal to even start the confirmation process, and b) you may notice that Alito is sitting on the Supreme Court, because enough Democrats were willing to take the procedural complaint seriously.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            No, I was not talking about Alito. Bush whined that his appeals court judges weren’t getting up-or-down votes. linky

            This is where you draw the line between appeals court judges and the SCOTUS justices, and I repeat my point about line drawing.

            There is no parliamentary or Constitutional requirement to vote. Up to the time of Elena Kagan, the Senate had rejected 36 candidates for SCOTUS, and 25 of those has no up-or-down-vote. Congressional Research Service, written 4 months before Scalia’s death

            As a reminder of my position: I think the Senate should have voted, because they should have the guts to explain themselves instead of hiding in the corner. But our Congress loves dodges responsibility for anything it can.

          • Iain says:

            @Edward Scizorhands:

            No, I was not talking about Alito. Bush whined that his appeals court judges weren’t getting up-or-down votes. linky

            During Bush’s first term, Senate Democrats used filibusters to block 10 of his 218 court nominees.

            Man, I didn’t realize the number was so low. I was about to happily concede that the Democrats have also violated norms, but honestly 10 out of 218 seems very reasonable.

            In any case: I don’t think the line is between the Supreme Court and lower courts. I think it’s about willingness to compromise. Democrats didn’t have a blanket policy of filibustering all of Bush’s nominees; they blocked less than 5% of them. Bush still got to confirm plenty of Republican judges.

            Garland, in contrast, was not opposed on the basis of being too extreme. As you agreed below, he was an obvious compromise candidate. Refusing to even consider Garland means refusing to confirm anybody. (And McConnell was clear about this! He never pretended it was about Garland himself.)

            The difference between “we won’t confirm this candidate” and “we won’t consider any candidate” seems pretty meaningful to me.

        • Iain says:

          If the Democrats really wanted a less politicized court, they had a perfect opportunity with Merrick Garland. The Republicans weren’t going to confirm him, so they could have withdrawn the nomination and tried to nominate someone both parties would approve. Or at least someone conservative enough several Republicans would have broken ranks to vote for them.

          Merrick Garland was that candidate.

          Days before Garland was nominated, this is what Orrin Hatch had to say about him:

          “The President told me several times he’s going to name a moderate [to fill the court vacancy], but I don’t believe him,” Hatch told us.

          “[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man,” he told us, referring to the more centrist chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia who was considered and passed over for the two previous high court vacancies.

          But, Hatch quickly added, “He probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election. So I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants.”

          Obama tried to call his bluff. McConnell bailed Hatch out.

          I agree it’s important to respect norms, but what norm did Republicans break by refusing to confirm Merrick Garland?

          Refusing to confirm Merrick Garland is one thing. McConnell refused to even schedule hearings (let alone a vote).

          It’s obviously impossible to tell, but there’s a pretty good chance that Garland would have been confirmed if the Senate had a chance to vote. Hatch, obviously, had painted himself into a bit of a corner. Susan Collins was showing signs of supporting him until McConnell clamped down. Mark Kirk was in a similar situation. Only four Republican senators would have had to break ranks — and remember, this was prior to the election, when it looked like the alternative might be a less moderate Clinton nominee.

          Merrick Garland was an olive branch: the kind of moderate nominee that the GOP claimed to want. If Garland couldn’t get confirmed, nobody could. McConnell calculated — correctly, as it turned out — that without the drama of actually holding hearings, nobody would care about the boring procedural matter of indefinitely stonewalling the nomination process, and he could avoid having to hold a genuinely difficult vote.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Agree that Garland was the compromise candidate. The poor guy was sacrificed as a pawn between the other power brokers. (It’s unlikely he’ll ever be re-nominated for the position that is the dream of his entire career.)

          • Erusian says:

            Merrick Garland was that candidate.

            He wasn’t. And I can prove it. You see, the Republicans didn’t confirm him.

            Garland was a moderate, sure. But you don’t get to decide what your opponents want. Compromising does not mean ‘coming up with a reason my opponents should support me and then complaining when they prove to have free will’. The Democrats tautologically didn’t give the Republicans what they wanted because they didn’t accept it. Nor did the Republicans give the Democrats what they wanted, mind. But that is not in dispute.

            Refusing to confirm Merrick Garland is one thing. McConnell refused to even schedule hearings (let alone a vote).

            As I said, that was just a slight extension of something very normal. The Democrats used the tactic extensively against Bush, for example. See the comment chain above for more.

            It’s obviously impossible to tell, but there’s a pretty good chance that Garland would have been confirmed if the Senate had a chance to vote. Hatch, obviously, had painted himself into a bit of a corner. Susan Collins was showing signs of supporting him until McConnell clamped down. Mark Kirk was in a similar situation. Only four Republican senators would have had to break ranks — and remember, this was prior to the election, when it looked like the alternative might be a less moderate Clinton nominee.

            Merrick Garland was an olive branch: the kind of moderate nominee that the GOP claimed to want. If Garland couldn’t get confirmed, nobody could. McConnell calculated — correctly, as it turned out — that without the drama of actually holding hearings, nobody would care about the boring procedural matter of indefinitely stonewalling the nomination process, and he could avoid having to hold a genuinely difficult vote.

            I’d argue it was less an olive branch than a pragmatic move. Obama appointed far more liberal judges when he didn’t have to get Republican votes to win. Appointing a moderate is the only way to have even a chance of getting through a GOP controlled senate without appointing a Republican.

            But regardless, McConnell refused to let the vote happen because he didn’t like the candidate. And then Obama calculated that Hillary would win and possibly get a majority in the Senate, so he let the matter rest. This was not subtle, by the way. Several liberals at the time said basically that openly. There was even a comedy show that did a bit about it. But McConnell’s party won, so there it is.

          • Iain says:

            @Erusian:

            In your previous post, you said:

            The Republicans weren’t going to confirm him, so they could have withdrawn the nomination and tried to nominate someone both parties would approve.

            This implies that you believe such a person exists. I claim that, if there was such a person, he looked an awful lot like Merrick Garland. If not Garland, then who? You keep claiming that an alternative candidate could have grabbed Republican votes, but you’re ignoring the significant likelihood that Garland himself could have grabbed Republican votes, if he’d been given the chance. McConnell denied him that chance.

            But regardless, McConnell refused to let the vote happen because he didn’t like the candidate. And then Obama calculated that Hillary would win and possibly get a majority in the Senate, so he let the matter rest.

            McConnell didn’t shut down the nomination because he “didn’t like the candidate”. He didn’t care who the candidate was. He’d decided not to confirm Obama’s nominee before Garland was ever selected. Look, for example, at the context for Hatch’s comments in the link I posted above (“Orrin Hatch Says GOP Scotus Refusal Just ‘The Chickens Coming Home to Roost’). McConnell invented a fig leaf about election years (which he’s already discarded for Kavanaugh, obviously) and went for the partisan advantage, norms be damned. It was, pragmatically, a very effective move. But you’re fooling yourself if you don’t see any norm-breaking there.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            “Slight extension of something normal” is exactly how norms get weakened, piece by piece.

            I can write a convincing, Turing-Test-passing essay from one side explaining how “well, their side did X, and we did X’, and those are really the same,” and another equivalent essay of “we did X, sure, but they are doing X’ which is totally different” each time these norms get slowly worn away.

            I don’t like arguments of “I have the power to achieve a result through the typically followed path, but that has costs, so I’ll just skip right to the result.” Those costs are part of the system. If you want to filibuster, then stand up there and filibuster, you big baby. If you want to not approve someone, have the guts to vote, and if there is a political cost to your vote, gee, maybe that part of the system is there by design?

          • beleester says:

            @Erusian: “Compromise” does not mean “demand your opponents accept anything where they have a reason to support you,” but it also doesn’t mean “give your opponents everything they want, and if they reject it anyway, I guess you weren’t submissive enough.” The Democrats definitely tried to compromise – they listened to what Republicans said would be an acceptable Democratic candidate, and gave them that. What more should they have done? Should they perhaps have recruited a telepath or precog, to tell them what the Republicans actually would vote for?

            (Also, I’m finding it increasingly hilarious how the go-to defense of Republicans is now “You shouldn’t actually believe anything they say.”)

            I don’t disagree that the Republicans actually wanted a conservative judge despite claiming to like Garland, but that undermines your claim that the Republicans were just doing the same thing that the Democrats were. The Republicans signaled that they wanted a moderate but actually would only accept a conservative, the Democrats actually put a moderate up for consideration.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Perhaps the preemptive behaviour of Republicans when they thought Hillary would win provides some evidence here. Does this sound like a party waiting for a moderate to be approved?

          • Erusian says:

            This implies that you believe such a person exists. I claim that, if there was such a person, he looked an awful lot like Merrick Garland. If not Garland, then who? You keep claiming that an alternative candidate could have grabbed Republican votes, but you’re ignoring the significant likelihood that Garland himself could have grabbed Republican votes, if he’d been given the chance. McConnell denied him that chance.

            Of course a person exists the Republicans would have confirmed. It just wouldn’t have been anyone Obama would have nominated.

            I think you’re reading my point as a criticism of Democrats. It wasn’t. My point is that when the Democrats had the presidency and couldn’t get a nominee through, they chose to have a political fight instead of trying to disarm. This is exactly what the Republicans were doing too. And it’s what both parties will do in the future. Calling for the Republicans to disarm when the Democrats have no power is completely transparent. And I remember the Republicans howling over the same thing with Sotomayor (when it was also totally transparent). It would be nice, of course.

            And I’ve already said there was an expansion of an existing norm. Which, as Edward says, is how you get death by a thousand cuts.

            “Slight extension of something normal” is exactly how norms get weakened, piece by piece.

            I can write a convincing, Turing-Test-passing essay from one side explaining how “well, their side did X, and we did X’, and those are really the same,” and another equivalent essay of “we did X, sure, but they are doing X’ which is totally different” each time these norms get slowly worn away.

            Totally agree. What bothers me is when people pretend it’s only the other side. The good Democrats never done anything like those mean old Republicans or vice versa. Or that the tactic they’ve been using for years is suddenly a novel, democracy-threatening thing when the other party gets their hands on it.

            I don’t like arguments of “I have the power to achieve a result through the typically followed path, but that has costs, so I’ll just skip right to the result.” Those costs are part of the system. If you want to filibuster, then stand up there and filibuster, you big baby. If you want to not approve someone, have the guts to vote, and if there is a political cost to your vote, gee, maybe that part of the system is there by design?

            This seems too vague a heuristic to be effectively applied. Everyone is always going to seek the least painful way to do everything. What is the difference between skipping and taking the easiest version of the typically followed path?

            “Compromise” does not mean “demand your opponents accept anything where they have a reason to support you,” but it also doesn’t mean “give your opponents everything they want, and if they reject it anyway, I guess you weren’t submissive enough.” The Democrats definitely tried to compromise – they listened to what Republicans said would be an acceptable Democratic candidate, and gave them that. What more should they have done? Should they perhaps have recruited a telepath or precog, to tell them what the Republicans actually would vote for?

            They did? McConnell was consulted on who they should nominate? If he wasn’t, then what do you mean by ‘listened and gave them what they said would be acceptable’?

            There is a very strong claim in this thread that the Democrats were reaching across the aisle but no one seems to be actually able to provide evidence for that, beyond pointing out Garland was a moderate. So I’m going to repeat myself: you do not get to make deals the other person didn’t actually agree to then get upset when they don’t honor the contract you made up.

            And I’m not saying the Republicans reached across the aisle either. Or that they were being reasonable. Or that they aren’t changing norms and exploiting rules to get their way. I’m just saying that both sides do that and pretending that only one does, or that one side is worse, contributes to the problem.

            I don’t disagree that the Republicans actually wanted a conservative judge despite claiming to like Garland, but that undermines your claim that the Republicans were just doing the same thing that the Democrats were. The Republicans signaled that they wanted a moderate but actually would only accept a conservative, the Democrats actually put a moderate up for consideration.

            That depends on what ‘the same thing’ is. Maneuvering to beat the other side, norms be damned? It absolutely does. Trying to get a nominee through? You’re right, it doesn’t.

          • Erusian says:

            This implies that you believe such a person exists. I claim that, if there was such a person, he looked an awful lot like Merrick Garland. If not Garland, then who? You keep claiming that an alternative candidate could have grabbed Republican votes, but you’re ignoring the significant likelihood that Garland himself could have grabbed Republican votes, if he’d been given the chance. McConnell denied him that chance.

            Then I dispute your claim that he would look like Garland and that no such person exists. We can argue about that, if you want, and about McConnell’s intentions.

            But I think you’re taking this as some kind of criticism of the Democrats. It’s not, or at least not specifically. My point is both sides have been, and continue, to use these nominations for political ends. That the last time we tried to get a nominee through a Congress and President of different parties, both sides played politics for partisan advantage. Neither side really tried to work with the other.

            “Slight extension of something normal” is exactly how norms get weakened, piece by piece.

            I can write a convincing, Turing-Test-passing essay from one side explaining how “well, their side did X, and we did X’, and those are really the same,” and another equivalent essay of “we did X, sure, but they are doing X’ which is totally different” each time these norms get slowly worn away.

            Totally agreed. What bothers me is when people pretend it’s all on one side, or that something they’ve done is democracy-destroying when the other party does it or a slightly bigger version of it.

            I don’t like arguments of “I have the power to achieve a result through the typically followed path, but that has costs, so I’ll just skip right to the result.” Those costs are part of the system. If you want to filibuster, then stand up there and filibuster, you big baby. If you want to not approve someone, have the guts to vote, and if there is a political cost to your vote, gee, maybe that part of the system is there by design?

            While good in theory, this seems too vague a heuristic to apply. Everyone is always going to try and take an easy path. What distinguishes someone taking an easy but acceptable path from a skipper?

            @Erusian: “Compromise” does not mean “demand your opponents accept anything where they have a reason to support you,” but it also doesn’t mean “give your opponents everything they want, and if they reject it anyway, I guess you weren’t submissive enough.” The Democrats definitely tried to compromise – they listened to what Republicans said would be an acceptable Democratic candidate, and gave them that. What more should they have done? Should they perhaps have recruited a telepath or precog, to tell them what the Republicans actually would vote for?

            Did they try to compromise? Or did they try to do an end run around McConnell by nominating a candidate that was appealing to a few Republicans so that McConnell couldn’t keep party discipline? And then get outmaneuvered by McConnell in turn. Was McConnell consulted as to who the candidate would be? If he wasn’t, how does that qualify as listening to what the Republicans wanted?

            There’s an awful lot of claims here that the Democrats reached across the aisle. Other than Garland being a moderate, I don’t see any evidence of that. And being a moderate serves Democratic purposes too. So I’m going to say again: you don’t get to make a deal that the other side didn’t agree to then act outraged when they don’t honor your made up contract.

            And I’m not saying the Republicans were being good or reasonable. I’m not saying that norms weren’t changed somewhat by this, probably for the worse. What I’m saying is both sides do this, break norms and stretch things to gain partisan advantage. By pretending that your side doesn’t or that the other side is worse, you’re part of the problem. If you want rules and norms you need to enforce them even handedly. And you can’t invent them to suit your political purpose, as both sides did during the Garland debate (the made up ‘McConnell Rule’ and the idea that Garland was owed a hearing).

          • beleester says:

            Did they try to compromise? Or did they try to do an end run around McConnell by nominating a candidate that was appealing to a few Republicans so that McConnell couldn’t keep party discipline?

            I fail to see how a candidate that some Republicans would vote for is not a compromise, simply because one specific Republican doesn’t like it. I’m pretty sure that “The majority leader’s personal approval is required for all nominees” is not one of the traditional norms we’re trying to protect.

            And once again, what should Democrats have done? If Garland wasn’t an acceptable compromise, who would have been? And how could the Democrats have found that out, since apparently what the Republicans say is not evidence of anything? Are you sure that this ideal compromise candidate that you’re holding out for actually exists?

          • ashlael says:

            “And once again, what should Democrats have done?”

            Depends what their goals were.

            If their goal was to get a reliably strong leftist onto the court, they should have aimed to win the Senate and Presidency in 2016.

            If their goal was to get someone to the left of Scalia to take Scalia’s seat before November 2016, they should have nominated someone to the left of Scalia but to the right of Kennedy, who would not change the balance of power on the court.

            If their goal was to shift the balance of power on the court to the left before November 2016, I don’t think that there was actually a way to successfully do that, but nominating Garland was a good attempt.

            If the goal was to get someone, anyone, nominated by Obama confirmed, they should have nominated Neil Gorsuch.

            I think the revealed preference is that they tried initially to move the court to the left with a moderate pick, and when that failed decided instead to just try and win big in the election and get someone they really wanted instead.

          • Matt M says:

            And once again, what should Democrats have done?

            campaigned in Wisconsin

          • Erusian says:

            I fail to see how a candidate that some Republicans would vote for is not a compromise, simply because one specific Republican doesn’t like it. I’m pretty sure that “The majority leader’s personal approval is required for all nominees” is not one of the traditional norms we’re trying to protect.

            Calling McConnell ‘one specific Republican’ is disingenuous. McConnell was the chosen leader of the Senate Republicans and the Majority/Minority leaders have routinely represented their parties in Congressional negotiations for about two centuries. This is like claiming Obama’s opinion in trade matters was unimportant because he was just one Democrat…

            And by your standards, both of Trump’s nominees are compromise candidates. Both his nominees are meant to cause some Democratic votes to defect and the one that’s been voted on had some Democratic support. Therefore, the Republicans have been compromising with the Democrats in appointing Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. But I suspect you understand getting a few Democratic votes doesn’t make them a compromise when the other side does it.

            And once again, what should Democrats have done? If Garland wasn’t an acceptable compromise, who would have been? And how could the Democrats have found that out, since apparently what the Republicans say is not evidence of anything? Are you sure that this ideal compromise candidate that you’re holding out for actually exists?

            What did they say? You mean the quote from Hatch? You’re taking a single statement from before the confirmation hearing and pretending it is a binding promise. I get that it’s a thing in politics to pretend to listen to your opponents so that you can pretend to compromise without really doing so, and then paint them as unreasonable. But that doesn’t make it reality.

            And yes, I’m sure there could have been more compromise. Prior to roughly the past two decades, it was common for the President to bring in the other party’s leadership for decisions like this. That would have been a good start.

          • Garrett says:

            How do you think the Democrats would react if Trump nominated Merrick Garland to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, should she retire? Would that be viewed as an olive branch, or as re-shaping the ideology of the court?

          • Matt M says:

            How do you think the Democrats would react if Trump nominated Merrick Garland to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, should she retire?

            With righteous anger.

            Because that is the only emotion allowed in response to any Trumpian policy (with the possible exception of foreign warmongering)

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            How do you think Republicans would react to that?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            How do you think Republicans would react to that?

            To be honest I would laugh my ass off.

            I mean, I would prefer the reincarnation of Antonin Scalia, but appointing Garland to replace RBG would be worth it just for the troll factor.

          • Matt M says:

            How do you think Republicans would react to that?

            The same way they react to every Trump decision as well.

            The Trumpians would celebrate it as brilliant 4D chess, the Never Trumpers would howl about how pointless and idiotic and “not really conservative” it is.

          • Iain says:

            What did they say? You mean the quote from Hatch? You’re taking a single statement from before the confirmation hearing and pretending it is a binding promise. I get that it’s a thing in politics to pretend to listen to your opponents so that you can pretend to compromise without really doing so, and then paint them as unreasonable. But that doesn’t make it reality.

            Here’s a bunch of other quotes from Republicans praising Merrick Garland. The Hatch one is the most blatant example, because it happened in such close proximity to Garland’s nomination, but he was far from the only Republican who liked Garland.

            Did they try to compromise? Or did they try to do an end run around McConnell by nominating a candidate that was appealing to a few Republicans so that McConnell couldn’t keep party discipline? And then get outmaneuvered by McConnell in turn. Was McConnell consulted as to who the candidate would be? If he wasn’t, how does that qualify as listening to what the Republicans wanted?

            McConnell made it clear from day one that he was not going to confirm anybody Obama nominated: literally, about an hour after Scalia’s death was confirmed. How precisely do you think that consultation would have gone?

            From start to finish, McConnell openly refused to negotiate. The number of people in this discussion who nevertheless claim that the Garland nomination demonstrates Obama‘s failure to negotiate is a sign that McConnell’s calculation was successful: nobody on his side of the fence was going to stand up to him on principle, and nobody on the other side could do anything.

            (Compare this to the much-bemoaned filibustering of Bush’s appointees. Despite the much more targeted nature of the Democratic obstruction, you still saw a bunch of Democratic senators willing to buck their party and stand up for procedure.)

          • johansenindustries says:

            @Iain

            Do you think that if Obama had nominated Gorusch then there wouldn’t have been a vote. Are you sincere in your stance that the statement was some sort of cast-iron promise, that nothing Obama could do could make budge?

            You also seem to be agitating for a society where nobody can say anything nice about one’s opponent. I think society is better when a politician can call somebody ‘a fine man’ without being obliged to put his anti-2nd amendment butt on Scalia’s seat.

            Why should Obama been able to put Garland on the seat simply due to an unfortunate death and a couple of lily-rinos. The answer seems to be a sense of Democrat entitlement. There was an election going on whose main issue was precisely that sense of Democrat entitlement. And you lost.

            Imagine if Ginsburg dies in 2020 and Trump tries to fill the seat with a pro-border candidate, what you complain if the Democrats went ‘wait till the election is over’.

            (I object to Garland being called a moderate too. A moderate is someone like Kennedy or Roberts. What 5-4 would Garland have ever been on the opposite side of the liberals?)

          • Erusian says:

            @Iain
            I’m frankly getting frustrated with the failure to address my point. Please go reread and address it, because it was not ‘Republicans never said anything nice about Garland’ or ‘McConnell was acting in good faith and being reasonable’. You are trying to refute that, but that is not my point or even a pillar supporting one of my points. So you’re strawmanning.

            If you want to refute my point, no amount of talking about Republican’s actions is going to do it. You need to show that Democrat’s actions were not primarily intended to produce a partisan advantage. Because otherwise, my point that both parties act to maximize partisan advantage is still valid.

            In fact, you’re supporting it by piling up evidence about the Republicans acting in that manner (which is half of the necessary argument). You’re also kind of supporting it by pointing out that the Democrats were taking actions to win a fight that, in your mind as a Democrat (I’m guessing), they had to fight and could not negotiate over. But this is not a refutation of what I said in any way.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            @Conrad Honcho
            How did you feel about Merrick Garland’s appointment when it was an Obama move?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Also slightly trollish. The point of the politicization of the court isn’t who gets a seat but the overall ideological balance of the court. Replacing Scalia with Garland moves the court left (win for the Dems). Replacing RBG with Garland moves the court right (win for the Reps).

            Ultimately though it all came down to gamesmanship. Obama thought he couldn’t lose. Either he gets Garland and the court moves left, or McConnell refuses the vote, Hillary wins and appoints a genetically-modified-to-live-to-150 RBG clone and the court moves further left. McConnell rolled the dice and won.

          • CatCube says:

            @Matt M

            the Never Trumpers would howl about how pointless and idiotic and “not really conservative” it is.

            Because of course that would be the final insult of having Trump. The only reason to vote for Trump against Hillary is the judicial picks (seriously, everything I hated about Hillary–the shameless lying, the complete disregard of norms, the shady, grasping business practices, the sexual immorality and covering it up for political gain–Trump was as guilty of). The judicial picks are actually a reason to vote for Trump that I can respect. I didn’t vote for him because of it, since I’m in a deep-blue state that was going for Hillary even if she shot somebody in the head on live TV, but I’d have been really conflicted if I’d have been in a swing state.

            However, If we’re going to get the exact same ones, that even that rationalization disappears.

          • Matt M says:

            CatCube,

            I’ve heard that sort of opinion expressed before (my father takes the same position as you, only on the D side)… but I think it’s an extreme minority. I don’t think most voters know or care much about judicial picks. I don’t believe that’s a primary reason people voted for Trump.

            To the extent that anyone voted for Trump because of, say, his ability to “make deals,” picking a “moderate” justice, or even one that leans Democrat, could be easily excused so long as it was accompanied by some sort of supposed compromise from the left on some other issue.

            Anything Trump does that bucks convention looks good to the people who voted for him because he would buck convention. Notice how even his statements openly calling for gun control aren’t getting much pushback from his base – even though guns are one of the most solidly partisan issues that ever existed…

          • CatCube says:

            @Matt M

            The fact that his base isn’t pushing back against his gun control proposals is the most damning thing about his base yet. To be fair to them (and him), he’s as incoherent on this as he is on most other issues, so his worst statements on this don’t seem to have been translated into any actual policy.

            The lack of flaming indignation from the NRA when he floats this stuff has been one of the most disappointing things, as a card-carrying NRA member. They’re transitioning from a solid gun-rights group to just another right-wing pressure group slobbering all over the President’s knob. I can’t help but wonder if the NRA is getting fat and lazy after the victories in Heller, where they seem to think they can just coast on the Supreme Court–the same thing you see for the pro-choice crowd, and how’s that looking for them these days?

            If we can’t even police the alleged right-wing candidate, that doesn’t bode well when the inevitable Democrat takes office.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t disagree necessarily, but I’m not sure you got my point.

            A whole lot of his base didn’t elect him because he was perfectly in-line with their preferred policy positions.

            They elected him specifically because he was a wild card. Specifically because he would turn over the tables, drain the swamp, whatever you want to call it.

            These people expect that, most of the time, his “burn it all down” strategy will work in their favor, but are willing to accept that it won’t always.

            If you voted for him hoping that he would cause chaos but generally in a way that favors you, well, a Republican President allowing for some trivial amount of gun control in exchange for (insert right-wing consideration X) might be acceptable. Because that’s a chaotic thing that no “normal” politician would do.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The fact that his base isn’t pushing back against his gun control proposals is the most damning thing about his base yet.

            I think nobody cares that much about bump stocks.

          • Nornagest says:

            As far as I can tell, no one cares about bump stocks, but there was that one time that Diane Feinstein talked him into advocating an assault weapons ban.

            He walked that back pretty quick, though.

          • Matt M says:

            I think nobody cares that much about bump stocks.

            Right. And while I personally do still favor the “From my cold, dead, hands” approach, I do think Trump gains some political capital by being seen as willing to compromise on issues such as this.

            It seems indisputable that no other Republican President would have been willing to ban bump stocks. This makes it harder for the left to portray him as some sort of crazy right-wing extremist. Whether it’s “worth it” and whether he actually uses that political capital on anything benefiting the average conservative voter remains to be seen…

          • Iain says:

            It seems indisputable that no other Republican President would have been willing to ban bump stocks.

            Either I’m miscounting your negatives, or that word doesn’t mean what you think it means.

            Mitt Romney came out against bump stocks. (I recognize that he was never president, but I couldn’t find statements one way or the other from any other presidents / presidential candidates.) When even the NRA is calling for increased regulation of bump stocks, it hardly takes a bold maverick to agree with them.

          • cassander says:

            Refusing to confirm Merrick Garland is one thing. McConnell refused to even schedule hearings (let alone a vote).

            This is a distinction without difference. Not holding hearings is refusing to confirm, period. Getting upset at the particular parliamentary method used seems, at best, concern trolling.

          • Iain says:

            Not holding hearings is refusing to confirm, period. Getting upset at the particular parliamentary method used is, at best, concern trolling.

            I assume that you are completely supportive of the Democratic filibustering of Bush’s nominees, then? If the particular method used doesn’t matter, then I suppose all the complaints were just concern trolling, too. It is very big of you to admit that.

            Alternatively, we can admit that procedure matters.

          • J Mann says:

            Merrick Garland was a pretty reasonable consensus candidate, and McConnell calculated (IMHO riskily but ultimately correctly) that he could get a more conservative candidate by waiting.

            The process has generally seen an erosion of norms on both sides, at least since Bork and Biden’s slowdowns of the George H W Bush lower court nominees and probably before, but as the latest erosion, this did take the level of comity even lower, as will the next, I assume.

          • cassander says:

            @ian

            I assume that you are completely supportive of the Democratic filibustering of Bush’s nominees, then?

            Depends what you mean by supportive. I don’t agree with that decision, I don’t think that the rules should permit it, but the rules unquestionably did permit it, and their action was perfectly legitimate at the time.

            Alternatively, we can admit that procedure matters..

            Procedure does matter. Specifically, the letter of the procedure has to be followed. As long as it is, I’m not going to call shenanigans even if I disagree with the outcome, though I will cast aspersions on those who attempt to change the procedural rules in order to win a particular contest while said contest is ongoing.

        • Vosmyorka says:

          Should be noted that several leading Republican Senators indicated their support for a certain name on Obama’s list, that name being Brian Sandoval. Obama went with Garland instead, and refused to withdraw the nomination when the Senate refused to vote on it; the norms would’ve called for Garland being withdrawn and an alternate choice acceptable to the Senate found.

          • Iain says:

            You mean the guy who withdrew his name from contention less than 24 hours after it was publicly announced that he was being considered, after being soundly rejected by the only “leading Republican Senator” who mattered?

            After The Washington Post published news of Sandoval’s consideration Wednesday, GOP leaders insisted that Obama nominating a Republican would make no difference.

            Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who on Tuesday pledged “no action” on any Supreme Court nomination before the election, said in a statement that the nominee “will be determined by whoever wins the presidency in the fall.”

            The No. 2 Senate Republican leader, Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, said likewise: “This is not about the personality.”

            When your suggestion is “hey, why didn’t Obama just nominate the Republican governor of Nevada”, and the answer is “because the Republicans said they wouldn’t confirm him”, I think it’s safe to say that Obama’s choice of nominee wasn’t the problem here.

          • ashlael says:

            “When your suggestion is “hey, why didn’t Obama just nominate the Republican governor of Nevada”, and the answer is “because the Republicans said they wouldn’t confirm him”, I think it’s safe to say that Obama’s choice of nominee wasn’t the problem here.”

            No, I don’t think that’s at all safe to say. Obama could have nominated Neil Gorsuch. Neil Gorsuch would have been confirmed easily by the Republican controlled Senate.

            Obviously he was never going to nominate Neil Gorsuch. Obama doesn’t want Neil Gorsuch on the court. He wants someone a long way to the left of Neil Gorsuch.

            But the point is that the purpose of blocking Garland was to hold the seat open for a candidate they liked better. There would be no point if there was no one they liked better.

            It was absolutely about the nominee.

          • Deiseach says:

            When your suggestion is “hey, why didn’t Obama just nominate the Republican governor of Nevada”, and the answer is “because the Republicans said they wouldn’t confirm him”, I think it’s safe to say that Obama’s choice of nominee wasn’t the problem here.

            The problem is a lack of trust, but I don’t think it’s confined to one side only.

            If a Republican president said he’d nominate a Democrat, would the Democrats automatically confirm them, or would they think “If he wants that guy, then we don’t”? Because it’s natural to think if the opposition are willing to do a deal with someone on your side, it’s because they anticipate they can get gains from that person.

            Isn’t that the whole reasoning behind the Trump/Russia thing – Putin acted to put someone in the White House he felt would be sympathetic to Russian interests, or at least could be manipulated to Russia’s benefit?

          • Iain says:

            @ashlael:

            See my post above. There is a meaningful difference between “this nominee is too far left, and will not be confirmed” and “we preemptively reject the possibility that there is any overlap between your nominees and the set of candidates who are acceptable to us”.

            In a world where the president can’t even get a vote on his Supreme Court nominee unless he ignores his own party and nominates the other side’s ideal candidate, something has gone badly wrong.

      • EchoChaos says:

        They’re only implying that because they’re losing.

        Merrick Garland was substantially to the left of Scalia, so replacing Scalia with anyone short of Gorsuch was making the court more politicized (to the left).

        Note that Hillary Clinton never promised to appoint Garland to the seat that was supposedly stolen from him? That’s because she expected to have a Democratic Senate and to be able to appoint a far left Justice to move the balance of the Court left.

