THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

OT111: Ophion Thread


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This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. There were some great comments on the schizophrenia thread. They convinced me I made a couple of mistakes both of fact and emphasis on there: first, that in many prodromes the negative symptoms come before or at the same time as the positive; second, that I forgot to mention there’s a large population of people with schizophrenia (or schizophrenia-like symptoms) who never worsen at all no matter how long their psychosis is untreated. I’ve also been reminded of many things about psychosis that don’t fit this model, which I might talk about more later. Beyond that, see this comment by local schizophrenia research JRG, and this thread of comments by local schizophrenic Vaticidalprophet. And see also Seppo on shamanism and thedixon on psychedelics.

2. Other good discussions from the subreddit: is Britain really poorer than Mississippi, and in what sense? and JudyKateR on useless jobs.

3. New South Bay meetup, Saturday October 6, see here for details. And you can always find the latest meetups around the world on the meetup sidebar on the left.

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1,080 Responses to OT111: Ophion Thread

  1. toastengineer says:

    Ever noticed how a lot of time people all kinda look the same? Like, you see a person, and you say “oh, that kind of person. I’ve seen that kind of person before.” Almost like race, except way subtler and I don’t think they’re related to each other. What’s up with that?

    • JPNunez says:

      You mean like…social class?

      • melolontha says:

        If it’s the thing I recognise, it’s much finer grained than that. (Though I wouldn’t go as far as to say that ‘people all kinda look the same’ — for me, only some people fit into ‘types’ in this way.)

        I don’t really understand it, but I assume it’s something to do with collections of relatively subtle and/or hard-to-describe features — like mouth shape, or cheek angles, or whatever — that sometimes cluster together in recognisable ways. Whether it’s a matter of distant family relationships or just random (if I see a large, semi-random set of people in my life, some of them are going to cluster together just by chance), I’m not sure.

    • Well... says:

      I know exactly what you’re talking about. For instance there’s a whole lot of people (most of them white but not all) with roughly the same facial characteristics as Brent Spiner, especially his nose and eyebrow shapes.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      I don’t know, but I bet it says something about your brain, not so much about the people you meet.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      It’s true. And it’s a thing that is becoming a thing that can’t be ignored and is having real impact, with software facial recognition, and large population sets.

      Visible-light perfect viewing conditions software facial recognition cannot uniquely pick you out of a database of a national population, or even a city population. It MIGHT be able to successfully pick out a database of the employees of a large corporation. Maybe.

    • Well Armed Sheep says:

      Yes, definitely! I’ve always wondered about that and haven’t really ever read anything about it. (Except in of all places Hitchens’s memoir, where he referenced a “hatchet shaped Cornish face” or something to that effect and I looked up the person he was talking about and it pattern matched to a face shape I recognized and associated with Appalachia (whether that association is valid idk)).

      It could all be faulty pattern matching I guess but I experience it frequently. Some people just look exceptionally similar but not in a way that suggests close relation.

    • yodelyak says:

      This is totally a thing. Some of it feels like sub-ethnicity, other times it just seems like there are different dimensions along which faces differ from ‘average’.

      • Aapje says:

        Some genetic variations are known to create a specific kind of face. The most obvious example is Down’s syndrome.

        It seems plausible that something similar would be at play in more subtle ways.

    • fion says:

      Just for the sake of recording negative data: I’ve never noticed this and I don’t really understand what you mean.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I’ve photographed portraits of literally thousands of people, and no, I don’t see this. Note, this doesn’t mean it’s not a thing, it could just be that I pay much more attention to the details of faces than others.

      • Randy M says:

        I do see it fairly regularly; possibly people differ in how much the subconsciously pattern match.

      • Well... says:

        I’ll bet if you painted rather than photographed people you’d notice it.

        • Kendric says:

          FWIW, I paint professionally, and this is absolutely a thing that jumps out at me all the time–faces that fall into categories of faces, in a way that’s probably related to, but not identical with, ethnicity.

          Conrad’s point about photographic attention to detail is interesting; portrait painting as I do it is really the opposite–you get the likeness by finding the two trapezoids that get the shape of an individual’s skull, and a Z-shape that locks in the brow and nose. Details not really required, or often, desirable.

          • Well... says:

            I would think with photography one might be focusing mainly on lighting, composition, tones, etc. Painting focuses on these too but adds to it a particular concern with the shape, dimensions, spacing etc. of the facial features, because they don’t just bounce their light onto your medium: you have to put them there and get them right.

          • Randy M says:

            Speaking of ethnicity, I once saw a Vietnamese (I’m guessing, but the city makes it quite likely) boy who threw me for a loop because he very much reminded me visually of myself at that age.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Sure, and lighting is definitely influenced by face shape (short light broad faces, broad light narrow faces, etc). So yes I can categorize a face by face shape…but not “people” or anything much more broadly than that.

          • Well... says:

            PS. @Kendric:

            It’s refreshing to see a young painter at an advanced level with classical techniques. Keep up the good work!

    • j1000000 says:

      I’m with others who say no, I have never noticed that and don’t feel that way.

      (That being said, and realizing this was an evolutionary imperative, it is pretty amazing how extremely minor the differences between most human faces are, and yet I can immediately tell the difference between them.)

      • fion says:

        Your parenthetical remark occasionally but repeatedly blows my mind. We’re *very* sensitive to tiny variations in faces. Related, I find it really interesting to think how small a difference you need to make to features to make somebody look ‘ugly’ or ‘weird’. I guess I’m kind of getting into “a few millimetres of bone” territory, but it’s true!

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I notice this all the time as a teacher. I feel like there’s maybe 50-60 archetypes of people that I just see repeated year after year in my classes. It’s caused me to conclude that the Great Programmer only created ~100 real people and is just CTRL+Ving them all over the place.

      • baconbits9 says:

        If you are a teacher that has similar aged students each year a part of that is just going to be catching people in a similar point in their lives so some patterns are going to be repeated. Last night we had some neighbors over for dinner who we don’t know well, but are trying to get to know. There is a lot of overlap here, the women have similar education levels, we live in similar sized homes in the same neighborhood, they have 3 kids under 6, my wife is pregnant with our 3rd (all under six), and we are both likely to homeschool to name a few, so there are a lot of facets of the conversation where we had a ton in common. However when we talked about the distant (10+ year past) there was a ton of divergence, my “I dropped out of college to play poker professionally” got a big reaction as they didn’t know anyone who had done that. However when I was playing poker I knew a ton of guys who did just that. The arc of “dropped out of college to play poker and ending up a stay at home dad and home schooler” is going to be fairly unique, but the individual aspects as they happen are going to look less unique to people within those circles.

    • aho bata says:

      I’ve noticed this since I was in elementary school, but only with males. Of course it’s easy to come up with a group of similar-looking women but they don’t seem to cluster into types the way some men do.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        I’ve noticed this since I was in elementary school, but only with males.

        I’m the exact opposite. Watching Person of Interest I had trouble telling characters apart because all the women had dark medium-length hair so they kind of looked the same to me. There are also movies when the lead actress changes her hairstyle (eg, to indicate jumps in time in La La Land) and I get confused because I don’t realize it’s still the same person.

    • Well... says:

      Question for all SSCers:

      If there was a corner of the internet devoted to posting a daily set of pictures of two unrelated people who look uncannily similar, would you follow it (or at least visit daily)?

      What form should it take: website? Instagram? Twitter? blog? something else?

      If it solicited submissions, would you send in any?

      Also, would you want to see some info along with the pictures, just the names of the people, or no text at all?

      • Randy M says:

        No… but I might peruse it if you linked it here for evidence of the phenomenon. But it seems a boring and somewhat obtrusive hobby.

      • Matt M says:

        I would send in my own picture and ask you to find someone who looked like me.

        And then I’d want a picture of that dude’s wife or girlfriend, to see how I’m doing, comparatively speaking.

      • Nootropic cormorant says:

        I think that physical anthropology forums (Apricity, Anthroscape, Anthrogenica) exist partly to satisfy this need.

      • GardenVarietyWraith says:

        I don’t know about checking in daily, or even monthly, but I’d be curious enough to submit my own pic initially. I don’t have a particularly memorable, “you look just like so-and-so” face…but a few years ago, my mom found my absolute doppelganger in a magazine photo–of a street riot in a country I’ve never been to–and I swear, the resemblance was fricking uncanny. If it had been more recent, I’d have been honestly concerned about how someone could’ve gotten their hands on my picture.

        If you were to do this, I’d recommend Twitter and/or Instagram; you’ll get more submissions if you ask for less info. I’d be mildly curious about the countries of origin, but it’d be interesting enough without.

      • fion says:

        It’s the sort of thing that I wouldn’t follow, but if I got sent a link to a collection of 30 of them I’d look at them, show it to my friends at work, and have a good old goggle at it.

      • Randy M says:

        This reminds me of a site I saw that shows people next to works of art painted long prior that look just like them. Should prove the existence of facial repetition.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I feel like a lot of these pictures are “my hair style/facial hair looks just like theirs”. If you look at the individual features, nose, cheekbones, chin, then you see that they are different (or different in most of these ways) but the overall impression is mostly created in the men by the beard and hairline. Notice how every single male in both the painting and the guy who looks like the painting has facial hair.

          • Randy M says:

            Notice how every single male in both the painting and the guy who looks like the painting has facial hair.

            I think this says something about the ubiquity of facial hair in the past.

          • Nick says:

            A lot of it is the facial hair, yeah. The blonde girl in the third picture is a pretty good match, though.

          • Well... says:

            I look for a few uncanny features that draw the eye, triggering that rhythmic sensation of visual repetition. None of those pictures really created that sensation for me.

            I thought the blonde girl in the third image sorta resembled the girl in the painting behind her, but not in a striking kind of way. In the next two pictures after that, the guys might have been better matches for their paintings if they’d matched the visual angle of the head, tilting it down slightly (in the first case) or done a better job matching the facial expression (in the second case).

    • helaku says:

      Yeah, I also notice this. Despite our phenotypic variance, in the end repetitions in gene recombination might occur which lead to alikeness. Some people may notice those subtleties in features, some may not.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Yes, I’ve experienced this.

    • Snailprincess says:

      I’ve totally noticed this. I’ve always thought of it like eigenvalues. Like there are a limited set of facial eigenvalues or archetypes, and most faces are sort of a combination of one or of those types.

    • Plumber says:

      “….Like, you see a person, and you say “oh, that kind of person. I’ve seen that kind of person before”….”

      @toastengineer,
      Many times I will see a young lady, and a few times a young man, and for an instant I’ll think that I recognize a former friend or acquaintance, but usually before I speak I’ll do the arithmetic and realize that the person I see is way too young to be who I momentarily think they are.

    • GardenVarietyWraith says:

      I sculpt, and I’ve noticed the HELL out of this. I’ve always taken note of faces with particularly striking bone structure, and if I set out to create a portrait bust without a particular subject in mind, there are are about 20 distinct subtypes I draw from, based on how the planes of the face come together, how the light hits them, and what expressions suit certain types of face.

      I assume some of it’s genetic–I used to look at old propaganda posters and wonder how anyone could create caricatures of what I regarded as different flavors of generic white people, and I was astonished to realize that, yes, Irishmen really do have a certain “look” about them–but I think you’re describing something more subtle and less easily categorized. Like, in addition to an Ur-Antinous and an Ur-Winged Victory, there’s an Ur-Kevin Bacon and an Ur-Ariana Grande prototype. They walk among us, lol.

      Certain faces just seem to fall into certain patterns: how they emote, how they age, et cetera. I’m not sure whether to attribute this to the viewer’s pattern-matching inclinations, or whether it’s a measurable thing; I dunno, but I see it, too, and bet it’s a bit of both.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      “Like, you see a person, and you say “oh, that kind of person. I’ve seen that kind of person before.””

      I totally get that. Maybe it has to do with some deeper ancestry structure. I now live in the town where a friend of mine comes from and I see more people of “his type”. Of course that may also have to do with the subconscious realisation that it’s more likely for me to run into him here.

    • raj says:

      Sort of, but not really.

      You can come up with clusters in facial-phenotype space (because you can make clusters in any space), but I don’t find them particularly useful compared to other buckets.

    • I wouldn’t describe it as they look the same; everybody looks quite different. However there are definitely common features shared here and there, and one can use these to classify people’s physical appearances into natural categories at a considerably finer level than race.

  2. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to create superheroes or supervillains based on these unlikely concepts:
    – the Dunning-Kruger effect
    – fundamental attribution error
    – the Peter principle
    – the halting problem
    – conspicuous consumption
    – the uncertainty principle
    – the narcissism of small differences
    – Gell-Mann amnesia
    – comparative advantage
    – the birthday paradox

    • Nornagest says:

      A superhero based on conspicuous consumption? Isn’t that basically just Richie Rich?