        Nobody had any issue with replacing Byron White (who actually for real voted against Roe v. Wade) with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which shifted the Court sharply to the left.

        In a world where Hillary Clinton and a Democratic Senate hold the reins, she’s appointed two Ginsburgs to replace Scalia and Kennedy (and probably Ginsburg), and the media is just going to say “shoulda won the election”.

    • cassander says:

      Naturally, this will lead to something like two-thirds of states banning abortion and a large culture war fight, with the Democrats on the defensive.

      This is what the democrats believe will happen, but I think it’s wildly implausible. States will impose some restrictions on abortion timelines, but I would be shocked if there was any more than that.

      • Iain says:

        Prepare to be shocked, then. As HBC points out below, four states have already passed laws to ban abortion that will trigger the moment Roe v. Wade is overturned, and a number of others still have unenforceable abortion bans on the books that would presumably swing back into effect.

        • cassander says:

          Legislatures love passing meaningless symbolic legislation when there are no consequences for doing so. Taking such statements at face value is not a good way of predicting actual policy outcomes.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            So you think these same legislatures, filled with representatives who have pledged to a platform of outlawing abortion*, will now pass legislation repealing that which they enacted?

            *Not hyperbole:

            Faithful to the “self-evident” truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.

          • albatross11 says:

            Just because it was meaningless symbolic legisliation when it was passed doesn’t mean they’ll pay the political cost to repeal it when it becomes actually effective. What might happen, though, is that re-legalization of abortion becomes a political issue in some of those states, and that leads to different people getting elected who will repeal those laws.

            On the other hand, as long as transportation within the US is relatively cheap, there’s a pretty obvious pressure-release valve–if there’s an abortion ban in Missouri and Indiana but not in Illinois, then there will be a bunch of abortion clinics and associated hotels on the borders of Illinois with those states. Gambling is illegal in Utah, which is great for the economy of Wendover, NV. Something similar could easily happen w.r.t. Belleville, IL.

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub says:

            So you think these same legislatures, filled with representatives who have pledged to a platform of outlawing abortion*, will now pass legislation repealing that which they enacted?

            You mean the same way they ran on repealing the ACA for 6 years, then didn’t repeal it? Yeah, I think that’s a pretty safe bet.

            In the unlikely event that roe falls, those laws will suddenly have consequences, and their popularity will dramatically fall. Compromise bills amending them will be rushed through legislatures, likely before the first subsequent election but certainly after it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @cassander:
            That is an asinine answer.

            The corralary would be something like SCOTUS invalidating the ACA as written. Do you think Republicans would have passed legislation to fix whatever SCOTUS had undone? No agreement on legislation would be required to let it fail, it would just fail. And they would celebrate it.

            Assuming SCOTUS invalidates Roe, that’s what they’ll do in those 4 states. Celebrate (at the very least in public regardless of how they feel in private).

            The sea change required for them to come to consensus on repealing that which they have explicitly promised for year upon year would do even more irreparable damage to the party than the Trump/never Trump split has. They can’t afford to lose the evangelicals too.

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            The corralary would be something like SCOTUS invalidating the ACA as written. Do you think Republicans would have passed legislation to fix whatever SCOTUS had undone?

            Had there been a huge political movement passionately devoted to defending an ACA that had been around for 40 years, yes absolutely. Of course, Had there been a huge political movement passionately devoted to defending an ACA that had been around for 40 years, then SCOTUS never would have repealed it, just like SCOTUS is ever going to flat out strike down Roe.

            Assuming SCOTUS invalidates Roe, that’s what they’ll do in those 4 states. Celebrate (at the very least in public regardless of how they feel in private).

            Some people will. And others will condemn it, they’ll be backed by the enormous power of blue tribe, and a compromise will emerge.

            The sea change required for them to come to consensus on repealing that which they have explicitly promised for year upon year would do even more irreparable damage to the party than the Trump/never Trump split has. They can’t afford to lose the evangelicals too.

            They’ve been failing to deliver what the evangelicals want for decades, and they haven’t gone anywhere. They failed to deliver on the ACA and they didn’t go anywhere. You’re massively exaggerating the power of the anti-abortion lobby, and ignoring completely the power of the pro-choice lobby.

          • Iain says:

            They’ve been failing to deliver what the evangelicals want for decades, and they haven’t gone anywhere. They failed to deliver on the ACA and they didn’t go anywhere. You’re massively exaggerating the power of the anti-abortion lobby, and ignoring completely the power of the pro-choice lobby.

            Yes, fear the mighty power of the pro-choice lobby in … Mississippi, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Louisiana.

            The system is biased towards the legal status quo. Republicans failed to repeal the ACA because it required actively doing something and they couldn’t come to a consensus on what to do. Thus, the ACA stayed on the books.

            If Roe v Wade is overturned, then the laws on the books will trigger, and it will be a felony in four states to perform or prescribe an abortion. This will continue to be true until Republicans agree to overturn those laws.

            You seem to think that the Republican failure to pass base-pleasing legislation is a sign they would succeed in passing base-enraging legislation. That’s nuts. If the Republicans can’t get the votes together to abolish a law they spent seven years demonizing, how in the world do you expect them to reverse a policy they’ve been promising for decades?

            Passing legislation is harder than not passing legislation. Passing legislation your base likes is harder than passing legislation your base hates. This is not rocket science.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m with Iain and HBC on this.

            In the (in my opinion very unlikely) event that Roe v Wade is overturned, I would, in fact, expect some of the deep red states, with little to no blue opposition, to make abortion outright illegal – or at least to do everything within their power to do so (I’m sure some random federal judge in Hawaii will block it somehow – because that seems to be how things work these days)

            I see no reason to suspect that Alabama or Mississippi would sit around and wait on this, out of fear of the feminist movement striking out against them or something.

      • Erusian says:

        My guess is that swing state Republicans won’t do it. But if you add swing states and Democratic strongholds, there’s, very generously, 20. The other 30 states are red strongholds.

        Two thirds might be too many, since I know they’re not uniform. But I find it hard to believe that places run by Republicans who are largely anti-abortion won’t ban abortion. Or at least heavily restrict it. A lot of them already pass what are basically bad faith laws to try and de facto ban it. (Obligatory mention the Dems do this too on other issues.)

  3. fahertym says:

    From the Air Rage article –

    “Researcher Keith Payne has found something surprising: When people flying coach are forced to walk past the pampered first-class flyers in the front of the plane, the likelihood of some sort of air rage incident rises sharply.

    In his 2017 book The Broken Ladder, Payne, a social psychologist at the University of North Carolina, argues that humans are hardwired to notice relative differences. When we’re reminded that we’re poorer or less powerful than others, we become less healthy, more angry, and more politically polarized.”

    So the problem is that under conditions of inequality, the less well off people get angry/annoyed/disturbed/depressed/jealous at being less well off. The proposed solution is to make the more well off people less well off.

    Why isn’t the solution to convince the less well off people to not be as angry/annoyed/disturbed/depressed/jealous at their predicament?

    Maybe that very question sounds evil and privileged (maybe it is), but it seems easier to adjust some individuals’ psychological state and outlook than to restructure the entire economy and society at large.

    If you take the problem away from society and down to an individual level, it seems clearer. If I had a friend who had an ok job, made ok money, had a girlfriend he generally liked, and basically had all the trappings of an ordinary middle class Western lifestyle… but who was completely miserable and constantly rambled about how much he hates his life because there are other people in the country who have cooler jobs, higher incomes, hotter girlfriends, and what he perceives to be better lives… I would suggest that my friend seek therapy and reexamine his outlook on life. I would not suggest that he join a political campaign to advocate for heavy taxes on the rich.

    • Baeraad says:

      If you take the problem away from society and down to an individual level, it seems clearer.

      I think the situation is very different on those two levels. When you’re operating on a social level, you deal with laws and rules. Those can force people to do one thing and and not another, give them things or take them away, but they aren’t particularly effective at changing hearts and minds. When you’re operating on an individual level, you frequently have extremely little ability to actually change the environment you live in, but you do have the ability to have the sort of in-depth conversations and emotional connections that can actually change someone’s attitude over time.

      • Berna says:

        On an intermediate level, air lines could put the best seats in the back instead, so economy passengers don’t have to pass through the first class.

        • Matt M says:

          Unless you also board and exit from the rear, the “best seats” can’t be in the back. Quick boarding/departing process is a significant part of what makes them “best”

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Well yes, but from a strictly logistical point of view, fastest overall boarding process is the one that boards passengers from rear to front. This way you never have to pass someone stowing their baggage – you always walk an empty hallway.

            Never really understood why they don’t even try to do that.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I can think of at least one reason. Some people who sit toward the back stow their overhead in the front, presumably so they don’t have to carry it as far. If you load back to front, you might see front passengers with no place for their overhead baggage, despite plenty of room in the back.

        • poignardazur says:

          Some airports use two entry points: the one that starts at the first class seats, and the one that starts at the economy seats.

    • j r says:

      My understanding is that the price of an economy class ticket is pretty heavily subsidized by business/first class fares (as well as by last-minute bookers). From the perspective of pure rationality, sharing that information with the folks who got discounted seats should assuage some of those angry feelings. But in the real world, there are lots of people who would get even angrier at the suggestion that they were being made better off by someone else getting premium service. That is, some people get positive utility from the belief that those in better material situations are somehow undeserving. Likewise, there a plenty of people in relatively well-off situations who get positive utility from the belief that those who are less well-off do deserve their situations.

      All of that tells me that there are real, material reasons for a certain level of distribution (e.g. making sure that people are fed, housed and educated to a certain objective level), but that redistribution with the goal of making people better off in terms of their subjective feelings about themselves or about the fairness of society is a pipe dream. It’s a Red Queen situation, no matter how much you equalize, you’ll just have to redistribute more to get the same utility fix.

      • fahertym says:

        “Likewise, there a plenty of people in relatively well-off situations who get positive utility from the belief that those who are less well-off do deserve their situations.”

        Maybe the best solution to this problem is to invite hordes of dirt-poor third world immigrants to set up shanty towns in America. Then poor-by-American-standards Americans will have their own creepy, unhealthy psychological fix to get them through the day.

    • Guy in TN says:

      Why isn’t the solution to convince the less well off people to not be as angry/annoyed/disturbed/depressed/jealous at their predicament?

      Why doesn’t the fox just convince the rabbit that it should enjoy being eaten? Turn it into a win-win scenario. Easy-peasy.

      • j r says:

        In what sense is the person sitting in the discounted economy class seat being “eaten” by the person in the business class seat?

        That’s the important question. All the rest is pablum.

        • Guy in TN says:

          The thing about property ownership, is if you own it, that means someone else doesn’t.

          At the most basic level, if you have resources that would make my life better, and you don’t share those with me, then you are making my life worse. Like, my life would be better if you didn’t exist, and I was able to access those resources without you in the way.

          Property ownership doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

          • Baron von Neuron says:

            Except most of the time, if the resource owner didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be any resource for you to take in the first place.

          • Guy in TN says:

            What’s the correlation between ownership and creation of a resource? We don’t live in a system that distributes property on that basis. Inheritance, rent, interest, passive income from capital ownership, welfare…what’s left after you subtract all that?

            There’s also the whole naturally-existing resource issue, which can’t just be brushed under the rug.

          • Baron von Neuron says:

            The correlation is very simple: the original owner of a resource is whoever created it.

            Then it can be exchanged or granted to someone, which is why the resource creator and current owner aren’t always the same person.

          • j r says:

            I’m not sure what that has to do with how business class ticket holders are eating the folks in economy, so I guess that we’re going for the pablum.

            That’s fine. In my experience, if you are really the kind of person who feels harmed by interactions with someone who has something that you don’t or has more of something, then there’s not much I can say to change your mind.

            Personally, I’ve found that to be an unproductive mode of being. The world is not zero sum and it doesn’t become zero sum just because we believe that it is.

          • Murphy says:

            @Baron von Neuron

            Apart from the gigantic portion of material wealth that’s not actually created by someone.

            or as geolibertarians put it “you have the right to the fruits of your labor but your labor didn’t make the land”

            The “get what you grab” style libertarianism though loves the “mixing” precept.

            You have to do some crazy mental gymnastics to shoehorn the wealth creation narrative in to cover the huge fraction of wealth that boils down to “my grandpappy hammered some stakes into the corners of these fields…. hence the hundred million dollars worth of oil underneath them is the ‘fruits of my labor'”

            Kinda punches a hole through a large fraction of the philosophical system if you don’t glue the “mixing” hack on the side though.

            Plus it sort of grandfathers in conquest such that old money families who got their wealth from being drinking buddies with the king and murdering peasants get a philosophical free pass once it’s been laundered through at least one individual who didn’t get the wealth through violence… leaving another gaping hole in the otherwise very pretty philosophy.

          • gbdub says:

            TFW you realize your antisocial reaction is so old they named a Deadly Sin for it.

          • 10240 says:

            @Murphy In a modern economy the value of agricultural land is a small fraction of assets. (US agricultural land value is ~2 trillion vs. a total asset value of ~270 trillion and a net worth of ~124 trillion). I don’t think mineral assets are that big of a fraction either. (In most countries those are separate from land ownership and often come with royalty payments to the government, or they were sold by the government at some point, though the US may be different.)

            I’m sympathetic to geolibertarianism, and I don’t agree with the homestead principle. I just think that this question makes little difference to a modern economy. And that large-scale land confiscation or redistribution would have a major disruptive effect on investor confidence for comparatively little benefit, so it’s not worth it at this point.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The correlation is very simple: the original owner of a resource is whoever created it.

            1. All resources are originally sourced from the natural world. Not created by people.

            2. Our legal property system isn’t based on the theories of the homestead principle, anyway. You’re defending the system based on claiming it upholds values that it never purported to uphold.

          • 10240 says:

            All resources are originally sourced from the natural world. Not created by people.

            Only a tiny fraction of the value of a building, machine etc. comes from the natural resources that were used to create it.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            How much comes from the labour?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Only a tiny fraction of the value of a building, machine etc. comes from the natural resources that were used to create it.

            Its true that they have both improved and unimproved aspects. I don’t know why the logical conclusion is “therefore this resource should be owned by me, because I improved on aspects of it”, anymore than “therefore, this resource should not be claimed as my own, because there remains unimproved aspects to it”.

            My take, is that this moral system of determining property ownership via “homesteading” is a dead end, and utilitarian arguments are far more persuasive (e.g., “property rights incentivize production”, ect)

        • beleester says:

          The issue isn’t the exact thing the fox is doing to the rabbit. The issue is that “just convince people to want X” is not a trivial or even achievable action for most X. You can’t just hack a utility function to say whatever you want, and if you could, our society would look very weird.

          “Convince people to not envy people with more stuff” seems about as achievable as “convince a rabbit not to run from a fox,” “convince corporations to not maximize profits,” “convince Republicans to vote for abortion rights,” or “convince a depressed person not to be depressed.” Just because it’s simple to describe doesn’t make it easy or possible.

          EDIT: Especially since you need to implement a solution on a societal level. Given enough time and patience, you could probably train a rabbit to not be scared of foxes. But training all rabbits not to be scared of foxes would be the world’s largest ecological engineering program.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          “In what sense is the person sitting in the discounted economy class seat being “eaten” by the person in the business class seat?”

          In the sense that being in too small a space for hours is bad for people.

          • j r says:

            How is that being caused by the person in business class? The airline could eliminate premium seats, but the result isn’t going to be more space for economy. It’s going to be more small economy seats.

            You could make the whole plane some version of premium economy, but that would mean that everyone would have to pay more and some people would be priced out of flying. How is that a more just outcome?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Given a society with vast wealth disparities, I support a tiered airline seating system. It’s like a value menu at a restaurant. I think it would be better to live in a society where a tiered system isn’t necessary, and I intend on fighting to achieve that equality, but banning the tiered system doesn’t get you there.

            My objections were regarding fahertym’s mid-post arguing that we should condition people to be more accepting of their subservient position in life.

          • j r says:

            @Guy in Tn

            What is it about sitting in economy class that makes someone subservient to the person sitting in business class? I fly a good deal, mostly in business class for work and economy for personal trips. My company pays for business class because they expect me to fly long distances across multiple time zones and be ready to represent them competently when I arrive. I mostly fly economy on my personal trips because the extra expense is not worth it. While certainly less comfortable, there is nothing about my flights in economy that strike me as subservient.

            fahertym is right. If you perceive every situation in which someone has more of something than you do as exploitation, lefty politics isn’t going to save you. For one thing, the revolution ain’t coming. And if it does, it will just be an excuse for some group to take power and impose some other hierarchy. Even if your dreams came true and you ended up in a society that actively redistributed the means of production and all of their outputs, there would still be people who are taller, people who are smarter, more charming, more politically favored. And those same feelings of inadequacy and resentment will start to creep back in.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Even if your dreams came true and you ended up in a society that actively redistributed the means of production and all of their outputs, there would still be people who are taller, people who are smarter, more charming, more politically favored

            Intrinsic traits vs. actions that effect others.

            And those same feelings of inadequacy and resentment will start to creep back in.

            Just to be perfectly clear: If you think the left’s opposition to income inequality is about envy, jealousy, inadequacy, or even “feelings”, you are crashing and burning the ideological Turning Test.

          • j r says:

            Just to be perfectly clear: If you think the left’s opposition to income inequality is about envy, jealousy, inadequacy, or even “feelings”, you are crashing and burning the ideological Turning Test.

            Agree to disagree. I happen to think that ressentiment is the most powerful political force that there is. And I think that applies across the political spectrum. The same feelings that lead some on the left to blame the rich for most of their problems leads some on the right to scapegoat immigrants.

          • Aapje says:

            @Guy in TN

            Do you think that people on the left are übermenschen/Gods who are not subject to human feelings? That would be remarkable.

            Or perhaps not really, because there truly seems to be a decent subset on the left who think only the right appeal to emotions with populism, while everything that the left calls for comes from cold rational thinking.

            However, such a belief is quite irrational and presumably caused at least in part by human feelings…

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Aapje

            Saying that the objection to income inequality is because of “feelings”, implies that the harm is primarily non-physical. (Not really wanting to wade into mind/body debate here, that’s just how the term is normally used).

            Now its true, that people on the left have strong feelings about income inequality, but these feelings are not the stated rationale for their objection.

            For example, a slave has strong feelings about slavery. He is very mad about it! But to say “the slave is opposed to slavery, because it hurts his feelings, as evidenced by him feeling sad and angry” is confusing the cause and the effect.

          • Matt M says:

            Are you seriously comparing the physical circumstances of a slave being whipped by his master with those of someone sitting in coach being relatively more uncomfortable than someone sitting in first class?

          • Aapje says:

            @Guy in TN

            I think that most people’s stated rationale is a rationalization. It’s often possible to get them to change their stated rationale to a different one or demonstrate a strong inconsistency in what evidence they will accept or such, by pointing out logical conclusions of their rationale that don’t fit their revealed preferences*. Somehow they nearly always shift to a different rationale that results in the same conclusions or only accept the evidence as valid that results in those conclusions and/or benefits the same group. This is quite telling and strongly suggests that you merely made them alter their stated rationale or made them come up with rationalizations for cherry picking, to justify their feelings-based beliefs in a different way.

            Your slavery example doesn’t actually have a stated rationale. You merely explain that the slave has angry feelings. This is fully consistent with my claims and doesn’t seem to make your claims more plausible.

            The human mind responds with anger at perceived unfairness and mistreatment. What is considered fair or not heavily depends on enculturation, where a lot of that actually works on quite short time scales, with people adopting the social norms of their group rather rapidly. If everyone would truly reason their way to their political positions, you wouldn’t see societies going through these rapid mood swings.

            * Because most people are not that competent at rationalizing. We are better at it, which is why we are called rationalists 😛

          • Guy in TN says:

            [1850’s Alabama, a slave is tied to a whipping post]

            Slaveowner: [whipping] I will make you pay, dumb slave!
            Slave: Please stop, this is awful
            Slaveower: [sarcastically] Oh, I’m sorry, did I hurt your feelings?
            Slave: You are actually hurting a lot more than that. I will probably die
            Slaveowner: YOUR STATED RATIONALE IS A RATIONALIZATION
            Slave: What you say is true, of course. I have arrived at the conclusion that whipping me is a bad thing, not from a prioiri reasoning, but working backwards from the sense I have that dying is bad. If counter factually, I was in the position of doing the whipping, I would probably find ways to rationalize my position, just as you have.
            Slaveowner: Exactly!
            Slave: But, even if we admit that both positions are based on feelings, that doesn’t mean we have to abandon all language that describes the physical portions of reality.
            Slaveowner: [still whipping] But how can I trust that you are describing reality accurately? You just admitted that you would change sides, if given the chance. Why can’t I just dismiss all your complaints as “feelings”?
            Slave That’s it- right there! It’s an isolated demand for rigor. You are dismissing my complaints as “feelings”, while only tacitly admitting that everyone’s is, once intellectually cornered about it. You never normally say “I want to keep my slave plantation, because to do otherwise would be to hurt my feelings”. You talk about the high production of cotton, how you stimulate the local economy, the social problems with granting slaves legal equality. It’s only when I start voicing my concerns that they get described as “feelings”.
            Slaveowner: You know what? You’re just envious of my position. Don’t you know jealousy is a sin? [keeps whipping]

            (Your comment is good Aapje, and I basically agree with it. I’m just teasing out the implications of applying this reasoning too broadly)

          • Aapje says:

            @Guy in TN

            Or:

            Slave owner: [whipping and lynching]
            Slave: You are killing me, pal (and not figuratively)
            Lincoln: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. So stop with the whipping and lynching, yo!
            Slave: Listen to the man. I am equal and deserve to have my inalienable Right of Life respected, dude
            Slave owner: Your solid argument and the fact that I lost the civil war and thus have no choice convinced me to free you
            Ex-slave: Thanks, I’ll go back to beating my wife half to death
            Slave owner: Wait, what about the inalienable Right of Life?
            Ex-slave: It’s ‘all men are created equal,’ buddy, not men and women, duh
            Slave owner: Nice rationalization, which is almost the same as the one I used in the past to justify abusing blacks. We seem to be more alike than I thought. Wanna get some cornbread and gumbo?

        • vV_Vv says:

          In what sense is the person sitting in the discounted economy class seat being “eaten” by the person in the business class seat?

          Status awareness is a major component of the value system of most people.

          Trying to convince people not to be annoyed when they are publicly humbled is similar to trying to convince them not to be annoyed when they are punched in the face.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ve never found walking past business class to be particularly humbling. It’s just bigger seats. It’s not like it comes with a knighthood.

            Usually the people in them don’t even look very high-status. Probably because they’re recipients of an upgrade, or people traveling for business on the company’s dime.

          • bean says:

            I’ve actually flown business class. And it was international business, not the crummy imitation that we have on domestic airlines. It was great, but I never had any inclination to lord it over those in the back. (Admittedly, traveling internationally for the first time may have meant I had other things on my mind.)

            On the other hand, going through the pre-check line at airport security always makes me want to cackle and lord it over those stuck in the regular line. I wonder if the regular line contributes to air rage. (On the other hand, you’d have to control for experience with travel very well, because all the frequent fliers are in the pre-check line.)

          • Nornagest says:

            Oh yeah. Going through the TSA is definitely humbling. Line up for getting ritually groped by The System, boys and girls.

            But if I felt so inclined, pre-check or global pass or whatever they call it is a lot cheaper than flying business class. I just don’t fly enough for it to be a good investment.

          • Matt M says:

            I feel like people who don’t have pre-check don’t appreciate the advantages of it. They see shorter lines (sometimes, although this advantage is becoming less pronounced!) and think “I can live without that.”

            What they don’t necessarily see is the dramatic improvement in experience in terms of not having to remove shoes, laptops, 311 liquids, etc.

            Also the fact that shorter lines = less stressed TSA employees = friendlier TSA employees

            Pre-check is worth it’s weight in gold. I’d happily pay 10 times what it cost.

          • Nornagest says:

            You don’t need to remove shoes, belts, etc. in Canadian security, either. Not initially. But when I went through their metal detector, it lit up like a Christmas tree, and then I had to take off everything I was wearing with metal on it, one piece at a time between sweeps with a wand. It ended up taking like five minutes and would have been a lot less of a pain just to do it in line. I expect pre-check would be similar.

            (I’ve never paid attention to the liquids thing, and not paying attention to it has never gotten me in trouble.)

          • vV_Vv says:

            Security checks seem very inconsistent between countries, airports, or even at different times at the same airport.

            Sometimes you have to take the shoes and belt off, sometimes you don’t, laptop must be out of the bag on its own tray, or not, the machines are different, at minimum x-ray for the bags and metal detector for the person, but sometimes there are body scanners, explosive checks on the bags or on the hands, groping may or may not occur, sometimes there is a second security checkpoint right before the gate whose only apparent function is to take away the overpriced water bottle you purchased after the main security checkpoint.

            The list of items allowed in the cabin also makes little sense: a sealed coca cola can is banned, but a cigarette lighter or medication inhaler, containing pressurized flammable gas, is allowed.

            It’s security theater at it’s finest.

          • bean says:

            Oh yeah. Going through the TSA is definitely humbling. Line up for getting ritually groped by The System, boys and girls.

            It’s not even seeing other people humbled, as it is seeing airport security become a non-issue. You walk up, put your cell phone somewhere where it will go through the X-ray machine, take off anything with lots of metal (my glasses and watch have never given any trouble) and go through. The line usually isn’t bad, and it moves faster than the regular one, too. It’s wonderful. Last time I flew, I was through security in about 5 minutes, and didn’t have to laboriously reassemble my person afterwards.

          • disposablecat says:

            @nornagest: They’ve started requesting people in line at pre-check to do this, at least the last time I was in SEA. As a relatively frequent flyer, my strategy for pre-check is:

            -check everything you possibly can
            -for the things you actually need on the flight (Kindle, laptop + brick, headphones, USB battery, maybe a charger), small single-strap backpack as a carry-on (this lets you very easily swing it around the front of your body to access it, while moving, without taking it off); I think my current one is from some random Amazon 3P merchant called Arcenciel
            -wear gym shorts, sneakers, and a light t-shirt to the airport and on the flight
            -while in line at pre-check, place everything you have on you, which should basically just be cell/wallet/watch, in your backpack
            -send backpack through x-ray, breeze through metal detector with your shoes on
            -recover items from backpack while walking to gate

            Agreed with Matt M that pre-check’s actual screening experience is worth its weight in gold, even aside from the shorter lines. It feels almost pre-9/11.

      • Baron von Neuron says:

        But the fox isn’t going to eat the rabbit. It is the rabbits who are plotting to eat the fox, because they are unable to provide for themselves. The fox, on the other hand, offers the rabbits to work for it in exchange for food.

        • Guy in TN says:

          The fox, on the other hand, offers the rabbits to work for it in exchange for food.

          Why would the rabbits take that offer? There’s apparently enough of them to take the food the fox has, deal or no deal. Go for it, little guys.

          • Baron von Neuron says:

            (moral reason) It was the fox who has produced the food, either by working himself or organising other workers via voluntary exchange.

            (factual reason) The fox is smarter and has sharper teeth, and that is also why it’s a fox to begin with.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If the fox can just kill the rabbits anyway, why isn’t it making them its slaves? Seems like the rabbits must have some power here, whether the fox wants to admit it or not.

          • Baron von Neuron says:

            Why would the fox want to kill the rabbits, though? The fox wants to have voluntary, mutually beneficial exchanges with the rabbits — which means beneficial for both the rabbits *and* the fox.

            Most of the rabbits also understand that. While they may not possess the prowess of the fox, which means they can’t get as prosperous as the fox, they still are better off with it than without: after all, the fox only ever proposes voluntary exchange. If the rabbits don’t want to do it, they can simply decline, and proceed to get along peacefully. Some of these rabbits are jealous of the fox. They believe that, if they try hard enough, one day they will be able to outcompete the fox.

            Some other rabbits, on the other hand, are jealous of the fox too.
            But they don’t really think they can out-produce or out-smart the fox, so they simply want to rob it. Will they succeed in that? Sometimes they do, but usually not for a long time — after all, they didn’t learn how to grow carrots; only how to rob foxes.

    • Guy in TN says:

      Or alternatively:

      “Why isn’t the solution to convince the wealthy people to not be as angry/annoyed/disturbed/depressed/jealous when their property is mass-appropriated?”

      If I had a friend who had an ok job, made ok money, had a girlfriend he generally liked, and basically had all the trappings of an ordinary middle class Western lifestyle… but who was completely miserable and constantly rambled about how much he hates his life because there are other people in the country who have cooler jobs, higher incomes, hotter girlfriends, and what he perceives to be better lives… I would suggest that my friend seek therapy and reexamine his outlook on life. I would not suggest that he join a political campaign to advocate for heavy taxes on the rich.

      If the rich ramble on too much about how they think this is unfair, I would suggest therapy rather than joining conservative or libertarian political movements.

      Just some simple, good-faith advice, ya’ know

      • EchoChaos says:

        Because the problem isn’t whether or not the rich are mad about it, but if the rich will stop producing if it happens.

        Most rich people produce an amount of wealth that MASSIVELY exceeds their ability to consume it. Bill Gates will never in his entire lifetime spend the billions he has created.

        The fact that we can buy off his creation with mere private jets and yachts, the cost of which pales in comparison to the wealth created, is staggering.

        If evenly distributed communist countries could produce that much wealth, you’d have an argument. But they can’t.

        • dick says:

          Most rich people produce an amount of wealth that MASSIVELY exceeds their ability to consume it.

          Boy oh boy do I not believe this. Got a citation?

          • EchoChaos says:

            I don’t, but I can’t understand how you wouldn’t believe this.

            There are essentially three types of people in the world. Those who are net producers of wealth, those who are net neutral and those who are net consumers.

            To become wealthy, you are by definition creating large amounts of wealth. If you have wealth remaining at the end of your life, as virtually all rich people do, then you are a net producer, often on the order of millions more than you consumed.

            Unless you think that the majority of the wealthy in the world are heirs who are just in the temporary state of burning down familial wealth (probably false, given Scott’s post about rentiers previously), then you must concede that most of the currently living wealthy are producing more than they consume.

          • Lambert says:

            I feel like we’re not defining ‘creating wealth’ properly.

            Is it value created or value going to you?
            The winner of a zero-sum game creates wealth for themselves, at the expense of someone else. (As do thieves and rent seekers)

            A philanthropist will often create wealth for the world at large, but not themselves.

            Normal people do both. They create a certain amount of wealth and receive a certain proportion of that wealth, depending on market forces.

            By introducing entirely new products, entrepreneurs are capable of generating far more consumer surplus than what they earn.
            Though the value doesn’t look like dollars. It looks like the utility to them of buying Windows, or whatever.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            To become wealthy, you are by definition creating large amounts of wealth.

            “By definition” overstates the case. Say instead that, in the usual case where someone becomes wealthy by doing business with a lot of people who have the option not to deal with him, denying that he’s created a lot of wealth involves multiplying stupid people beyond necessity.

          • dick says:

            To become wealthy, you are by definition creating large amounts of wealth.

            Warren Buffett is really wealthy. What did he create?

          • EchoChaos says:

            Warren Buffett created investment capital, which is what we call it when someone provides his own wealth (at the risk of losing it) to someone else to do business in exchange for a return.

            Had he been bad at this, he would instead be poor and unheralded.

            Investment capital allows someone with a great idea and the drive of hard work to massively multiply his force while giving a return to the capitalist. It’s one of the great achievements of our time.

          • dick says:

            Warren Buffett created investment capital… Had he been bad at this, he would instead be poor and unheralded.

            …and other than him and his kids, the world would be poorer how exactly? How (in terms of creating wealth) is he different from a very successful poker player?

            You’re conflating “wealth” in the sense of value and “wealth” in the sense of money. They’re not the same thing; the world is improved when the former is created, but not when the latter is. Sometimes they get created at the same time by the same person, but certainly not always*; lots of rich people get that way by betting for/against the people who produce value or extracting rent from them. I suspect that’s the more common way, but I don’t know how one would realistically try to measure that.