    • JPNunez says:

      Man, I wonder what I could do if I could solve the halting problem by just looking at a program.

      Probably not much, because most programs are gigantic and designed to run forever so all I’d knew would be that, yes, this program mostly does not stop, unless one were to press the quit button.

      I’d have to isolate parts of it so it is meaningful at all, you know, by working at the algorithm level.

      • johan_larson says:

        You could find a cryptographic key in O(log n) looks. That sounds useful.

        Suppose a message has been encrypted with a key from 1 to N.

        Write a program that goes through the keys from A to B and tries each in turn, stopping if it finds one that produces an intelligible message, otherwise running forever.

        Now you get two versions of the program, one looking through keys 1 to N/2, the other from N/2+1 to N. One will halt and the other will not (typically). You pick the one that halts and congratulations, you’ve thrown away half the keyspace with your superpower.

        Repeat the process until the remaining range is small enough that brute-force search is faster than further division.

        • JPNunez says:

          I know I know

          maybe I’d look at people’s DNA and know when they are going to die or something

          insert some v long technobabble about DNA, programs, the halting program, and some convenient sub power that allows me to see DNA without a ton of equipment

          • Migratory says:

            You couldn’t just look at their DNA, you’d have to look at the entire planet at least. Otherwise you’re leaving out far too many variables. Besides, can you really claim that people halt when they die?

        • alef says:

          I don’t understand this, I feel stupid. Why can’t you just use your power on the “1 to N” question directly – getting the answer right away? I.e. what is the bisection for? If the issue is representing N, set the limit as N = 2^2^k for suitable k, and so log log N. That might overshoot, but so what? …. that hinges on how (im)perfect the ‘finds one that produces an intelligible answer’ oracle is – which seems to hide a lot of stuff beneath it. Give me that (nearly AI-complete) oracle, and this power, and I’d change the universe! Well, I could, but would not.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            The power as stated gives you only a Yes or No answer each time it is used, either the knowledge that the program halts or that it does not halt. It doesn’t tell you, e.g., what the program’s output would be, or how long it would run for before halting.

            … kind of an artificial limitation, I guess, but no more so than some superpower limitations in popular works.

          • alef says:

            Oh, I see, I can find out (given the magic ‘is the decryption intelligible?” power) whether there exists a good key in constant time, but I need log(N) to actually find the key -?

          • alef says:

            … which is presumably optimal since I need log(N) even to write the key down.

            Still seems like an fairly awesome power; I can decide if any theorem is provable in O(1) and provide a proof it in O(log len(proof)); the Fields medal money and NSA cash should flow in.

          • JPNunez says:

            I know all this, guys.

            But I don’t want the Fields Prize.

            I want to punch bank robbers in the face (or rob banks) and fight Godzilla while he flattens a city.

            http://worm.wikia.com/wiki/Behemoth

          • beleester says:

            If you want to rob banks, perhaps you could crack passwords and steal money that way? Or be one of those “information broker” villains like Tattletale?

            Unfortunately, a lot of real-world applications will be stymied by the fact that the halting problem is defined for both a program and its input, and the input is something you can’t know in advance in most real-world scenarios. You can’t, for example, see if Armsmaster’s combat prediction software will halt when he fights Leviathan, because the input to that program is “what is Leviathan doing in this fight?” and you don’t know that until you’re actually fighting.

      • Lambert says:

        This is a pretty well-studied concept.
        In CS, they call a hypothetical black box that can magically solve a certain problem, such as the halting problem, an Oracle. (well there’s your superhero name sorted)
        The Other Scott has written about a turing machine that halts iff the Goldbach Conjecture is false, so you could solve that problem fairly easily. Same with the consistency of ZF theory (and therefore mathematics).

        Could pitch this to Netflix:
        By day, he’s Scott Aaronson, a mild mannered complexity theorist, but at night, he becomes The Oracle, using his superpower to fight the evil D-Wave corporation. Bitten one day be a radioactive travelling salesman…

    • robirahman says:

      Make up a supervillain whose power is comparative advantage? Isn’t that just Mexican immigrants?

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I pitch these to Wildbow as ideas for his next web serial and let him do it for me.

    • The Element of Surprise says:

      Peter principle would be a guy becoming a superhero because he was so good at everything else he did before, but who ends up being ineffectual and helpless as a hero.

    • “the Dunning-Kruger effect – fundamental attribution error”

      Sigmund Freud.

      • Nornagest says:

        I have a feeling that Superman has always had a little-known secondary power based on the Dunning-Kruger effect. Otherwise it’s hard to explain all those criminals that keep shooting at him instead of running away, even when they can see the bullets bouncing off. And when Superman’s a public figure in that universe and the general outlines of his powers are well known.

        “Invulnerable flying alien who can bench-press the Hoover Dam and melt steel with his eyes? Meh, I can take him.”

        • beleester says:

          If you’re confronted by a man who’s faster than a speeding bullet, running away is just as useless as shooting him. May as well keep firing out of spite.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Reminds me of one of Fred Clark’s suggested subtitles for the Left Behind series: “Annoying the Antichrist”. A lot of commenters suggested that a more self-aware series with that title could actually be good: if your protagonists know they can’t stop him from running roughshod over every good thing, they might as well settle for at least annoying him.

          • Matt says:

            “President? Foolish, faceless man; my campaign is a farce. A small part of a much grander scheme. President… do you know how much power I’d have to give up to be President? That’s right, conspiracy buff. I spent 75 million dollars on a fake Presidential campaign, all just to tick Superman off.”

            – Lex Luthor

          • CatCube says:

            @Matt

            That was one of Clancy Brown’s best scenes.

    • The Nybbler says:

      – the uncertainty principle

      An easy one. He or she can teleport simply by standing still, since when s/he fixes his velocity his/her position becomes unknown. (The gender being uncertain is just a side effect)

      – Gell-Mann amnesia

      Quite useful. Is able to perform any feat that would be possible were things to be as if the newspapers explained them.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      comparative advantage

      Little-known fact: Bruce Wayne was actually a better butler than Alfred. But it was still rational to let Alfred do the butling and Bruce concentrate on crime-fighting.

      • David Speyer says:

        Bruce Wayne is more or less the opposite of Comparative Advantage Man. Comparative Advantage Man would manage the Wayne fortune and hire thousands of disposable crime fighters. (Admittedly, Wayne is an heir and maybe he hasn’t inherited the skills that built that fortune. Tony Stark is more dramatically failing to exploit his comparative advantage.)

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah but at least Stark is presented as something of an arrogant/selfish jerk who knows he isn’t necessarily optimizing for achieving the greatest benefit for the “common good.”

          Wayne is less honest about how much of his quest is motivated by pure revenge against the criminal element.

        • cryptoshill says:

          Who says? Tony Stark gave the world cold-fusion. Seems to me he’s like a Mary Sue of Elon Musk who is a supersuit-wearing, alcoholic, crime-fighting superhero in his spare time

    • beleester says:

      The Fae King is a support hero who has the ability to shift the blame using his supernatural powers of persuasion. By manipulating the Fundamental Attribution Error, the damage that heroes cause is perceived as an unfortunate result of their circumstances – it was a tough fight, they did their best – while the damage that villains cause is seen as a sign of their poor character.

      This is an indispensable ability for maintaining the public image of superhero teams, who frequently find themselves in violent, high-collateral damage situations.

    • Mary says:

      “the Dunning-Kruger effect”

      Psych games! A superhero who intimidates the supervillians by making them think he’s a powerful as they are!

      • Lillian says:

        The One Punch Man character King is an S-class hero who has zero superpowers except perhaps being incredibly intimidating and lucky. He has mistakenly been given credit for a lot of Saitma’s victories, which is how he got the S-rank. Many villains and heroes have challenged King to test their strength against him, however because of his fearsome reputation, he is able to bluff them into losing their nerve and running away.

        In one particularly amusing instance, a samurai with real superpowers gives King his sword so he can watch him cut an apple with it. King is too weak to even draw the blade from its scabbard, so after sitting there for a few moments, he sets it on the ground and walks away. The samurai interprets this as King being so strong and skilled that he was able to draw the sword, cut the apple between the molecules so that it remained intact, and then resheathe it, all with such inhuman speed that it looked like he never moved a muscle. The super-samurai walks away from the encounter convinced that King is unsurpassed stronger than him.

    • WashedOut says:

      Birthday Paradox Gang

      These 30 thugs prowl the streets at night looking for probability-naive suckers to game. The leader of the BPG has a trademark gambit:

      What would you rather pay out on? The result of a coin flip, or that you might share a birthday with one of us? [If they choose birthday] Hahaha! C’mon man! There’s 30 of us! You sure have an apetite for long odds! Are you sure?

      • mondsemmel says:

        I like this. But the gang isn’t a random sample of the population; presumably the gang leader selects thugs by some metric, including whether they share a birthday with any existing member. So the normal probability calculations don’t apply, and the gang could use this to their advantage.

        Bonus points if there are 31 members, only two of which share a birthday, and the leader decides by some metric whether to bring the guys who share a birthday.

        Basically, the gang could prey on both the probability-naive, *and* on the probability-literate.

      • fion says:

        I think your example doesn’t work. As soon as you select one unique person (the mugee) and ask if they share a birthday with one of the others, it becomes much smaller probability and much more intuitive. The birthday paradox comes from asking “do any two of the people here share a birthday?”, not “does Bob share a birthday with anybody else?”.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Donald Crewglie always had a knack for getting ahead. He wasn’t always on top, but you could always count on him being close. He’d get 95% on the exam, or second place in the playoffs. It wasn’t until college, however, that he noticed that he could always beat someone who tried, no matter how good they were – they just had to believe they could beat him. That was the beginning of his quest to seize the world, bit by bit, by surrounding himself with toadies possessing both great skill, and great hubris.

      His first recruit ended up being his girlfriend. Fae had an uncanny read on people, particularly on what they thought of her. It often wasn’t hard – a lot of them saw a woman, and assumed she’d behave like one (though not always), while she fleeced them, usually for tuition money. It was a different scam every time. This guy kept flicking the corner of his low pair and she called his bluff. That one scratched on the eight ball because the overhead light distracted him. One girl bet she could pick up a guy within sixty seconds, then left her credit card behind. The only person she couldn’t get the better of was Donald. The harder she tried, the more he squeaked by, and the weirdest part was that he didn’t seem to mind. He’d just smile, buy her a drink, and propose another wager. Eventually they just started hanging out together.

      Next was Laurence. He was an obvious pick; the better his marks, the worse he then got, so Donald kept giving him the crap work on their projects. Laurence resented Donald always taking charge, but he had to admit Donald deserved it, since Donald always seem to do better at it than he was. Then came Holly, his go-to study buddy in compsci, and Thurston, a fellow biz major with a trust fund who showed Donald the best in power accessories without realizing it.

      In their junior year, Holly found a boyfriend, Vernon, a judo freak. No one could tell where he’d be next (except for Holly), but he found a worthy sparring partner in Donald for some reason. Donald’s little brother, Ernie, an OCD case, kept watching Vernon closely – no one else seemed to be able to – and coached Donald on how to recognize subtle details in Vernon’s positioning until he was able to predict how to block even better than Holly could. He then met Vernon’s sister, Marie, a journalism major who could speak expertly in any subject after only a minute of reading about it. After a few weeks of on and off debate, Donald figured out how to shave off ten seconds.

      By the time he earned his MBA, Donald was a crack martial artist, a master at spotting even tiny weaknesses in his rivals, in the ring, the boardroom, or the market, and overcoming them by seemingly sheer luck. He was a workaholic who nevertheless knew when to quit. His charisma was almost magical, a combination of aggressive fashion and effusive knowledge of the topics of the day (so long as you didn’t ask him again an hour later). Backed by his coterie, Donald was unstoppable.

      That is, until he met a curious fellow at a reception for his birthday in London. He was the essence of mediocrity. He didn’t dress as well, speak as knowledgeably, assess as shrewdly, react as quickly, or even work as diligently. But he did excel at one thing, which Donald would discover to his dismay…

    • baconbits9 says:

      Nice try Zach Weinersmith, we aren’t writing your comics for you.

    • Matt M says:

      Comparative advantage could be addressed in a story where Superman decides to do something other than crime-fighting, because it’s more useful.

      Bob Murphy theorized some of the potential other jobs Superman could do, in the context of what sort of salary he might be able to command if he participated in the free market rather than the idealized selfless altruism he currently possesses. See the end for some discussion on how Superman could also be “effective altruism man”

      • The Nybbler says:

        The operating cost of a Skycrane is apparently in the $5000/hour range. That means minimum rental cost must be more than that. Superman could do at least some of the Skycrane’s jobs in far less time, and Superman seems to be pretty normal-human in his maintenance requirements; he should be able to make a killing on piecework. So, Superman makes a deal with a Skycrane rental company to throw some business his way during busy times, then spends the rest of his time chilling on the beach.