            Edit: to be clear, I agree that lending money to entrepreneurs is indeed a useful and wealth-producing (in both senses of “wealth”) activity; but I don’t think that’s how Buffett made his money.

          • Nornagest says:

            …and other than him and his kids, the world would be poorer how exactly? How (in terms of creating wealth) is he different from a very successful poker player?

            A lot of other people wouldn’t have had the money to make their own successful products and services, so some of those products and services now wouldn’t exist. Like the rest of the comment you’re replying to said. Investment capital is not gambling on a company in the sense of gambling on a horse; it’s an exchange where you give the company money and they give you an ownership stake (that you hope will be worth something later). If they didn’t need that money in order to create value, they wouldn’t be selling stock; they’d just be creating value and pocketing the proceeds themselves.

            This is not a conflation of wealth and value. There’s a layer of indirection between wealth-provision and value-creation, but the value-creation is still happening.

          • ana53294 says:

            …and other than him and his kids, the world would be poorer how exactly? How (in terms of creating wealth) is he different from a very successful poker player?

            Didn’t Warren Buffet step in to save the Bank of America?

            His incredible skills in investing and shareholders trust in him meant that he was able to step into a company that was in deep trouble, may have needed federal money and support, and make out like a bandit.

            Sure, he made money. But was anybody else in a position as comfortable as he was to go there, offer them cash, and extort the preferred shares at the huge interest? If the Fed had to step in, the government would have had to pay up, and I am pretty sure the government wouldn’t have gotten as good a deal, while taking the same risk.

            Besides, he’s going to give and has given a huge amount to charity. That has helped make the world a better place.

          • dick says:

            Investment capital is not gambling on a company in the sense of gambling on a horse; it’s an exchange where you give the company money and they give you an ownership stake (that you hope will be worth something later). If they didn’t need that money in order to create value, they wouldn’t be selling stock; they’d just be creating value and pocketing the proceeds themselves.

            When you lend a couple of broke software engineers money to start a company, sure; when you buy a share of stock on the NYSE, no. And when you LBO a public company to extract money that the previous owners generated, very much no. I will concede that some* of Buffett’s investments more closely resemble the former than the latter; does anyone besides EchoChaos think that all of them do, definitionally, as in, “To become wealthy, you are by definition creating large amounts of wealth”?

            * When I said “what has he created?” I was being too pithy and not using my “how could someone misinterpret this” filter. I only meant to argue that a lot of his wealth was acquired without creating real value, not that every single dollar of it was.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I am not sure why buying a share of a stock on the NYSE is any different (other than perhaps the degree of risk) than buying part of a business in a garage.

            In what way are you thinking it is?

            Both are purchasing a partial ownership stake (varying in size) of a company in order to reap a future benefit and increase the operating capital of the company.

            An LBO is the exact same thing as a mortgage or any other sale where future value is expected to pay off current value plus some interest.

          • Nornagest says:

            When you lend a couple of broke software engineers money to start a company, sure; when you buy a share of stock on the NYSE, no.

            The differences between lending broke software engineers money in exchange for a share of their profits, and buying a share on the NYSE, are scale and the possibility of resale. I assume it’s the possibility of resale you’re objecting to? That adds more layers of indirection, but even indirect sale is socially useful in that, first, it reduces the risk incurred by direct investors (if you no longer have faith in a company, you can sell your share to someone that does have faith in it and recoup some of your losses; that makes it a lot easier for risky or speculative things to get funded); and second, it allows for ongoing accurate valuation (very handy the next time the company needs to sell stock on the NYSE; buying stuff without a recent open-market valuation is a shitshow, as anyone with an early stake in Bitcoin Cash can tell you).

          • Guy in TN says:

            To become wealthy, you are by definition creating large amounts of wealth.

            No, that is not the “definition” of wealthy. To be wealthy is to own wealth. Whether you created it or not plays no essential role.

            Unless you think that the majority of the wealthy in the world are heirs who are just in the temporary state of burning down familial wealth

            Inheritance isn’t the only form of non-labor income. It isn’t even the most important, income via capital ownership is. When you combine inheritance+capital ownership+rent+interest+welfare, I doubt the wealth they own is even correlated to wealth-production, much less a proxy for it.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I mail my landlord a check, and he drives to the bank to cash it.

            Now, you could say that because I’m willing to pay him a hundreds of dollars, and all he appears to do is drive to the bank, that his bank-driving time must be creating huge amounts of wealth. Ten minutes, for hundred of dollars! His labor output must be spectacular!

            Or more accurately, you could reason that “money you receive” and “value you created” are not necessarily correlated.

            The argument isn’t that billionaires produce zero wealth. It’s that the wealth they produce is far, far less than the compensation they receive. The fact that our system doesn’t have a clean and tidy way of measuring wealth-creation doesn’t make this less so.

            Warren Buffet pushing money around and signing checks is socially useful. So is a king who gives orders to the peasants. The question is, why does the king get all the gold, while the peasants live in rags? Just World Mode has never been turned on, just because we no longer live in feudalism.

          • Another Throw says:

            Now, you could say that because I’m willing to pay him a hundreds of dollars, and all he appears to do is drive to the bank, that his bank-driving time must be creating huge amounts of wealth. Ten minutes, for hundred of dollars! His labor output must be spectacular!

            No you may absolutely NOT say that, and the very suggestion is laughable.

            The overwhelming majority of those hundreds of dollars go towards paying him back for the enormous upfront cost of building the building in the first place. Most of the rest goes towards the expenses involved in keeping it from falling down or having the State seize it for back taxes. Maybe, if there happens to be any left this month, he’ll have a few dollars left over to cover his time driving to the bank.

            You’re completing skipping over the part where the only reason there is something to rent in the first place is because he put it there.

          • dick says:

            I am not sure why buying a share of a stock on the NYSE is any different (other than perhaps the degree of risk) than buying part of a business in a garage. In what way are you thinking it is?

            If you were to buy a share of my privately held company (Ineptech, a Very Large and Serious Software Company), you would send the money to me. If you were to buy a share of MSFT, to whom would the money go?

          • dick says:

            Or more accurately, you could reason that “money you receive” and “value you created” are not necessarily correlated.

            Possibly better examples of this would be Doyle Brunson’s poker earnings (lots of money received with negligible value created) and Linus Torvalds writing the linux kernel (lots of value created with negligible money received).

          • Guy in TN says:

            The overwhelming majority of those hundreds of dollars go towards paying him back for the enormous upfront cost of building the fucking building in the first place. Most of the rest goes towards the expenses involved in keeping it from falling down or having the State seize it for back taxes. Maybe, if there happens to be any left this month, he’ll have a few dollars left over to cover his time driving to the bank.

            You still admit that economic rent is a thing, though. So the question is, how much is he getting from labor, and how much is he getting from capital ownership. You seem to assume his portion from capital ownership must be very small, for reasons I am unclear.

            You’re completing skipping over the part where the only reason there is something to rent in the first place is because he put it there.

            Incorrect, this building was built in the 1930s. If my landlord had never existed, this building would be right here waiting for me.

          • CatCube says:

            @Guy in TN

            I mail my landlord a check, and he drives to the bank to cash it.
            Now, you could say that because I’m willing to pay him a hundreds of dollars, and all he appears to do is drive to the bank, that his bank-driving time must be creating huge amounts of wealth. Ten minutes, for hundred of dollars! His labor output must be spectacular!

            You…do understand that renting property to people involves a whole lot more than cashing the check, right? Owning residential property is expensive. PITI is a cost whether you’re living in the property or renting it to others. The recommendation for owning your own home is to budget 1% of the purchase price per year for maintenance.

            I don’t know what the rule of thumb is for renting, but it’s likely to be higher, since you have to cover the risk of a tenant who will destroy your property*, not pay the rent, or do both.

            * Remember that a person can do tens of thousands of dollars in damage to a piece of property in less than an hour, and they can do it inadvertently as well as deliberately

          • Another Throw says:

            If you were to buy a share of my privately held company (Ineptech, a Very Large and Serious Software Company), you would send the money to me. If you were to buy a share of MSFT, to whom would the money go?

            I would be paying someone back for the investment they made by paying someone back for their investment they made by paying someone back for the investment they made by giving money directly to MSFT to fund operations.

            Because stocks are fungible they aren’t tracked individually enough to actually reconstruct the exact chain, but the fact of the matter is that every share of MSFT was issued by MSFT in exchange for cash used to fund operations. The people that paid that cash occasionally prefer to convert that stock back into cash by selling it, for which they are being repaid for their initial investment, plus or minus appreciation.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @dick

            Possibly better examples of this would be Doyle Brunson’s poker earnings (lots of money received with negligible value created) and Linus Torvalds writing the linux kernel (lots of value created with negligible money received).

            There’s really too many examples of non-labor income to know where to start. Gambling and inheritance are easy to visualize. I like talking about land rent since it affects so many people directly, and people generally hate their landlords. Capital income is the biggest of the all, but its harder for people to conceptualize because its often mixed in with a small amount of labor-income in the form of pushing money around/sitting in an executive office, which throws people for a loop.

            However, my go-to counter-arg for people who want to link wealth ownership and wealth creation really ought to be government welfare, that would finally get the gears turning, maybe.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @CatCube

            You…do understand that renting property to people involves a whole lot more than cashing the check, right?

            Alright, so he cashes checks…

            Owning residential property is expensive.

            …and he, uh, writes checks too. Presumably of lesser amounts than those he is cashing. So much wealth creation!

            It seems like you all are just measuring wealth creation by whatever our economic/political system churns out, distribution-wise. Like, if my landlords wealth = his wealth creation, then we can measure his wealth creation as my rent minus repairs, mortgage, and property taxes. So if my landlord’s property taxes went up, and he ended up with less money than the year before…I guess that must mean he has created less wealth? Since that’s what the system churned out this time? Pretty suspect.

          • Another Throw says:

            Incorrect, this building was built in the 1930s. If my landlord had never existed, this building would be right here waiting for me.

            No. It probably wouldn’t. It would probably have a hole in the roof with a tree growing through it. Unable to find a buyer to recoup their investment or to pay the upkeep, the previous owner abandoned it, for example. Or, knowing that they would never be able to recoup their investment, 1930s-guy never built it in the first place. Arguing counterfactuals isn’t the point.

            To clarify: “put it there [on the rental market].”

            Nor do I really care to argue about how morally abhorrent rents are. That would be a fruitless exercise. You say potato, I say reasonable compensation that encourages the assumption of long term economic risks that create positive sum value. (Or maybe that is a “tuberless exercise”….)

            The point is that that claim about your landlord was incorrect.

          • Another Throw says:

            And, not to belabor the point, but you are also missing one of the principle sources of value that a landlord provides: liquidity in the housing stock.

            Real estate is an illiquid market, with transaction costs running into the several percent, and transaction times sometimes measuring into the years. This illiquidity is an incredible risk to market participants. This risk is unacceptable to the housing market. In fact, a substantial number of housing consumers are prepared to pay a premium for housing to be insulated from this risk. Landlords assume the risks arising from the illiquidity of their assets, and provide a liquid derivative to these customers. The premium that these customers are willing to pay is the incentive that entices landlords to assume these risks.

            This is positive sum.

            For the customer, the expected value of paying the rental premium for their housing needs is higher than that for buying real estate for those needs. The customer receives value from transaction in the form of liquidity in addition to the value of the housing. The landlord, meanwhile, also receives value from the transaction in the form of cash in excess of expected expenses (including those arising from the illiquidity of the real estate).

            Whenever you find yourself perplexed about where the value is when you’re not seeing factories or tanks or pumpernickel being created… the answer is probably liquidity. It is an incredibly valuable intangible.

            Okay, maybe not as valuable as the Star Wars IP, but close. 😉

          • Guy in TN says:

            To clarify: “put it there [on the rental market].”

            Its true that the landlord is the gatekeeper I have to go through to access this building, but I don’t see what this has to do with wealth creation. As least your “but he built it” argument made sense along that line of thought, I don’t even see what you are going for here.

            If I put a gate over a river, and started charging boats a toll to cross that point, would also you say that I have created wealth? Building the toll gate and hiring 24 hour guards was expensive, mind you.

            EDIT: I have read the liquidity argument. Once again, my argument has never been the landlords produce no wealth. Its that wealth creation and wealth ownership are not correlated.

            If you keep pointing out the ways that landlords sweat over a hard days labor, and all the amazing value they add to society, then you’ll just convince me that landlords are under-compensated for their wealth creation. Which still leaves us with the same ol’ disconnect.

          • Another Throw says:

            If I put a gate over a river, and started charging boats a toll to cross that point, would also you say that I have created wealth? Building the toll gate and hiring 24 hour guards was expensive, mind you.

            No. And I don’t know of any states that will allow you to do that with a natural water way for exactly that reason. Now, if you build a bunch of locks and dredge navigation channels, that’s a totally different game.

            EDIT: Maybe I’m just slow from jumping in late, but I haven’t really seen an arguments to that effect. But, briefly, I would just note that you need to own real estate to provide a liquid derivative of it, so at least in this instance ownership and creation are clearly correlated. And in the river example, building an illegal tollbooth is banditry, not value creation*. If, however, you build a bunch of locks, you would both own the locks and be creating positive sum value for your customers. In which case, again, the relationship would hold.

            ETA: It seems intuitive to me that any value created requires inputs, and that those inputs will necessarily require the expenditure of some kind of wealth. In order to formally address the general case, however, you would probably need to talk to an Real Economist.

            [*] Are there any states were you can do this? Navigable rivers are a federal thing, and everywhere I am familiar with other natural waterways are public rights-of-way.

          • cryptoshill says:

            So to clear up some misconceptions because people like to use poker players as equivalent to stock investors – this is just not the case. If you want to talk about “gambling” and the stock market you should be talking about stock and derivatives traders, who make up a small portion of the overall population that owns stock. (Institutional investors being a big one, but those players are usually investing for other, large groups of people that gave the money to the institution to simplify their own investing decisionmaking).

            To make the analogy, if I were to make a poker game that reflected how investors think using a standard 52 – card deck (also this would never, *ever* be offered at a casino) –
            The various poker hands have a listed value, which will increase if a random card drawn from a seperate 52-card deck shows a card that shares a suit or a card value with a card in the hand. Every player is dealt 2 cards which are unknown to the other participants. Nine cards are dealt face-up to the board. Each participant may (in turn) elect to “buy” a card from the community (which adds equally to the value of all completed hands, to simplify) or elect to propose a “trade” for a card they want from another player, if they do not see it on the board – that player is unbound by price restrictions and can charge whatever they like. At the end of a round if a player has completed a poker hand, he is paid the value of that hand and it is removed from play. At the end of three rounds, the game is over and new cards are dealt.

            Some players will elect to just sell off their starting hand and save resources for later rounds (particularly if they have a bad hand). Others will elect to try to assemble a large quantity of smaller hands, and still others will try to assemble the big hands. However, each one is doing so with the expectation that they will get some *return* on the cash that they anted to get the cards needed to be paid, They expect the business venture (hand) to *succeed*.

            A trader on the other hand , who we like to hate on in movies a fair bit – is someone who in fact generates no value, his game is zero sum. A trader, just like in poker – is trying to profit from being slightly better at understanding the many market inputs than the next guy. This allows him to buy securities at prices that are “too low” and profit when they rise to fair valuations, or buy fairly valued securities and profit when they rise to a “bubble”. None of that behavior represents any real faith in the company or desire to fund their business operations.

            That said, and as Another Throw alluded to – when the products being traded by traders are real and not fictional as in the versions poker I didn’t make up to illustrate the point, they do provide a service to the rest of the market. That service is liquidity. Having lots of traders competing with each other in a quasi zero-sum poker game with way fuzzier math and lots more money makes it easier for actual investors to buy and sell securities. It might affect the amplitude of given parts of the business boom/bust cycle, but I’m willing to bet it keeps the individual pain suffered from investment losses lower than it would be otherwise.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Lets talk about the river thing:

            It’s true, that in my specific example, boat travel would make it a “navigable river” and thus the gate would be illegal in the US. However, foot travel down a stream does not render it “navigable”, and property owners can and do charge for access.

            And in the river example, building an illegal tollbooth is banditry, not value creation

            So, you are suggesting that it is value creation to build a toll gate for foot travel, but not value creation to build a toll gate for boat travel? Because the state has declared it such?

            Really, the argument applies to all access of unimproved natural resources. Land, most critically.

            This is what rent (rent-seeking) is, at it’s most basic. These terms come up a lot on SSC primarily in relation to government action, but rent is in is in no way restricted to the public sphere.

          • dick says:

            So to clear up some misconceptions because people like to use poker players as equivalent to stock investors – this is just not the case.

            I don’t think anyone holds the misconception you’re clearing up. I said they’re similar in one and only one way: they both make wealth (in the sense of acquiring money) without making wealth (in the sense of creating some value).

            …they do provide a service to the rest of the market. That service is liquidity. Having lots of traders competing with each other in a quasi zero-sum poker game with way fuzzier math and lots more money makes it easier for actual investors to buy and sell securities.

            Ri-i-ight, just like playing poker creates value by making it easier for other poker players to find a game, but if we’re using a definition of “create value” that loose then we should applaud people who take a shit on the floor of the public library for contributing to GDP growth via creating jobs in the janitorial industry.

            Remember, the matter under contention was, “To become wealthy, you are by definition creating large amounts of wealth,” and my position is that that’s false, and my example was stock trading. I think that arguments of the form, “Actually, the value created by stock trading is not literally zero, it’s just very small and indirect” are more agreeing with me than disagreeing.

          • John Schilling says:

            A trader on the other hand , who we like to hate on in movies a fair bit – is someone who in fact generates no value, his game is zero sum

            Thing X, being the product of substantial labor and capital and natural resources and capable of potentially useful functions, but in the possession of someone indifferent to it and who neither has use nor knows anyone who has use for its functionality, is a thing of little value. Thing X’, identical to Thing X but in the possession of an enthusiastic owner in great need of its functionality, is a thing of substantial value. Value is not an absolute, and the delta between value(X) and value(X’) is itself real value, created by the trader, engaged in a positive-sum transaction. This is Economics 101, and it is very important and it is absolutely true.

          • cryptoshill says:

            @dick –
            This is where the analogy between a gambling game and a poker game breaks down – in a poker game the amount of value produced by the whole system (“game”) is fixed, and the only way to increase your output value is to take some from someone else.

            I think I misphrased here. My claim is more along the lines of “An individual stock trader produces almost no value, but the presence of stock traders is a net benefit to the free flow of capital which benefits everyone.”

            However, in the stock market (or any economy, really) the presence of speculators and traders (who are all in some sense engaged in a series of zero sum games) serve to move these objects around between people who don’t want them and people who do. A real estate speculator – for example, may buy a foreclosure at a bargain basement price (thus winning at the expense of the previous homeowner and the bank) and put some repairs into it for later resale – this is mostly value created by “cutting checks”. However, the speculators presence allowed the bank to offload a toxic asset and for the housing market to (eventually) normalize.

            This process provides more net benefit than it does loss, because in order to trade you need to trade things, trading is by nature zero sum – and for every trader that makes a killing selling overpriced dotcom stocks, there’s someone who “took the other side”. The people who are truly benefiting are the people who are looking for these opportunities as true investors and would be unable to find them if that group of people wasn’t there.

          • CatCube says:

            @Guy in TN

            …people generally hate their landlords.

            This is common enough, but I admit to being puzzled why it’s true. What specifically are the reasons for this? Maybe I’ve been fortunate, but all of the 7 landlords I’ve had have been fine. Repairs get made quickly, and in the places that included landscaping and outdoor work it happens on time, etc. Do yours just not repair things on time or something?

            The biggest hassle I had was I had to move to a new place for 6 months before moving to a new city, because I was due to move in December but the landlord was coming back to live in the place I was renting in July. It’s hard for me to get irate over somebody y’know, using the house they own to live in. The property manager helped find a place that they were managing to move to, so my point of contact didn’t even change. I did have the hassle of moving, but luckily there wasn’t much in the way of additional expenses since it was only about a mile (not like moving to a new city where I need to figure out a new commute, and the lease was short so the apartment-specific stuff I’d normally have to get I just did without for the half a year, etc.)

            …and he, uh, writes checks too. Presumably of lesser amounts than those he is cashing. So much wealth creation!

            It seems like you all are just measuring wealth creation by whatever our economic/political system churns out, distribution-wise. Like, if my landlords wealth = his wealth creation, then we can measure his wealth creation as my rent minus repairs, mortgage, and property taxes. So if my landlord’s property taxes went up, and he ended up with less money than the year before…I guess that must mean he has created less wealth? Since that’s what the system churned out this time?

            First off, the important part of managing a rental property isn’t writing the checks. The two most important things are: 1) knowing what checks to write (what needs to be done now vs. what can be deferred) and the even more important 2) having enough money to write the checks. These are actually pretty difficult, and a landlord who’s bad at them will find his wealth rapidly disappearing. Maintenance costs on a property are extremely streaky. You’ll have nothing for a long time, then $15,000 for roof repairs, and if you don’t want to destroy the property, you’d better be able to get $15,000.

            One of the properties I was renting (the one I had to move out of early, actually) had an air conditioner go out, which IIRC was about $6,000. Another time while I was packing to leave town for a week, I noticed a bubble in the drywall in the bedroom ceiling. The next morning on the way to the airport, I called the property manager and told them the roof was leaking, that rain was on the way according to the forecast, and they probably want to fix that leak before it does thousands of dollars in damage. Then I got on a plane and flew away. When I came back, I could see brand new shingles in place, and I estimate that was probably high hundreds to low thousand dollars.

            If they didn’t have the ability to fix that very rapidly, the property would have become unlivable in relatively short order. That is destruction of wealth in both the value of stuff they owned and (I think?) your definition of destroying the property. It doesn’t take long for a building with no maintenance investment to have trees growing out of it.

          • Matt M says:

            I have also never hated my landlords.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Thing X’, identical to Thing X but in the possession of an enthusiastic owner in great need of its functionality, is a thing of substantial value. Value is not an absolute, and the delta between value(X) and value(X’) is itself real value, created by the trader, engaged in a positive-sum transaction. This is Economics 101, and it is very important and it is absolutely true.

            And Economics 102 says that a stock has approximately the same value to most people who trade stocks.

            The only way to “use” a stock is to collect dividends, so the value of a stock is uniquely determined by the amount and timing of the dividends that it pays.

            In general it is possible for different people to have different risk aversion and time discounting factor w.r.t. money in their utility functions, but the type of people who professionally trade stocks probably have similar utility functions, which makes most of the trades in the stock market negative-sum: if a stock is traded for $X , it means that the buyer thinks that it will pay more than $X (time-discounted, risk-adjusted), while the seller thinks it will pay less than $X. They can’t be both right, so the gain of one is the loss of the other (minus the transaction cost).

          • vV_Vv says:

            @Another Throw

            The overwhelming majority of those hundreds of dollars go towards paying him back for the enormous upfront cost of building the building in the first place.

            Say he inherited it from his grandfather who bought it for peanuts during the Great Depression when housing prices where low. Decades later, for reasons unforeseeable at the time of the purchase, a bunch of tech companies set up shop in the area and started hiring lots of non-local people and paying them high salaries while the local government banned the creation of more housing, driving prices up.

            Now the current landlord regularly cashes a huge check, much bigger than the maintenance expenses and taxes he pays. How much value is he creating for that money, exactly?

          • johansenindustries says:

            Most trades being negative sum does not rule out trades in aggregate being positive sum. The trade I make when I need liquidity – or whenever the statement ‘probably have similar utility functions, which makes most of the trades in the stock market negative-sum’ isn’t accurte; but liquidity is the one that comes to mind – is positive sum, so is the one where I try to diversify my portfolio.

            And I think we would probably expect that as the transaction fees go up and the negative-sum is more negative that the percentage of those trades would go down.

          • dick says:

            This is where the analogy between a gambling game and a poker game breaks down…

            Could you lay off the poker? It was an analogy, not an argument. I said that stock trading is a way to acquire money without creating anything of value, like playing poker. If it didn’t help illustrate my point, ignore it, it wasn’t load bearing. Pointing out all the myriad ways in which poker and stock trading are dissimilar does not refute me or contribute anything to this discussion.

            More generally, I understand what you’re saying, but not why you’re saying it. I don’t even know if you’re on my side or not. Are you agreeing with EchoChaos (“To become wealthy, you are by definition creating large amounts of wealth,”) or with me (It’s possible to acquire money without creating wealth, e.g. by wagering on stocks)?

            I agree that the existence of a healthy stock market is valuable, but don’t really think it’s relevant, since any individual trader’s contribution to it is negligible. Besides, if making money via stock trading is “creating wealth” just due to helping to make the market exist, it would follow that losing money does too, which directly contradicts the EchoChaos claim that I’m arguing against.

          • John Schilling says:

            The only way to “use” a stock is to collect dividends, so the value of a stock is uniquely determined by the amount and timing of the dividends that it pays.

            And yet stocks that have never paid a dividend and are not expected to do so in this decade or the next, are widely held as being really valuable.

            The value of stocks and stock markets is that they allow people to participate in profitable, genuinely wealth-creating ventures, even if their personal financial timeline doesn’t allow them to put money in at the beginning and wait until ultimate profitability to pull it out. John Smith has a plan to turn a billion dollars in 2010 into twenty billion dollars in real wealth in 2030, You think this is a good plan, but you don’t come into a spare $20k until now, and you absolutely need the profits in 2025 to send your kids to college.

            The stock market means you can still make a meaningful contribution. Smith’s venture does get off the ground in 2010 and does create gigabucks of real wealth in 2030, only because of the high confidence that people like you would exist today, and would be allowed to make short or mid-term investment and claim the profits thereof. There wasn’t a billion dollars of capital in 2010 that believed in Smith’s plan and could afford to wait to 2030 for the profit. There was only faith in people like you, and in the market’s ability to stitch together bits and pieces of capital over twenty years to come and turn it into a single profitable venture from now to then.

            Your buying $20k of stock in the market today, and selling it in 2025, creates real wealth. Your impugning the legitimacy of stock markets, to the extent anyone cares what you say, destroys it. Choose wisely.

            Thus Enders the lesson in Econ 102

          • vV_Vv says:

            The value of stocks and stock markets is that they allow people to participate in profitable, genuinely wealth-creating ventures

            Only when they buy the stock when it’s created during an IPO or recapitalization. If they buy an existing stock from another trader, the most common type of transaction, they are merely betting that they can predict the value of the stock better than the other guy. It’s like betting on a horse.

            even if their personal financial timeline doesn’t allow them to put money in at the beginning and wait until ultimate profitability to pull it out.

            If you don’t plan to personally cash the dividends, then you are betting that by the time you will sell the stock other traders will assign to it a long-term expected value higher than they do now. It’s a second-order bet: you are betting now (in 2018) on the average belief of others at some point in the future (say 2025) about the expected value of the stock at an even further point in time (e.g. 2030).

          • dick says:

            John Smith has a plan to turn a billion dollars in 2010 into twenty billion dollars in real wealth in 2030…

            Boy, that narrative is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting. Another narrative fitting the same facts is: John Smith had a plan to do great things requiring a billion dollars, and he got his billion on day 1 from Goldman or whoever underwrote his IPO, and ten years later, Joe Johnson bought a hundred shares of JSCO at some price and sold it at some other price without affecting John Smith or John Smith’s company in the slightest.

            I don’t know where “impugning the legitimacy of the stock market” came from. I’ve got nothing against stock speculating, or gambling for that matter. All I’m saying is that the wealth it creates is negligible compared to things that we generally talk about when we discuss creating wealth, like Bill Gates founding Microsoft or a carpenter building a chair. Remember the context: this all started with someone arguing that the dollar amount a person dies with is equivalent, by definition, to the wealth they created during their life minus the wealth they consumed. The only way that’s true is if $1000 earned at a job and $1000 realized from a lucky stock trade created roughly the same wealth in the world. To support that, you need more than a nebulous, indirect effect like “contributing infinitesimally to the stock market’s existence”.

          • Nornagest says:

            The wealth the average trader creates by moving stocks around is pretty low (though nonzero; Joe Johnson is doing something for JSCO by buying JSCO stock from some random trader, viz. establishing demand for it at a certain price). But most traders lose money, so that’s just what we’d expect from a naive analysis. The wealth that traders as a whole create by moving stocks around is large, but that large value is only a fairly small fraction of the fantastically huge amount of wealth tracked by the global stock market. Don’t fall for scope insensitivity here. Small gains add up when there are millions of trades happening a day.

            Anyway, this started as a discussion of Warren Buffett, and he’s primarily an investor, not a trader. It’s important not to get those confused; they have very different economic roles, even if their jobs both boil down to buying and selling stocks.

          • dick says:

            I already said I chose Buffett unwisely. He’s also an activist investor, which to me seems a lot more like management than investing (in that he’s persuading or forcing companies he invests in to do something different than they would’ve otherwise done).

          • Guy in TN says:

            Lots of confusion in this thread over the value added by labor vs. the value added by the capital.

            A though experiment: Let’s say in 2020 you own $100 in cash that you keep in a drawer. In 2021, the US economy goes though a period of severe deflation, and now your cash is worth $110 (in 2020 dollars). Would you say that you just created $10 worth of wealth? (in 2020 dollars, of course)

          • Guy in TN says:

            The reason this argument is devastating, is that he could have died/fallen into a coma immediately after putting the money in the drawer. And it would still be worth…10$ more.

            So is he creating wealth from beyond the grave?

          • johansenindustries says:

            Its vulgar to call your own argument devastating. Particularly when its obviously a red herring (example: a man plants an apple tree, immediately falls in a coma, when he wakes up he has delicious apples. Checkmate atheists.)

            The question is what wealth has a man created when the money he has can suddenly buy more than it could before. And I did find that a little tricky. I think the answer is none. Just like Apple fanbois hadn’t created wealth when they could suddenly buy the iPhone Mini and became richer in that way.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Only when they buy the stock when it’s created during an IPO or recapitalization. If they buy an existing stock from another trader, the most common type of transaction, they are merely betting that they can predict the value of the stock better than the other guy. It’s like betting on a horse

            There are a couple of mistakes here. Decisions on raising secondary capital are often based on stock prices, they could offer debt or equity and will base those decisions on the relative merits, a person who helps set the stock price prior to that is giving the company information to guide its decisions. The process goes much deeper than that though, changes in a companies stock can give them an awareness that they otherwise might not have had. A falling stock price can cause executives to reevaluate a strategy (wisely or unwisely), but there is a lot more going on in markets than just horse betting.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Only when they buy the stock when it’s created during an IPO or recapitalization. If they buy an existing stock from another trader, the most common type of transaction, they are merely betting that they can predict the value of the stock better than the other guy. It’s like betting on a horse

            There are a couple of mistakes here. Decisions on raising secondary capital are often based on stock prices, they could offer debt or equity and will base those decisions on the relative merits, a person who helps set the stock price prior to that is giving the company information to guide its decisions. The process goes much deeper than that though, changes in a companies stock can give them an awareness that they otherwise might not have had. A falling stock price can cause executives to reevaluate a strategy (wisely or unwisely), but there is a lot more going on in markets than just horse betting.

          • cryptoshill says:

            @dick – People seem to clearly hold this misconception because they will put “investors” and “traders” in the same bucket when the best investors in the world (Buffett et al) create large amounts of wealth with good investing decisions, whereas traders do not. You say the amount of value they create is negligible – which is probably true, but the amount of actual “traders” in the market is also fairly low when compared to the market of “investors”.

            As to the claim – I suggest an inverse thesis, which I would need to quantify, if I were going to write it out semi formally it would be something in the ballpark of “It is impossible to increase your wealth without creating value in the process, however it is possible to decrease your wealth while producing value”.

            To give you an example – I start a company that makes chairs. I am actually extremely good at making chairs. They are the best chairs available on the market at any price. However – for some reason unrelated to the popularity of the chairs or their cost I am *completely* incompetent at actually running a business. Orders don’t get filled, nobody actually knows whether theirs is going to show up or not, my labor is far too expensive, etc etc.

            The chairs were still created even though my company is bankrupt in six months.

          • baconbits9 says:

            A though experiment: Let’s say in 2020 you own $100 in cash that you keep in a drawer. In 2021, the US economy goes though a period of severe deflation, and now your cash is worth $110 (in 2020 dollars). Would you say that you just created $10 worth of wealth? (in 2020 dollars, of course)

            Using a fragment of the economy won’t get you any reasonable conclusions. If the economy grew in real terms during the deflation then it is possible that the cumulative actions of savers vs spenders did create wealth, and this particular saver would be a part of that action. If the shift came during a recession it could well be redistribution of wealth, but your critique is only devastating to the claim that every gain in wealth for an individual must be a net gain in wealth for the whole, which I haven’t seen anyone make. All the other statements can be reasonably interpreted within current circumstances, and might not apply to say Zimbabwe and their stock market during hyper inflation.

          • dick says:

            A though experiment: Let’s say in 2020 you own $100 in cash that you keep in a drawer. In 2021, the US economy goes though a period of severe deflation, and now your cash is worth $110 (in 2020 dollars). Would you say that you just created $10 worth of wealth? (in 2020 dollars, of course)

            Inflation changes dollar amounts without affecting intrinsic value. In a conversation like this, where we’re discussing how value changes from one year to another but not explicitly discussing inflation, I think the charitable thing to do is assume everyone means constant dollars.

          • dick says:

            People seem to clearly hold this misconception because they will put “investors” and “traders” in the same bucket when the best investors in the world (Buffett et al) create large amounts of wealth with good investing decisions, whereas traders do not.

            These seem like arbitrary definitions you just made up, but sure, let’s go with them.

            It is impossible to increase your wealth without creating value in the process…

            What about traders? 😉

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            If they buy an existing stock from another trader, the most common type of transaction, they are merely betting that they can predict the value of the stock better than the other guy. It’s like betting on a horse.

            Sometimes, but not always. John had covered this above:

            John Smith has a plan to turn a billion dollars in 2010 into twenty billion dollars in real wealth in 2030, You think this is a good plan, but you don’t come into a spare $20k until now, and you absolutely need the profits in 2025 to send your kids to college.

            If Winthrop needs profits in 2025 on a venture whose returns won’t be realized until 2030, the market still allows Winthrop to sell. If Valentine buys those shares, he’s not betting the value will be greater; Winthrop knows they’re valuable too. But he needs the liquidity.

            Winthrop and Valentine are both creating value, by permitting their seller to use the money received on something they value more.

            Transactions might enable liquidity even more often than over speculation. To know for sure, we’d need to measure how many people sell shares and then immediately put down a payment on a mortgage or tuition or car or another venture. AFAIK, this is practically impossible to know in general, but specific instances appear frequently.

          • John Schilling says:

            Only when they buy the stock when it’s created during an IPO or recapitalization. If they buy an existing stock from another trader, the most common type of transaction, they are merely betting that they can predict the value of the stock better than the other guy. It’s like betting on a horse.

            No. If they buy existing stock from another trader, they are fulfilling the promise made to the very first trader, the one who did buy at the IPO, that he wouldn’t have to wait twenty years before realizing a dime of profit. Mos investors can’t wait that long, and need the promise of a market in which they can sell their shares before full profitability if they are to invest in an IPO.

            If you agree that the investor who does buy at the IPO has participated in creating real wealth, then you must agree that the promise that enabled him to do so, creates real wealth, and that the fulfillment of that promise (even by a mere trader, no better than a common gambler) creates real wealth.

            Alternately, the project requires a billion dollars committed for twenty years. A bunch of IPO investors commit a billion dollars for five years. Then three bunches of traders commit a billion dollars for five years. Why are the IPO investors the only ones you credit with having created wealth?

            Paul Brinkley has also had a stab at explaining this, and I hope between us we’ve maybe clarified things

          • dick says:

            If you agree that the investor who does buy at the IPO has participated in creating real wealth, then you must agree that the promise that enabled him to do so, creates real wealth, and that the fulfillment of that promise (even by a mere trader, no better than a common gambler) creates real wealth.

            I already agreed that the market has value, and since some of that value is network effects, that each additional trader increases the value of the NYSE to all the other traders by some small amount, so participating in it certainly does create some wealth, however tiny.

            (Just for shits and giggles though, how tiny? Let’s get an envelope to scribble on the back of:

            Alice the trader decides to buy 100 shares of MSFT. The average daily trading value on the NYSE, per wikipedia, was approximately $169 billion in 2013. MSFT was about $50 back then, so Alice’s trade might be said to make up 169,000,000,000/5,000 or one thirty-three-millionth of the market for that day.

            Meanwhile, Bob the hobo decides to take a shit on the floor of the public library. Cleaning it up requires one hour of work by one of the 2.4 million janitors in America. Assuming they all work eight hours a day, that means Bob’s personal brand of economic stimulus is responsible for one nineteen-millionth of that janitorial market for that day.

            Since these are rough numbers I am happy to round up and concede that a stock trader creates every bit as much value as an incontinent hobo. But returning to the original point under contention – the idea that making money and creating wealth are equivalent, that $1000 in a checking account represents more or less the same wealth-creation no matter how that money was acquired – I still feel pretty solidly against.

            Also, if anyone decides to nitpick these obviously 100% serious calculations, please remember that EchoChaos’ position was not merely that trading creates more wealth than the least valuable activity I can think of, it was that trading creates wealth similar to the wealth created by some other method of acquiring money, e.g. a job. It is assumed that gainful employment creates substantially more wealth than shitting on the floors of libraries, though the proof is left as an exercise for the student.)

            Er, where was I? Ah yes. So, I will concede that the mere act of trading does produce some small value by contributing to the existence of the stock market. What I don’t buy is that it also gets credit for some of the value created by the company whose stock is being traded, i.e. that buying MSFT in 2018 creates wealth by retroactively funding the development of Windows 95. I guess I just don’t think value can be created in a trade.

            One more hypothetical. Suppose a certain pig is (from some omniscient point of view) worth $400. Suppose you sell me that pig for $500. I have lost wealth (I had $500 of USD and now have $400 of pig) and you’ve gained wealth, but no wealth has been created. Now suppose I feed that pig nutritious slop for a year, and at the end of that time the pig is (again, from some omniscient POV) worth $800. Suppose I sell the pig to you for $1000. Again, you lost some wealth in the trade, and I gained some, but nothing was created or destroyed in the trade. The only wealth creation that occurred was me increasing the pig’s value by $400 by feeding it.

            Well, what is a share of stock, but a pig that someone else feeds? You’ve got 100 pigs and you have an ambitious plan to turn them into 1000 pigs, and all you need capital. But your plan will take twenty years, and no one wants to lend money that far in the future. So, you decide to hold an IPOrk. You create a hundred slips of paper reading “IOU one 1/100th of John Schilling’s pigs”, you pocket 20 of them, and Goldman Sachs pays you $32,000 for the rest, which it then puts on the open market. Ten years later, you’re up to 400 pigs, and I buy one of the IOUs for $1600. A couple years after that, you’re up to 500 pigs, so I sell that IOU for $2000. I made $400 on the deal, but I didn’t feed any pigs. You did. You created wealth, but you sold the right for others to profit from the wealth you create. I’m fine with saying that Goldman Sachs contributed to that wealth creation in some way, since access to capital has value, and I’m fine with saying that I created value by contributing to the existence of a thriving pig market, but it’s an abuse of language to say that I created a pig.

          • rlms says:

            It is impossible to increase your wealth without creating value in the process…

            What about traders? 😉

            Or literal gamblers? What value is created when I buy a lottery ticket?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @dick

            Your example of Alice and the incontinent hobo is already covered by the broken window fallacy, introduced in 1850. The two acts depicted do not create the same amount of wealth.

            What I don’t buy is that it also gets credit for some of the value created by the company whose stock is being traded, i.e. that buying MSFT in 2018 creates wealth by retroactively funding the development of Windows 95.

            An explanation of this was given. An even shorter version (it’s worth it to me to practice these): if you convince me you could create a business that makes $1M in five years from $100K, I might still not be able to act on it, because I don’t have $100K right now, but I know I can get more later. Suppose Bob has $100K, but he’s not convinced. But I can convince Bob that he can make $200K in one year, in return for $100K now. So he pays you (or me, and I pass it immediately to you). In return, he gets a document saying “the bearer of this is entitled to the proceeds of dick’s…” I dunno, sporting goods, perhaps. You get started. One year later, I acquire $200K by other means (e.g. my own business). I pay Bob. In return, I get that document. Bob is satisfied. Four years later, I get $1M from you; I’m satisfied. You’re left with a business that keeps making $1M every five years, let’s say; you’re satisfied.

            This is essentially share trading in a nutshell, except that that document is split into thousands of pieces so that anyone can afford a piece of it, and the earnings it promises don’t stop after five years. Also, Bob doesn’t know I’m there to give him $2 for every $1 he spent a year ago, but he’s sure enough that someone will be there. And I don’t know Bob is there, but I know someone is, etc.

            Suppose a certain pig is (from some omniscient point of view) worth $400.

            That isn’t really going to happen as stated. There is no omniscient POV of the value of anything. The whole point of trade is that every party puts its own value on any one thing, and each values the thing it’s getting higher than the thing it’s trading away.

            Since there’s no such thing as objective value, the pig example falls apart. Here’s the usual model:

            I have a pig. It’s worth less to me than $400, because I have no way of caring for it until it’s mature without great expense, and more to you than $400, because you do have a way of caring for it until you can sell it for more. So you pay me $400 for the pig, and we’re both better off.

            You feed the pig. After a while, it’s worth more to me than $1000, because I can turn it into over $1000 worth of bacon if I sell it to a bacon merchant I know, and less to you than $1000 because you don’t eat bacon and don’t know anyone who does. So I pay you $1000, and we’re both better off.

          • dick says:

            Suppose a certain pig is (from some omniscient point of view) worth $400.

            That isn’t really going to happen as stated. There is no omniscient POV of the value of anything. The whole point of trade is that every party puts its own value on any one thing, and each values the thing it’s getting higher than the thing it’s trading away.

            Boy, this is what I hate about this forum, in a nutshell. “Suppose” doesn’t mean “I assert that.” Everyone knows there is no such thing as omniscience. “Suppose” means “Pretend that some reasonable people, who are interested in the subject being discussed and not just drive-by-nitpicking for the sheer fun of it while ignoring the context, came to some agreement on a reasonable way to define ‘value’. For example, they could ask five farmers to rate the pig’s value, and take the mean. Or they could go to a grocery store, check the price of bacon, and multiply by the pig’s weight. Or some other method that seems sensible to them. It doesn’t matter what method they choose, just suppose they came up with some system that’s agreeable to them. The reason I’m asking you this is because what I’m about to say doesn’t depend on the actual value, just the change in value. We all agree value can increase, right? And even though we can’t actually measure it, in a reasonable good market with reasonable good information reasonable smart farmers could make a reasonable approximation of it, right? Suppose that happened so I can make a point about what people do when their investment changes in value, and let’s not actually spell out in tedious detail how they do that because it would be irrelevant to the larger argument.”

            That’s what “suppose” means. It seems like no one here honors it. And the reason is because, no one cares about the larger argument. This is one of the longest max-depth threads here, and literally zero people other than me have weighed in on whether they agree or disagree with the thing I started it over (EchoChaos’ idea that the wealth created in one’s life can be measured by the money they die with minus the money they spent).

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            “Suppose” doesn’t mean “I assert that.”

            Of course not; we agree on that. We also agree that there’s no such thing as omniscience. What I’m disagreeing with is the claim that there’s an objective value of a thing. You can ask me to suppose it’s true, but that’s logically equivalent to you asking me to suppose something is true that will never be true.

            It’s not drive-by nitpicking, either; it matters critically to whether your argument (that trades do not create wealth) holds. If it didn’t matter, I wouldn’t have pointed it out. And since trades create wealth, EchoChaos’ claim that most rich people greatly out-generate their consumption continues to carry weight (or at least, it isn’t disproven by an argument that trades do not create wealth).

            Every example you deliver for how such a value could be established – an agreement among farmers, a calculation from a byproduct – still necessarily admits the reality that different people value that pig differently. That difference in value is what drives trade.

            We all agree value can increase, right?

            In some sense, yes, but not in the sense you need in order to show that trades do not create wealth. The value of a thing can change over time for an individual, and it can change over time for multiple individuals, but it won’t necessarily change by the same amount for everyone, and it can often increase for some and decrease for others. This is precisely why and how trades create wealth, or utility – by moving real assets (and to some extent, currency) from people who value it less at the time, to people who value it more at the time.

            Likewise, everyone in a market can make a reasonable approximation of value, but everyone (hopefully) understands that that value is still going to vary by person. There might be a price set on pigs, but everyone’s value will almost certainly differ; if it didn’t, no trading would happen. And then no one would get rich that way. But it is readily apparent that people do.

            Like, I’m sorry if this and the broken window analogy all seemed sensible to you. But the fact that this argument had the flaws that it did, isn’t really up to me. All I can do is point out the flaws I see, and hope that you either understand them, or show how they aren’t flaws. You won’t be able to get the latter by making a supposition I know can never hold, and then getting upset when I point that out.

        • beleester says:

          Simple: Just convince the rich to keep producing anyway, out of the goodness of their hearts! 😛

          The thrust of his argument isn’t that we should go full communism, it’s that “just tell poor people to not be jealous” is exactly as useful an argument as “just tell rich people to be charitable.” Which is to say, not very.

          Anything that you want to “just tell people” has been told thousands of times already, and if your solution is “Tell them again!” then you have a good future in beating dead horses.

        • Guy in TN says:

          @baconbits9

          If the economy grew in real terms during the deflation then it is possible that the cumulative actions of savers vs spenders did create wealth, and this particular saver would be a part of that action.

          When he put the money in the drawer, it initially created no wealth. That action, in of itself, accomplished nothing in terms of wealth-creation. It wasn’t until later, when the larger economy changed, that the cash was worth more.

          Now, you could say that by waking up and actively doing the action of “saving”, a person is creating wealth. Highly dubious, of course, but I’ve heard such things uttered. That’s why its important for the guy to be dead. He’s literally incapable of being part of an action! So is the dead creating the wealth?

          your critique is only devastating to the claim that every gain in wealth for an individual must be a net gain in wealth for the whole, which I haven’t seen anyone make. All the other statements can be reasonably interpreted within current circumstances, and might not apply to say Zimbabwe and their stock market during hyper inflation.

          It’s sounds like you are getting tripped up on the macroeconomic aspect of my example involving inflation, and not seeing how this applies to all capital. Fortunately, johansenindustries provided an excellent second example in the form of someone planting an apple tree:

          Every year, this apple tree produces fruits with lots of utility. The thing is, it produces fruits whether the original planter does anything or not. In fact, the original planter could die, and it would still produce fruits. So is the dead guy producing wealth, or not?

          • Matt M says:

            Now, you could say that by waking up and actively doing the action of “saving”, a person is creating wealth.

            He’s not “creating wealth” but he is preserving resources. Cash, generally speaking, is a claim to various resources. By putting it in a drawer rather than spending it, he is preserving his capital. He is sacrificing current consumption in order to obtain future consumption.

            At the time, he has no way of knowing, for sure, whether this sacrifice will result in greater future consumption (would happen if the currency deflates) or lesser future consumption (would happen if the currency inflates). But the issue of whether this “creates wealth” is completely beside the point.

            I also feel like this is another double standard. Nobody would suggest that someone who saves cash, then has their purchasing power reduced through inflation, has somehow personally destroyed wealth. That by choosing to hold cash as an asset rather than immediately spend it, future inflation somehow makes them responsible for a “reduction of wealth” in the world.

            Deflation when prices fall due to gains in production efficiency that outpace gains in the money supply. The “wealth created” when this occurs is created by the various actors who increase production. The guy with cash in his drawer derives a benefit from this tangentially, but this is not “undeserved wealth” in any meaningful sense. His claim to that wealth is his savings – essentially a form of investment or currency speculation or whatever you want to call it.

          • baconbits9 says:

            He’s literally incapable of being part of an action! So is the dead creating the wealth?

            Are you suggesting the the second you die all of your previous actions no longer have repercussions on the world?

            That is the logical inference of this claim, and it is clearly false.

            When he put the money in the drawer, it initially created no wealth. That action, in of itself, accomplished nothing in terms of wealth-creation. It wasn’t until later, when the larger economy changed, that the cash was worth more.

            This is the same mistake as above, the results of an action do not have to happen immediately for them to be caused by such an action.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            If we are treating “has repercussions” and “creating wealth” as the same thing, then you would have to say that the carpenter who made the drawer also created the $10. And the person who build the house he kept the drawer in, the guy needs shelter to live after all. And what about this guy’s parents?

            Its true that the actions of all these people led to the scenario of $10 being created. So how can we say the the owner is even the creator of the wealth? He certainly didn’t act alone in setting these events in motion.

            @Matt M

            The guy with cash in his drawer derives a benefit from this tangentially, but this is not “undeserved wealth” in any meaningful sense.

            The question isn’t whether he “deserves” it in the normative sense, but whether he created it. The essential question is this thread is whether wealth owned=wealth created. It seem like you would agree with me, as evidenced by your inflation example, that you don’t believe this to be so.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If we are treating “has repercussions” and “creating wealth” as the same thing, then you would have to say that the carpenter who made the drawer also created the $10.

            No, no, no, no, no. Unless you are arguing that the cause of the deflation was the physical act of putting the $100 in the drawer… you might be able to argue that the creator of the bill created this new wealth by producing and maintaining a stable currency, but the carpenter? Nope.

            Where the $100 bill was stored (in this example) has no bearing on if the deflation happens. The bill could have been left in a wallet, under a mattress or on the floor, and would have increased in value by the same amount due to a deflation, and so the place the bill was put is clearly not part of the value gained.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            The bill could have been left in a wallet, under a mattress or on the floor, and would have increased in value by the same amount due to a deflation, and so the place the bill was put is clearly not part of the value gained.

            This is true! You recognize that the place the bill is stored has no effect on its gain in value. Could it also be that who it is owned by, or if it is even owned at all, is also having no effect?

            (Which is to say, the owner is not the one “creating” any of this wealth-increase?)

            Previously, I thought you were going for something along the lines of causality, i.e. “well, if he hadn’t decided to save it in the first place”, which leads to ridiculous butterfly-effect conclusions like “well, if his parents hadn’t decided to have children” or “if no one had built boxes to keep money from getting wet”. All of which, of course, were equally necessary events that put our situation into motion. But none of which, individually, can be said to be the sole cause of the money’s increase in value.

            (that x is a necessary condition for y to happen, does not mean that y is being caused by x)

    • peterispaikens says:

      The obvious answer to “Why isn’t the solution to convince the less well off people to not be as angry/annoyed/disturbed/depressed/jealous at their predicament?” is that, as the book you quoted states, “humans are hardwired to notice relative differences. When we’re reminded that we’re poorer or less powerful than others, we become less healthy, more angry, and more politically polarized.” That’s it – this property is an innate, inherent part of how homo sapiens behave.

      It might be very hard to change all kinds of other things but about the situation, but changing how people feel in situation X isn’t just hard, it’s impossible and laughable to consider. If you don’t want to reduce inequality, then the remaining solution is to change the circumstances and choreograph the interactions that they don’t notice the inequality as much (e.g. even if they rationally understand that it’s there, they don’t get put in situations where it’s immediate and obvious and triggers their instinctive responses), but “simply” changing how they feel about a particular class of real life situations isn’t an option barring substantial mind-alteration with chemicals, genetic engineering, brain implants or something like that which may be possible (though IMHO not desirable) in the future.

      • fahertym says:

        Would it be harder to change poor people’s feelings towards rich people than say, reducing homophobia or racism?

        • Guy in TN says:

          Would it be harder to change poor people’s feelings towards rich people than say, reducing homophobia or racism?

          Yes, definitely. Unlike the existence of other sexual orientations and races, a person can only be wealthy at the expense of another person being poor. This is because ownership is defined by exclusion. To own a resource, is to say that I can not longer access that resource.

          When you (and others) say that the poor dislike the rich because of “jealously” or “envy of their good fortune”, it is a massive fail the ideological Turing test.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I am not sure I follow you. We live in a world full of complicated stuff where most of the value is locked up in the knowledge and skills involved in making it, rather than the raw materials (and the raw materials are generally bought from willing sellers rather than stolen from them) – that is, the surplus value has been created by the people making the finished item; it’s not a resource that the original owners of the raw materials can no longer access, but instead a resource which never existed in the first place until someone did something economically valuable with the raw materials.

            This, of course, isn’t to say that wealth doesn’t often come from plunder; it can and does; but you seem to be arguing that the fact that someone is rich is proof that they have deprived other people of that value, rather than helped to create that value.

            … Unless you meant that wealth and poverty can only be defined relatively; that in a world populated entirely by peasants who own almost nothing, you can’t call anyone poor because no one is rich, and if someone then becomes wealthy in that world, then even if they have created all that wealth through their own work and none of it from depriving others, it is still rational to regard them with suspicion because their wealth gives them great potential power over everyone else? In which case, fair enough, but that’s still not a case of the wealthy depriving the poor of stuff they used to have.

          • Guy in TN says:

            you seem to be arguing that the fact that someone is rich is proof that they have deprived other people of that value, rather than helped to create that value.

            It’s not an either-or scenario. Its true that the utility of resource comes from both improved and unimproved aspects. But something cannot emerge from nothing. You may have taken the marble and sculpted it into the statue, you may have melted the silicon to form electronics, but the unimproved aspect is necessarily always there. Although you may have created value, you necessarily deprive others of value in the process.

            Which isn’t necessarily bad. I support the existence of property. On net, this system produces good results. It hurts people in a small sense, yes, but it can pays-off in the long term if society manages it correctly.

            The difference is, I acknowledge that property ownership isn’t something that exists in a vacuum. If Person A owns a thing, that means Person B does not own that thing. The rhetoric of “but how does me being wealthy affect you, can’t you just let me be wealthy in peace?” doesn’t hold.

            This differs from race and sexual orientation, in the sense that those are feature inherent to your body. They don’t require claiming any of the outside world. Property does require this, even if that bit out the outside world only amounts to 1% of the value of the final product. Its 1% that must necessarily be excluded from others.

          • Baron von Neuron says:

            Perhaps I do fail the ideological Turing test here. But I often encounter precisely that sentiment in the leftist media — i.e. not only the absolute poverty has to be eliminated, but also relative wealth disparity.

            Here is a quote from the original article:

            In particular, people often experience stress and dissatisfaction in an environment where many people are much richer than them, and the very structure of social institutions starts to warp.

            Is this not about envy of the rich?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Unlike the existence of other sexual orientations and races, a person can only be wealthy at the expense of another person being poor.

            No, this is not necessarily true. You can take any resource that is in abundance greater than the demand of all humans, no matter how vital, without making anyone else poorer. I just breathed in oxygen and converted it to a poison, and then exhaled it back into the atmosphere. Yet you cannot say that my actions have made anyone poorer. Even those people who are currently suffering from an acute oxygen shortage right now are not suffering because of me breathing. As a matter of fact if I am productive while breathing that air I can make you richer while doing so. Isn’t that weird?

            . You may have taken the marble and sculpted it into the statue, you may have melted the silicon to form electronics, but the unimproved aspect is necessarily always there. Although you may have created value, you necessarily deprive others of value in the process.

            The difference is, I acknowledge that property ownership isn’t something that exists in a vacuum. If Person A owns a thing, that means Person B does not own that thing. The rhetoric of “but how does me being wealthy affect you, can’t you just let me be wealthy in peace?” doesn’t hold.

            You are taking a fragment as the whole. If you measure wealth by total tons of iron ore owned then yes, me owning a ton of iron ore prevents you from owning that ton and makes you poorer than you could hypothetically be (but not necessarily poor, which was an inaccurate choice of words that you used earlier). We don’t use tons of iron ore as a measure of wealth though, we use the market price of tons of iron ore, and because we use the market price of tons of iron ore and not the raw amount me owning some iron ore can make the people who don’t own it wealthier and not poorer in some circumstances. If I can turn iron ore into iron more efficiently than anyone else my owning a ton of iron ore can increase the market price of people who own things that use iron, and making all their customers richer, and all the customers of those customers richer and so on down the line.

            You have only taken what is seen, and not the net sum of ownership.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Unlike the existence of other sexual orientations and races, a person can only be wealthy at the expense of another person being poor.

            This is totally untrue, and in fact the opposite is mostly true. In a free market economy, a person cannot become rich without also making other people richer. That’s the whole point of voluntary transactions — they only happen because they benefit both sides. That’s also why everyone has become richer in the developed world over the last 200 years. The quoted comment is obviously untrue when looked at on a temporal basis, and is untrue in our time period for the same reason.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Baron von Neuron

            Perhaps I do fail the ideological Turing test here. But I often encounter precisely that sentiment in the leftist media — i.e. not only the absolute poverty has to be eliminated, but also relative wealth disparity.

            That’s pretty typical leftist sentiment, and not what I’m talking about when I suggested you’d fail the ideological Turing Test. You don’t understand the reason the left advocates for reduction in wealth disparity. It’s not “envy”, at least in the typical sense one uses that word. If you are robbed, are you mad because you “envy” the robbers? Is a slave angry because he “envies” his master? The word implies at least two untrue elements: 1. That the left believes being wealthy is merely akin to a positive personal trait, e.g. being good at sports, and not a position of social authority 2. That the left simply wishes that it was in this position of power, rather than the elimination of this position of power

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            You can take any resource that is in abundance greater than the demand of all humans, no matter how vital, without making anyone else poorer.

            It’s true, things that are in near-infinite supply can be used without making anyone else worse off.

            So you’ve got…air. Maybe seawater. I’m running out of other examples here. Does this ruin my point in any way?

            me owning some iron ore can make the people who don’t own it wealthier and not poorer in some circumstances. If I can turn iron ore into iron more efficiently than anyone else my owning a ton of iron ore can increase the market price of people who own things that use iron, and making all their customers richer, and all the customers of those customers richer and so on down the line.

            Of course, after you initially deprive someone of access to a resource, you might compensate them in a way that makes up for it later. If you want to, or happen to act in a way that incidentally does. I don’t see any reason to think it would happen often, and would definitely not presume this always happens, for each individual who was deprived access.

            A better argument, is that on the net-sum system-level, depriving people of access to resources in the form of creating legal property has many benefits for society. The orderliness and stability of driving the same car every day, or sleeping in the same bed, this is important. Property can also be used as a reward to incentive production. The argument is that depriving people of access to resources is a Sacrifice Worth Making, quite the opposite of “this doesn’t affect you, mind you own business and stop being jealous that I’m rich” rhetoric.

          • Aapje says:

            @Guy in TN

            Imagine an undiscovered tribe living near high grade iron ore. However, they have no idea that it is there and no means of mining it, smelting it, nor do they have the skills to manufacture advanced things from it. If left to their own devices, the ore is as useless to them as any other rock.

            Now they are discovered by the rest of humanity, who notice the ore and start mining it. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that there are no externalities for the tribe. Now the rest of humanity got richer, but the tribe didn’t get any poorer.

            Now imagine that the tribe members get a choice to either keep doing what they were doing or to get a job in the mining industry and in return they get products that are way better than what the tribe can make themselves, increasing their material well-being.

            You seem to imply that the tribe was better off having the ore in the ground that they cannot use and that no more than ordinary rock to them, rather than to have greater material well-being.

            This can generalize to the more general case, especially if we incorporate human diversity. If Steve Jobs wouldn’t have offered up his garage to Steve Wozniak, it wouldn’t have been used to create computers by someone else. It would just have had junk sitting in there.

            If the garage had been public property and random people could just come in to pee in it, take or destroy whatever they wanted & such, Wozniak could not have realistically used it to create Apple computers.

            Of course, you can argue that the person who wants to pee in the garage has just as much right to use it for that, than that Jobs & Wozniak had a right to use it, but I think that some ways to use resources are far superior to other ways.

            Some people, like Steve Wozniak or Elon Musk, are way more capable at turning resources into useful things, so society is better off if these people have more access to resources than other people. Not to consume themselves, but to produce things for others (although we presumably have to incentivize them to do the latter by also giving them more to consume).

            Capitalism with private ownership is especially good at incentivizing capable people to gather resources to create things for others, because doing that will result in other people giving them things that the capable people want in return. In the end, this makes everyone much better off than if you give people with different ability the same access to productive resources.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It’s true, things that are in near-infinite supply can be used without making anyone else worse off.

            Oxygen isn’t in near infinite supply, it is perpetually renewed by plant behavior. A tree might be blocking you from easily extracting the minerals underneath it, making you “poorer”, but it is also is releasing O2 from CO2 which makes you “richer”. All of your discussion has only focused on the first costs and ignores the benefits of the second.

            So yes, it directly applies to your claim that ownership must come at a net cost to someone else, and breaks your argument entirely.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Of course, after you initially deprive someone of access to a resource, you might compensate them in a way that makes up for it later. If you want to, or happen to act in a way that incidentally does. I don’t see any reason to think it would happen often, and would definitely not presume this always happens, for each individual who was deprived access.

            This is not your original argument, you stated that

            a person can only be wealthy at the expense of another person being poor.

            And this is flatly false. Furthermore

            I don’t see any reason to think it would happen often, and would definitely not presume this always happens, for each individual who was deprived access

            This is actually econ 101, gains from specialization and trade, which can (and regularly do) make all parties who participate better off and is the entire basis for the world average steadily getting richer despite increasing population (which under your assumptions must make people on average poorer).

          • cryptoshill says:

            I think Guy in TN has actually reached an *extremely critical* conclusion that is important for understanding marketist vs redistributionist lines of thinking:

            Real wealth in terms of the products people can consume, the number of tools available to them, the luxuries they are afforded is not a part of a zero-sum calculuation (you can make yourself richer without forcing someone else to be poorer). However, ,relative wealth, or to be more completely honest – the status afforded by wealth is entirely zero sum.

            To use the iron ore example – if a capitalist buys the mining rights from that tribe with beads or guns or blankets or some resource the tribe values – then uses the ore to make steam locomotives for the new railroad project, and compensating the tribe members *again* for working in the mine – then selling them ever more expensive luxuries. The tribe members are much richer in terms of their overall quality of life (unless this mine is *particularly* environmentally destructive) but even with that being the case – the owner of the mine is the one who gains the social status afforded him by being the owner of this particular mine.

            The marketist will argue “Who cares what the tribe thinks of this situation, they were trying to hunt deer with spears before we showed up!

            The redistributionist will argue Who cares that everyone is better off, these rotten capitalists are running away with our rightfully owned labor! We are being robbed

            I tend to want to agree with the marketists here, mostly on account of the world poverty graph – but I will admit that reidstributionism is the only way to address this particular problem. My issue is (putting on my Western-centric hat) we already do *a lot* of wealth redistribution. I’m not sure that the answer to feelings of inequality will be “more redistribution” because if *every time* someone has this feeling we go raise some absurd new taxes (see: Seattle’s Soda Tax) we will eventually tax ourselves into poverty.

            There has to be a natural limiting factor on how much redistribution we want, but when I hear people who support these policies arguing for it the answer always seems to be “what do you mean you don’t want more, more is always better!” or something along those lines.
            So I ask you to explain “what is a good heuristic for how much wealth you would want to see redistributed?”

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Aapje @baconbits9

            Perhaps I was being flippant, in my initial statement, when I said that it makes “being wealthy makes another person poor“. To clarify, what the initial acquisition of property requires, is to make another person worse off (excluding rare scenarios where the abundance is greater than human demand).