    • JPNunez says:

      – fundamental attribution error

      This is King from One Punch Man. He is a big, scary dude, but just a regular guy. He is attributed all the monster killings of the titular One Punch Man by mistake and quickly ascends the ranks of the hero association.

    • beleester says:

      The Birthday Circle is an organization of sorcerers that exploits the fact that various astrological coincidences are much more common than you think. Traditional ritual magic is tied to a single, specific event which is hard to find – “born at midnight on the winter solstice,” for example. Instead, the Circle specializes in magic based on pairs of significant astrological events – linking two people who share a birthday, linking people with complementary zodiac signs, etc.

      Because the number of possible combinations is much greater than the number of wizards, they are able to muster up incredibly powerful magic despite having only a few dozen members. Their weakness is that the birthday paradox only works if you need to find a connection between any two members – if they need to help a specific person cast a spell, they’re no more likely to be helpful than any other random wizard.

    • Matt M says:

      How about a movie for the replication crisis?

      In Avengers 3 – the Avengers all wake up to suddenly discover that they don’t have super powers after all. And nobody can prove they ever did!

    • Rowan says:

      >The Dunning-Kruger effect

      Power grants skills, abilities and expertise relative to the user’s perception of them. Having carefully deluded themselves as much as possible, the hero/villain has comic-book “peak human” ability at basically everything. Naturally, their weak point is whatever subject they were studying before they got powers and dropped out.

      >Fundamental Attribution Error

      Has the power to give people attributes by citing a single piece of evidence for why that person has that attribute. A supervillain, if a hero has ever publicly lost or ran from a fight he can win instantly by calling them “Weak” or “Cowardly” which puts them out of action for a few days. Otherwise a C-lister, likely to rob a bank with a few Brute 2 “Strong” or “Tough” henchmen and get his ass beat by a rookie hero with no previous reputation. Can also show up in a villain team, keeping the big-name heroes away so it’s up to our underdog protagonists (possibly until the one top hero with an unblemished reputation shows up in the nick of time).

      >The Peter Principle

      The power to induce incompetence? A Stranger power with weird restrictions? I think I’d just go with an unpowered supervillain who’s followed the principle off a cliff into fanaticism and started murdering top executives and bureaucrats in the name of hierarchy-less anarchism.

      >The Halting Problem

      Robot assassin, “halts programs” with ruthless efficiency. Noted for being obsessive about timing.

      >Conspicuous Consumption

      Supervillain, can eat anything, gains temporary power proportional to the value of what was eaten. Once went toe to toe with [local Superman expy] after eating half a dozen gold bricks.

      >The Uncertainty Principle

      Can be in several places at once according to a probability distribution of where he might be. Gets really mad when people call his power the shadow clone jitsu, deepest darkest secret is a Naruto obsession.

      >The Narcissism of Small Differences

      Can split people into arbitrary groups and ramp up tribalism until they tear each other apart. Tragic figure, power isn’t fully controlled, especially wasn’t on day one when it activated against their bullies at school, but it’s hard not to be a villain when your power is “starting the race war” and your killcount is already edging into the quadruple-digits.

      >Gell-Mann Amnesia

      Has a “make people believe everything you write” Master power, but the effect is really weak. Secondary stranger power stops people from noticing what’s up, however, and worse yet he controls a major newspaper.

      >Comparative Advantage

      Thinker power, superhuman at assessing people’s strengths and weaknesses. Probably a villain since it’s a power that works best with plans and henchmen.

      >The Birthday Paradox

      No clue for this one, even for unpowered gimmicks.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Marvel Comics actually has a hero powered by the Dunning-Kruger effect. Gladiator, a Superman stand-in, instead of truly having super strength or speed or what have you, actually has the psychic power that he can do anything he thinks he can do.

      Since he is absolutely sure he can do anything, the result is pretty much Superman. However, people have beaten him a few times by finding ways to make him doubt his omnipotence, which makes it go away.

    • Dan Hornsby says:

      The Dunning Kruger Effect:

      Brian has an area-of-effect ability to leech the skills and competency from those around him, while simultaneously instilling increased confidence in those same skills to those he takes them from. He uses this ability to be an easy victor in most conflicts – stealing an opponent’s skills while making them rampantly overconfident at the same time.

      Fundamental Attribution Error:

      Alice has a presence-based emotional power which overwrites the motivations of the people around her with whatever she thinks they should be. The effect has a radius of around a hundred feet, and the severity increases as people get closer to Alice. People find themselves conforming to Alice’s view of them, either for good or ill, creating several incidents where events have taken on a “comic book heroes and villains” narrative thanks to constant reinforcement from Alice’s power.

      The Peter Principle:

      Peter has a unique ability – he has superhuman strength, speed, toughness and mental acuity in every area except the task he is currently attempting to accomplish. He is as fast as a speeding bullet – except when he needs to catch something. He is as tough as steel – except when he needs to take a hit. He can bend industrial girders – except when he needs to lift something. He’s inhumanly intelligent – except when he needs to work something out. Whatever area he consciously focuses on, he loses his abilities in.

      The Halting Problem:

      Jeff has the ability to touch a person or object and instil either no effect, or a closed, perpetually-repeating five-to-fifteen-second time-loop, at random. The effects are seemingly permanent, and Jeff’s victims are constantly flickering within the same looped activity, in perpetuity. While looped, nothing can interact with them except Jeff, who can touch them once more to remove the effect.

      Conspicuous Consumption:

      Gina has superhuman strength, speed, toughness and flight, all of which scale based on the perception of those around her – she is as strong, as fast and as tough as those around her believe she should be. She games this power through excessive ostentation and massive hype, spending thousands to cultivate a persona of superiority.

      The Uncertainty Principle:

      Eric has a limited omnipresence – he can simultaneously be anywhere and everywhere that is not being observed by a sapient creature, and can manifest any number of bodies within those limitations. However, as soon as one of his bodies is observed, he is collapsed into that body and unable to move or effect the world, until that body is no longer being observed. In the past, Eric has spent years as an impervious statue, and in the future, he fears that constant camera coverage will leave him nowhere left to exist.

      The Narcissism of Small Differences:

      Julia has the power to invert the emotional impact of stimuli in those she can see. Inconsequential trivialities will take on huge significance, while wide-reaching fundamental differences are dismissed completely. This has the practical effect of flaring hostility between those closest to one another, while bringing together groups who otherwise hate each other.

      Gell-Mann Amnesia:

      Clive has the power to instil or remove competency in those around him in inverse proportion to his own competencies – those around him will get worse at things he’s good at, and get better at things he’s bad at. His attempts to “game” this ability tend to be stymied, as anyone who tutors or trains him will get worse as he improves, until he plateau’s at ‘enthusiastic amateur’ levels of ability.

      Comparative Advantage:

      Jonathan has enhanced speed, strength and mental acuity equivalent to twice the average of everyone within 100 feet of him. He is always strictly better than average in any group of people, but otherwise has no other abilities. Without anyone nearby, he has an IQ of around 80 and the physique of someone who has never physically pushed themselves.

      The Birthday Paradox:

      Christine has the ability to manipulate probability. She can superimpose the probability of an event our outcome happening to her with the probability of that same event or outcome happening to anyone at all – rendering her able to achieve incredibly improbable feats. The chance of one specific person doing any given thing might well be astonishingly small, but the chance of anyone at all doing it is usually close to 1.

      • Nick says:

        The Dunning Kruger Effect:

        Brian has an area-of-effect ability to leech the skills and competency from those around him, while simultaneously instilling increased confidence in those same skills to those he takes them from. He uses this ability to be an easy victor in most conflicts – stealing an opponent’s skills while making them rampantly overconfident at the same time.

        Man, this guy would make a terrible teammate.

      • proyas says:

        Excellent. After initial failure, I think Peter would find use on a team of fellow superheroes who found humorous ways to distract him from the actual task at hand so his relevant skill wouldn’t pause. For example, if a group of villains had pointed guns at them, one of the team members would grab Peter, twirl him around so he couldn’t see the enemies and was hence unaware of his “human shield” purpose, and then say: “Quick, Peter, what are the twenty largest cities in Africa?”

    • AnonYEmous says:

      – Gell-Mann amnesia

      if you can give this to other people, then it’s a phenomenal superpower where you can convince anyone that you’re an expert, or something along those lines

      – the narcissism of small differences

      another case of : if you can give this to other people, it’s strong. Take apart criminal enterprises or gangs of criminals by making them all think they’re way too different to get along, possibly causing them all to kill one another.

      – the birthday paradox

      Maybe you can create an energy line between two people with the same birthday that smashes them into each other, probably knocking them both out. This works way more often than people think and since criminals don’t understand the birthday paradox they never figure out how the power works. You can also use innocent bystanders as missiles, but then the hero has to wonder if it’s morally right to risk a bystander to potentially stop something else bad from happening. Man, I’m getting fired up just thinking about this!

  3. Scott Alexander says:

    A friend has low cholesterol; their doctor told them to eat many eggs every day.

    I have been told that “eating too many eggs causes high cholesterol” is kind of a myth, but I don’t know how much of that is just that people probably eat lots of things and it’s unfair to blame eggs. Does eating eggs to cure low cholesterol work, or is that a myth too?

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      Food has low impact of cholesterol, but it’s not zero.

    • Randy M says:

      Eggs do have cholesterol, so if you eat them, even if you break down the cholesterol, it should at the least give your body the building blocks, so I couldn’t see it hurting, but it probably isn’t sufficient if there’s some reason his body isn’t properly regulating the levels.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I don’t know about cholesterol, but I’ve got a follow-up question: is it possible to develop an egg allergy by eating too many eggs ? My doctor mentioned this at some point long time ago, but was he right ?

      • Mary says:

        Probably. At least, high levels of the proteins may trigger it.

      • jimmy says:

        I don’t know if it was an allergy, but my body definitely stopped responding well to eggs after a period of eating a lot of them.

        I took a break from eating eggs for a while, and now I can eat them again without problem

        • j1000000 says:

          Wow, I eat a ton of eggs, and recently I started getting stomach pains after breakfast. I thought it was the time of day, though, I never figured eggs were the culprit.

          I’ve never heard of this before, though. Wouldn’t, anecdotally, this be a somewhat common problem among NFL players and bodybuilders and other people who are said to eat tons of eggs?

      • methylethyl says:

        I developed an intolerance to raw egg yolks (but not to cooked eggs!), after including them in breakfast smoothies for months. Not an allergy, but really painful stomach cramps after breakfast every day.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      Some people seem to be cholesterol-insensitive – if they consume more their body makes less to compensate and vice-versa (A friend of mine was in a medical study that established he was one such – the test subjects were medical students who agreed to eat a supervised researcher-produced diet for a period of time). Which would seem to argue for skepticism.

      Applying personal science: couldn’t your friend just *try* eating eggs and then take the test again to see if anything changed?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Yes, but eating five eggs a day is hard and I thought I had heard somewhere that it definitely wouldn’t work.

        • Deiseach says:

          Usually the advice is to try lowering cholesterol so being told to raise it is unusual. Is it total cholesterol is too low, or that the levels of HDL cholesterol are too low and need to be raised?

        • methylethyl says:

          If you’re eating the eggs to raise cholesterol, only the yolk matters. 2 eggs + 3 more yolks is not difficult, scrambled (delicious, actually). I ate 6 eggs for breakfast nearly every day (3eggs + 3 yolks) for 1-2 years and had no trouble with it. Mostly scrambled, but sometimes to shake it up, I’d mix them with half a mashed banana and some buckwheat flour, salt, and a bit of cinnamon for faux pancakes.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      Not an answer to your question, but why is the guy’s cholesterol low? If it’s because he has developed a condition which is impairing his liver function, eating foods to increase his cholesterol is kind of missing the point.

    • James Miller says:

      Around ten years ago I had very low cholesterol and came across information that people with low cholesterol had vastly elevated death rates. After investigating (I’m an economist) I became convinced that I should raise my cholesterol. I changed my diet and started consuming lots of butter from grass-fed cows, mostly in coffee. I succeeded in raising my “good” and “bad” cholesterol to above average levels.

      • j1000000 says:

        Wait, ten years ago? So you were putting butter from grass-fed cows in your coffee before the Bulletproof guy?

        Was that already A Thing before him and he only helped spread the idea?

      • fortaleza84 says:

        I’ve researched the issue myself (I am hypolipidemic) and the research I found seems to divide people with low cholesterol into two categories: Those with a genetic mutation who as a result have low cholesterol from birth; and those who develop a disease which damages the function of their liver.

        People in the second category have greater death rates, but (according to the research) it’s not from the lack of cholesterol per se but from the underlying condition. People in the first category are pretty much okay, they are more prone to develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease but at the same time they are less prone to heart problems. (This doesn’t apply if you are homozygous, in that case you’ve got big problems).