            What happens next, down the line, could be anything. It could include making the people initially deprived far better off (such as the “give Wozniak a workroom” scenario), or you could just leave the people worse off than they were before (the classic toll gate over a river scenario).

            My point, is that unlike the intrinsic physical traits of race or sexual orientation, ownership directly affects others. In fact, ownership is defined by its relationship to other people (the legal ability to exclude).

            When people say that they are opposed to a particular distribution of property, or opposed to a power that comes with ownership, this can’t just be brushed aside with “this doesn’t effect you”, or “why are you upset at other people’s success”-style rhetoric. Property does affect everyone, and the net-sum harm vs. net-sum good is something that has to be investigated, not assumed.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @cryptoshill

            I think you are correct to point out that both sides can simultaneously be true. In your mining scenario, you could probably find at least one guy who was made net-worse off by the property acquisition of the mine (say, he used to have a [non-property] farm there and was forced off with no compensation). And yet, at the same time, the mine might make society at large better off. These are all trade-offs we have to consider.

            Recognizing that the acquisition of property makes people initially worse off, isn’t presented to decry the concept of property itself. Its presented to draw attention to the way in which property affects others. Once you understand this, you understand that complains about a particular “injustice” of ownership are not necessarily about “envy” or “inadequacy”, but the material ways in which someone was made worse-off than they would be otherwise.

            There has to be a natural limiting factor on how much redistribution we want, but when I hear people who support these policies arguing for it the answer always seems to be “what do you mean you don’t want more, more is always better!” or something along those lines.
            So I ask you to explain “what is a good heuristic for how much wealth you would want to see redistributed?”

            I want to increase utility, and progressive taxation+social programs, at least from my personal experience, seem like a pretty good way of doing it.

            When I was poor, I was on food stamps. Now that I am wealthier, I pay thousands of dollars in taxes. I can, from my lived physical experience, tell you that I received more utility from the ~$300 a month in food stamps I received when I was poor, than I now lose when I pay an equivalent amount in taxes.

            Is there a tipping point? Sure. But I worry that this is a question we aren’t even asking, with too many economists falsely assuming that “market value=utility” or something along those lines. Most people haven’t even done the mental economic de-programming needed to address the question.

            Human wants are vast, of course, but at a certain level they are satisfied to the point where “more redistribution” is no longer a politically viable option. Like, why aren’t millionaires rallying to try to get money from billionaires? Why is it that they have put their lot in with the “I’m economically satisfied” political faction?

            My heuristic is: is people are rallying for it, then there’s a need. It’s not perfect, and the wonks will have to figure out if its even realistic. I don’t know what other option we have, so we’ve got to trust that people are smart enough not to shoot themselves in the foot.

          • cryptoshill says:

            @Guy in TN

            I actually want to bring up something that you reminded me of – the *tribe* as a “collective” sold the mining rights to Capital. This is one of the dangers of collective property. The Tribe received a lot of benefits, but in this case, the concentrated harm of the new mine was borne only by this one individual who was clearly outvoted at the tribal meetings. If property wasn’t collectivized, he could’ve set a higher price to capital. Which (because apparently we’re using an economic model that assumes the capitalist is wildly successful and knew he would be so whne making these decisions) the capitalist would probably gladly pay to get rid of one slightly recalcitrant farm owner.

            Acquisition of property here wasn’t the part that was making people worse off, it was *involuntary* acquisition of property. Voluntarism is basically the core of all libertarian market-fetishist thinking (if I strawman myself here) and I could see a weird argument for redistributions of wealth based on provable property theft (See: Native Americans, The , etc) coming from that mindset/- At its core, even completely accepting that property can be acquired in ways that make someone worse off (theft), it doesn’t *automatically* follow that every time property changed hands someone was made better and someone worse. We haven’t had widespread property theft essentially since the early 1900s. Even then – when “civilization level conflict over natural resources” starts becoming involved, economic arguments start to seem a little silly.

            Back to (what I consider to be) the main thread of your argument:

            Your increasing utility point is nice and all – but you actually have no good way of measuring amounts of utility than in dollar values. That’s precisely why utilitarians place dollar values on everything. Consider your food stamps providing you $300 dollars in positive utility (to you) free of any charge whatsoever. In doing so however – it cost Uncle Sam (source here: i used a general metric, because all of the specifics I looked at for food stamps were focused on how many “errors” there were, when I was unconcerned about errors and more concerned with administrative costs) about $1000 to provide you with that utility.

            That utility didn’t come from nowhere – someone had to produce it *and* someone had to produce 5 timesmore than you actually wound up consuming (this is one of the better arguments for UBI).

            On top of all of that , every person will game their taxes to pay the least (as that is a normal thing to want to do). People who own houses and laugh about how large their tax returns are are the *exact* same people as the ones who get raked over the coals for some perfectly-legal corporate tax-avoidance maneuver. This adds to the deadweight loss of redistribution (the amount of money that is just hiding from taxes vice being actively engaged in doing something in the world).

            I want to buy your exponential utility of money argument (money becomes worth less as it is more concentrated) but it doesn’t seem to justify redistribution because the number of perverse incentives to navigate seems absolutely vast. The US has the most progressive taxes in the world, although in this article it does point out that we redistribute a lot less. That might have to do with the US having a standing order for “lots of giant nuclear missiles and big ships to carry them around on”..

            One of the things I like to bring up here is that if you have a “regressive” (although percentile taxes are inherently somewhat progressive) taxation based model that taxes based on *consumption* you have no incentives to avoid taxes (consumption tax is difficult to avoid) and it creates less dead weight loss than progressive income taxation. The problem is that you usually can’t fund the amounts of “redistribution” that is acceptable with such little revenue (Last I calculated a national sales tax would have to be 18% using some back-of-the-napkin calculations). So on top of a flat (percentile) national sales tax something I would propose is a flat, annual “standing money” tax that is assessed whether or not your money is held in the country and applies to corporations. My idea there would be “penalize all investors for not investing” to fuel growth.

            At its core I think I’m not alone when I present the marketist argument that the problems caused by “wealth inequality” are best solved with economic growth. People now say we can’t “grow our way out” of our current problems, but we “grew our way out” of every other major economic problem known to man.

            To me, “helping the poor” is probably better achieved by militant hard-YIMBYism than supporting *any* amount of redistribution at this point.

            I’m not sure what you meant by “people are clamoring for it, therefore people need it”, given that people clamor and line up for all sorts of things including Donald J Trump (who I am sure you do not like or think is necessary), iPhones (I am pretty sure no one needs those and the apple factories could reroute straight to the garbage at no real loss), casino games (pretty sure these aren’t just dead-weight, they are actively negative with the exception of the zero-sum competitive games). “What people are clamoring for” seems like a bad heuristic (to me) for judging how much (if any) redistribution needs to be modified.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The Tribe received a lot of benefits, but in this case, the concentrated harm of the new mine was borne only by this one individual who was clearly outvoted at the tribal meetings. If property wasn’t collectivized, he could’ve set a higher price to capital.

            This concentrated harm happens in three scenarios:
            1. Person who uses the mine, who is a collective owner of a mine, gets outvoted
            2. Person who uses the mine, which is owned by someone else, gets told to leave by property owner
            3. Person who uses the mine, which is previously unowned, gets told to leave after legal initial property acquisition

            So this problem is definitely not unique to collective ownership, and it happens all the time under normal private ownership conditions.

            Acquisition of property here wasn’t the part that was making people worse off, it was *involuntary* acquisition of property[…]it doesn’t *automatically* follow that every time property changed hands someone was made better and someone worse.

            The trading of property, “the market”, is not what I’m talking about when talking about property acquisition.

            Of course, within the context of the voluntary transaction, the two parties are made better off. Instead, what I’m talking about is both the initial acquisition of previously unwoned property, and the maintenance of previously existing property. This is involuntary. No one consulted everyone who previously had access, and had that access taken away, to see whether they consented. And no one was consulted in regards to the property maintenance either (e.g., I was never asked whether a coal company should own a mountain). There’s a lot of people in the world, and I doubt they are going to all agree. Nothing about these aspects are voluntary.

            Your increasing utility point is nice and all – but you actually have no good way of measuring amounts of utility than in dollar values. That’s precisely why utilitarians place dollar values on everything.

            Then these utilitarians are doing it wrong. Is there any reason to think that market value is a good proxy for utility? I can think of many reason why it is not (penniless starving man, children with no income, ect.)

          • Aapje says:

            @Guy in TN

            To clarify, what the initial acquisition of property requires, is to make another person worse off (excluding rare scenarios where the abundance is greater than human demand).

            I actually just explained that this is not necessarily the case. In many cases, the initial acquisition makes everyone better off. For example, when the native Americans established themselves in North-America, they took advantage of resources that no human was using yet. Only after more humans showed up/were born and the demand outstripped the supply, did you get competition over the use of the resources.

            Once you have competing demands on resources, you are forced to make a choice which demand will be fulfilled.

            In fact, ownership is defined by its relationship to other people (the legal ability to exclude). […] Property does affect everyone, and the net-sum harm vs. net-sum good is something that has to be investigated, not assumed.

            What you are doing is something that I quite frequently see on the (extreme) left end of the spectrum, which is to take an issue that is caused by nature, and then describe it as if it was caused by man, with Utopia as the default state.

            The fact that there is more demand than supply for many resources & thus that not everyone can have their demands (entirely) satisfied is a fact of nature, not an injustice created by man.

            Without ownership, we still couldn’t have all Silicon Valley employees live in a huge villa with a swimming pool within 1 mile of their job. We still couldn’t have everyone own a Van Gogh.

            Exclusion from resources is inevitable, because of how nature works.

            The only debate we can have is over what system we choose to manage the exclusion from resources.

            A big advantage of owned resources is that if other people can use the resources more effectively, they will have to convince & compensate the existing owners to give up their claim. So capitalism is actually a very kind way to transfer resources to those who can use them more effectively, compared to the alternatives, as it uses incentives and effectively works as a redistribution scheme.

            Colonizing nations often just took the resources, without compensation. The Apache would commonly raid other tribes to get their resources. China often just takes things from one group and hands it to the other, with poor compensation. In other cases, people genocided the old owners, to get what they wanted.

            Modern capitalism seems more kind to me than the alternatives.

            Is there any reason to think that market value is a good proxy for utility?

            In a society where trade (of goods and services) is a huge source of utility, market value is strongly determined by how useful the resource is as ‘capital.’ Or in other words, a major factor in the price of many resources is how useful they are to produce goods and services for others.

            For example, shop owners are willing to pay more for a shop in Time Square than in a suburb. That’s presumably not because Time Square is such a nice place to routinely stay, but because a shop owner can provide a lot of value for others in that place, as evidenced by the willingness of others to give them money.

            Similarly, a major reason why land prices are high in Silicon Valley is because a high density of tech companies makes it much easier to provide value for others. Google & Apple are able to get more income thanks to this, from people all over the globe, which they then in part use to pay a premium to locate their company in Silicon Valley (including by passing it on to SV employees, who in turn pay a premium for housing there).

            So it seems to me that market value is partly a proxy for direct utility and partly a proxy for indirect utility.

            Of course, people who themselves have more ability to fulfill the needs of others get to have more power to demand that others fulfill their needs (aka they have more money to spend), which is partially unfair, which is why we have added socialist elements to the system.

          • cryptoshill says:

            @Guy in TN

            Now I see your point about unowned property specifically. IE: At some point prior to today, property was owned by no one, even though I will posit that it had to have been pretty early in human history (even ancient tribal societies had some concept of territory). Alternately (although similarly rare), property is unowned because it hadn’t been previously discovered.

            I would argue that the problems of unowned property mirror those of collectivized property. With unowned property as with collectivized property – your use of the property is determined by whether or not someone else shows up with more guns to take it or makes an arbitrary decision to vote you off the island (in terms of access). Personally I like the “first use/first discovery” hack – which would still have problems in the early colonization days because Native Americans et al weren’t considered people (not in the sense that they weren’t considered humans, but they were not considered to have full agency under the law).

            The only scenario that it seems can’t fit into that framework is Scenario 2, which I still don’t feel like is creating a harm to the user. To further flesh it out: Person A has access to the land a mine sits on, he uses it to go hunting (this is not particularly good hunting land, it’s fungible with any other hunting land and there’s no critical shortage of hunting land, to make this simple) for his food. This is either before the mid-20th century or the person in question is some kind of anarchoprimitivist, take your pick. Person A has access to the land through a mutual agreement with the owner (positive-sum benefit), the owner decides unilaterally (which he can do) to sell the land to a development company for a bizarrely massive sum of money. This is positive for the dev company and the owner (pretty obviously). When the Dev company decides to do blasting to build the mine, it scares away *all* of the game from the area (not affecting other areas, just to make it incredibly simple again) – the hunter seems to be negatively affected. However, I would argue that in the scenario described above the hunter was receiving an unearned economic benefit , or at least a benefit that the hunter was underpaying for. By your definition of harm it seems, at least to me that the hunter was engaging in harming the original property owner by underpaying the owner for land access.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Aapje

            Exclusion from resources is inevitable, because of how nature works.

            The only debate we can have is over what system we choose to manage the exclusion from resources.

            It looks like we’re fundamentally in agreement here. This inevitable exclusion of resources is why questions regarding distribution affect other people directly (except, as you and others point out, when supply is so large that it outstrips human demand). This is in contrast to questions over intrinsic physical traits such as race and sexual orientation. (fahertym’s original question)

            Of course, people who themselves have more ability to fulfill the needs of others get to have more power to demand that others fulfill their needs (aka they have more money to spend), which is partially unfair, which is why we have added socialist elements to the system.

            Once again, generally in agreement. Market value can give you some idea of utility under certain circumstances, but it tends to get out of skew when some people have more money to spend than others. In cases where people have essentially no money (the penniless, children), trusting the market might mistakenly guide you into thinking that fulfilling their needs serves no utility. Which is why we set up programs to distribute resources to people who create no market value, such as the elderly, children, students, the disabled, ect.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @cryptoshill

            However, I would argue that in the scenario described above the hunter was receiving an unearned economic benefit , or at least a benefit that the hunter was underpaying for.

            Why would you say the the person hunting on land he doesn’t own is experiencing an “unearned benefit”, in contrast to if he was hunting as a collective owner of the property, in which he necessarily “earned” his benefit?

            Since we’re talking about an unimproved natural resource here, “hometeading” concepts don’t apply. This ownership is nothing more than a legal construct, created by the state (or society at large, or whatever).

          • Guy in TN says:

            @cryptoshill

            Personally I like the “first use/first discovery” hack

            Little tangential, but worth bringing up:
            “Property ownership is justified by the exertion of labor, therefore people can only own what they earn”
            and
            “Property should be owned by whoever labors first

            are non-congruent concepts. If property is justified by labor, then its justified by all labor, not just the initial. To get around this outcome, you can certainly say that property is only justified by first labor, but then you’ve undermined any claims to “people can only own what they earned/worked for”. This is because further increases in the value of the property, that are the result of post-initial labor, are now going to someone else besides the laborer.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Would it be harder to change poor people’s feelings towards rich people than say, reducing homophobia or racism?

          Yes, status is more fundamental. Borrowing Jordan Peterson’s example from Twelve Rules, even lobsters, of all things, track their status relative to other lobsters, and the neurotransmitters in their brain associated with status tracking are the same as in humans, indicating that the mechanism is very ancestral and conserved.

      • gbdub says:

        Humans are also seemingly hardwired to go into a murderous rage when someone else has sex with their mate, or to be all sorts of nasty and violent to people who look different. Doesn’t mean we should encourage that sort of thing.

        There are any number of innate human reactions that all social structures ought to be considerate of, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that appeasement is the right response.

    • Sebastian_H says:

      The problem with the article isn’t just his solutions. The problem is that his statistics didn’t actually find any such thing. It involves 3 major statistical errors not to mention weird hyping of the conclusions. See here for example (with many supporting links)

      • Jiro says:

        Too bad we had like 40 posts here discussing it before you posted the link revealing it doesn’t exist.

        It’s like a replication crisis without the replication.

        • Robert Jones says:

          It seems to say something worrying about the reading comprehension of the SSC commentariat (and see also the people arguing about restrictive covenants in response to the link about anti-poaching agreements). In fact, I suspect that in general reading comprehension is just much lower than we expect.

    • bean says:

      This also assumes that the paper even makes sense. Even leaving aside their near-inexcusable division of seats into only “first” and “economy” (domestic first is a slightly bigger seat, international first isn’t offered by most North American airlines, and is something amazing) they don’t seem to control for number of people on the plane, and the only all-economy planes are usually really small. Their conclusions on middle boarding make even less sense. I’m not even sure what planes that’s on (probably widebodies, which means international, which means a significantly different population), and their odds ratios seem really big for that. Or it’s just noise.

      Here’s the way to do this study right. Compare Spirit and Frontier airlines. I pick those two very deliberately. They have very similar business models and serve similar markets. Frontier operates their planes in all-economy configuration. Spirit has what they call Big Front Seats, which are basically business-class seats without the service that normally goes along with them. Even better would be to only look at the routes both airlines fly, or maybe bundles of similar routes (to/from Florida, for instance). This seems like a natural control to me.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It sounds like there’s an even easier solution: arranging things so that people with a great enough difference in wealth to feel violent envy rarely encounter one another.

      My lab is in a hospital where several Arab royal families occasionally come for treatment. Judging by the donor list, a lot of American super-rich families do the same. Do you know how often I’ve seen a Jordanian Prince or a Rockefeller? Not once, and I don’t expect to. They keep a very low profile for security reasons, because their wealth paints a target on their backs.

      First class fliers aren’t that much better off than economy fliers, so they can’t afford that much more in terms of security or privacy, but if this was a serious issue maybe something like drawing privacy curtains during the later stages of boarding or even a separate first class entrance would help.

      • Aapje says:

        The truly rich fly on private planes anyway and the truly poor don’t fly. So realistically, any (possible) friction is going to be between the well-off and the more well-off, not between the poor and the rich.

        • Matt M says:

          Yup. IME a pretty decent amount of the first-class cabin are frequent business travelers who earn status and get free upgrades. Meaning they’re well off, but not like, fantastically rich.

          • bean says:

            Not nearly as much as it was a few years ago. Paid seats in Delta’s first class have risen from 30% to 70% over the last 5 or so years, and the other carriers have also been a lot more aggressive about monetizing those seats.

          • keranih says:

            Not to mention that most of the people in first/business are flying *a lot* – I have a great deal more sympathy for the guy whose job/life means traveling on a weekly basis getting a comfortable seat.

            Yeah, it sucks to fly cattle car, but if it’s a once-a-quarter happening…I’m not feeling the pain so much.

          • Matt M says:

            I wonder what percentage of “air rage” incidents involve frequent vs infrequent fliers.

            My perception is that most business travelers are typically pretty well behaved, and handle complications well, as they understand “these things happen”, etc. while it’s the infrequent travelers who flip out over the slightest delay or inconvenience. But that’s just my anecdotal experience.

          • Garrett says:

            When travelling personally, I usually have a tight schedule and if things go badly, I’m the one who’s out extra time hiking/diving/whatever.

            If I’m travelling for business and things go sideways, I just pull out the corporate card and book an extra hotel room, meal, rental car, whatever.

            In short, the inconveniences are less likely to ultimately land on the business traveler than the personal traveler.

    • IrishDude says:

      Why isn’t the solution to convince the less well off people to not be angry/annoyed/disturbed/depressed/jealous at their predicament?

      Another solution if for people to choose a different comparison point. You can make a choice about whether to watch Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous or a documentary on poverty in the third world. If you make $10,000 a year, your income is higher than 85% of the global population (in PPP adjusted terms). That income is less than what a full-time minimum wage worker makes in the U.S..

      I choose to anchor my own thoughts on appreciating what I have when so many others have so little, rather than thinking about what I don’t have when others have more than me. I also anchor myself on my own progress, like comparing present me to 10 years ago me. This gratitude, which I cultivate, contributes greatly to more positive well-being for myself and therefore for those around me. Bitterness, resentment, and envy are destructive emotions. I am a flawed human and do feel these negative emotions from time to time but I consider them emotions to be overcome and not indulged.

  4. Well... says:

    Scott, could you please number each item in the Links posts from now on so they’re easier to refer to in the comments?

  5. cvxxcvcxbxvcbx says:

    Here’s a very good music video about Tom Collins the cocktail that has less than 7000 views.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFTNuP018sw

  6. Matt M says:

    Over this last month, my wife and I searched for and hired a new nanny, as ours had decided to learn programming and move to The Bay.

    Pfft, and you all casually dismiss “learn to code” as legitimate advice for unskilled laborers looking to improve their lot in life!

  7. Jack says:

    Regarding non-competitition clauses in employment agreements, it’s a bit ridiculous to call these anti-poaching clauses because we’re talking about secondary labour markets where poaching is unlikely to be worth it. Regardless of enforceability, these clauses scare some people from changing jobs of their own accord. They’re just designed to make the labour markets less liquid so that employers can extract rents in the form of less competitive wages.

  8. Tenacious D says:

    Thanks for the link to the Ostrom review. That was an interesting read.

  9. Douglas Knight says:

    Most states have already banned non-compete clauses (except in narrow situations). What’s going on here is not the creation of regulations, but the enforcement of existing laws. As Jack alludes, these clauses exist to scare workers (and to a lesser extent hiring managers), not to be enforced in court.

    • zzzzort says:

      I believe the relevant difference is non-compete clauses restricting worker movement between companies, e.g. Wendy’s and McDonalds (which is illegal) and non-compete clauses between different franchises of the same chain, e.g. two different McDonald’s with different franchise owners, which exist in a gray area currently being litigated.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Thanks! I totally misread this, both the internal nature and that it’s really about poaching. And non-poaching agreements are easier to hide, so this is mainly about the governments noticing that they exist.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Most states have already banned non-compete clauses

      Citation needed. States are fitfully sputtering towards this position, sporadically, but non-competes are still very much a thing outside of California.

  10. Antistotle says:

    even though phrenology…yeah, turns out to be totally debunked.

    Retro-phrenology though, totally a thing.

  11. yodelyak says:

    Re: The Face of God link… it seems more likely the study is simply detecting what participants’ “average” or “central” face is.

    If I read it right, their method was:
    1. Generate an “average” face generated from 50 American faces, selected to be age/gender/race representative of the whole of the U.S.
    2. Show people two versions of this “average” face, each with some randomly added statistical noise, and let them pick the one that is more “like god.”
    3. Create an “average” face-of-God by summing all the picked faces together as compared with the un-picked faces, and likewise create “average” faces for liberals and conservatives.

    When conservatives pick faces that are more white and old and male, they say “ahah!” and conclude they’ve learned something about how the face of god as visualized by Americans…

    What they should have done, is said “ahah” and concluded they’d learned something about how when people are shown a face and asked to pick one, people pick the one that is more like the people they see every day (e.g. coastal liberals are going to favor a more diverse average face…)

    Also, when people tend to pick faces that are “egocentric” (that is, that look like themselves) that shouldn’t say something about people’s “image of god” so much as about whether their “average” face is significantly affected by their own face.

    To make this really interesting, get people whose faces are significantly asymmetric, and see if their image for God more closely resembles themselves as seen in photographs (and which look a little strange), or their mirror-image selves (which they see and examine closely daily, and which look like “me”).

  12. Brett says:

    What Democrats need to do is make a credible threat once they’re back in power to pack the Supreme Court unless there’s an agreement to pass a constitutional amendment setting up fixed terms and staggered retirement for Justices both on the Court and on the lower branches of the federal court system.

    Vox is really hit or miss on quality, probably because their business model seems to be “rush out as many takes in a day as possible on a single topic that’s generating traffic, and maybe toss in some contributor pieces”.

  13. Nornagest says:

    James Brooke is one of those batshit insane colonial figures that I always assume to be fictional the first two or three times I see references to them. There were lots of people like that. See for example Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, an Austrian officer who fought on the White side in the Russian Civil War before striking out for Mongolia, where he converted to esoteric Buddhism, raised an army, kicked the Chinese out, married a princess, got himself declared khan, perpetrated several massacres, and carved out a short-lived and bloody empire with fire and sword before being caught and killed by the Bolsheviks. I swear I’m not making a word of this up. He’s like an evil fantasy protagonist.

    If you read the Flashman books, they’re roughly 1/3 Flashman hanging out with those people. (The other two-thirds are Flashman running from insane 19th-century military disasters, and Flashman womanizing.)

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I swear I’m not making a word of this up. He’s like an evil fantasy protagonist.

      The Russian Civil War is the master key to 20th century history, and yet it gets so little attention. Maybe it used to when the USSR existed and I’m just young?
      There should be a film about Roman von Ungern-Sternberg. Audiences would think it was a superhero period piece and be confused that the supervillain isn’t manifesting esoteric Buddhist powers.

      • Nornagest says:

        I think part of it is that, from a Western perspective, it was a war without good guys to root for. Brutal autocrats only a generation or so from flogging serfs on one side, guys like Stalin on the other, shooting each other in the snow between bouts of torturing civilian sympathizers. The Romanovs are romantic, so they get their share of media, but the war? No one wants to watch that, except maybe Cormac McCarthy, and he hasn’t written anything set there yet.

        The Chinese Civil War is a similar situation. My martial arts sensei knew the head of Chiang Kai-shek’s guard after the war, and he says that by the middle of the war, the KMT had taken to chaining recruits to their bunks so they didn’t run away in the middle of the night.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          My understanding is that the Chinese situation is worse, because you had a civil war between the megacidal Communists and the utterly unlikable KMT, then Mao marched off and the KMT fell into infighting (Jewish cowboy adventurer “Two-Gun” Cohen was barely acquainted with Chiang because he worked for southern KMT leaders who opposed him, frex), the Japanese came in and raped Nanking et al, and after the Americans made them surrender the Commies came back for a final civil war.
          Like a great Chinese novel, you have to follow like 108 characters. But here they’re all horrible.

    • Utility Monster says:

      It also seems familiar for readers of the Vorkosigan Saga.

      Brooke’s story is pretty close to the plot of The Warrior’s Apprentice, except that Miles is a touch less colonial.

    • Lillian says:

      The Baron wasn’t Austrian. While he was born in Austria, the Ungern-Sternbergs had lived in Estonia since the Middle Ages, and the family moved back to Tallin when he was two, so he was a Baltic German. This is why he joined the Whites during the Russian Civil War, he was a Russian national and a noble, so of course he did.

      People forget that a huge proportion of the Russian nobility was ethnically German. Aside form all the ones from the Baltics, there were also the Volga Deutsch, while the old Boyars were descended from Norsemen. Many of them had also intermarried the Tatar nobility, which is why Roman von Ungern-Sternberg could somewhat credibly claim descent from Ghenghis Khan, which may be part of what inspired him to go to Mongolia and try to revive the Mongol Empire.

      The Russian nobility in general was something else, a fair number of them barely even spoke Russian, as even the ethnically Russian nobles mostly talked to each other in French. It was a consistent problem every time Russia got invaded by foreigners, in that their leaders were themselves pretty foreign, which lead to friction with the very people they were supposed to lead.

  14. Aapje says:

    I’ve been on the weird part of YouTube again* and found this channel with walkthroughs of tanks. Their strengths, weaknesses and how nice they are from the perspective of the crew.

    *Wait, is there even a non-weird part?

  15. educationrealist says:

    I am absolutely completely ok with cities banning–if not cafeterias, at least employer subsidized cafeterias. I am pretty fed up with companies coming into a town, having their own private buses, their own private restaurants, the employees driving up housing prices. They can spend their fricking money in local restaurants or they can pay for crappy grilled cheese. Fine with me.

    • ana53294 says:

      Would you also ban companies offering an on-site kitchen and grocery store, so employees can make sandwiches on site?

      This option may actually be more expensive, but they could do it just to annoy regulators.

      • phil says:

        fwiw, employer provided meals get different tax treatment than straight compensation.

        —-

        “Meals
        Offering meals is a particularly positive benefit. It allows team members to bond organically and with a wide range of people. Having people go out to get their own food usually causes them to stick with the same small subgroup each day.
        Offering lunch thus creates a more bonded overall team. Offering breakfast and dinner allows people to easefully extend their work day. Thus, there are benefits to offering meals beyond simply the pre-tax calculus.
        (The pre-tax calculus is that meals are a commodity. If you provide the meals company-wide, then you can deduct the expense as a business expense. If you do not, your teammates must use post-tax dollars to buy those meals. Thus, providing meals is a way of providing benefits to your team on a pre-tax basis.)
        Encourage team members to be “present” at meals so that they interact with each other. This means no electronics (phones or laptops) at the meal table.”

        https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZJZbv4J6FZ8Dnb0JuMhJxTnwl-dwqx5xl0s65DE3wO8/mobilebasic#heading=h.pdmqf3646hgt

    • Lambert says:

      Just don’t complain when those employees start driving up the cost of restaurants.

    • James C says:

      From the employee’s perspective, though, you’re just going after one of the few nearly guaranteed perks a job offers. I have little hope that employers would raise the salaries of their workers enough to compensate, so all you’re doing is reducing the employee’s practical spending cash. That doesn’t encourage them to spend money on restaurants, it encourages them to bring food from home.

      • Matt M says:

        That doesn’t encourage them to spend money on restaurants, it encourages them to bring food from home.

        So… you’re saying the bill needs an amendment to also make it illegal to bring food from home?

        • Deiseach says:

          Part of the attraction of an on-site canteen is the convenience (never mind the cheaper food if the employer is subsidising it). You only have to leave your workplace and go a little distance to the eating place and you’re assured of a place being free, not having to wait too long, etc.

          If you have an hour for a lunch break, it may be inconvenient to go out into The City and park your car/get off public transport/lock your bike safely, then find a restaurant and see if they have a free table etc. and eat and get back to work all in that hour.

          So I agree that it’s more likely people will either skip lunch and keep working at their desk, or bring a packed lunch from home. Unless there are restaurants literally on the doorstep, it’s too much hassle. Now, if there are restaurants literally on the doorstep, then this is about the doh-re-mi, not about “the opportunity to mix and mingle with the rest of the city” and we all know the politicians are keeping their constituents sweet.

          Honestly, I’d resent being forced to go out to someone’s café rather than it being my free choice, and I’d bring a lunch or skip it instead.

          • Lambert says:

            And then some entrepreneurial type would buy up buildings next to the big tech HQs and turn them into cafes, or set up burger vans outside of them.
            Perhaps these would even wind up getting bought and subtly subsidised by the holding company of whichever business they more or less exclusively serve.
            Precedent will be established as to what counts as subsidising cafeterias, and Tech will throw money as getting as close to that as possible.

            The cost of inconvenience doesn’t even go to anyone, like redistribution would. It’s just burning away the time of some of the most productive workers.

    • AG says:

      I’m sure the now-jobless former drivers of those private buses and staff of those private restaurants will thank you. But hey, if they go homeless, then I’m sure the housing market will get better!

    • S_J says:

      Consider these two scenarios:

      1. Company builds a cafeteria-space in their building, and rents out the space to a foodservice business at a cost slightly below the cost of equivalent square-footage in a nearby shopping plaza

      2. Company builds a cafeteria-space in their building, and funds a “foodservice department” which buys food, employs cafeteria workers, and provides meals to company employees at a very-low cost.

      Which one is “company subsidizing employee cafeteria” ?

    • dick says:

      My employer provides catered lunches from local restaurants. Is that good or bad by this logic?

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      It sounds like you just don’t like outsiders moving into your town?

    • phisheep says:

      I worked briefly on an industrial/tech campus that had a truly marvellous solution to this. None of the businesses had staff canteens, instead they gave meal vouchers to employees. In the middle of the campus was a big canteen/restaurant place, staffed entirely by chefs who worked their own restaurants in town in the evenings. There would be 5-6 different chefs offering different menus at any time, and the competition for custom was fierce, which drove up the quality of the food on offer.

      The businesses did not have to set aside canteen space, the workers did not need to go off-campus, the local chefs got paid and attracted people to their restaurants, and the meals were magnificent.

      It was, of course, in France.