        The upshot of this is that there doesn’t seem to be much point in trying to increase your cholesterol levels. If you are hypolipidemic, the better strategy (in my non-professional opinion) is to calorie-restrict so as to avoid overburdening your liver with fats that it will have difficulty metabolizing.

    • Fossegrimen says:

      If this person is some variant of vegetarian, eating eggs will probably increase cholesterol, if on a normal western diet, probably not.
      If the _only_ problem is cholesterol then fats will get them there faster; butter or cream are excellent. If the problem is due to a more fundamentally unbalanced diet, eggs are quite possibly the best choice because the simplest possible ‘nutritionally complete’ diet that you can live on forever is eggs and orange juice.

      Given the doctors recommendation I would suspect the latter and tell them to eat loads of eggs. Note that if the recommended amount of eggs seems like a lot, eggs are ridiculously versatile and can be turned into things like cake where you don’t even notice.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Eggs really do have a large effect on blood cholesterol. The myth is that it’s due to the cholesterol in the eggs, while the truth is that it’s mainly due to the saturated fat in the eggs.

    • pontifex says:

      Eggs have a fair amount of cholesterol, but also contain a substance that inhibits cholesterol absorption.

      If you really want to dial up the cholesterol to 11, I suggest eating canned pig brains. It’s a Southern delicacy, apparently.

      The makeup of the brain is about 29% fat, most of which is located in myelin (which itself is 70–80% fat).[8] Specific fatty acid ratios will depend in part on the diet of the animal it is harvested from. The brain is also very high in cholesterol. For example, a single 140 g (5 oz) serving of “pork brains in milk gravy” can contain 3500 mg of cholesterol (1170% of the USRDA).[9]

      This is uh, definitely not medical advice. And I have no idea how cholesterol regulation works, really…

    • Nootropic cormorant says:

      My father seemingly raised his cholesterol, after allegedly having low levels throughout his life, by physical exercise (anaerobic), but this is just anecdata.

  4. robirahman says:

    Was a winner ever picked in the adversarial collaboration contest?

  5. hash872 says:

    Is anyone else, like…. a bit troubled by how simplistic the whole anti-NIMBY movement is these days? Or at least, the alleged policy benefits- ‘if we stop exclusionary zoning and building restrictions and such, we can lower rents and (uh, somehow) make the Bay Area affordable for the low and middle-income’. This line of argumentation and the whole anti-NIMBY movement is the new hotness among some wonky liberals, many libertarians, lots of neoliberal types etc. I have a number of objections (plus, an alternate vision for affordable urban housing).

    I like the theory behind the anti-NIMBY movement (being against naked rent seeking). In practice though, the entire movement seems to be ‘how can we cram even more people into the Bay Area?’ Here’s my alternate vision from a central planning perspective- accept that a number of cities are effectively full, and focus on exporting the strengths of NYC/Bay Area/LA to tier 2 cities- Phoenix, Charlotte, Denver, Miami etc.- even Dayton and Indianapolis and Milwaukee and such. It’s more realistic (easier to make say Denver a tech hub and get a lot of startup & tech employers there, than it is to defeat entrenched homeowners in Menlo Park who vote en masse). Here are my top 4 arguments for this vision (I put minor ones in a separate comment below):

    1. Building more might not actually reduce rents, and might even increase them! Remember building more only reduces rent *if demand stays the same*. But with demand so high for just a few Tier 1 cities, more units might mean even more people can flood into San Fran or Manhattan, so prices wouldn’t be reduced….. Tier 1 cities become ultra-popular through network effects, which are only increased through higher population. Here’s a great argument for this, posted by Scott a couple of months ago http://devonzuegel.com/post/agglomeration-effects-might-change-the-yimby-caculus.

    I get really annoyed when anti-NIMBYists smugly pretend to have economics on their side (as if economics was some kind of rigorously quantitative field, as opposed to ‘astrology for dudes’). Again, more supply only reduces average rents *with the same level of demand*. But if the Bay Area is the most attractive place in the US to live for young techbros, more apartments simply means more people can live there- completely negating any type of pricing advantage.

    2. I want anti-NIMBYists to think carefully about the overall future of the US- not just their favorite city. Having all of our financial, technological, and cultural elites living in like 4 cities is *the* recipe for massive regional inequality- I’m pretty sure that’s like the literal plot of the Hunger Games. What becomes of the 99% of the country that’s not the Bay Area/NYC/LA? Why can’t we achieve our affordable housing goals by spreading white collar employers into Phoenix and Charlotte, Miami and Denver, Houston and Chicago…. I’m confused by liberal types who are nominally horrified by wealth inequality, yet want all of our nation’s wealth and social/technical capital to be concentrated in 1% of our physical geography.

    3. Stuffing all of our nation’s most important tech, finance and cultural firms into just a few relatively small areas violates some pretty basic systems engineering concepts around redundancy and resiliency. We are one earthquake, terrorist attack or natural disaster away from wiping out our nation’s whole competitive advantage in tech, in the Bay Area- especially the earthquake option! If one were designing the US from scratch, who would say ‘hmm yes, let’s put almost all of our nation’s technical capital right here in the most earthquake-prone part of the country, this seems like an excellent location’. I mean, we know with a high degree of certainty that California will suffer a very strong and damaging earthquake within the next century of less- just a question of when. Spreading out our urban strengths in multiple cities enhances redundancy against long-tail risks.

    4. I’m a partisan Democrat, and jamming all of our voters into just a few small areas is part of the why the numerically larger liberals don’t currently control Congress & the presidency. It’s not the only reason, but it’s certainly a strong one. The US has more liberals than conservatives and more Democrats than Republicans, but the former chooses to run up their numbers in cities where they routinely vote Dem 80+%. Cramming even more people into cities with the same number of Congressional representatives is the height of political stupidity. Spread out liberals!

    For example, Los Angeles County has a population larger than 41 US states (and I would imagine a huge number of countries). Looks like it went 71 to 22% for Clinton for over Trump, roughly (Gary Johnson’s in the mix too). How many people are anti-NIMBYists looking to cram in to this one area? 45 US states? 48? How much more inefficiently can Democrats spread themselves out?

    • hash872 says:

      Other objections to the modern anti-NIMBY movement (smaller than the above four so I wanted to separate them out):

      5. Anti-NIMBYists have some awfully confused ideas around the economics of multi-family development. I previously worked in commercial real estate, so I have a bit stronger grasp on the fundamentals. The idea that just building more apartments will lower average rent by any meaningful degree (like, enough to make San Fran affordable to families making $60k) is wildly unrealistic and childishly simple. I’m seeing sources online say that the average two bedroom apartment in San Fran rents for $4500- let’s say $4k to be generous. To be affordable (one third of income) for a couple making $100k together, rents would have to drop about a third (!) for this entire city of almost 900k people. I think this could be done in say China, with zero property rights, with seizing homes and bulldozing whole neighborhoods to make 100+ unit buildings. Totally unrealistic in a market economy.

      You see this with these emotional arguments around, say, historic zoning districts in Tier 1 cities. Is it a mix of naked rent seeking & architectural snobbery? Yes, probably. Also, even if one removed every historic neighborhood protection- only a small percentage of owners would actually choose to sell in any given year. Then, the buyer would have to be a developer who wants to do a complete teardown and build a huge multi-family unit- and not, say, another wealthy person who wants to keep the building as-is. Let’s break down- what % of potential buyers are wealthy people who want a beautiful building in a beautiful historic neighborhood- versus what % are developers with the capital and expertise to create a multi-unit apartment building? Shooting from the hip as a former commercial real estate broker in a Tier 1 city- say, 90/10? 95/5? More? Remember, San Fran/NYC/London etc. attracts ultra-wealthy cash buyers from the global population- China, Russia, Europe, India etc.- not just the US. Plus- they can afford to outbid a developer- because they’re motivated by totally different reasons, and they *don’t have to make a profit*. Mr. Developer can only pay $2.5 million for that building to make a reasonable profit on a 50 unit apartment building? Well Mr. Wealthy Chinese Cash Buyer who wants a 5th Home can afford to outbid him because his motivations are not purely financial!

      Even if the developer wins the bid, then he or she has to spend years to actually build the units etc. TLDR- just rezoning a historic neighborhood is not going to add significant housing supply over any kind of time frame- certainly not enough to reduce rents.

      6. As other commentators have noted in the past- increased housing drives up traffic and other infrastructure costs- I’ve never seen even in the slightest counter-argument to this. Every desirable Tier 1 city already has crushing traffic and untreated infrastructure problems- increasing the population only adds to this dramatically.

      • hnau says:

        Reading your objections, I’m very confused.

        1. As the article you cite mentions, YIMBYs want to reduce rents *and* increase supply. Why are you only talking about the first? Even if the rent does go up– which is pretty implausible given the actual empirical economics research cited in this op-ed saying the opposite— just the fact that people are so eager to move into the new housing shows that a tremendous amount of economic value has been gained. Which is better from a utilitarian perspective: a super-nice city with 100,000 people living in it, or an almost-as-nice city with 200,000?

        2. I’m no huge fan of the urban elites either, despite more or less being a part of them. But based on #4, you *are* a fan, so citing The Hunger Games (not a perfect comparison– “regional inequality” isn’t the main point– but I get where you’re going) comes off as weird. Does it really matter to the plot whether the Capital is a single location or a segment of society in many different ones? The reality today is some combination of the two, but the Internet is making that largely irrelevant. More importantly, how do you plan to convince your white-collar employers to move their jobs into other cities? Even with Bay Area housing prices what they are, I don’t see Google opening offices in Charlotte. I speak from experience when I say there are *very good* reasons for that. The benefits of having your employees and talent pool in one place are huge, and with what programmers are paid they can (mostly) afford housing anyway. So I have a hard time seeing how building more housing would make things noticeably worse in this regard.

        3. This is like #2, but even weirder. You know part of the reason why California housing prices are so high? Building codes, designed to ensure safety in… earthquakes. If a 9.0 hit the Bay Area tomorrow, we’d take it, we’d hurt, we’d have a few casualties, and we’d be back to 100% or more within a few years. In what bizarro world is “avoid concentrating workforces in geographic regions where a single disaster could affect them all” a relevant consideration for local housing policy? And as with #2: how exactly are you planning on Big Brothering large fractions of huge industries to different parts of the country? Given today’s concentrations, how much worse could more Bay Area housing really make the problem?

        4. Well, for those of us out there who aren’t partisan Democrats… “shrug”.
        And for those that are: in fact the effect goes in the opposite direction.

        5. Ah, yes, the classic “It wouldn’t have any effect anyway, so why do it?” objection that accidentally invalidates all the others. If re-zoning isn’t going to cause the neighborhood’s composition to change, then why are NIMBYs so up in arms about it? And if it’s only going to have an effect after years or decades, then for heaven’s sake, why not do it now?!?

        6. This is by far the objection that real-life NIMBYs most often bring up. No one is denying that development imposes costs / negative externalities on the local governments that have to provide services and infrastructure. That’s what property taxes are for, and you’d better believe those taxes get passed on to renters. So the costs to local governments are priced into rents anyway. And yet, despite the sky-high prices and supposedly horrible traffic problems… people are still falling over themselves to buy in those markets. Weird, huh? It’s almost as if cities had gigantic *positive* externalities somehow…

        In sum, these objections seem very scattershot and I’m inclined to suspect that they reflect a knee-jerk partisan attitude in search of plausible arguments.

        • Guy in TN says:

          Even if the rent does go up– which is pretty implausible given the actual empirical economics research cited in this op-ed saying the opposite

          This claim is not found in the references of the article you cited.

          • hnau says:

            I stand corrected. The article implicitly equates “housing follows the law of supply and demand” with “market-rate housing filters down” and the citations are in support of the filtering-down claim. The article doesn’t provide a citation for its later claim that “the data shows that rents rise even faster when market-rate housing is not built”, so I’m not sure where it’s getting that from.

        • Eternaltraveler says:

          If a 9.0 hit the Bay Area tomorrow, we’d take it, we’d hurt, we’d have a few casualties, and we’d be back to 100% or more within a few years

          If a 9.0 on the moment magnitude scale had an epicenter in the middle of the bay area there wouldn’t be a single surviving structure anywhere nearby. A 9 permanently changes topography. Luckily the only earthquakes of this magnitude are megathrust quakes generated in subduction zones at the edge of some continental shelves (pretty far out to sea). They are still devastating, mostly through the tsunamis they generate.

          The Tōhoku earthquake was one such. The entire main Island of Japan was moved east 8 feet, there was $360 billion in damage including a nuclear meltdown, 20,000 people died (most from the tsunami, zero from radiation), and it’s epicenter was 43 miles out to sea.