    • vV_Vv says:

      I am pretty fed up with companies coming into a town, having their own private buses, their own private restaurants, the employees driving up housing prices.

      Why don’t let them also have their own private dorms? Companies would become self-contained citadels and stop driving housing prices up.

  16. eliza says:

    @ Trump “clown or stable genius” debate: “I have just spent a week in Beijing talking to officials and intellectuals, many of whom are awed by his skill as a strategist and tactician.” And it is even confirmed that Chinese politicians from highest levels of power are not clowns themselves? Lenin once said that it is enough to be a cleaner to rule whole nation, and by comparison clown has so many advantages over cleaner on that field.

    @ Jesus Nazarene Best blog site about historicity of Lord and Savior that I know is vridar.org. I recommend series of posts about Paul and Ignatius. Beginnings of christianity are at least as interesting as life of moths of central Europe or anatomy of battle tanks, or even history of knots, by with I mean they are very interesting. And maybe even important.

  17. As a political practitioner, I’ve been saying for years that money doesn’t buy election outcomes, or more precisely, that the independent role of money in electoral politics is enormously overrated.

    Campaign donors don’t cause candidates to be successful, rather, they bestow campaign money on candidates expected to do well. This is not necessarily cynical behavior: winning candidates generate attractive buzz and fire up partisans.

    But the authors of the paper Scott linked to goes a bit further than I did:

    We argue that the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero.

    Certainly television commercials, billboards, campaign flyers and the like do not convert Democrats to Republicans or vice versa.

    And I have argued in this space before that (specifically) presidential campaign organizations are almost powerless once the election is well under way.

    For example, there is probably nothing that Hillary Clinton’s campaign could have done in October 2016 to avoid losing Michigan. At that stage, the incremental effect of another campaign speech or another mailing or another commercial is, I agree, zero.

    That said, in my experience, below the presidential level, candidates of the same political party often get widely varying vote totals from the same constituencies in a general election. Voters, starting from ignorance about a given race, respond to something beyond naked partisanship to distinguish between candidates. If it’s not campaigning, then what is it?

    • Aapje says:

      It seems likely to me that there is a level of spending above which there is no effect and that all candidates with a reasonable chance to win already spend at least this much. Then the value of the marginal campaign dollar is zero, but that doesn’t mean that you can just stop campaigning altogether.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      However, large campaign donations do affect how politicians act. The US political system is amazingly non-responsive to the concerns of anyone not a member of the donor class, to the extent that their concerns are effectively only addressed when they happen to be identical to those of the donor class.

      Money in politics does not have to be decisive or even work at all to be a massively corrupting influence on politics – There are hilarious examples of politicians coming under the sway of people who could fairly be called “Complete and utter charlatans” because the politicians believed they owed success to crystal energy or horoscopes. … and “large amounts of money spent on add campaigns” are the sort of thing which it is really, really easy to believe works.

      TLDR: You can collect favors as long as the person you are collecting from believes you helped them. This works even if what you are doing is complete hokum, as long as it is credible hokum.

      • Matt M says:

        Eh, this doesn’t really pass muster with me.

        Most political issues are conflicts between two rich and well financed sides. The amount of issues that are really “large influential fat cats vs poor lower class masses with no representation” are few and far between.

        As an example, AT&T wants to merge with Time Warner. AT&T and Time Warner spend millions of dollars in political lobbying, including donations to both sides. But who doesn’t want this merger to happen? Maybe the consumer doesn’t, I don’t really know. But I *do* know that Verizon and Sprint don’t want it to happen, and that they spend millions of dollars in political lobbying, including donations to both sides.

        So how can we say that campaign donations logically affect this issue?

        When both sides of every dispute are lavishing gifts among both sides of potential adjudicators, it’s hard to say that the gifts are having a meaningful impact…

        • Freddie deBoer says:

          The spending that matters is lobbying spending, not campaign contributions.

          • Matt M says:

            And? I think my point still stands.

            Unless you believe that either AT&T or Verizon is significantly “out-lobbying” the other?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The marginal utility of buying an existing politician is orders of magnitude higher than giving ad money to a candidate?
            Makes perfect sense to me, but why does so much money get wasted on presidential and statewide campaigns?

          • Mark Atwood says:

            Um, what is “lobby spending” in your world?

            I’m a member of 3 different PACs, and track their Slacks, mailing lists, agendas, and budgets.

            In my world, “lobby spending” is travel costs for the lobbyist leads and staffers, paying their salaries, paying the office costs of their offices, paying the salaries of white and pink collar staff to do the office stuff, and paying small armies of researchers and writers to write research reports and white papers.

            Campaign contributions are a different set of line items, and in your own post you say they are not “lobby spending”.

            Despite the dark fever dreams of the uninformed, legislation is not up for auction, and PACs and lobbyists do not drop bags of money on State Rep Smith’s desk for a vote.

            Unless they live in Illinois or in Maryland, of course.

          • Robert Jones says:

            I think the basic issue here is that people who don’t like political outcomes but are ideologically committed to the political system are predisposed towards suggestions that the outcomes are the results of the system malfunctioning. The king is wise and virtuous, but his advisors are corrupt. If only my complaint could be brought to the attention of Comrade Stalin. If only we could get the money out of politics.

        • Tarpitz says:

          At least one prospective counterexample is the case where all existing major players in a sector benefit from regulation that suppresses potential new competitors, or otherwise increases the pot for all of them at the expense of consumers and/or smaller businesses.

          One might also consider cases where an entire industry exploits a lack of co-ordination between state governments, to the detriment of taxpayers – film subsidies or NFL stadia, perhaps.

    • Sciolist321 says:

      Is there anything that we know does work? Asides from depressing stuff like height or attractiveness of candidate.

      Does this effect work in other countries too? It’d be interesting if the effect was zero in two-party systems but non-zero in proportional representation systems for example.

      Surely it doesn’t hold true if you’re an unknown independent and your two opponents don’t spend anything? If that’s the case, perhaps we’re just talking about very big elections that everyone already knows about and many people already have their tribal preferences.

      • yodelyak says:

        Some things we know work…

        I have my own intuitions, which seem to be mostly borne out by some studies I’ve read. Recapping one I read just now…

        In low-information elections (especially municipal-type elections) simple face-to-face reminders, especially if they include bonus phrases like “this election will be close” seem to work to boost turnout by ~10% and there’s controlled random sample studies that back that up. https://isps.yale.edu/sites/default/files/publication/2012/12/ISPS00-001.pdf

        Phone calls (for either persuasion or GOTV) seem not to work.

        Mailers work, but it’s a small effect.

        (My intuition is mail is usually cost-effective only if you are in a media market where digital and/or television are either cost-prohibitive (e.g. if you’re running in Manchester, NH, the TV market includes Boston, and is priced with that in mind) or already saturated with your message.)

    • Matt M says:

      If it’s not campaigning, then what is it?

      A general sense of how well things are going that answers the following question: “Should we continue to trust the party in power, or give someone else a chance?”

      My take on 2016 is that any Republican would have won (and that any Democrat would have won in 2008). Obama had 8 years to deliver on his promises and largely failed. People noticed. The 5% or so of the electorate that actually matters (the people who aren’t consistently partisan R or D) said “Eh, we tried this hope and change stuff and it didn’t do much – time to give the other guys a chance!”

      It’s somewhat plausible that campaign ads might influence people’s perception of how things are going, but it seems to me that their own individual lives and circumstances would have a greater impact. This, notably, would explain why the biggest shifts from D to R took place in locations like rural PA, MI, WI, etc. While lots of the country did mostly recover from 2008 during the Obama years, those places, notably, did not.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        My take on 2016 is that any Republican would have won

        The counter-argument is how very close the actual election was.

        (Unless your position is that Trump was actually the least electable of the Republican field. I can sort of see an argument for that, but it requires that the people of voted for Trump on the theory “Burn It Down” are outnumbered by the Republicans who in the end didn’t vote, or even voted for Hillary, and I’m not sure I buy that — I read too many people who said, “Hillary is a disaster: hold your nose and vote for Trump,” to believe that very many Republicans sat on their hands. But I haven’t studied the detailed results and my face-to-face anecdata is hampered by my living in a very blue state; I don’t know many Trump voters personally.)

        • Nornagest says:

          I think Hillary was an extremely weak candidate. But I also think Jeb! was an extremely weak candidate, for most of the same reasons — they both stood essentially for the status quo in a race where most people wanted a shakeup, they both have toxic associations, and neither one has any personal charisma to speak of. That match would have been a toss-up. Most of the rest of the Republican field would probably have won against Hillary: they’d have had a harder time pitching themselves as the candidate for change, but on the other hand there wouldn’t have been a civil war in the Republican base. And the incumbent party’s always at a disadvantage after eight years.

          (Sanders would have been a strong option if he’d won the primary, I think. He’d have picked up old-school labor and a share of the “burn it down” vote, and that’s essentially what sunk Hillary. And he seems to have an actual personality and actual convictions. Calling himself a socialist might have been a challenge but I don’t think that label has the sting it used to.)

          • cassander says:

            During the election I often said that Jeb was the one republican that Hillary could definitely beat, largely for that reason, though also because he wasn’t from the midwest which is where republicans most needed to pick up ground.

        • John Schilling says:

          Most of the people who voted for Trump on “burn it down” grounds, would have held their noses and voted for Ted Cruz. Or almost any other republican save maybe Jen Bush.

          Not all of them, but the few who didn’t would merely have stayed home. And you’re matching them against moderates and #NeverTrumps who actually crossed the line to vote for Hillary.

    • Sebastian_H says:

      I have trouble with this kind of analysis because when you have two well funded campaigns the NET effect may be zero even if campaign commercials work really well.

      • Robert Jones says:

        There are plenty of examples of campaigns where funding was unequal, and it doesn’t affect the outcome. It’s true that there are no examples of significant campaigns where one side spent zero, and I imagine that a candidate who did spend zero would be at a disadvantage.

        • Sebastian_H says:

          Yes, but again that could mean there are threshold effects (minimum necessary spending levels, or minimum differentials)

          On the one hand I’m very open to the idea that campaigning spending is WAY less useful than we act like it is. But in a lot of cases the researchers are looking at cases where a lot of energy is spent on both sides. I’ve yet to see studies that really take that into account.

    • S_J says:

      I agree: funding for candidates is often less-impactful than the behavior of the candidates themselves.

      However, I suspect that funding for/against ballot proposals can be very effective.

    • engleberg says:

      re: Certainly television commercials, billboards, campaign fliers and the like do not convert D to R or vice versa-

      Heinlein said the purpose of ads was to raise campaign worker morale, and it worked a little. The purpose of campaign workers being to locate supporters and get them to the polls. Have cars to drive them. Remind them to vote. Be a nice person they are proud and happy to be on the same team with.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      That said, in my experience, below the presidential level, candidates of the same political party often get widely varying vote totals from the same constituencies in a general election. Voters, starting from ignorance about a given race, respond to something beyond naked partisanship to distinguish between candidates. If it’s not campaigning, then what is it?

      I’ve had a very weakly held hypothesis for several years now, that roughly 80-90% of the value of all advertising is nothing more than awareness. Reminding people that your product or service exists. That’s all. Few people care to compare brands; all they want to know is that there’s this type of beans here or that financial planning class there.

      When it comes to politics, my hypothesis says that all people want to know is that there’s someone running for some office on their ballot that takes their position on their issue. Or that belongs to their party. Past that, again, few people compare brands; if you see two Democrats running for the primary for city council place 4, you’re either one of the relatively few insiders that digs into past voting records or corruption charges, or you’re going to flip a coin.

      If that’s true, then it suggests campaign spending is extremely valuable for reminding people the candidate exists, and is from party X, and is pro-this or that, and then only if they’re the only choice with aforesaid features. If more than one person is from your party or takes your position, your value obtained per dollar spent drops fast.

      What do you think?

    • Davide S. says:

      As a political practitioner, I’ve been saying for years that money doesn’t buy election outcomes, or more precisely, that the independent role of money in electoral politics is enormously overrated.

      Tangentially related: I often wonder about how influential political satire really is when it comes to eletions & actual policy.

      Does satirizing candidates actually significantly undermine their support? Or does it just merely them slightly annoyed while entertaining people who already dislike them anyway (and so aren’t going to vote differently)?

      I suspect the actual political effect, if there is one, is relatively small, but I don’t have any data on this.
      Or perhaps satire does work really well – but only when it’s slanderous and you’re actually convincing voters that candidate X is something they are not.

      Do you have a professional opinion on this?

      • Aapje says:

        I think that it is likely that the more cutting and over the top satire almost exclusively preaches to the converted. The more subtle and accurate kind may shift people’s opinions slightly, but it’s not like people tend to simply abandon a candidate when coming to believe something bad about them. They compare the overall package to the package of the other candidate.

        So any effects are going to be on the margin.

      • Davide S. says:

        It sounds like you’re claiming that well-made satire can swing undecided voters and people on the fence.
        If that is true, wouldn’t the effect be quite strong, assuming
        1)the ‘common wisdom’ that undecide voters are extremely influential to election results (I don’t have any issue believing this)
        2)artists DO produce significant amounts well-made, subtle, accurate satire (I am less confident about this)

      • AG says:

        Direct satire has no effect because people consume it with their guards up already.

        Glee pretty brutally satirised the stereotypical high school life, as well as the equal opportunity un-PC cheerleader coach that refers to everyone by slurs. However, this was paired with a sincere portrayal of gay people. Sometimes their issues were satirised, sometimes they were given loving closeups to show just how VALID their feelings were.
        Moderate-to-slightly conservative people tuned in to laugh at the whaaaacky high school shenanigans, and many ended up becoming more sympathetic to LGBT people, even as the actual LGBT people thought Glee was hackneyed and disrespectful to them a lot.

        So satire is effective if it’s a decoy — getting someone on board by taking potshots at their outgroup, while changing their mind on a third party.

  18. shakeddown says:

    Some would say that arguing that if you ever take power again you should win forever by breaking all rules and abandoning all honor – when your opponents are actually currently in power and can also do this – and making this argument in the national public media which your opponents also read – is at the very least a strategic error, if not more fundamentally erroneous.

    It can be worth signalling that you’re capable and potentially willing to defect once in power, to stop the person currently in position to defect from doing so.

    • gbdub says:

      But the person currently in position to defect isn’t – Kavanaugh is a bog standard judicial conservative, and frankly replacing Kennedy with him is no more (and maybe less) balance altering than replacing Scalia with Garland would have been. There has never been a rule to replace like with like on the Supreme Court.

      Be pissed off about Garland if you want, that was something of a defection (but more in form than in outcome).

      And anyway, responding to a defection with the threat of a much bigger one might discourage further defection – or it might take someone who was planning to cooperate and make them start contemplating the next escalation of defection.

    • John Schilling says:

      How does this work, exactly? Say I’m a Republican in an at least moderate trust, rule of law society. Someone offers me a shady, norm-breaking, only-technically-legal way to ensure that the Republican Party will rule for ever and ever. I might take them up on it. Or, valuing the rule of law and at least moderately trusting the Democrats to do the same, I might accept the risk of losing an election and letting them have power for a few years, knowing they will hand it back in due course. Maybe. And I can understand how a not-Republican would like something more certain than that.

      But how does the Democratic Party signaling that if they ever take power they might break trust and rule of law and rule for ever and ever, do anything but guarantee that I preemptively do the sieze-power-forever thing? That’s like doing nuclear deterrence by saying, “These here industrial facilities could start cranking out nuclear missiles by the thousand in about two years, so you all better not even think about using the thousands of nuclear missiles you’ve already got, or you’ll be sorry!”

      • secondcityscientist says:

        The audience for this particular threat isn’t random Republican voters, or Senate Republicans, or Donald Trump. It’s conservative Supreme Court justices. It’s telling them that if they start to make rulings wildly outside of what the public wants – especially given the fact that many Democrats view McConnell’s actions on the Scalia/Garland/Gorsuch seat to be outside the realm of acceptable behavior – then the Democratic party is prepared to use their Constitutionally granted leverage to bring them back into line. The hope is that the threat tempers some of the more extreme judgements that could be rendered. John Roberts, in particular, seems smart enough to get his preferred policies enacted through relatively narrow rulings and has enough power as Chief Justice that he can make those sorts of rulings.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Sounds like a failure to model, then. The “conservatives” on the court don’t think they’re partisan or conservative. They think they’re reading the text in the Constitution and applying it as written. They think the liberal judges are the activists making stuff up to suit left-wing politics.

          So you may think the message you’re sending is “stop being political or we’ll get more political” but the message they’re hearing is “start being left-wing or we’ll get more left-wing.” I doubt they’re going to acquiesce. They don’t think they’re “out of line,” they think the left is already out of line and is just hearing them threaten they’ll get even more out of line.

  19. Alkatyn says:

    Re Trump and China, in my anecdotal experience living in Beijing it seems that public opinion and state media are pretty heavily on the “idiot” side of the equation. (Though the people I talk to are generally the educated upper middle class, so may not be representative.)

    The state media has also been using him repeatedly to bolster its existing themes about the dangers of too much unfettered democracy (e.g. people will vote for incompetent demagogues rather than benevolent technocrats).

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Makes sense from the perspective of the Chinese Government, however it doesn’t make much sense for us sitting here to imagine that those things the PRC tells its citizens necessarily represents the genuine opinion of PRC officials.

  20. Evan Þ says:

    Regarding Gwern’s review of Carrier’s book On The Historicity Of Jesus, there was some good further discussion on the subreddit. The consensus seemed to be against Carrier, though I’m admittedly strongly biased in that direction already.

    • Jaskologist says:

      From gwern’s review:

      On a side note, after reading On the Historicity of Jesus, I began wondering a little about Islam & Muhammed too. After some checking, apparently there is only 1 known probable contemporary reference to Muhammed, and there are otherwise a lot of red flags: the Koran talks very little about Muhammed or his life, …

      Isn’t it remarkable how the founders of major religions seem uniquely unlikely to exist?

      • dndnrsn says:

        There are non-religious historical figures whose lives are poorly-attested.

        • helloo says:

          Shakespeare is the biggest known “thought to be conspiracy” that I’m aware of even more than Jesus but his life is comparable if not better known than his peers.

          There’s also a lot of “legendary leaders” like King Arthur which people generally consider possibly once based on historic real people but has since become mythology. In which the question is more like “was there an actual King Arthur” than the reverse.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Also, uniquely unlikely compared to who? If the reference class is ‘all founders of religions’, then I’d say that Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard are a lot more likely to have existed than John Frum, despite Mormonism and Scientology being much bigger religions than a Vanuatuan cargo cult.

        Or if the reference class is ‘legendary figures to whom superhuman feats are attributed’ generally, the Robin Hood mythicist position, or the Paul Bunyan mythicist position, are both far more popular than the Jesus mythicist position as far as I can tell.

    • theredsheep says:

      Is all that’s contested here the statement “Christianity is based on the life, however distorted, of a guy named Yeshua who started an NRM in Palestine, took it too far, and died at the hands of the authorities”? Given that broadly similar things have happened multiple times in the modern era, I don’t see why this merits doubt. It’s not like Yeshua was a rare name. Could it be all made up? Sure. But all the NRMs I can think of were started by single, charismatic figures–I vaguely recall hearing that Wicca had two–and most of them spoke on their own authority. So, arguing that Christ was made up by either some other figure who disappeared from the record, or else that the religion emerged organically by some kind of crowd consensus … that would seem to be overcomplicating the narrative. Parsimony, guys, parsimony.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Parsimony, guys, parsimony.

        Exactly. “Jesus never existed!” is an extreme edgelord claim. Even the most wild attempts to undermine Christianity still need a charismatic Jew to found an NRM before Paul wrote his earliest letter, and Yeshua was possibly the most common male name before that date, so the truth claim basically boils down to “Christianity was invented by a different Jew who convinced others to worship a fictional character by a name culturally equivalent to ‘John Smith’, and by the 70s AD they became erroneously convinced that John Smith was executed by a very specific colonial governor less than 40 years ago”, which carries a low Bayesian probability.

    • xXxanonxXx says:

      I’d hate to see what bad discussion looks like. For people who supposedly have no skin in the game the talk around this subject always gets personal real fast. I attribute most of this to Carrier who, when he isn’t calling his critics liars or douches, will drop lines like not having time to respond because he’s too busy having orgies with his harem. He drags everyone down with him and is the main reason I now avoid the subject despite having followed it with interest years ago.

  21. j r says:

    A dollar is worth a lot more to someone with an income of 10,000 a year than to someone with an income of 100,000 a year, and it is worth even less to someone on one million dollars a year. Thus there’s a certain inefficiency in giving a dollar to someone who already has many dollars, equally then there is a certain inefficiency to some having many dollars while others have few- those dollars could be more effectively contributing to the happiness of humanity if they were given to those who had less. Using certain mathematical techniques it is possible to quantify how much better a society would be in which everyone had an equal portion of income, yet the total pool of income was the same.

    Maybe I am missing something, but this premise seems deeply flawed or at the very least investigating the wrong thing. As I understand it, the premise here is that we can make an objective determination to what a dollar is worth to people at different levels of income (why income and not wealth by the way?) and then backsolve our way into quantifying the misallocation created by everybody not having the same income.

    There is a lot wrong with that conception. For one thing, it assumes that income level is the only variable that matters for determine the utility of an extra dollar. You can model it that way if you want and the output of that model will tell us something about how the marginal utility of income works, but it’s not going to give us the sum total of human happiness in regards to income.

    The other big problem is that it assumes that the value of a dollar in terms of social welfare can be derived by summing up everyone’s subjective marginal utilities. And that only makes sense if you think of wealth as something that rich people keep in their vaults to swan dive into and swim around in like Scrooge McDuck. The overwhelming amount of assets held by the rich are most likely in the form of working capital for some business, either through direct ownership or through investment in some security. Even if you were to only redistribute income and leave wealth alone, you would be impacting future investment decisions.

    The Atkinson index is a popular normative measure of inequality which gives the proportion of income in a society which could be sacrificed, without reducing ‘social welfare’ — if inequality was also reduced to zero.

    Maybe it’s just my capitalist priors, but I find this way of thinking quite scary (scary in the sense that I feel bad that there are people who actually think this way). I’m not really worried that anything like this is going to come to fruition, but as @fahertym states above, if there is something in our hind-brains that wants to see value destroyed to spare us feeling resentment at what other people have, we’re probably better off updating our operating systems. We no longer live in the zero-sum world of small bands roaming the savanna.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      if there is something in our hind-brains that wants to see value destroyed to spare us feeling resentment at what other people have, we’re probably better off updating our operating systems

      Suppose I were of a suspicious mind-set. How would I distinguish the quoted claim from “people quite understandably dislike being wronged, or suffering injustices; instead of rectifying the injustice, let’s convince people to come to like injustice, such that we—the ones currently benefiting from said injustice—may continue to benefit from it”?

      (Corollary question, which may assist in formulating a satisfying answer to the above: what, exactly, is this “value” that the quoted line refers to? Who is doing the valuing, for instance?)

      • j r says:

        I don’t know. Suppose I were of a suspicious mind and I saw someone from the other tribe willfully exchanging goods with someone from my tribe. How could I distinguish a distinguish a mutually beneficial exchange from a precursor to invasion and conquest?

        Or let’s get even more basic. Suppose I were naturally afraid of the dark, because nocturnal predators are dangerous How would I ever get to the point where I could sleep peacefully without a nightlight? Tough stuff, I know.

        By the way, I just want to point out the bait and switch that’s happening in this comment and in a bunch of other comments in the thread above about inequality. The link that I quoted from has nothing to do with any claims of injustice or any action to right wrongs. Likewise, there’s nothing about the bogus air rage claim that implies that the people at the front of the plane have done any injustice to the people in the back of the plane. This is explicitly about redistributing income to maximize some random conception of marginal utility. That’s it. That model explicitly involves sacrificing societal income for no corresponding increase in social welfare.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          By the way, I just want to point out the bait and switch that’s happening in this comment and in a bunch of other comments in the thread above about inequality. The link that I quoted from has nothing to do with any claims of injustice or any action to right wrongs. Likewise, there’s nothing about the bogus air rage claim that implies that the people at the front of the plane have done any injustice to the people in the back of the plane. This is explicitly about redistributing income to maximize some random conception of marginal utility. That’s it. That model explicitly involves sacrificing societal income for no corresponding increase in social welfare.

          What you seem to be missing is that some people consider unequal distribution of wealth to be injustice. (And, by extension, to such people, an equalizing redistribution is an “action to right wrongs”.) So there’s no bait-and-switch here—just a failure, on your part, to pass your opponents’ intellectual Turing Test.

          (I am not exactly such a person, myself. But I do share their deep suspicion of any claim that involves reasoning from abstract, vague “value” to conclusions about how I supposedly should stop preferring what I prefer, and instead start having other preferences, which will, coincidentally, be more convenient for people who are better off than I am. That this suspicion doesn’t actually require me to accuse those better-off folks of any misdeeds, or to tar their gains as ill-gotten, doesn’t ameliorate said suspicion one bit.)

          As for your replies to my question, they are unsatisfactory. Feel free to provide answers to the counter-questions that you listed, if you want. But do please also answer the question I asked.

          • j r says:

            @said achmiz

            No, I’m not missing anything. And I don’t have any “opponents” here. I made a specific comment on a link that was about a specific thing. Lots of people consider lots of things to be injustice. There are no ends to the ways that human beings can feel aggrieved in this world. So what?

            As for your replies to my question, they are unsatisfactory. Feel free to provide answers to the counter-questions that you listed, if you want. But do please also answer the question I asked.

            And… huh? What world are you living in? Lucky for me that I am living in the real world where you have no power to re-appropriate my comments to the topic that you want to talk about.

  22. tailcalled says:

    A new study confirms my survey’s finding that women in science suffer less sexual harassment than in other fields, with female scientists reporting generally nonsignificantly lower rates of harassment than female non-scientists and engineers, and significantly lower rates than female medical students.

    But the female engineers reported higher rates of sexist hostility, which seems like the form of harrassment that feminists usually talk about in tech?

    • gbdub says:

      For all the worry about awkward advances by nerds being misinterpreted as creepy harassment, I’m actually much more comfortable taking self-reported sexual harassment at face value than I am self-reported sexist hostility.

      As an engineer, while I haven’t heard first hand about much sexual harassment, when I have it’s been pretty unambiguously sexual, and whether it’s “really” harassment just a question of degree.

      On the other hand, I’ve heard more complaints about sexist hostility, and while it’s usually unambiguously hostile (or at least reasonable to interpret as such), it often sounds suspiciously exactly like the sort of hostility I get as a male, just run through a filter primed to detect hostility as evidence of sexism.

      • bean says:

        On the other hand, I’ve heard more complaints about sexist hostility, and while it’s usually unambiguously hostile (or at least reasonable to interpret as such), it often sounds suspiciously exactly like the sort of hostility I get as a male, just run through a filter primed to detect hostility as evidence of sexism.

        Seconded. I once asked a female engineer about this, and the example she gave was nearly word-for-word something that had happened to me a couple of months prior.

      • tailcalled says:

        Perhaps, but is this supported by evidence? Scott’s entire point was that there was no evidence on tech being associated with sexist harassment, but now he managed to dig up something that found a connection, so that seems like it requires withdrawing some points.

        • gbdub says:

          Certainly my anecdote doesn’t discredit the study, I just think that self reported “sexist hostility” is harder to trust than “sexual harassment”, without a really compelling reason why those two would apparently not be correlated. Probably need to look at the base level of hostility in the target environments too.

        • bean says:

          Can we not equivocate between sexist harassment and sexual harassment? Because those are two very different things, and accurately measuring the former is almost impossible, certainly not with the methodology used in these kind of surveys. Example based on my current job:
          Stuff gets sent out for peer review by the rest of the group. Usually, this is fairly straightforward, but a particular batch of work gets torn apart, even though the author feels it was no worse than other stuff they’ve seen/done in the past. In fact, let’s assume it isn’t. A woman primed with stories of sexism in engineering might well assume it was because she’s a woman. A man isn’t going to assume that, and he might chalk it up to the guy who does really harsh reviews not being busy that day or people being cranky because the cafeteria replaced tacos with some vegan thing unexpectedly. I’m not ruling out that some of it is sexism, and that women see a higher rate than men do, but when you hand me a study that says “x% of women see sexist harassment!” and a set of anecdotes that look a lot like my day-to-day life, I’m going to want more data to prove it.

          • tailcalled says:

            But the usual complaint is about sexist harassment, Scott was the one who brought up sexual harassment.

          • bean says:

            No, the usual complaint involves no distinction between the two at all. The word “brogrammer” does not make me think of someone who is polite to women except when it’s about professional matters.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Sure, he shouldn’t have cherry-picked the insignificant difference between stem and non-stem and he shouldn’t have reported the sign. He should have said that science and engineering were both insignificantly different from non-stem. And, as he did say, both science and engineering were significantly better than medicine. (Although I worry that there’s an apples-to-oranges problem of mixing undergrad and grad.)

      Even if it were true that engineering were statistically significantly worse than humanities, it is important to keep effect sizes in mind. That gap is much smaller than the engineering-medicine gap.

  23. nameless1 says:

    > Eventually “the story spread to newspapers all across the country and then into Europe”. The hoax continued for decades, and in the 1940s somehow people got it into their heads that the Great Wall demolition plan had incited the Boxer Rebellion.

    How to understand society. Whenever it is about something that matters personally for people, use game theory. Whenever it is not, assume it is a game of telephone. Scott Atran demonstrated the evolutionary psychology of religion by giving people one of the Ten Commandments, and asked them to explain it to someone else without telling them what it is. And in turn the other person would explain to another etc. And after 4-5 turns “honor thy father and mother” turned into “I should spend more time with my kids”. But this isn’t just religion, it is really everything.

  24. b_jonas says:

    > The FDA mulls making current prescription-only drugs non-prescription. […] I am vaguely emotionally in favor of it

    Are you in favor mostly because the current rules were made with the assumption that anyone will be able to afford to visit a doctor whenever they or their dependent relative is sick, and non-prescription drugs help work around the cases when this assumption is false?

    • Doctor’s appointments also have costs not measured in money. Example of someone with ADHD having a hard time getting medicated because she has ADHD.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Lots of drugs have dropped from prescription-only to OTC. The example I’m most familiar with is Claritin because I can get a 60 day supply for $15 and this is such an amazing development in quality-of-life that it should have been announced with fireworks.

    • Robert Jones says:

      People should be able to buy such drugs as they wish (and can afford), with the benefit of such advice as they choose to obtain.

  25. Hackworth says:

    Related to the OpenAI newsletter: OpenAI is going to stream the next DOTA 5v5 exhibition match on their Twitch.tv channel on August 5th.

    • C_B says:

      This is really cool, and they’ve been making very impressive progress.

      A couple months ago, when this showmatch was announced, they were thinking they would have to restrict it to a mirror match where both teams picked the same 5 heroes (out of >100 available in the game), because the bot didn’t know how to handle the others. Now it’s been changed to a draft from a pool of 18 heroes, much closer to the way the game is actually played.

      They also were originally going to include a whole bunch of “you can’t use this very important game mechanic because our bot doesn’t know how to handle it yet” restrictions, but they’ve removed the vast majority of them in time for the showmatch. You can see all the limitations they’ve overcome in the strikethrough bits of this page.

      I’m expecting them to be better than the best human teams by the time The International rolls around (mid-late August).

      The one thing I wish they’d include is a no-holds-barred round without the remaining restrictions, so we can get a chuckle (and possibly some insight) out of watching how the bot fails when faced with the stuff it doesn’t know how to handle yet.

      • Hackworth says:

        The one thing I wish they’d include is a no-holds-barred round without the remaining restrictions, so we can get a chuckle (and possibly some insight) out of watching how the bot fails when faced with the stuff it doesn’t know how to handle yet.

        One last chuckle at the bots’ expense before they solve Dota forever.