          The Bay Area could plausibility experience something like an 8, which would basically be a repeat of the 1906 quake. $100-300 billion would be a reasonable estimate of the damage (if you buy earthquake insurance the CEA can only pay out 15 billion before it’s insolvent). It’s hard to say how well the Bay Area will bounce back from that. I suspect not very well.

          • hnau says:

            Shame on me for not doing my research. I wrote “9.0” without thinking too much because I vaguely remembered it as being the worst earthquake possible, but you’re right, I had something more like an 8 in mind.

          • Eric Rall says:

            (if you buy earthquake insurance the CEA can only pay out 15 billion before it’s insolvent)

            That’s why I bought privately-underwritten earthquake insurance. Amica sells non-CEA earthquake policies, and I expect there are other companies that also offer similar products.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        I will start by saying that a lot of companies already are trying the not-California model, and/or are expanding out of Cali. I know several Facebook employees who were 50% in the process or more towards moving to Silicon Valley, but then Facebook said, “Hey why not just stay in Chicago/Nashville/Pittsburgh/Vegas and telecommute + be a starter in our local office + fly out twice a year.”

        The San Fran boom was a product of its time and is tapering off. But that still doesn’t solve the San Fran problem, which is where anti-Nimbys have the greatest point. Its silly to pay middle school english teachers $500k a year just because its a Silicon Valley school district and they need to earn that much to live within an hour of the school. The same is true down the line all the way to the lowliest McDonalds employee. Indeed, this kind of thing is important for San Fran beyond the tech boom. In some ways its only sustainable because of whats going on. You need more stratified “normal” living spaces so that there can be normalcy, and families for everyone from a janitor to a janitor app mogul.

        Thus, maybe there are two problems: 1. NIMBYism; and 2. San Fran being too attractive to richies, such that even if San Fran has a normal ratio of mansions/houses/condos/apartments it simply has too many rich people so it needs to kick them out. If thats the case, then they should just enact super high progressive income taxes, then they will end up with the correct Millionaire/Teacher ratio in driving distance.

        • johan_larson says:

          Yeah, there are already some real success stories that are very distributed. Elastic is one of them; GitLab is another.

          Apparently one of the things that make being distributed difficult is VC resistance. For all their talk of disruption, they tend to be strikingly wedded to doing things the way they have always done it. And part of that is being able to drive to the companies they invest in for meetings with management. Hopefully that will start to change as younger members who see distributed work as normal are elevated to the partner level.

      • cryptoshill says:

        1. Not only is it important to build market-rate housing, but it is also important to legalize types of housing that have been illegalized. To give you an example from my local area (not a Bay Area techie) – having more than one unit per half acre of land is illegal unless you get your development specifically rezoned, and having a unit less than 1200sqft is illegal for lots of other reasons (structural requirements, closet space requirements, bedroom space requirements, it all adds up). In my city, rents have gone up approximately 45% from three years ago. The natural choice would be to minimize your consumption of living space or at least to consume living space efficiently. However, due to the way the local laws work – things like micro-apartments, tiny houses, boarding houses, etc are not just disincentivized, they are illegal. To use a different analogy – when it comes to food, if you’re trying to save money you can buy in bulk, cook for yourself, or eat fast food – similar options to reduce costs are not options in our major cities.

        2. I’m not a liberal – but it seems like cities that have lots of concentrated wealth/capital/technology/etc tend to *be* more liberal. Even the City of Chicago which reliably votes Democrat is *much* more conservative than SF or Seattle. It advantages the progressives culturally to encourage more people to move to those cities. Although I mostly agree with Point 4, it disadvantages them in political races.

        3. Most of the “technical capital” in San Francisco and Seattle actually resides in datacenters in Eastern Washington – which is pretty disaster-resistant. Technical capital is pretty easy to locate in places that you don’t work. Sure, having lots and lots of good knowledge-workers die in an earthquake isn’t good – but it isn’t like all of the advantages will magically disappear.

        4. I am largely against “choosing housing policy to manipulate demographics”. Progressives are also notably critical of gerrymandering, but pro-NIMBYism is effectively gerrymandering *for* rich progressive-types.

        5. I mostly agree with a weaker version of this criticism, which is that “demand has outstripped supply for so long that the amount of building that would be required to lower rents to the point where they are considered “affordable” by progressive standards (not by my standards, if people are willing to pay the rents, then they are being afforded by something) will not be achievable within a 10-year cycle of local politics”

        6. NIMBYism has directly led to a lot of these infrastructure problems. People moved away from the urban core due to housing prices, moving to areas where they could get decent-sized housing for cheaper than even small studio apartments, taking the commute as an externality. The type of transit infrastructure progressives want is *specifically* ineffective at addressing sprawl, thus the economically efficient solution is (sadly) crushing traffic and not enough fare-box revenue or political willpower to fund transit – because that transit will *never* serve the outlying areas that actually need it, and already serves the core areas fairly well.

        • Eric Rall says:

          To give you an example from my local area (not a Bay Area techie) – having more than one unit per half acre of land is illegal unless you get your development specifically rezoned, and having a unit less than 1200sqft is illegal for lots of other reasons (structural requirements, closet space requirements, bedroom space requirements, it all adds up).

          In most of the Bay Area, the standard is small single-family houses (1000-1500 square feet) on small lots (1/8 acre to 1/4 acre). The big restrictive zoning restraints are limitations on building up (most residential property is zoned only for one-story single-family houses, not for apartment buildings or even townhouses) and on building out (there’s a ton of land right around the built-on areas of the Bay Area that’s zoned as “Agricultural”, which requires large lots (2 to 20 acres, depending on the precise zoning classification) and no more than two dwelling units per lot (a main house and a small guest house)).

          • baconbits9 says:

            1/4 acre is a pretty big lot for most population dense areas. Even an 1/8th of an acre is a good size. Our twin house in on about 1/8th of an acre which is probably average making the local conditions about 1 house per 1/16th of an acre.

          • Deiseach says:

            there’s a ton of land right around the built-on areas of the Bay Area that’s zoned as “Agricultural”

            Hmm. In our (first) boom that led to the housing bubble, the value of agricultural land shot up because it was being sold to developers for housing. Why can’t the Bay Area do something similar? Okay, zoning, but it should be easy to change use from agricultural to residential, unless that means we’re back at square one with people agitating to make sure the zoning isn’t changed.

            So part of the problem is that there is land available in the general area, but it can’t be built on?

          • Eric Rall says:

            1/4 acre is the extreme I’ve seen. 1/8 to 1/6 is more typical of the “suburban” parts of the Bay Area, and SF and San Jose proper seem to be a bit smaller than that.

          • mister64738 says:

            there’s a ton of land right around the built-on areas of the Bay Area that’s zoned as “Agricultural”

            Where were you thinking of in particular? My impression is that whatever agricultural land is left in the Bay Area is either part of rich people’s enclaves (e.g. Portola Valley), or so distant from the job centers as to be unusable for mass housing without major upgrades to public transportation (e.g. Gilroy). In either case, the problem is not really “zoning”.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Where were you thinking of in particular?

            I was thinking mainly of the southeastern fringes of the Bay Area: Los Gatos, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, etc. I agree that these areas (especially Gilroy) are unsuitable for dense urban development without major infrastructure upgrades, but there’s plenty of room for development in these areas for car commutes into the South Bay (San Jose, Santa Clara, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View).

            There are also big restrictions via zoning and planning on commercial development in these areas. In Gilroy at least, they’re quite a bit worse than the restrictions of residential development (most notably the Measure H Urban Growth Boundary, which was specifically intended in part to prevent tech companies from setting up satellite campuses in Gilroy). These are significant because if tech companies could readily set up satellite campuses in Morgan Hill and Gilroy, then at least some of their employees could live in those cities and still have only a local commute.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes, I have vague plans to write a post that sketches out pretty much the same territory you’re mentioning, so thanks for the thought you’ve put into this.

      • hnau says:

        A Much-More-Than-You-Wanted-To-Know-style post about the effects of building more market-rate housing would be awesome. I was hoping we’d get something like that out of the adversarial collaboration contest (there were a few proposals), but no such luck.

      • yodelyak says:

        My simplest pro-NIMBY argument is that there’s a general push to facilitate “seeing like a state” has downsides, and the communities/groups/interests that effectively push NIMBY-type politics are often the best or even the only effective political check on centralized power’s desire to see like a state.

        • Statismagician says:

          This causes problems in that while e.g. power stations are objectively unpleasant to live near, they equally-objectively have to go somewhere. The State is not incorrect in noticing the lack of sufficient power stations, and the factors governing efficient-power-station-placement aren’t locally legible – the village doesn’t have hydroelectrical engineering data on hand, it just knows that the river is a great place for a picnic and that fishing is traditionally important.

          If the village doesn’t look powerful to the State [i.e. is poor/not a valued minority group/voted for the other guy/whatever] then it gets ignored and the power station gets build in the efficient place; if it does, the power station gets build ten miles up the river, some other community gets just as shafted, but now everything costs twice as much and only generates half the kW/h.

          Sometimes the village view is the right one. Sometimes the State view is the right one. Something something Arch-Fiend of Meta-Epistemological Murkiness?

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think Denver actually is on its way to becoming another tech hub, mostly via Boulder.

      • johan_larson says:

        If we use the heuristic that a true tech hub must have the HQ of at least one top tech company in the metropolitan area, then there are two true tech hubs in the US: Seattle (with Microsoft and Amazon) and San Francisco (with Google, Facebook and Apple). Other contenders for top tech company status, such as Oracle, eBay, Netflix, Twitter, and Uber also tend to be located in the San Francisco metropolitan area.

        The harder question is what areas qualify as second-tier tech hubs. NYC and LA probably qualify by sheer size, since even if the portion of companies that are tech companies is low, you still end up with a sizable number of second-tier companies and branch campuses of the majors. I keep hearing about Boston, Portland, Denver and Austin as good places for tech people. Not sure what other places rate. Pittsburgh, maybe?

        • Brad says:

          The DC area flies under the radar, and it’s true that companies working on social media for pets aren’t likely to be located there. But in overall tech job terms it’s a decent size player.

          • gbdub says:

            DC is huge for anything in government contracting (e.g. Defense) which absorbs a ton of STEM grads without standing out as being as “sexy” as the FANGs. I’d count it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s two related problems with tech in the DC area. One is a huge number of jobs require a security clearance. The other is that government contracting software jobs involve as much awful paperwork as you’d expect.

          • Erusian says:

            The problem with DC is that the government is so huge it strangles other industries. Plus it’s very much a company town and that company, the government, is specifically not supposed to be disruptive or innovative.

            There are certainly tech jobs. But the concentration of tech jobs is just not a great indicator. When controlling for population, iirc, DC doesn’t even make it into the top 20 for VC money.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      as if economics was some kind of rigorously quantitative field, as opposed to ‘astrology for dudes’

      I’m a pretty passionate YIMBY, but this alone tells me there is no rational discourse to be had here.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        That quote was especially hard to take coming from someone who talks about “demand” as if it were a scalar and “affordable” as if it were a Boolean.

      • hash872 says:

        I mean, I’m pretty comfortable with it. The consensus view that even many economists now embrace is that economics to date has been a largely theoretical and not empirical field, and that it’s going through a revolution with better data access now but it’s certainly not, like, a hard science. Ask any chemist or physicist you know what they think about the methodology and rigor of an economics paper. It’s pretty well established that they have little predictive power and mostly just make ad hoc justifications for phenomena

        • Squirrel of Doom says:

          If it’s such a consensus view even among economists, it’s strange that I’ve never heard of it. I’m not an economist at all, but I do follow it on a hobby level.

          Do you have a list a of a few reputable economists who have said so publicly?

          Let me try to not (only) be a condescending asshole: “Economics” describes a large number of disciplines, with variable levels of success, but the main division is between Macroeconomics and Microeconomics.

          Macroeconomics is a very difficult field of study, and may be in part impossible as a science, since the object it studies is aware of its findings, and changes itself to make them invalid as soon as they’re known. You may have heard people talk about this and overgeneralized.

          Microeconomics, which might better be called “price theory” is a quite solid hard science which has produced a lot of deep and important insights the last 1-2 centuries. I’d be very surprised if you found an economist who denies this. There is of course still more to discover, but that’s true of Physics as well.

          The NIMBY/YIMBY debate is solidly in the Microeconomics realm!

        • Brad says:

          Why does your field need a journal?

          Okay then. It’s your right to be obnoxious but only at the cost of your being convincing.

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          “The consensus view that even many economists now embrace is that economics to date has been a largely theoretical and not empirical field.”

          Name the last three economics papers you have read, on any subject.

          I will start. I think “mostly harmless econometrics” is a good read, and I have been reading a ton of stuff by Chernozhukov on using machine learning in causal problems.

          If you can’t name any recent papers you have read, name a list of economists/econometricians expressing your professed “consensus view” on the nature of economics.

      • hnau says:

        For me it was the use of “techbro” in the same paragraph.

    • sourcreamus says:

      Your first point does not make sense. If building new housing does not lower prices how does it induce new demand?
      You could say that given high demand building new housing will not lower prices enough to make a huge difference but it would make a small difference.
      However, even if the price lowering is small, it is still a large increase in utility since the bay area is the best place to live for a certain type of person and more housing would allow more of those types of people to live there. The tone of your post seems dismissive toward that type of person but I see no reason to not factor their utility in beside prejudice.

    • “Again, more supply only reduces average rents *with the same level of demand*. But if the Bay Area is the most attractive place in the US to live for young techbros, more apartments simply means more people can live there- completely negating any type of pricing advantage.”

      If the cost of living didn’t fall, what would cause the increased demand? You can’t just assume that more people buying proves that there is more demand. To give an example, there were a lot more buyers after they deregulated the airlines. This did not “cancel out” the price-reducing effect of the deregulation, because it didn’t reflect truly greater demand.

      “If one were designing the US from scratch, who would say ‘hmm yes, let’s put almost all of our nation’s technical capital right here in the most earthquake-prone part of the country, this seems like an excellent location’. I mean, we know with a high degree of certainty that California will suffer a very strong and damaging earthquake within the next century of less- just a question of when. Spreading out our urban strengths in multiple cities enhances redundancy against long-tail risks.”

      In countries with first world building standards, you’re not going to get hundreds of thousands killed in an earthquake.(c.f., Japan)

    • John Schilling says:

      I get really annoyed when anti-NIMBYists smugly pretend to have economics on their side (as if economics was some kind of rigorously quantitative field, as opposed to ‘astrology for dudes’).

      It is somewhat less quantitative than e.g. physics, and vastly more quantitative than e.g. every argument you are putting forward here.

      For example:

      Again, more supply only reduces average rents *with the same level of demand*. But if the Bay Area is the most attractive place in the US to live for young techbros, more apartments simply means more people can live there- completely negating any type of pricing advantage.

      Completely negating any type of pricing advantage? How do you expect this to actually happen? Yes, more people can live there, but how does it come to pass that more people will live there?

      In order for more people to live in the Bay Area(*), people who presently do not live in the Bay Area and would not have moved to the Bay Area if the status quo persisted, will have to change their mind and say, “Oh, in that case, I’m going to move to the Bay Area after all”. What’s going to make them do that? What sort of thing do you consider when you decide whether you ought to move to a place?

      Approximately nobody counts the total number of homes in a city vs. the total population of that city, in deciding whether to move there. And nobody says “I will move there if there are empty homes I could move in to”. There are always empty homes you could move into. There’s always someone who left their apartment last week and whose landlord hasn’t found a new tenant yet. Each and every person you think might move into the Bay Area next year if the number of apartments goes up, could have moved into the Bay Area last year. They didn’t.

      Because they didn’t think they could afford it, and probably rightly so. The one and only aspect of the real estate market that any one person considers when deciding whether to move into a desirable area is, “how much will it cost me to buy or rent an acceptable home”? Which differs from person to person, of course. The lower you set the price, the more people will say “yes, I can afford that and will move there”. And the decision is made one person at a time.

      And that’s the only financial factor that matters. Not total housing stock vs. population, but the rent for the next suitable apartment on the market. If you imagine all the new apartments filling up because all the people who didn’t move to the Bay Area last year, instead move next year, then the only thing that will make each of those people decide, one at a time, to make the move, is if the price comes down. If the price stays the same, their decision will stay the same, and they decided last year to stay away.

      More apartments means lower rents, EVEN IF people from outside your community are now saying “I want to move into those apartments in that community”.

      This is basic Econ 101 stuff, and you’ll look a lot less foolish if you familiarize yourself with it before you start talking about economic matters.

      * Neglecting the idea where people in the Bay Area decide to pair up and make babies faster than the geezers die off, because I know I’ve linked to the local population period before.

      • hnau says:

        +1 for explaining supply and demand in practical, non-magical terms.

        It’s not necessarily fair to say that housing prices are the only factor, though. People could be moving because of a job (it’s how I ended up in the Bay Area), possibly one that pays enough to offset the higher housing costs. I think that’s what Devon’s original post was getting at (that, and denser areas can support a greater quality and variety of businesses).

      • Scott Alexander says:

        The argument I’ve always heard is about elasticity. If the current rent is $2000, and there are a million people waiting to jump in once it becomes $1999, then it’s unlikely to get to $1998 any time soon. Even though those numbers are obviously exaggerations and simplifications, my impression is that something like this is going on that will make it very hard for moderate amounts of new housing to lower rents significantly.

        • John Schilling says:

          If the current rent is $2000, and there are a million people waiting to jump in once it becomes $1999, then it’s unlikely to get to $1998 any time soon.

          But the price has to go down to $1999 at least, or nobody changes their “meh, don’t bother to move to SF” decision and the new apartments sit empty and the landlords all feel silly for not knocking a dollar off the rent. So, yes, more apartments means lower rent.

          By more than a dollar, because as you admit, you greatly exaggerated the numbers. If you admit that economic cause X inevitably produces effect Y, but then knowingly and grossly exaggerate something that reduces Y so you can say “…and thus Y is negligible and nothing changes”, then I think you have departed from the path of wisdom.

          So don’t do that. If there are, say, 100,000 new apartments built in San Francisco last year, how much does the rent actually have to come down for a hundred thousand actual people who last year said, “San Francisco is nice and I’d totally move but for the single fact that it is too expensive” to change their mind?

          • yodelyak says:

            Not understanding Paul Zrimsek, I poked around for price elasticity of demand in the Bay Area, and found this link reporting on an apparently very well-received model for SF rents that uses three variables only: employment, wages, and the number of housing units.

            In Fischer’s model, a sustained doubling of housing construction can turn a $3,500 1-bedroom San Francisco apartment into a $2,500 one-bedroom San Francisco apartment (if employment and wages stay the same) by 2035.

            I don’t know what current construction rates are like, or whether doubling them (or even boosting them by 50%) is within the realm of the possible.

          • yodelyak says:

            Okay, looks like the housing supply in SF increased 12% from 1996 to 2016 (link), or around .6% per year.* So if you could push SF to boost that rate to 1.2%, that’d represent a doubling of SF’s build rate. Hold that boosted rate to 2025, and per my earlier link, you cut 2/7ths off of SF rents. That doesn’t seem out of the range of the possible to me, not at all. So, for the folks who argue against NIMBY here, what’s your data/model on the other side?

            * My quick back of the envelope to put that into an annual increase… My link gives 12% growth from 1996 to 2016, which is 20 years. 1.057 ^ 20 = 1.12.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            I’m giving a possibility proof of how supply can go up without cost going down significantly.

            I think the numbers support that this is true. Yodelyak is imagining absolutely complete YIMBY victory (I don’t know if anyone thinks we can double housing), and even so, all it means is if we really stick to it for a generation, my children will have apartments that are only somewhat unaffordable, if nothing else gets worse. As per yodelyak’s link, everyone interprets the study he cited as an argument against supply being very influential.

            The same is true of this Fed study, which finds that adding 5% more housing would lower rents by 0.5%.

            The same is true of this model which finds that in order to get median rents below $800 (plausibly a target for being affordable for the lower and middle class), San Francisco would have to dectuple its construction and continue at that rate for ten to fifteen years.

            I agree this is better than nothing, but if some people are arguing for rent control or public housing or something, I don’t think it’s fair to say “No, just build more houses!” as a counterstrategy when that won’t make anything affordable without implausibly large increases sustained over decades.

          • johan_larson says:

            I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to study San Francisco in isolation when discussing housing issues. It’s a small part of a larger urban area. Is there any particular reason why every municipality in that area needs to be affordable to people with Joe-jobs? Probably not.

            I suspect it would be possible to make the Bay area’s housing problems much more manageable, even while leaving the existing low-density areas as they are, by building up a ring of high-density areas around them, with good transit connections for commuters.

            Of course, even then, it would help if the low-density areas were allowed to densify, however slowly.

          • David Speyer says:

            Doubling housing construction, not doubling housing.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think the numbers support that this is true. Yodelyak is imagining absolutely complete YIMBY victory (I don’t know if anyone thinks we can double housing), and even so, all it means is if we really stick to it for a generation, my children will have apartments that are only somewhat unaffordable,

            Yodelyak was postulating a 22% increase in housing (1.2%/year for 17 years), not a doubling. That doesn’t strike me as implausible, and it does result in SF housing moving solidly into the “affordable” category for middle-class SF residents like your future children. And if that’s not a hypothetical, congratulations.

            The same is true of this model which finds that in order to get median rents below $800 (plausibly a target for being affordable for the lower and middle class),

            $800 for median rent? OK, yes, that is going to require at least doubling the housing supply. But, “affordable for the lower and middle class”?

            The median household income in the SF bay area is $96,677/year. Using the traditional rule of thumb that rent should be ~30% of gross income, that means the Bay Area’s middle class can readily afford $2417/month rent, and yodelyak’s math looks pretty good.

            But you did specify “lower class” as well. OK, a full-time minimum wage job, times 30%, gets you $572/month now and $780/month in 2022, so a good match for your $800 figure. But for a median apartment? If individual members of the Bay Area’s working poor with no roomates or working partners are snatching up the median apartments, who is living in the sub-median apartments that by definition make up 50% of the city’s housing stock? Are we leaving those empty so that the working poor don’t feel bad?

            It seems to me that the problem you are trying to solve – and you are far from alone from where I look – is not the potentially soluble problem of inadequate housing, but the insoluble problem of definitional poverty. Per the usual definition, middle-class people can afford median everything, and lower-class people cannot. That’s what being poor means – not being able to afford the median.

            If you set the goal as “make sure poor people are not deprived of the ability to purchase median goods”, you will fail and you may break the market in the process. If instead you target $2500/month median rent, with a range that includes $800/month SROs and boarding houses, that’s something you can achieve with reasonable levels of construction and that will provide actually-affordable housing for SF’s middle and lower classes.

          • cryptoshill says:

            @John Schilling – I will also argue that being pro-YIMBY also helps you indirectly in terms of “the poor not being able to afford the median goods” – more housing construction equals more newer buildings that are built to a higher standard even without government housing codes getting in the way (gfci outlets, asbestos, lead paint, open-space designs, those cool laminate planks that look and feel like “real wood” despite being made mostly of ceramic and rubber). So even though the poor still can’t afford the “median” apartment in SF definitionally, the definition of what a “median” apartment is has in fact, improved in quality.

          • Fossegrimen says:

            I always thought that the high prices was due to the ‘gravitational pull’ of all the techies already being there and thus causing all the jobs to be there.

            So you build a million houses that are filled with people @1999 which increases the pressure to move to the hub enough that the market will support a rate of 2100.

          • Deiseach says:

            The problem is somewhere like Dublin, which grossly imbalances the rest of the country. So since everything (including decent jobs) is there, then landlords can get away with high rents because it’s a toss-up between “move to Dublin” or “stagnate and get nothing where I am”.

            I’m wondering if the San Francisco problem isn’t the same; it’s not 100,000 general people who want to move to the City By The Bay, it’s 100,000 potential workers for the big tech companies who all want/need to live in a particular area in order to get to work without hours of commuting. Yeah sure, new hire from Idaho, you can rent a place for $800 a month – if you want to spend four hours round-trip getting to and from work, or you can pay me $1,600 a month for house sharing with five other people but you can bike to work in the morning. Don’t want it? Don’t worry, I have ten other potential tenants who’ll snap it up! And it doesn’t matter if another twenty houses are built on the same street because we can fill them up with all the incoming new people working for Big Tech Company who need/want to live in this area, at the same price!

            Eventually there will be a limit on “how many computer programmers can you fit into a square mile anyway” and then demand will drop and price with it, but I’m not seeing any slow-down as yet. Is there any estimation on how many new jobs Silicon Valley needs to fill each year, because that would give us an idea of X number of new people moving to SF for a job who need a place to live, then if we have an idea how much housing is available in the areas they want to live we can say “there needs to be Y number of new houses/apartment blocks/holes in the ground to meet demand”.

            EDIT: Wah-hey! A very helpful article on the subject, and yep, it agrees: more supply and fewer jobs means rents come down!

            Rents started to level off in early 2016, a trend that continued throughout the year.

            By the end of 2016, “job growth normalized from robust levels and apartment completions picked up. In turn, occupancy sagged and operators responded by cutting rents. The dip was temporary, though, and now that job growth and occupancy have improved, Bay Area pricing is once again on the rise,” RealPage said.