  26. Deej says:

    Maybe the threat of dems doing it later, will encourage republicans not to do it so much now…. (I guess probably not)

    • Matt M says:

      Or maybe the opposite. If the media succeeds in normalizing “court packing is an acceptable thing for the party in-power to do,” the Republicans won’t politely wait for the next election to start that ball rolling…

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        I suspect most Democrats will consider that to have already begun with Garland.

        • gbdub says:

          Failing to hold hearings for Garland was something of a defection from norms, but do you think the Dems would be griping less if the GOP had simply held votes on as many nominees as Obama could reasonably put forward in 2016, rejecting each one with their majority? Same result but much harder to argue a defection from norms.

          It’s very hard to call that “court packing”, especially when the net result was replacing Scalia with someone more like Scalia than Garland. It’s the Dems who were trying for an opportunity to adjust the status quo on the court.

          Blowing up the structure of the court to get your preferred ideological balance is on another level entirely to “refusing to approve a particular nominee for several months”.

          • broblawsky says:

            Yes, I believe we would be griping less if McConnell had just agreed to give Garland a hearing. It’s the violation of norms that people are angry about.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Some Democrats would still be just as angry, but some Democrats would be just as angry even if it was Garland and not a clone of RBG.

            The moderates Democrats and the Independents would be more accepting. There are rules to this shit.

            (I also agree that refusing to vote, while bad, is not Court Packing in a very obvious way, so obvious that I cannot engage with people who think they are the same.)

          • gbdub says:

            I’m skeptical. I think it’s “Trump got to put a conservative on the court (and now gets to put another one)” that people are upset about, and they’d continue to be upset regardless of how that came to pass.

            The Dems care about the norms now because they are the party out of power, and the norms are supposed to protect the out-of-power party to some degree.

            But they didn’t care much when they blew up the filibuster, or when they Borked Bork, or when Biden proposed the Biden rule.

            Likewise the GOP didn’t care much about the norms when they escalated those defections as soon as they became the majority.

            Now I think the norms are a good thing, and I’d prefer they come back to some degree, and I think the best way to do that is to de-escalate, rather than signal willingness to make a pretty severe escalation of your own as soon as possible.

          • Iain says:

            Now I think the norms are a good thing, and I’d prefer they come back to some degree, and I think the best way to do that is to de-escalate, rather than signal willingness to make a pretty severe escalation of your own as soon as possible.

            It sort of depends, doesn’t it? This is basically the Prisoner’s Dilemma: the worst possible outcome is being the only side that’s respecting norms. Not only did McConnell just play Defect, but he did it in response to the nomination of Merrick Garland, which was a pretty clear attempt at Cooperate on Obama’s part.

            I think it’s best to see talk of court packing as an attempt to signal a willingness to eventually play Defect, if no Cooperate is forthcoming from the other side, rather than a serious proposal. (Unfortunately, it’s not a credible threat unless it looks like you’re serious, which has the potential to end quite badly.)

            I agree with you on the broader point of supporting more norm-following.

          • Matt M says:

            Merrick Garland, which was a pretty clear attempt at Cooperate on Obama’s part.

            I don’t think this is true.

            I concede the fact that Garland was “about as good of a justice, by Republican standards, as a Democrat is likely to nominate.”

            That said, Republicans don’t want “as good of a justice as they can get from a Democrat. What they actually want is a Republican-appointed conservative justice.

            So, that being said, Obama was not “cooperating.” He too was making a calculated political ploy designed to damage his enemies. He thought that Republicans refusal to confirm Garland would damage them politically, AND that Hillary would eventually win, and the left would get an even better justice anyway. This was specifically engineered to entrap and harm McConnel and the Republicans.

            And he would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for those meddling rust belt voters!

          • gbdub says:

            I don’t know how much weight you can put on Garland as a signal to “Cooperate”, since the GOP had (stupidly, in my opinion) already made a commitment to not hold hearings. That gave Obama a free shot to nominate Garland with zero consequences – by picking a moderate, he maximized the degree to which the GOP would look bad.

            The GOP would have been tactically better off to provide a list of candidates they’d hold hearings for (and maybe approve), with a couple of juuuuust moderate enough candidates to make Obama plausibly the bad guy for not picking one. Rather than say “we’re not going to hear anyone” say “we’re not going to approve some super lib to replace Scalia in a Presidential election year” and then it looks more like a genuine stalemate than a unilateral Defect.

            Of course the outcome is probably still the same.

            Anyway regardless of all that, I think court packing talk (and impeachment talk) is stupid tactically because it’s going to turn off moderates and maybe get GOPers actually interested enough to get off their ass and vote in the midterm, which should be the last thing the Dems want. They naturally have a base enthusiasm gap in their favor this midterm, but seem intent on blowing it.

          • Iain says:

            That gave Obama a free shot to nominate Garland with zero consequences – by picking a moderate, he maximized the degree to which the GOP would look bad.

            No, see, this is McConnell’s dark genius. He correctly calculated that his obstruction would be lauded by the right, opposed by the left, and ignored completely by swing voters. The GOP did not “look bad” to anybody who mattered, because complaints about procedural obstruction don’t make good campaign ads.

            If your only goal is to maximize conservative influence on the Supreme Court, McConnell’s move was clearly correct. In the same way, if your only goal is to maximize liberal influence on the Supreme Court, packing the court with leftist judges is correct — if you can get away with it. They’re both cases of playing Defect: using the powers that are technically granted to you by the constitution in ways that have historically been out of bounds.

            (Preemptively: I agree that court packing would be a larger defection than McConnell’s gambit. I will note, however, that only one of these defections has actually happened.)

          • johansenindustries says:

            ‘McConnell’s move’

            What was McConnell’s move? If it was to declare that he wouldn’t have a hearing for any of Obama’s candidates, can you give a citation for this norm before McConnell declared he wouldn’t have any hearings for any of Obama’s candidates?

          • Iain says:

            Yes, in fact.

            Edward Scizorhands posted this link above. It’s from four months before Scalia’s death, and it examines the Supreme Court nomination process. The entire document is written under the assumption that Supreme Court nominations will be brought to the floor. In particular, see pages 1-3, “Bringing the Nomination to the Floor”. There’s nothing in there about the Majority Leader choosing not to consider a nominee.

          • johansenindustries says:

            From the summary:

            “Of the 36 nominations which were not confirmed, 11 were rejected outright in roll-call votes by the Senate,
            while nearly all of the rest, in the face of substantial committee or Senate opposition to the
            nominee or the President, were withdrawn by the President, or were postponed, tabled, or never
            voted on by the Senate.”

            Oh, what a guarantee that the president will have his candidate voted on.

            The section you pointed out, while you are correct that it doesn’t say the House Majority Leader specifically has veto rights, I have never seen a document stress unamity more and the House Majority Leader definitely is needed for unanimity.

            And it also goes on further to say ‘When unanimous consent to call up a nomination has not been secured, the majority leader may make a motion that the Senate proceed to consider the nomination.’ ‘may’ unambigiously implies ‘may not’ or ‘at the House Majority Leader’s discretion’.

          • Iain says:

            If it was to declare that he wouldn’t have a hearing for any of Obama’s candidates, can you give a citation for this norm before McConnell declared he wouldn’t have any hearings for any of Obama’s candidates?

            Oh, what a guarantee that the president will have his candidate voted on.

            “Whooosh! Whoooosh!” said the goalposts.

            Nobody said that there was a rule against what McConnell did. The argument is that there was a norm against it. The evidence for this is that A) it had never happened before, and B) the congressional report documenting the obstacles facing a Supreme Court nomination never mentions the idea.

            If you want further evidence, you can look at this document, from the same set of reports, discussing the Senate Judiciary Committee’s role. Take this bit, for example:

            Upon the President’s announcement of a nominee, the Judiciary Committee typically initiates an intensive investigation into the nominee’s background.

            Again, not even the faintest hint that the Majority Leader might just refuse to hold any hearings.

          • johansenindustries says:

            That a section detailing what the Senate Judiciary Comittee does in response not mentioning the fact that the Senate Majority Leader may choose not to have a hearing means utterly nothing. It doesn’t mention the possibility of withdrawal, of the nominee dying, or a host of other obviousities that aren’t the focus of the report.

            The treport reads: ‘When unanimous consent to call up a nomination has not been secured, the majority leader may
            make a motion that the Senate proceed to consider the nomination.’

            The ‘may’ unambigiously implies a ‘may not’ and the report never makes any suggestion that this would be violating any norm.

            Something not having happened before does not mean it violates a norm. Can you give an example where a President in his eighth year with the other party holding the other branches went to replace a beloved Justice of the other ideological bent with a moderate partisan supporter of his ideology without bothering to discuss his choice with the House Majority leader, and a hearing was still held.

            If you can show that then that would be a good argument for the House Majority Leader to have broken a norm. If you can’t then it wasn’t really him who acted in an unprecedented fashion*.

            * And he’s not the first US politician to use rhetoric stronger than he actually felt either.

          • Iain says:

            If you continue to put arbitrary restrictions on the situation, you can certainly make it seem unprecedented.

            My claimed norm is that nominees get hearings. There have been over a hundred Supreme Court nominations; to the best of my knowledge, Garland is the only not to get a hearing.

            Your claimed norm is a bunch of ad-hoc nonsense designed to narrow the circumstances down to this case in particular. To the best of my knowledge, those circumstances have never before occurred, which makes the lack of precedent completely unsurprising.

            Some precedents are clearer than others.

          • johansenindustries says:

            Did Oliver Ellsworth get a hearing? As far am I am aware most justices did not get a judicial commitee hearing.

            If no other president had ever been in such a position where he ought to have felt obliged to listen closely to what the House Majority leader wanted and yet refused not to, preferring to try to smugly do an unprecedented run-around poaching attempt then that would make the lack of precedent for the House Majority Leader’s actions entirely unsurprising.

          • Iain says:

            Yeah, okay, we’re done here.

          • johansenindustries says:

            Can you confirm that you stand by ” There have been over a hundred Supreme Court nominations; to the best of my knowledge, Garland is the only not to get a hearing.”? (For future reference.)

            [To clarify for anyone who happens to come across this. Of the ‘over a hundred Supreme Court nominations’ only around a third (probably less) of them got hearings.]

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Something not having happened before does not mean it violates a norm.

            I think the better response to this line of reasoning is that by this standard, court-packing isn’t norm-violating either, so it’s no biggie if Democrats do it.

          • johansenindustries says:

            X does not imply Y =/= X implies not Y.

            We know that court packing violates norms not because it has yet to happen, but because when it was threatened it was declared from all walks of the arena to be against norms.

            We can also see the court packing proposals ‘this isn’t really court packing so Republicans aren’t allowed to court pack in return or they’d be breaking the no court-packing norm’ . In contrast, nobody objects to Democrats delaying a hearing to the next election if they have the power to do so and will take the consequences, it is just Democrats crying when Republicans do it; which doesn’t sound much like a universal norm to me.

          • Iain says:

            For everybody following along at home: Oliver Ellsworth did not get a hearing from the Senate Judiciary Committee because that committee didn’t exist yet. He was confirmed in the Senate on a 21-1 vote; presumably this involved some sort of hearing.

            I leave any conclusions about the good faith of the participants in this discussion up to the judgment of the reader.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            FDR failed in part because he rejected lesser compromise positions: quoting from the article, “There were indications early in the struggle that members of Congress might have been prepared to accept a bill providing for two or three additional justices, even if they opposed expanding the Court’s membership to fifteen. Democratic Senator Key Pittman wrote to Attorney General Homer Cummings proposing an eleven-member Court just three days after the President surprised the congressional leadership with his own proposal.” On February 20 a delegation of congressional leaders headed by Vice-President John Nance Garner, Senate Majority Leader Joe Robinson, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Fountain Ashurst urged the President to agree to a compromise providing for the addition of two or three additional justices. Roosevelt responded by “laugh[ing] in their faces”. The Senate Majority Leader later said “[I]f the president wants to compromise, I can get him a couple of extra justices tomorrow.”

            So what was opposed from all sides wasn’t the court-packing per se, but only the amount. Two justices was regarded as a compromise position, and there is precedent for it as a compromise position. So, I contend appointing two more justices isn’t norm-violating.

            EDIT to add that in fact, the number of SC justices has been increased, so what was objected to was FDR’s reasoning–since the reasoning now would be different, the previous court-packing attempt isn’t necessarily relevant.

          • johansenindustries says:

            @I
            ‘presumably this involved some sort of hearing.’

            Some kind of hearing, OK then sure. House Majority Leader heard Obama say ‘Garland’ and said ‘no deal to Garland’. Which is no less of a hearing than the snap votes in Senate that the majority of nominees have faced.

            It is dishonest to talk about hudreds of nominees getting hearings when hearings as we know them have only been around for the last seventy years and not nearly hundred of nominees.

            @E
            Everybody but you recognises two more nominees as court-packing. The arguments being made aren’t that it isn’t court-packing are because of Garland. If the Republicans followed through with there own court packing for their own reason then the Democrats would complain of norm-violting. In contrast, nobody objects to Democrats trying to pull what the House Majority Leader pulled because that is not a norm.

            They want two justices for this court-packing because they need two justices to court pack (to unilaterally change the weight of the court on its head). FDR could not make do with two justices. Although a bit skeesy, FDR getting two more justices would not have been court packing so accepting two more justices as a compromise is not accepting court-packing.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            And everyone but you can see that comparing a justice who actually served on the Supreme Court to Merrick Garland is tendentious in the extreme; I at least am doing it deliberately to mock your reasoning. It’s’ easy to declare that something is not a norm if you get to dismiss all the reasons it’s a norm, which can be done for court packing as well as anything else.

          • johansenindustries says:

            OK, then did Robert H Harrison have a hearing? (And Iain didn’t say ‘of the hundreds of Suprenme Court nominations who did not get on the bench all of them got a hearing but Garland’.

            What are the reasons why holding a hearing for the President’s nominee should be considered a norm rather than something that has happened because the President has compromised so as to get the hearing that he wanted?

            On the court-packing side we have: the last time it was discussed it was objected to by both sides as breaking a norm, its proponents now give it a euphamism and try to explain that it is not really court-packing (since court-packing is norm-ciolating), if Trump responded to their threads of adding two new justices to get a DEmocrat balance by preemptively adding two new justices to keep a Republican balance the Democrats would complain of it being norm-breaking.

            Everybody is OK with the Democrats doing what McConnell did, and nobody has never not been OK with the Democrats doing what McConnel did (beyond the fact that they might be punished come election-time). It isn’t a norm if only the Republicans are supposed to be bound to it.

          • Dan L says:

            Everybody is OK with the Democrats doing what McConnell did, and nobody has never not been OK with the Democrats doing what McConnel did (beyond the fact that they might be punished come election-time).

            Ok, that one is blatantly false. Let’s keep the hyperbole to a minimum, people. Especially when we’re speaking for others.

          • johansenindustries says:

            @DanL

            If it is ‘blatantly false’ then it will not be difficult for you to provide evidence of that. Its not an ambivalent claim. I’ll wait.

          • Dan L says:

            You want evidence that it isn’t “everybody”? Uh, ok: I personally wouldn’t approve.

            If you don’t want to be proven wrong by one individual’s subjective opinion, I really recommend dialing back the hyperbole.

          • johansenindustries says:

            You wouldn’t approve of what? Speak in full sentences.

            If Democrats do great in the midterms, they win the house by a vote. Its 2018, Ginsburg dies and Trump nominates a Kennedy-type. The House Majority Leader refuses to hold hearing. Are you sincerely saying that you would consider that House Majority Leader as norm-breaking? Or are you just trying to be smart?

            If you’re saying that you are sincere and you do think that a Democratic House Majority leader would be norm-breaking then I guess I was wrong.

            (And yes by ‘nobody’ I assumed it was a given that I was not including psychiatric schitzopherincs, five year olds and other groups not mentally competent enough. I don’t think the discussion is enriched by always having to phrase ‘everyone’ or ‘no one’ as ‘everyone (or no none) save for five year olds, mental delusionals and the like’ lest be attacked for hyperbole.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You wouldn’t approve of what? Speak in full sentences.

            Reading comprehension seems to have eluded you. Because ..

            (And yes by ‘nobody’ I assumed it was a given that I was not including

            Oh wait, you are just being a jerk. You actually did understand the sentence.

            See the thing is you need to specify the scope of your actual set. Because if Trump were to nominate someone in 2019, and they did not get a hearing or a vote, I would say that would be norm breaking. Many people would.

            I might consider it justified, but I would acknowledge that it is another broken norm. Just like McCain threatening to never give anyone nominated by Hillary a vote was a broken norm. Each norm violation being justified by the previous one.

            Republicans like to trace this sequence back to the hearings and vote on Bork. I’d say nominating Bork, who carried out the Saturday Night Massacre, was the first in the sequence.

          • Dan L says:

            @johansenindustries:

            You wouldn’t approve of what? Speak in full sentences.

            The use of a pronoun does not seem to have exceeded your grasp of the English language. Quit being gratuitously insufferable.

            If Democrats do great in the midterms, they win the house by a vote. Its 2018, Ginsburg dies and Trump nominates a Kennedy-type. The House Majority Leader refuses to hold hearing. Are you sincerely saying that you would consider that House Majority Leader as norm-breaking? Or are you just trying to be smart?

            The House doesn’t confirm SCOTUS nominees. That’s the Senate’s responsibility, with the Senate Judiciary Committee holding the hearings.

            But if we end up in a situation where the Democrats control the SJC and they refuse hearings, I would indeed consider that a violation of the same norm that was violated in 2016. Coming after that one however, it may be inevitable – it isn’t a norm if only the Democrats are supposed to be bound to it. Nonetheless I would prefer the SJC not be used as a veto point, by either side. Better for each nominee to go to a floor vote.

            (Note that that a committee veto is only necessary if the nominee is enough of a compromise that they would pass the floor vote. I am not a fan of the Hastert rule, and this seems analagous.)

            If you offered me a deal right now, not knowing what is going to happen in November or in 2020, to swap RBJ and Clarence Thomas with two 50-something centrists I’d take it in a heartbeat. Political polarization of the court is a bad thing.

            (And yes by ‘nobody’ I assumed it was a given that I was not including psychiatric schitzopherincs, five year olds and other groups not mentally competent enough. I don’t think the discussion is enriched by always having to phrase ‘everyone’ or ‘no one’ as ‘everyone (or no none) save for five year olds, mental delusionals and the like’ lest be attacked for hyperbole.)

            I find it disturbing that you might let “people with consistent principles” fall into the same category of non-consideration. One more time – less hyperbole, please.

          • johansenindustries says:

            @HBC

            Not letting you get away with ‘the norm that was violated in 2016’, ‘the norm violated by McDonnell’ or ‘it’ is not being a jerk. You should ask yourself why you are unwilling to actully name the norm. And you act with such vitriol when asked to do so.

            @the other one

            You wouldn’t approve of what? Speak in full sentences.

            The use of a pronoun does not seem to have exceeded your grasp of the English language. Quit being gratuitously insufferable.

            If Democrats do great in the midterms, they win the house by a vote. Its 2018, Ginsburg dies and Trump nominates a Kennedy-type. The House Majority Leader refuses to hold hearing. Are you sincerely saying that you would consider that House Majority Leader as norm-breaking? Or are you just trying to be smart?

            The House doesn’t confirm SCOTUS nominees. That’s the Senate’s responsibility, with the Senate Judiciary Committee holding the hearings.

            But if we end up in a situation where the Democrats control the SJC and they refuse hearings, I would indeed consider that a violation of the same norm that was violated in 2016. Coming after that one however, it may be inevitable – it isn’t a norm if only the Democrats are supposed to be bound to it. Nonetheless I would prefer the SJC not be used as a veto point, by either side. Better for each nominee to go to a floor vote.

            (Note that that a committee veto is only necessary if the nominee is enough of a compromise that they would pass the floor vote. I am not a fan of the Hastert rule, and this seems analagous.)

            If you offered me a deal right now, not knowing what is going to happen in November or in 2020, to swap RBJ and Clarence Thomas with two 50-something centrists I’d take it in a heartbeat. Political polarization of the court is a bad thing.

            (And yes by ‘nobody’ I assumed it was a given that I was not including psychiatric schitzopherincs, five year olds and other groups not mentally competent enough. I don’t think the discussion is enriched by always having to phrase ‘everyone’ or ‘no one’ as ‘everyone (or no none) save for five year olds, mental delusionals and the like’ lest be attacked for hyperbole.)

            I find it disturbing that you might let “people with consistent principles” fall into the same category of non-consideration. One more time – less hyperbole, please.

            So stripping out the insults and irrelevancis to what was a simple yes or no question: Were you being sincere?

            We are left with

            *Crickets*

            I guess you werre unable to find a counter-example after all.

            (A non-political court would be nine Thomases anyway.)

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I’d say nominating Bork, who carried out the Saturday Night Massacre, was the first in the sequence.

            Wow. Fifteen years before nomination, he fired one guy, when it was completely clear that the guy was going to get fired if Nixon had to go through a dozen top-ranked Justice officials, and when that firing had almost no long-term consequences to the country — Cox was replaced eleven days later, and Nixon’s whole criminal hierarchy was taken down anyway. Except for that one arguable misstep, Bork was a supremely qualified legal scholar, who had served as an appeals judge for five years and had never been overturned. But that one action fifteen years earlier made nominating him to the Supreme Court a casus belli and the ultimate source of today’s vicious polarization.

            Well, just, wow.

          • Dan L says:

            @johansenindustries:

            So stripping out the insults and irrelevancis to what was a simple yes or no question: Were you being sincere?

            We are left with

            *Crickets*

            I guess you werre unable to find a counter-example after all.

            Either I overestimate your grasp of the English language after all, or I’m disappointed that you were unwilling to spend the effort to parse my entire comment. Ah well, I tried. One point I want to press on though:

            (A non-political court would be nine Thomases anyway.)

            You have a metric for evaluating ideology that places Thomas around the median? What is it, it sounds fascinating!

            Or is this more of that poisonous hyperbole thing that you definitely don’t do?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Doctor Mist:

            Fifteen years before nomination, he fired one guy, when it was completely clear that the guy was going to get fired

            If I didn’t murder that guy, someone was going to.

            This is not a defense that applies when deciding whether he is fit for the Supreme Court. Yes, the action is irredeemable from the point of view of norms. You can get away with this (from the stand point of not violating norms) if he is a consensus bi-partisan pick, but not otherwise.

          • johansenindustries says:

            You have a metric for evaluating ideology that places Thomas around the median? What is it, it sounds fascinating!

            No the median ideology is “mostly apolitical but if very important we’ll come up with dignity”. And I never said anything otherwise.

            If the right believe in the written consititution and the left beleive in the written constitution plus current politics (aka a living constitution) then the further you get from the left then the more non-political you will get*.

            It is a betrays of the language to suggest that in the range of political to non-political that the median or compromise is the definitional non-political position.

            *Obviously, if the Republicans start appointing right-wing living consitutionalists, or any other ideology that holds that cultural norms can change the constitionality of an action outside the ‘cruel and unusual’ clause, then that rule will no longer hold true. (Clarence ‘Precedent. Schmecedent’ will still be the paragon of a perfectly non-political judge, though.)

          • Doctor Mist says:

            If I didn’t murder that guy, someone was going to.

            Oh, well, if we’re talking murder! I had no idea.

            The Watergate debacle was so far out on the edge that I’m not sure norms apply. I can well imagine being in that situation myself and deciding that the whole thing could fall apart in a messy and dangerous way, and that “taking the bullet” by firing Cox myself would both protect the people under me and, more important, provide enough breathing space for the process to stabilize. As it did.

            Ford’s pardon of Nixon violated a few norms as well, but it strikes me as exactly the right thing for the body politic. For similar reasons, I don’t advocate criminal charges against Hillary for the email fiasco, and have bet against there being any on predictit.

            Bork had an exemplary judicial career. The one questionable action with which you are trying to tar him might have broken some norms (though I see on wikipedia that both Grant and Truman fired special prosecutors), but refusing to carry out the orders of your boss, the President of the United States, surely breaks some norms in its own right. You call Bork a bad guy because you can tell a prima facie story that puts him on the side of bad guy Nixon, and I think that’s an unfair assessment.

          • Dan L says:

            @johansenindustries:

            If the right believe in the written consititution and the left beleive in the written constitution plus current politics (aka a living constitution) then the further you get from the left then the more non-political you will get*.

            It is a betrays of the language to suggest that in the range of political to non-political that the median or compromise is the definitional non-political position.

            Of course, you’re assuming that the conservative approach to textualism is for some reason apolitical. Circular reasoning really is quite elegant in its simplicity.

            But your “current politics” also happens to includes stuff like a consistent rule of law. I’m not a fan of Originalism when it caches out as an individual valuing their personal interpretation over centuries of precedent.

            *Obviously, if the Republicans start appointing right-wing living consitutionalists, or any other ideology that holds that cultural norms can change the constitionality of an action outside the ‘cruel and unusual’ clause, then that rule will no longer hold true. (Clarence ‘Precedent. Schmecedent’ will still be the paragon of a perfectly non-political judge, though.)

            In an earlier Open Thread I quipped “I have no idea what is supposed to be distinguishing a non-textual originalist ruling that builds on a previously unestablished general principle and straight-up Emanations except a pretense of colonial roleplaying.” There are several clauses that current self-professed Originalists cite to expand the scope of relevant laws. How many of those do you object to?

  27. Aapje says:

    Your regular reminder that the IRS could easily calculate how much each American owes in taxes and send them the bill without any tax preparation required, but tax preparation companies like Intuit and H&R Block keep successfully lobbying against this

    The Dutch IRS does this already (you do need to check it and change it if something is missing).

    States consider banning fast food companies from banning employee poaching.

    This is not legal in Europe.

    Thanks for making me feel good, America!

    Seriously though. Why do Americans put up with this?

    • Matt M says:

      Well, as a libertarian, I would suggest the state has no moral authority to stand in the way of voluntary contracts between employers and employees.

      An employee who desires not to have such an agreement is free to not sign a contract that includes it, or attempt to negotiate around it.

      Alternatively, it’s possible for competitors to “buy out” such agreements. I saw this happen in business school, where employees of Corporation X were “sponsored” to go get their MBAs on the company dime. While in school, Corporation Y approached the employee with a better offer post-graduation. On more than one occasion, Y contacted X and said “How much would we need to pay you for you to give this person to us” and a number was negotiated, agreed, and paid, with the employee then going to Y.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        An employee who desires not to have such an agreement is free to not sign a contract that includes it, or attempt to negotiate around it.

        In a universe of libertarian spherical cows, sure. In real life, non-compete agreements signed by fast-food workers are “voluntary” only in the narrowest, most legalistic sense. A person applying for a fast food job has zero real negotiating power.

        • Matt M says:

          A person applying for a fast food job has zero real negotiating power.

          Evidently not, or the fast food employers would have little concern about their employees being “poached” by competitors, no?

          • James C says:

            No no, you miss-understand the purpose of the the non-compete clauses. It’s there to restrict the employee’s seeking and asking for better salaries, not as a response to the behavior.

            For someone living marginally on a McJob taking a contractually enforced leave of absence from paying work is a non-option. This means they can’t use the threat of walking to negotiate better pay.

          • Matt M says:

            I think we’re arguing in circles here.

            My point is that the existence of these agreements is itself evidence that McDonalds is concerned that it’s employees do in fact have enough negotiating power to either demand higher salaries, or to receive them by leaving for a competitor.

            Which itself disproves the notion of “these people have no bargaining power.” If they had no bargaining power… if their literal only options was go-nowhere minimum wage employment, then you would have no concern of them leaving, or of them demanding higher salaries (because you could just refuse their clearly unwarranted demands).

          • gbdub says:

            Well, so they have bargaining power, but the employers are trying to artificially suppress that power. I do think the marginal McEmployee is much more desperate for a McJob than McDonalds is for the employee.

            And I think that asymmetry has enough possibility for abuse that I’m okay with some legal restriction on the noncompetes.

            Noncompetes make sense when the employee gets real value (i.e. you’re locked into a job here, but here’s a $25k signing bonus for your trouble) and there’s a real threat of “poaching” for competitive knowledge.

            But Burger King isn’t poaching fry cooks to learn how long McD’s fries their nuggets. They might be trying to poach the slightly better fry cooks by offering them 10% more, but that’s bargaining power that the employees ought to have in a free market.

        • Freddie deBoer says:

          ding ding ding

      • Given that the state is refusing to enforce this agreement rather than just allow it to take place I think maybe negative rights is the wrong framework to look at this through. Nobody is going to stop you from signing a document saying you won’t compete, it’s just that no armed men will show up if you break your word.

      • Sebastian_H says:

        As someone who agrees that libertarian critiques have a lot of appeal, this particular one is one of the least convincing. Assuming that everyone has high levels of bargaining power (or even remotely equal levels of bargaining power) suggests unfamiliarity with the real world.

        • Matt M says:

          I make no such claim. Only that the bargaining power of low-wage workers is clearly non-zero, or companies wouldn’t bother to implement such clauses in the first place.

          I’ve never worked in fast food, but from what I’ve heard, one of its biggest struggles is high employee turnover. They take in people with no skills, train them up for a few weeks where they are adding little to no actual value, then huge percentages of them get bored and quit, or leave for a competitor to make 10 cents an hour more.

          Many other types of employers have long used various methods to try and ensure that their “training” efforts are fully recouped. This general phenomenon is hardly new, and the motivation behind it is the same. McDonalds is hardly unique in preferring employees who will stick around for a long time, and who will work for a relatively low wage. Why shouldn’t they endeavor to attract employees who are willing to commit to doing that?

          • Sebastian_H says:

            I don’t think McDonalds actually uses those clauses by the way. It was most recently a big deal at one of the sandwich shops.

            Anyway. ‘Non-zero’ isn’t ‘sufficiently high to bother arguing about’. In my experience, very few people have enough bargaining power to ask for large businesses to change their “terms and conditions” to use software much less for lowest rung employees to change form employment ‘contracts’.

            You’re positing a world where minimum wage workers regularly get changes to form contracts while still getting hired instead of potential employers using the request to decide not to hire them. I don’t believe that is a world we live in.

          • Deiseach says:

            leave for a competitor to make 10 cents an hour more

            Gosh, how very awful and how ungrateful of low-paid employees to leave for a better job! I’m so glad everyone here who is in work signed a loyalty oath in their own blood and steadfastly refuses to leave their current and only employer.

            I have read some things online such as people saying “I’m only in this job for a couple of years to get experience then I’ll leave for somewhere better” or “As soon as I can cash in my stock options, I’m gone” but I’m sure those are only false stories made up by trolls because nobody would ever, ever put their own career interests first above those of their employers, surely not!

            10 cents an hour more for forty hours a week is an extra four dollars. If you’ve ever been in a situation where an extra four dollars a week makes a difference to your budget, then you won’t grouse about people leaving for it.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m so glad everyone here who is in work signed a loyalty oath in their own blood and steadfastly refuses to leave their current and only employer.

            You misunderstand me. I’m not against anyone doing what is in their best interest, within the terms of their employment.

            In the absence of some sort of contract, employees have any right to leave at any time for any reason. Which is exactly why some employees require contracts of determinate length, and/or include things like no-compete clauses.

            Employees who dislike or are uncomfortable with these terms are free to not accept them and continue providing for their existence by whichever means they were utilizing prior to receiving such an offer.

          • Sebastian_H says:

            The problem with the libertarian critique in these situations is that it erases the tacit/norm side of employer/employee relations and reduces it to the formal contract.

            A stylized history of worker relations since 1945 or so would be something like: workers and companies invested in each other long term, companies found if they invested less without telling the employees, the employees would act like the old system was still in place and the company could make more money, finally employees caught on and started investing less in the companies, but now companies needed to keep employees and had abandoned the investment tools which incentivized staying, so had to rely more and more on coercive contract mechanisms.

          • John Schilling says:

            The problem with the libertarian critique in these situations is that it erases the tacit/norm side of employer/employee relations and reduces it to the formal contract.