            …Since then [2017 ], rents have moved up, but not rapidly. “The slowdown the Bay Area has seen is due to more supply coming online” and more Millennials looking to buy, Clark said. “I think we are going to see (rent growth) stabilize around 1 to 2.5 percent. That’s in line with inflation. That is stable and sustainable in the long run.”

          • baconbits9 says:

            Wikipedia claims that GDP per capita in Dublin is lower than in the rest of Ireland.

          • yodelyak says:

            Replying to @Scott Alexander, limited to having read the Fed study he points at pretty closely.

            If I’m reading the Fed study right, it finds nothing contrary to my expectation that it should be possible to take policy action to significantly reduce rents in the Bay Area, or at least significantly reduce the rate at which Bay Area rents are increasing compared to a business as usual baseline. (For all I know 100k people who all make $400k/yr are about to get hired by Salesforce and told to move to SF. If that happens, I can’t solve it, but *not* building new things to house those newcomers will not help the situation.)

            Scott wrote

            The same is true of this Fed study, which finds that adding 5% more housing would lower rents by 0.5%.

            The study actually found this:

            We find that increasing the housing stock in the most expensive neighborhoods by 5% [but holding total housing everywhere else in the city constant] would only reduce equilibrium rents in those neighborhoods by less than 0.5%.

            Also, note that the Fed study uses these assumptions:

            An important reason for the low rent elasticity in the model is that we estimate a relatively low amount of preference heterogeneity across households. In other words, there tends to be more agreement than disagreement across households on which neighborhoods in the city have the most attractive amenities. This finding implies that the willingness to pay to live in a particular neighborhood for a household that is on the margin between living in that neighborhood and elsewhere will be similar before and after a change in housing supply.

            One potentially important assumption behind our analysis throughout this paper is that our model treats each city as a closed economy. Although households can choose from among many different types of neighborhoods within the city, they cannot choose to live outside the city, and households from outside the city cannot choose to move to the city. Therefore, in our counterfactuals where we expand the housing supply, we must assume that the new entrants to the city arrive exogenously, and we must make an assumption about the distribution of preferences among the new entrants. Our counterfactuals are concerned with small changes to the housing stock, so it turns out that our results are not too sensitive to this assumption. However, for larger changes to the housing stock of the city, the number and particular preference distribution of new entrants may become important for the main results.

            In effect, the Fed study looked at what the rental price change would be for renters on Knob Hill in SF if somebody with a single family mansion on Knob Hill kicked the bucket, left the property to their son-in-law who happens to be a high-rise developer, and he built 1000 awesome condos there. [If I understand their model right, it also assumes exactly 1000 people with preferences just like the ‘average’ San Franciscan concurrently move to SF.] Result: enough San Franciscans from outside Knob Hill move into Knob Hill that Knob Hill’s rental prices are barely affected.

            Most importantly, they expressly reject applying their result to city-wide regulations that restrict housing supply:

            The papers that find large effects of regulation on house prices are not necessarily at odds with our findings in this paper, because regulations can have very large effects on the housing stock. For example, Jackson (2016) finds that an additional regulation reduces residential permits by 4 to 8 percent per year. Glaeser and Ward (2009) estimate even larger effects on supply. These effects on construction can accumulate into very large changes to the housing stock, especially when these regulations are in place for many years, as is often the case. Thus, regulation may be associated with changes to the size of the housing stock that are outside the scope of our model for the reasons mentioned above.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          The estimates for price elasticity of demand that I found with a bit of poking around online were generally -0.5 or less-negative (long-term; short-term demand is even less elastic). So if applied to San Francisco’s approximately 200,000 rental units, your 0.05% rent decrease should eventually bring round about 50 new renters citywide.

          • yodelyak says:

            @Paul Zrimsek: I don’t understand how you’ve presented these numbers. (I have an undergrad degree in econ. from a good school, but am not professionally an economist.)

            John Schilling’s question makes sense to me. The independent variable should be “housing in SF (bedrooms for rent)” and the dependent variable should be “monthly rent (dollars)” or something like that. You seem to have presented rental units as a fixed number (200k) and declare a price decrease (But but but prices are set by markets! They go down for *reasons*!) of .05% (That is very small! Did you mean 5% or .5%?) and that causes more renters to move to the city (even though there are no additional beds for them, because you set the rental stock at 200k and haven’t changed it!)

            Do you see why what you wrote is hard to parse?

          • isotropy says:

            @yodelyak, I couldn’t reply to your comment, but I think the 0.05% here is just referring to the tiny decrease of $1 from a rent of $2000 to $1999 used in Scott’s example above. With Paul’s elasticity number, he’s calculating that each dollar decrease in rent makes the city affordable for ballpark 50 more renters.

          • yodelyak says:

            @isotropy

            Oh… .05% of 2000 is one, so a .05% decrease from $2000 is $1999. I see what you did there. I don’t think that’s what Zrimsek is doing.

            I suspect Paul Zrimsek of using Trulia’s data here, where Trulia describes SF as having an elasticity under .05 (not .05%). I think the measure Trulia is labeling as “price elasticity of demand” is perhaps better thought of as “price inelasticity of supply” which is to say, it’s not based on surveying people who might move to SF at different rental prices to gauge whether a new-hire Google employee will move to SF if rents are $2500, but won’t if they are $2600. Rather their metric is based on looking at how *supply* in SF changes when the median price of a rental unit goes up. The .05 number is a way of indicating that SF’s housing supply does not grow when prices go up, which is unusual compared to other areas. (Trulia’s methodology for calculating their “elasticity” number is to look at construction rates compared to rents. High elasticity would mean that rental increases result in proportionate construction increases–so rental price increases cause supply growth. Low elasticity means that as prices go up, construction rates do not, so *supply* is fixed.) To my ear, that tends to support the exact opposite of what Paul Zrimsek is saying it supports. To me, looking at the contrast between SF’s and the area’s data, versus Vegas’ data, as reported by Trulia, and it looks like if SF had taken a policy more like Vegas’ policy, 20 years ago, you’d get more construction in SF and prices would have likely moved upward much less quickly, and prices in SF would be somewhat more like what prices in Vegas are now.

            I’m still confused about his theory and direction of causality, so I have no idea what policy decisions would flow from his claim. What does the word “negative” mean in his comment? It would really help me if he (or someone) would label a dependent variable and independent variable(s), or use counterfactual type language where they posit a baseline, a policy intervention, and a difference from the baseline they expect would be caused by that intervention.

            Is he saying that if we build 50 beds more in the next year than we otherwise would, that will achieve a $1/mo rent price decrease? Would he expand that to say that if we built 50,000 more beds in the next year than we otherwise would, that will achieve a $10,000/mo price decrease? I don’t think he is saying that, but I’m not sure what, in fact, he is saying.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Vegas isn’t exactly a clear model to emulate here. Housing prices flew up prior to the bust, increasing almost 2.5x from 2000 to 2007 collapsed back to levels not seen since 1996 and has more than doubled since that trough.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Yodelyak, I was talking about what Scott said and nothing else (among other things, it explains why I said “your 0.05% rent decrease”). Note that that was concerned only with the demand curve; I would have let it pass as an exaggerated-for-clarity theoretical example if he hadn’t gone on to say “my impression is that something like this is going on”– pretty unlikely when you start with an elasticity that’s off by four orders of magnitude. As for your question about “negative”, that’s a hyphen in front of it, not an em-dash; I said “less-negative” because “less” by itself is easily misunderstood in relation to a negative number (-0.6 is less than -0.5, but of course I meant “in the direction toward zero”, not away from it.)

          • yodelyak says:

            Okay. Thank you for clarifying so I could have a second shot at understanding. I had misunderstood about as completely as it was possible to do. Hopefully the extra clarification was useful to others besides me.

        • Squirrel of Doom says:

          Even in that exaggerated example, a lot of people got housing who would not otherwise have it.

          Concretely, if the “moderate increase” is 10,000 units, and 2.4 people live per unit, 24,000 unhoused people got housing. That’s a big net positive as I see it!

          • LesHapablap says:

            Not only that, but it means a decrease in demand in other cities that these techbros would have chosen to live in otherwise.

            Somewhere, someone is going to benefit if you build more places to live. Places to live are a real form of wealth for society.

          • gbdub says:

            Right, if nothing else the additional housing in the super desirable city center will pull in some of the richer people that are driving up prices in the less desirable areas.

            So maybe San Fran proper is still crazy expensive, but San Jose becomes much more affordable.

        • Sui Generalist says:

          Let’s have a think about what a really elastic demand to live in SF means.

          The cost of producing new “SF housing” if development were to be permitted is very significantly less than the value of that development (current average rent is about $3750/month).

          Suppose there are a million people willing to move in if that price drops even a tiny bit.

          Then if we allow the building of a million new apartments, the price might not drop that much. But we’ve created a huge economic windfall because for each apartment there’s a gap of hundreds of thousands of dollars between how much it sells for and how much it costs to build.

          Of course large chunks of this profit would go to landowners and developers (hey, they have utility too!) but creating such a massive surplus would also mean a gushing torrent of revenue for local and state government, some of which could be reinvested in infrastructure to support the larger population.

          Sure, prices haven’t gone down (in this extreme-assumptions model) but we’ve still created a free lunch in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

      • The mistake you are pointing out is one that more often shows up in discussions of highway improvements. Someone argues that if you expand a highway so it won’t jam as badly more people will drive on it until it’s just as slow as before. They are forgetting that the only reason more people will drive on it is that it isn’t jamming as much as before.

        The correct conclusion, in both cases, is that the improvement (faster travel, lower rents) will be more than zero, less than what would happen if nobody shifted his behavior (using the route more, moving to the Bay Area) in response to the change.

        Part of the mistake, as an earlier commenter hinted, is thinking of demand as a number rather than a function of price and failing to distinguish between changes in demand and changes in quantity demanded.

        All of which, as I think several others have suggested, is elementary economics.

    • Guy in TN says:

      This is a good post. I’m an outsider to the whole YIMBY discussion (I live in a smallish city), but from what I’ve heard the arguments do seem simplistic.

      Let me offer an example that Californians may not be familiar with. In Tennessee, there’s a city called Oak Ridge that the US government built from scratch in the 1940s as a nuclear research hub. Its population went from 3,000 in 1942, to 75,000 in 1945.

      Two things can be learned from this. First, as you pointed out, increasing housing can induce demand, by attracting more people, jobs, and businesses. Today, its more expensive to rent in Oak Ridge than it is in the near-vacant farmland a few miles down the road. I doubt that even the most contrarian opinionator would dare to say this has nothing to do with the housing construction of 1942-1945.

      And second, it is evidence that the US government was historically capable of building a minor tech hub out of nothing but farmland. Today, a concentrated effort in a mid-size city would at least move the dial, assuming the government was willing to make significant investments like it was in the 1940s. While its unlikely that the government would be able to amass the resources to turn, say, Columbus Ohio into the next San Francisco, it could at least take a bit of the pressure off, by shifting where the jobs are.

      • hnau says:

        Yes, but that’s not really about housing– it’s about jobs. There are plenty of cases where single large employers (government or not) became the seed for industrial or tech hubs. On the other hand, I don’t know of any case where someone just built a ton of housing and got the jobs to follow it. The causation normally goes in the other direction.

        • Guy in TN says:

          The causation is multi-directional. More housing means more people, which means more jobs (positive externality, as you say). And conversely, a job in a city without affordable housing, means no job in that city at all (since you must leave).

          This is why you can’t necessarily say that building more housing will decrease home values, because you don’t know if it the increase in housing stock is enough to offset the demand you are inducing.

      • John Schilling says:

        If the government had built the research center but not the houses, telling everyone to commute from Knoxville, then the original thousand or so houses in the area would be even more expensive than they presently are, thanks to all the people bidding up the price to avoid the commute.

        More jobs means higher rent. More homes means lower rent. It really is that simple.

        • Guy in TN says:

          If the government had built the research center but not the houses, telling everyone to commute from Knoxville, then the original thousand or so houses in the area would be even more expensive than they presently are, thanks to all the people bidding up the price to avoid the commute.

          That’s nothing more than a just-so story. Another alternative, is that Oak Ridge would have been a massive failure without the corresponding houses being built, and worth nothing today.

          More jobs means higher rent. More homes means lower rent. It really is that simple.

          It’s really not that simple. And the reason is because of basic supply and demand:

          More houses -> more people -> increased demand -> higher rent.

          Your alternative only holds true if the increase in supply outpaces the increased induced demand, which you can’t say for certain.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            It’s really not that simple. And the reason is because of basic supply and demand:

            More houses -> more people -> increased demand -> higher rent.

            More houses doesn’t necessarily mean more people. The value of a house to a customer is specially tied to a number of factors in addition to its price, such as its location. Otherwise, I could build a lot of houses in the middle of the Mohave and expect people to spontaneously move in.