            That “tacit norm” was erased decades ago, and I’m pretty sure libertarians he’d nothing to do with it. If there’s some concerted effort going on where we all pretend it isn’t so and hope this will make the norm come back, then yes, you can accuse libertarians of defecting. Otherwise, there’s explicit contracts or there’s nothing.

      • Picador says:

        “Alternatively, it’s possible for competitors to “buy out” such agreements.”

        It’s nice to see a self-described libertarian just coming out and endorsing indentured servitude contracts. Most of you guys try really hard to pretend that you care about human autonomy.

        A+ for honesty!

        • ec429 says:

          Picador: I think most “doctrinaire” libertarians will endorse such things. Freedom of contract necessarily includes the freedom to make any contract, no matter how bad/disadvantageous it looks to someone else from their armchair.
          Some of us even say that you should have the right to sell yourself into slavery perpetual uncompensated indenture, because if you want to be a bloody moron that’s your own lookout and it’s not contract law’s place to rescue you.
          Moreover, in the past (when the price of capital was higher), no-one even batted an eyelid at, say, apprenticeships to pay for vocational training, or even indentured service as a way to pay one’s crossing to the New World. That most people, today, find the idea abhorrent is not because we are more moral than our ancestors; it is simply that increases in the general level of wealth mean that most people can fund investments in their own human capital without having to go to the extreme lengths of binding their own person as collateral.

          Indentured servitude also sometimes comes up when considering how to handle judgement-proof tortfeasors: if you aren’t willing to use ‘criminal’ penalties like imprisonment for civil cases (and besides, they’re (in the economist’s sense) ‘inefficient punishments’ because unlike damages there’s nothing for the victim to receive as restitution), one of the main options is to make any tortfeasor who can’t afford to pay damages indentured to the court who can then sell off that indenture to extract the money to award to the victim. Libertarians tend to be a little less comfortable with this idea, but it’s mainly because efficient punishments create a dangerous incentive to perjury, rather than a particular distaste for indentures (and remembering that in the hard-libertarian an-cap model, you’re only subject to that court because you signed a contract with a particular protection agency, making it morally OK for the court to have that kind of power).

          pretend that you care about human autonomy.

          As sci-fi-nanofic-writer Alistair Young put it when describing the contract law of his libertarian protagonists:

          The unalienable part is that only your consent can enable actions on you/yours, and you can’t alienate that. You can bind your future self or alienate parts of you/yours just fine if you consent so to do, and it’s your (self-)ownership that lets you do that, but there’s no way for you or anybody else to bind you or alienate parts of you without your consenting to it.

          (The ‘you/yours’ comes from a principle in their law that property is part of the self; that your mind, your body, your personal property and your real property are all equally part of you.)

          So, y’know, we do care about human autonomy, we’re just willing to follow through on the logic and actually endorse its consequences rather than pretending that it’s possible to be both autonomous and circumscribed-for-your-own-protection.

          I’d like to finish with a quote (of disputed attribution) from the seemingly-unrelated domain of computer science:

          UNIX was not designed to stop its users from doing stupid things, as that would also stop them from doing clever things.

      • Robert Jones says:

        I think you are confused. The proposal is to prohibit anti-poaching agreements between employers. It doesn’t have anything to do with agreements between employers and employees.

        The question then is, should the state intervene to restrict employers freedom to contract in such a way inter se? On a purist view, one might say no, but we certainly do have various laws to prevent cartels.

        • Guy in TN says:

          It is the state that would be expected to enforce the rules of the contract, I presume. So the state doesn’t have to intervene to stop the contract. It just has to do, quite literally nothing.

          The state could just be like: “good luck enforcing that without our police and court system!”

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Just a thought. Why do libertarians distinguish so hard between government and corporate power? On a “free market” axis, it’s better to not have blanket no-compete clauses. I’m not talking here about a negotiated contract, but about a standard, industry-wide, non-removable clause. How is that in any way different from a law? And “you can work in a different industry” is about as useful argument here is “you can move in a different country if you don’t like this law”.

        And to give a counter-example, to better define my point. UK government has a very nice program where it pays for your studies and gets a small percentage of your income for 10 years, only if the income is above a cutoff. Including for immigrants, which makes it uniquely useful. This kind of thing is rare (maybe illegal? maybe just unenforceable?) in the private world, and I really regret that. This is a type of private contract that’s voluntary, negotiated, and useful – even if at a first glance is pretty heavy-handed.

        So this case – good. Blanket non-negotiable industry-wide clauses – pretty much law. Why would a libertarian approve?

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          On a “free market” axis, it’s better to not have blanket no-compete clauses.

          It’s better to have no-complete clauses if everyone agrees to honor such clauses. In reality, various incentives drive parties to defect from such clauses. For any one party to the clause, the benefit of defecting will eventually outweigh the cost of honoring it.

          A law enforcing such a clause isn’t absolute; it’s a declaration from an outside party that if any party defects, the outside party will bring a progression of penalties to the defector, culminating in big guys with sticks.

          I’m not talking here about a negotiated contract, but about a standard, industry-wide, non-removable clause.

          Industries are naturally open; the set of parties isn’t fixed. If a new party enters the industry, there might be insufficient incentive for them to sign on to the clause. This is especially the case if the market was clearing before they arrived, since any market share they’re going to get will necessarily be at the expense of one or more of the original parties.

          Such a clause also weakens the incentive to make the industry more efficient, except for the increased profit margin a party will get within its own market share. This is generally bad news for consumers of that industry’s product. Therefore, anyone who consumes a product they believe can be made more inexpensive has an incentive to oppose such non-complete clauses.

    • Anonymous says:

      The Dutch IRS does this already (you do need to check it and change it if something is missing).

      As does Norway. Unfortunately, Poland does not. It’s ridiculous.

      • ana53294 says:

        I find the argument that if the IRS pre-fills a form in which you pay less tax than you would if you filled it yourself, especially compelling. This at least means that the maximum tax you will pay is what the IRS form says, and any changes you make (deductions, etc.) will just reduce your payments. I highly doubt that anybody would correct the IRS’ mistakes to pay more, so I see this as a way to equal the huge power disparity.

        • dick says:

          This at least means that the maximum tax you will pay is what the IRS form says

          That is very much not what’s being discussed here. The IRS isn’t psychic, you’d still be required to tell them about income you made that they don’t know about; what’s being discussed is that they would start by telling you what they do know about, to save everyone time and to minimize mistakes and so forth.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’m not really sold on this, but one argument for the IRS saying “no, you tell us everything you made” while knowing some stuff for sure is that they want you to self-report the stuff they don’t know about.

          • Matt M says:

            Edward Scizorhands,

            Indeed. I also think it helps them in potential audits and prosecutions that the process makes it clear that the entire burden of accurate reporting lies on you, the individual.

            If they “get you started” by saying “we think you owe $10,000” and someone pays 10,000 (but secretly owes more), that doesn’t quite look as criminal to a potential jury. This method eliminates any potential defense of “I paid what they told me to pay!”

          • dick says:

            but one argument for the IRS saying “no, you tell us everything you made” while knowing some stuff for sure is that they want you to self-report the stuff they don’t know about.

            The point of this is to minimize mistakes and their cost, not to catch frauds. If you make $4000 in interest and accidentally write down $400, the process for correcting that isn’t enormously costly, but it does have some cost, and fixing it would be very cheap, and in the best interests of everyone except Intuit.

        • Eric Rall says:

          It depends on what the policy is on if they later discover the pre-fill was erroneous in your favor.

          If the policy is “It’s the IRS’s fault for getting it wrong”, then that’s an invitation for legal tax evasion by obfuscating your finances in not-technically-fraudulent ways in hopes of the IRS missing taxable income or overcounting deductions and credits.

          It the policy is “You signed a thing certifying that you reviewed the form and found it to be correct, so that’s tax fraud”, then the cost of reviewing the form like you’re supposed to is going to be about the same as filling out the form yourself, and at least a few people are going to go to jail for being lazy.

          Somewhere in-between, along the lines of “Pay back-taxes with interest and penalty fees, but no criminal liability” might be workable, especially if you limit the pre-fill program to people who have less than $X in non-W2 taxable income and require a separate certification (with steeper penalties) that you’re eligible for pre-fill.

          • poignardazur says:

            In practice, the policy could be “If we underestimate your revenue from a specific company by, say, 20% (eg because we failed to account for a specific type of bonus that your company gives you), it’s our fault. If we realize you get 300’000$ “gifts” every month on an offshore account and you don’t tell us about it, then you’re in trouble.”

            E.g. the taxpayer’s responsibility would be to look at the tax bill and make sure all income sources are listed and within the right order of magnitude, not double-check the exact accountancy.

            I think most people have fairly straightforward sources of income. It’s only the people who don’t who’d still need to hire accountants to review their tax forms.

        • Aapje says:

          @ana53294

          The way it works is that the government knows your salary if you are (normally) employed, because employers report to the government. If you are on welfare, they know. Banks report to the government how much you have in stock or bank accounts, your debts and loans, what your mortgage is, etc. Insurance companies report if you have a life insurance, pension or such. The local government knows your house value (for local tax) and reports it to the central government. If you win more than a certain amount in a Dutch lottery, this is reported to the government (for the gambling tax).

          If a Dutch person earns money informally (like selling goods on Ebay), the government might not know about it. If there are assets or debts with non-Dutch banks, the Dutch IRS might be notified too late to prefill it or not be notified at all. If you win the mega ultra jumbo super amazatron jackpot in a US casino and keep the winnings in cash, the Dutch IRS doesn’t know. If you have bullion buried in your garden or bitcoins, they don’t know. If you gave to a charity that is eligible for a tax deduction, they don’t know.

          So in those cases you have to add the missing information.

          PS. Note that not only are you responsible for fixing any errors, if you call the Dutch IRS and they give you bad advice, they take no responsibility for that. The Dutch Consumers Union regularly checks the IRS’s advice for quality and consistently finds that they often give bad advice.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Note that not only are you responsible for fixing any errors, if you call the Dutch IRS and they give you bad advice, they take no responsibility for that. The Dutch Consumers Union regularly checks the IRS’s advice for quality and consistently finds that they often give bad advice.

            Ha! This is exactly like the American IRS. It’s nice to hear that the US isn’t worse on ALL tax issues.

          • Aapje says:

            The issue with providing good advice is that it requires a level of talent and expertise that is normally provided by the private sector. So doing that effectively means that you collectivize the tax adviser sector, as you will need to hire people who are that capable and people will choose the free service over the paid one. You will then also grow demand, since the price for the users will go down to zero.

            So the crappy advice is a logical consequence of a desire to keep up appearances, where the government claims to help citizens with their tax returns, while not actually being willing to accept the level of government spending that is required to do so.

  28. BPC says:

    Related: the “clown vs. chessmaster” debate around Trump still hasn’t died down.

    Related: the “clown vs. chessmaster” debate around the pigeon who just shat on the chessboard still hasn’t died down.

    Seriously, if your assumption here isn’t “China really wants to flatter Trump”, I’m not sure you’ve been paying attention. Absolutely nothing this administration has done has in any way resembled a rational actor, let alone a chessmaster. He makes “deals” with people that lack specifics and which are immediately reneged by all parties (side note, North Korea is making missiles again) just for the headlines, his trade war appears completely nonsensical, and if you have to dig that hard to find anything that even remotely makes sense about a person’s actions, you’re probably engaged in motivated reasoning if you think he’s a chessmaster. Chessmasters do not open with F3 G4.

    If there’s one thing in that article that sounds remarkably telling to me, it’s this:

    He is systematically destroying the existing institutions — from the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement to Nato and the Iran nuclear deal — as a first step towards renegotiating the world order on terms more favourable to Washington.

    There’s one lesson that really stuck with me through your writing on Communism, Scott. It was something along the lines of “if you seek to destroy the system and replace it, the part where you replace it is 99% of the work“. Maybe Trump is trying to destroy the current world order and renegotiate it in ways that are better for the US, but if so, he’s doing about as well as the Marxists, and he doesn’t even have the excuse of a world-spirit to go off of. In reality, there hasn’t been a time since the end of World War 2 where America has been weaker, more isolated, or less well-liked on the world stage. And that’s mostly because of Trump. There is no worse time to renegotiate deals made from a position of strength than when the rest of the world thinks you are weak, easily manipulated, stupid, and disliked. He’s blowing up trade deals, and threatening to blow up NATO and the WTO, without any real plan on how to replace them – let alone a plan that anyone but the US would ratify! (“Who knew international diplomacy was this complicated?”) His insistence on bilateral trade agreements makes this even harder for him.

    So yeah. I’m not going to take those scholars particularly seriously. Taken charitably, their take makes about as much sense as someone on /r/The_Donald talking about how Trump’s Helsinki performance was an impressive display of 13th-dimensional chess. Realistically, they’re not being honest.

    • MartMart says:

      Wait, does that make Trump a definitional liberal?

      • BPC says:

        I mean, if you want to define “liberal” in the most pejorative, negative sense, sure. That was kind of the thrust of Scott’s article against Trump – that between Trump and Clinton, Trump was acting like a millenarian:

        Many conservatives make the argument against utopianism. The millenarian longing for a world where all systems are destroyed, all problems are solved, and everything is permissible – that’s dangerous whether it comes from Puritans or Communists. These same conservatives have traced this longing through leftist history from Lenin through social justice.

        Which of the candidates in this election are millennarian? If Sanders were still in, I’d say fine, he qualifies. If Stein were in, same, no contest. But Hillary? The left and right both critique Hillary the same way. She’s too in bed with the system. Corporations love her. Politicians love her. All she wants to do is make little tweaks – a better tax policy here, a new foreign policy doctrine there. The critiques are right. Hillary represents complete safety from millennialism.

        I don’t think liberalism is first and foremost defined by a desire to blindly tear down all systems and replace them with a world spirit; I think that’s grossly uncharitable to modern liberalism and even misses the mark with regards to modern mainstream leftism and modern marxism (although man, you do not wanna hang out in the Contrapoints facebook group, talk about evaporative cooling of group ideals). But if you insist on defining liberalism in that very bad way… yeah, I’d agree, Trump is a liberal, in the sense that he’s clearly all about tearing down systems without any realistic sense of how to replace them in the hopes that it’ll all work itself out. (This is assuming the “he’s a russian plant tearing down systems because they don’t like those systems” theory is false. I still find that theory silly, but I’ll include it for completeness’s sake.)

        • MartMart says:

          I meant that in the Jonathat Heidt way that he went over here
          https://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind#t-68956
          I don’t think its the most pejorative, negative sense. Although I agree, it’s not entirely useful. By those definitions, pro institution liberals are in fact conservative.

          I suppose the interesting point there is that the leader of a movement can be the definitional opposite of the movement he/she leads.

          • BPC says:

            I suppose the interesting point there is that the leader of a movement can be the definitional opposite of the movement he/she leads.

            Eh, “conservative” and “liberal” in US politics haven’t made a lick of sense since at least the 90s. These are tribal identities and sports teams, not serious political disagreements on philosophy and correct governance.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        I don’t think “conservative” and “liberal” are symmetric terms. A conservative (lower case c) defends existing institutions and tradition and the status quo. A liberal (lower case l) is someone in the intellectual tradition of ie Locke or Rousseau who believes for instance in inalienable (negative) rights, like freedom of association and speech, and that the government is accountable to the people for providing such rights.

        • Jayson Virissimo says:

          Exactly right. In a liberal society, conservatives generally uphold the liberal order, so are properly called liberals themselves.

          Nitpick: Locke certainly is, but I don’t consider Rousseau to be a liberal at all: submission to the authority of the “general will” goes against all other liberal tenets.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I just wish I were as stupid as Donald Trump and could just stumble my way into skyscrapers and private jets with my name on them, supermodel wives and the Presidency of the United States.

      • BPC says:

        Hey, I wish I could take out a small personal loan of a million dollars from immediate family members and continue getting credit from foreign banks after filing for bankruptcy so often that domestic banks wouldn’t touch me too. Nobody’s perfect.

        I personally hope that one consequence of the Trump presidency is the destruction of the illusion that the USA is in any way meritocratic. But even ignoring the numerous reports that point to Trump as a less-than-stellar businessman, and ignoring that an apt word to describe him is “rentier” (and another is “celebrity” in the sense of someone who is famous for being famous), and ignoring the possibility that he may have been brighter before his 70s, even assuming that Trump is every bit the amazing businessman and campaigner… It turns out that international diplomacy is a very different skill set. One he really seems to suck at, for all the reasons detailed above and more. And in international diplomacy, appearances matter. Our allies know they can’t trust Trump; our enemies know he’ll go into personal meetings with them completely unprepared.

        If your whole argument in favor of Trump secretly playing 13D Chess is “look how successful he is”, you’re making things entirely too easy on yourself. Hell, even if your argument is just “he’s not stupid”, things like Alzheimer’s and Dementia mean you’re still probably making things too easy on yourself – especially given reports out of the white house that Trump doesn’t have the attention span for security briefings, and is easily manipulated.

        • Matt M says:

          1. Trump became much richer and more successful than his father ever was.

          2. Tons of people had at least a million dollars in liquid capital and did not become nearly as successful as Trump.

          • BPC says:

            Tons of people make nonsensical philosophy; most of them don’t make 80k a month on Patreon. Plenty of kids make vapid pop songs; most of them don’t become international superstars.

            You don’t get to argue that someone isn’t really bad at certain things based on the fact that they’re successful. Trump is obviously incredibly bad at international diplomacy. Full stop.

          • Matt M says:

            Conrad didn’t claim he was good at international diplomacy. He claimed he was smart enough to build a giant business empire and win the most highly contested elected political position in the world.

            Your response was, essentially, “I could have done that too if I had access to a million dollars.”

            But the existence of hundreds of thousands of people across the globe who have access to a million dollars and don’t accomplish those things would seem to suggest otherwise.

            How do you define someone being “good at something” without reference to their actual demonstrated success? That would seem to be, by far, the most objective criteria one could possibly use. A good businessman is one who starts with a million dollar loan and creates a billion dollar empire spanning multiple industries to the point where his very name is synonymous with “successful businessman” in the popular lexicon. A good politician is someone who, with zero experience in the field, wins the most highly contentious election there is to win. A good pop singer is one who, despite intense competition in a highly crowded and desirable field, emerges from the pack to become an international superstar.

            How else would you define it?

          • johansenindustries says:

            @BPC

            Are the rest of NATO stumping up to pay their obligations? Have the North Korean bodies been returned? Last I heard Syria was on the road to peace, has that changed?

            as far as i can tell the narrative always seems to go ‘That can never happen, Trump’s so stupid’ to ‘Despite Trump it happened, thanks Obama’.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            Conrad didn’t claim he was good at international diplomacy.

            Actually, if you look at what Honcho was replying to, his argument by implication was that Trump is good at international diplomacy. That or his answer is essentially irrelevant.

            Ex: You say, “Michael Jordan is horrible General Manager”. I respond, “I wish I were as untalented as MJ so I could be a 6 time champion and multi-millionaire.”

            There are three possibilities here 1) I think talented basketball players can’t be bad GMs, 2) I think you are attacking MJs “talent” by attacking his GM ability (but this boils down to 1), 3) I’m trying to change the subject.

          • Matt M says:

            HBC,

            Fair enough. Based on the tone, I do think that BPC is making a very generalized argument to Trump being wholly incompetent and having essentially “lucked” his way into any and all successes he has experienced. That is what I dispute.

            If he is only claiming that Trump is bad at international diplomacy… well… as johan suggests, I think there’s plenty of argument to be had there… but I’ll stipulate to “the jury is still out on that one.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            Let me put a different spin on BPC than you are, and I think you might agree.

            Claims that Trump is playing some long, secret game are nonsense. Trump makes quick decisions based on what he thinks will be best for him almost immediately. Call it intuition or call it “gut feel” or something else, it doesn’t really matter.

            He doesn’t care too much about the details of situations when making these decisions, nor does he care about propriety or diplomacy. He does care about personal relationships. He cares about projection of personal power. He makes decisions based encounter by encounter, looking for a way to count a personal win of some sort in each one. The appearance of a win is more important than whether underlying long term value has been gained.

            All of those things make him very good at promoting a personal brand. He gets paid for attaching his name to this “Trump” venture or another, and if when they open they are splashy enough he wins, regardless of whether they go under months or years later.

            But all of those things make him extraordinarily bad at diplomacy and governance.

            ETA: As soon as Trump responded to criticism of “They are rapists”, without any hint of apology or back pedaling that he could be formidable as a candidate. His ability to project absolute certitude without appearing arch or over the top bellicose, when saying all manner of things, is quite valuable to a politician

          • Matt M says:

            I essentially agree with your first three paragraphs.

            That said, I think it’s unclear whether that sort of approach is necessarily bad when it comes to international diplomacy. So far, none of the predicted disasters of his behavior have happened. For the most part, he seems to be doing a decent enough job of advancing my preferred international diplomacy goals (i.e. more peace deals, less entanglement with foreign allies, etc.)

            His tariff and trade policies are pretty awful, if we’re counting that as “international diplomacy” I guess. But even in that realm, it’s his policies I disagree with, I don’t really care about his approach or tactics.

            I suppose my overall verdict is something like “get back to me when his boorish behavior causes him to fail at advancing a policy goal I agree with.” So far, that has yet to happen.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            more peace deals

            Huh?

            If you think NK is either “peace” or “deal”, I’m surprised.

            Ratcheting tensions with NATO makes conflict outbreaks more likely not less.

            We are more likely to have conflict break out vs. Russia right now, not less.

          • AliceToBob says:

            @ HBC

            Trump makes quick decisions based on what he thinks will be best for him almost immediately.

            He makes decisions based encounter by encounter, looking for a way to count a personal win of some sort in each one.

            Reading this description reminds me of a greedy strategy, where at each decision point, the Trump Algorithm selects the option that seems most favorable while disregarding whether this leads to getting stuck in any local optimum.

            It’s simplistic, but when faced with a large search space, sometimes such a heuristic does well relative to a global optimum (i.e., the successful outcome of pursuing a “long, secret game”).

            It’s a very rough analogy (what exactly are we minimizing or maximizing at each step?), and I’m sure some CS people here can tear it apart. But I’m trying to point out that parts of governance might lend themselves to such a simple approach.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @AliceToBob:
            Except that we have manifest examples of how crappy an approach this is.

            For example: Separating children from parents of immigrants (without knowing their legal status) at the border. There was no thought to things that might happen after, so now we have children that cannot be reunited with their parents. We are treating them worse than if they were property.

            This is monstrous. I do not mean this as hyperbole. It is morally unconscionable, made no better by everyone down the line simply claiming to have followed their orders and procedures.

          • BPC says:

            Your response was, essentially, “I could have done that too if I had access to a million dollars.”

            Even if you expand “access to a million dollars” to “all the advantages Trump personally had” I’m not sure I believe that.

            Yeah, okay. It’s pretty clearly a cop-out to call Trump an idiot. Idiots don’t become multibillionaires or presidents. But let me explain my problem.

            The thing I personally struggle to wrap my head around is the distinction between “Trump, the guy who made a multibillion dollar empire and won a presidential election” and “Trump, the guy who calls himself a ‘stable genius’, won’t read his security briefings unless they’re full of pictures and constantly mention him, and who doesn’t seem to get that international diplomacy is difficult until Xi spends 10 minutes explaining it to him.” It’s like if Ben Carson Mehmet Oz Patrick Star was an impossibly successful brain surgeon – something doesn’t make sense here.

            Trump supporters split the difference with the “4D chess” meme. Trump opponents split the difference by either assuming that he’s ridiculously lucky in some aspects of his life, or that the skills that made him successful in business and as a campaigner don’t transfer to the presidency (for example, it’s pretty easy to rip off subcontractors if you have many times as much money as them; you cannot pull stunts like that in international diplomacy), or, increasingly, that the Russians have something to do with it. But there is a gap there that needs to be resolved somehow. And I don’t think talking about 4D chess works.

            Are the rest of NATO stumping up to pay their obligations? Have the North Korean bodies been returned? Last I heard Syria was on the road to peace, has that changed?

            as far as i can tell the narrative always seems to go ‘That can never happen, Trump’s so stupid’ to ‘Despite Trump it happened, thanks Obama’.

            I didn’t see anything about the rest of NATO paying their obligations. I did see Trump talking about how he wouldn’t defend Montenegro if it were attacked, though, which is like… HOLY FUCKING SHIT WHAT THE HELL MAN YOU DON’T DO THAT. I saw that North Korea gave us some ashes; we don’t know what they are, and even if they’re exactly what NK claims, that’s a truly paltry thing in return for the legitimization that Trump gave away at the summit. I haven’t been following Syria too closely, so I have no comment on that.

            FWIW I agree pretty much completely with @HeelBearClub.

          • Matt M says:

            The thing I personally struggle to wrap my head around is the distinction between “Trump, the guy who made a multibillion dollar empire and won a presidential election” and “Trump, the guy who calls himself a ‘stable genius’, won’t read his security briefings unless they’re full of pictures and constantly mention him, and who doesn’t seem to get that international diplomacy is difficult until Xi spends 10 minutes explaining it to him.”

            The problem I have with this is that the first half – his empire building and election winning, are proven, undisputed, verifiable facts. While the second half a mixture of unproven allegations and baked-in assumptions that are not necessarily correct.

            The stuff about him not reading briefings is sourced entirely from internal leaks from people presumably hostile to him. His behavior in various “diplomatic” situations certainly flies in the face of conventional wisdom, yes. But my whole point here is that it’s possible, and maybe even likely, that “conventional wisdom is wrong”.

            My demand is that Trump be judged by his outcomes, not by his process. You can say “oh all he got from North Korea was some empty promises and some ashes.” Okay fine. But it seems to me that’s more than anyone else has gotten in decades. So at the very least, we can say that his norm-violating behavior hasn’t made anything worse, and it might have made things better (certainly we have to wait and see what happens from here).

            What we were told by Trump critics is that his sheer incompetence would create all sorts of disasters. So far, no such disasters have materialized. And what progress has been made, seems to be positive, at least as far as my policy preferences are concerned (I don’t want Americans dying to defend Montenegro. If you do, perhaps you disagree).

          • johansenindustries says:

            @BPC

            On the NATO issue: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_156624.htm if you would like to be informed.

            THe legitimisation is such a nothing of a point. What are the consequences of the supposed legitimisation? And how do you expect progress to me made without dealing with the 70 years old dynasty? Also, the same people crying about Trump meeting with Un were the same people crying about Pence not hanging about with Un’s sis.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            I’ll note that while he most certainly won the presidency, the idea that he has an “empire” is disputed. By his own admission most of his value is in the brand. Most things that bear Trump’s name aren’t owned or run by Trump or a corporation he owns or runs.

            more than anyone else has gotten in decades [form North Korea].

            Do you actually believe this? What has made you believe this? North Korea signed an agreement that is almost identical to agreements it has signed multiple times in the last several decades. It has also returned “service men” multiple times over the last several decades. What do you think we have actually gotten from them that is new or unique?

          • Matt M says:

            I’ll note that while he most certainly won the presidency, the idea that he has an “empire” is disputed. By his own admission most of his value is in the brand.

            and?

            Building a brand is HARD. Successfully building one of the biggest and most lucrative luxury brands on Earth is a majorly impressive achievement.

            I feel like you’re really getting nitpicky here and trying to split hairs over exactly what kind of skills he utilized to accomplish something that is really hard to do (make billions of dollars). I don’t really care whether he did it mainly through marketing skill or management skill. Either way, it’s impressive, and cannot be solely attributed to “got a million dollar loan early in life”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            We are talking about how applicable his skill set is to the requirements for successful governance of an international superpower. You using the word “empire” isn’t correct in that context.

          • John Schilling says:

            You can say “oh all he got from North Korea was some empty promises and some ashes.” Okay fine. But it seems to me that’s more than anyone else has gotten in decades.

            In 1994, Bill Clinton got a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs that lasted eight years aside from some cheating at the margins (on both sides) that was of no great significance and could probably have been settled with a second round of negotiations if Bush II had been so inclined. And he didn’t have to damage our relations with South Korea, Japan, and China to do it, nor cancel the military exercises that are crucial to maintaining confidence in the allied ability to defend against a North Korean attack.

            Trump has obtained only a de facto freeze in the testing aspects of Noth Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Uranium enrichment continues unabated, there are at least two more ICBMs and a ballistic-missile submarine under construction, and the sorts of things that North Korea had to do secretly and in the margins from 1994-2002 are now conducted full speed ahead because they aren’t covered under any agreement Trump has negotiated and KJU knows that DJT isn’t going to complain anyway.

            Meanwhile, public opinion of North Korea’s regime in the South is higher than it has been in generations, while the US’s stock is low. But, hey, now that North Korea has successfully tested road-mobile ICBMs, SLBMs, and a thermonuclear warhead, Kim has said he won’t test those things any more. Only build them. For now, because there isn’t actually a commitment to maintain the moratorium into the future.

            As deals go, this is better than Literally Nothing, but if you are saying it is “better than anyone else has gotten in decades”, you are speaking from ignorance.

          • BPC says:

            The stuff about him not reading briefings is sourced entirely from internal leaks from people presumably hostile to him.

            So… what, we should discount it? Keep in mind these leaks are coming from within his white house – from people he picked to do those jobs. If even they are eager to throw him under the bus, what’s going on here? I find these reports entirely believable.

            His behavior in various “diplomatic” situations certainly flies in the face of conventional wisdom, yes. But my whole point here is that it’s possible, and maybe even likely, that “conventional wisdom is wrong”.

            Okay. Why? Because Trump got so much from his recent forays into international diplomacy? johansenindustries brings up the NATO agreement that seems to point to NATO reaffirming their defense requirements… But Trump never actually signed that agreement. He walked away in a huff because he felt insulted. Who does that help?

            And yeah, a lot of the criticism of Trump’s actions is based on extrapolations. I’ll freely admit that. But many of those actions aren’t going to have immediate consequences, and by the time those consequences become fully apparent, it’s too late to prevent bad things from happening. How do you know that Trump’s comments on Montenegro were a horrifying misstep in international diplomacy? One of two ways: either you spend time reading history and learning about similar cases and realize, to quote Eliezer, “HOLY SHIT, YOU DON’T DO THAT” and immediately go out and fix things… Or you wait until the tanks are rolling into Podgorica and Europe realizes that America is no longer a part of NATO. One of these things has the advantage of avoiding a massive escalation in tensions between multiple nuclear powers. You may not care about that… But keep in mind that just the promise of American troops in Montenegro is a far greater defense of that country than the entire Montenegran military. And that promise of MAD helps ensure that we know where our boundaries are. And if you really think this is about Montenegro I really don’t think you know even high-school level history surrounding the eastern bloc.

            You know what the main message the Trump Doctrine is sending to the entire rest of the world? “You’re on your own, you cannot rely on the USA either to maintain its current stance or to uphold its bargains or to even act in rational self-interest.” Various world leaders have said things to that effect. And there really is no immediate apparent consequence for a world power when its closest alliances crumble. Those consequences come later, when you cannot rely on your former allies to share the cost of a defensive war, or when your former allies decide to encourage trade deals with other countries instead of yours.

            If you truly insist on making this your philosophy:

            I suppose my overall verdict is something like “get back to me when his boorish behavior causes him to fail at advancing a policy goal I agree with.” So far, that has yet to happen.

            …Then at some point down the line, when the rust starts to show and shit falls apart, you’re going to be left there wondering, “Huh, how did that happen? If only we could have done something to prevent this economic crash caused by everything getting way more expensive!” Do you react to the news that your house is infested with termites by saying that the walls aren’t collapsing so clearly nothing is wrong?

            So when foreign policy experts across the political spectrum are freaking out at what Trump is doing, and Historians are almost universally freaking out at what Trump is doing, and basically all of Academia is so up in arms about this presidency that people will resign rather than share space with members of this administration… Why should we assume that Trump’s… let’s say “unconventional” diplomacy is going to work? Is it really just