            In general, if I were to build houses somewhere where the benefit of living there undershot the benefit of living at a customer’s current location, I would have to lower the rent (in this case) farther than that difference. In this case, we’re roughly calculating the benefit of living as salary – rent, and is presumably a positive. If there are no jobs in my location, their salary would be zero, and the only way for me to make up the difference is to pay them to live there.

            Or somehow offer guarantees that the jobs are coming, which is essentially the same thing in this case as increasing job supply.

            There’s an argument to be made that jobs with no homes is a no-go either, but that isn’t really the case if you’re building a job generator within commuting distance of existing homes, even if the commute is arduous. A tough commute just means that the jobs have to be that much more lucrative. But that’s still infinitely easier than turning a profit on homes where the rent is negative.

          • John Schilling says:

            More houses -> more people -> increased demand -> higher rent

            So, building a house causes a man and a woman to make a baby? I did not know that, and should probably complain to my middle school sex ed teacher for leaving that out.

            Presumably you meant “more people in the Bay Area“, but that means the next step of your chain fails. Because the economic demand for housing in the Bay Area, is not limited to people who live in the Bay Area. The demand for housing in the Bay Area includes all the people who live in the Bay Area today, and all the people who might move there in the future. More specifically, the demand curve for e.g. 1BR SF apartments at $3000/month, consists of all the people living in SF today and paying at least $3000 for a 1BR apartment, minus all the ones who are going to move out if the price doesn’t drop below that point real soon, plus all the people who would move to SF if the price did drop below that point.

            Adding a new apartment to the market (and doing nothing else), increases the fraction of people on that list who live in SF, but it doesn’t change the number of people on the list. Which is what matters for supply-and-demand price theory purposes.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Adding a new apartment to the market (and doing nothing else), increases the fraction of people on that list who live in SF, but it doesn’t change the number of people on the list.

            It absolutely does change the number of people on that list. There is a fraction of people who will decide they want to move, not because of the drop in price of housing, but because of the increased job opportunities having more people in the Bay Area provides. Increasing the population creates business opportunities. You induce demand for housing when you increase the population, because you create more opportunities for jobs.

            Let me offer you an example. Let’s say there are 100 people who want to move to a plot of currently vacant land, if they can find housing there at a price they are willing to pay. A construction project creates an apartment complex that can house these 100 people at a price they agree to, so 100 people move there.

            Immediately, businesses notice that there is a 100-person-sized housing project with no gas stations, restaurants, stores, or anything nearby. Seeing a prime business opportunity, 20 additional people now want to live in that block of land. This additional 20-person size demand for housing was induced by the creation of the 100-person housing complex, and the subsequent 100 people moving there. These 20 people did NOT initially want to move there, and they are initially absent from your list. Building the housing put them on the list.

            To spell it out:
            More housing -> more people in the Bay Area -> additional people who want to live in the Bay Area than who would otherwise -> increased demand

            Of course, the increase in supply could be enough to counteract the increase in induced demand, and thus result in lower rents, but such things have to be investigated.

          • Plumber says:

            “…So, building a house causes a man and a woman to make a baby?….

            @John Schilling;

            In one case yes.

            The last recession dropped prices enough that we bought a house in 2011 (just before house prices climbed past their 2007 highs, and continued climbing).

            After we had a house we decided to have a second child, which we most likely would not have if we still lived in our old one bedroom apartment in Oakland. 

            If house prices hadn’t temporarily dropped there’d probably be one less human born.

    • So economics is “astrology for dudes” but your “top” arguments are just things you thought up. You don’t have any kind of empirical study supporting your arguments. You can’t just criticize economists for being theoretical and then do that exact thing.

    • Brett says:

      Original reply got eaten. I’ll try it without the links.

      1. That’s not what we’re seeing. In the face of increasing housing supply, rents in New York City and Los Angeles have either flattened or slightly declined in the past year or so, not continued to increase. Economics still governs housing.

      I don’t disagree with the idea that having more widespread prosperity and tech clusters would be good. But you’re just trying to export the problem rather than solving it, and it won’t work – NIMBY movements will and have arisen in cities outside of the big coastal cities as well. So you end up instead working on greenfield development – typically sprawl – with all the negative environmental consequences that entails. Actually fixing the problem would entail the federal and state governments moving to aggressively restrict local governments’ incredible amount of power over local housing regulations (which makes them very prone to being pulled under the control of local wealthy cliques of homeowners). To a lesser extent, it would also involve actually allowing some of the low income housing types that existed until they were banned or de facto regulated out of existence in the early 20th century.

    • Brad says:

      2. I want anti-NIMBYists to think carefully about the overall future of the US- not just their favorite city. Having all of our financial, technological, and cultural elites living in like 4 cities is *the* recipe for massive regional inequality- I’m pretty sure that’s like the literal plot of the Hunger Games. What becomes of the 99% of the country that’s not the Bay Area/NYC/LA? Why can’t we achieve our affordable housing goals by spreading white collar employers into Phoenix and Charlotte, Miami and Denver, Houston and Chicago…. I’m confused by liberal types who are nominally horrified by wealth inequality, yet want all of our nation’s wealth and social/technical capital to be concentrated in 1% of our physical geography.

      3. Stuffing all of our nation’s most important tech, finance and cultural firms into just a few relatively small areas violates some pretty basic systems engineering concepts around redundancy and resiliency. We are one earthquake, terrorist attack or natural disaster away from wiping out our nation’s whole competitive advantage in tech, in the Bay Area- especially the earthquake option! If one were designing the US from scratch, who would say ‘hmm yes, let’s put almost all of our nation’s technical capital right here in the most earthquake-prone part of the country, this seems like an excellent location’. I mean, we know with a high degree of certainty that California will suffer a very strong and damaging earthquake within the next century of less- just a question of when. Spreading out our urban strengths in multiple cities enhances redundancy against long-tail risks.

      Other countries exist! In particular, the UK, South Korea, and Japan exist. And they all only have one dominant city. When you expand out to four you are looking at huge swaths of the world. At least acknowledge and distinguish instead of pretending the US is the only country that exists and so we have no choice but to hypothesize in a vacuum.

      • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

        I’m not sure why you gave those three examples; so far as I’m aware, none of those cities have ever had a major natural disaster?

        • Brad says:

          They all have one city that dominates their respective nations financially, technologically, and culturally and also as it happens are the respective seats of government.

          Also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1855_Edo_earthquake

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Yes, I get that, but how are they relevant to the question of whether or not it is really wise to centralize that much? (“If the UK, South Korea and Japan all jumped off a cliff…”)

            … the 1855 quake might well be relevant, since as near as I can guess about 1 in 27 of Japan’s people lived there at the time. Except that (a) for all I know, the impact on Japan’s economy was in fact disastrous, the Wikipedia article doesn’t say; and (b) I’m not sure how much we can generalize from Japan’s 19th century economy to the modern day.

          • Brad says:

            We aren’t nearly as centralized as those countries. I’m hard pressed to think of a first world nation that’s less centralized along those axes than the United States, though admittedly adjusting for population is tricky one here.

            We have three top tier metropolitan areas — NYC, LA, and Chicago plus a separate large and influential seat of government district plus two high tech specialist cities (SF and Seattle) that together serve as the headquarters for 5 of 5 of the top largest companies in the country. Then we have however you want to characterize Houston and Dallas. While not my favorite places, they certainly aren’t dying backwater has-beens living in the shadows of more dominant cities.

            What other first world nations come close? The only ones I can think that would even be in contention are Germany and Canada.

            If it is such a bad idea for the future of the nation to have even this level of centralization wouldn’t we expect one of the many first world countries that are even more centralized to have already suffered permanent decline due to their even more highly centralized natures?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I found Brad’s post to be very insightful.

          • Matt M says:

            I also agree with Brad on this one.

            Although I’m under the impression that this is quickly happening in China as well. That there are more large/influential cities than the average Westerner might be aware of. Despite the fact that their political system would not seem to encourage “decentralization” as an ideal…

          • Jaskologist says:

            Those other countries are much smaller geographically than the US. I’d be interested in seeing comparisons of how many “major cities” (however defined) the US has compared to Europe or Asia as a group, rather than individual European countries which could plausibly be serviced by a single city.

          • Brad says:

            I fail to see what geographic area has to do with the need for more cities? Is Greenland in desperate need of more financial/technological/cultural centers?

            The larger issue here is that this “need” as a whole is entirely underjustified.

        • John Schilling says:

          so far as I’m aware, none of those cities have ever had a major natural disaster?

          Ninja’d by Brad on the Edo Earthquake, but why are you limiting this to natural disasters? If you’ve got one premier city and you have neighbors, then your neighbors may well observe that, nice city you’ve got there, shame if something were to happen to it.

          One can argue that it is foolish to put so many of a nation’s economic eggs in one basket, but as Brad notes we do have the data to look at. The economic concentration provides great dividends in time of non-disaster, and nations can bounce back from the destruction of their premier cities quite quickly.

    • John Schilling says:

      Also, if the “anti-NIMBY” movement is just about housing in San Francisco, then the United States has maybe fifty years before it goes from BANANA(*) Republic to Mad Max. San Francisco isn’t the only city with a housing crunch, and housing isn’t the only thing being driven down and/or out by the NIMBYs.

      But yeah, Bay Area, maybe they will come up with a good idea and use it exactly and only to solve their one immediate problem and say “mission accomplished”.

      * Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone

    • Plumber says:

      As far as The City and County of San Francisco goes my first comment to a SSC thread addressed some issues about more building in The City, which I’ll re-post here: 

      “”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.”

       Amusing article.

      People really didn’t understand why people want to live in The City, and that demand compounds?

      Besides, I’ve spent a couple of years working for The Port and The Department of Public Works for The City and County of San Francisco, and note something that the “Just build more” types don’t explain away is the real physical infrastructure limits as well as the political ones to housing more people in San Francisco.

      First, in an already crowded city, people don’t want to lose their parks, so you can’t build there.

      Second, Treasure Island, and by the old Hunters Point Shipyards are toxic places to build, cleanup will be extremely expensive, that’s why there isn’t more new housing already!

      Third, during heavy rains the sewage treatment plants are overloaded already and Federal limits on high much untreated sewage can go into the Bay are exceeded.

      Hope for more droughts if you want to pack more people in here!

      Expand the sewage treatment plants?

      On what land, and with what money?

      Plus the pipes under the streets are already way past due for replacement (many are more than a century old).
      physical infrastructure limits as well as the political ones to housing more people in San Francisco.

      But having said that, I have indeed read of at least one town (Brisbane) that the limits to more housing are indeed political not physical, and if left to the market more houding would’ve already been built there, but unless the State overrides the local governments I don’t see much hope for relief.”

      • baconbits9 says:

        Most infrastructure scales well with use, there are some exceptions and I would guess that iconic bridges might fit into that subset. However the issue is likely to be in the bay area that you have to change your infrastructure, not just try the same ratios and implementations as were used during the build up. NIMBYism has a tendency to stop those projects as well as the larger housing projects and other visible changes, meaning that improvements are often expensive and only marginally productive.

      • Deiseach says:

        This is the kind of interesting and informative comment that makes SSC so educational.

        I’d like to know more about this bit:

        Expand the sewage treatment plants?

        On what land, and with what money?

        I can see the land crunch, but why haven’t they the money? What are the SF Board of Supervisors doing – never mind, I just answered my own question.

        • Brad says:

          They have more money than they’ve ever had using whatever deflator you care to use.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          I can see the land crunch, but why haven’t they the money?

          The question isn’t just why don’t they have the money, but also why wouldn’t they have the money? The more people move into an area, the more tax revenue local government has to play with. So you need more infrastructure but you can also afford more infrastructure. Even better than that, higher densities make stuff like trains and subway lines inherently more profitable – one ought to be able to use the extra BART and CalTrain revenue from increased ridership to buy more trains and hire more conductors and such.

          • johan_larson says:

            The answer is a messed-up tax structure and a general reluctance on the part of voters to say yes to taxes that pay for infrastructure. In California, Proposition 13 pushed down property tax rates a lot, froze taxes of home owners who stay in their homes and don’t upgrade them, and generally made it difficult to raise new taxes.

            I seem to recall that municipalities generally make money on new commercial developments, but lose money on new housing.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It probably wouldn’t be difficult to fix these issues if you got passed the basic NIMBY stuff as you could pass a good chunk of the taxed onto the new developments.

      • Tenacious D says:

        With respect to wastewater, they could potentially expand the treatment capacity in their existing footprint with some (expensive) modifications–replacing secondary clarifiers with ultrafiltration membranes is something that has been done in a number of places. And as the century-old buried infrastructure is slowly replaced, hopefully wastewater and stormwater flows can be separated.

        • Plumber says:

          Yeah, that sewage and storm water aren’t seperate is an old city problem, newer towns build them separate.

          A larger issue is that people who want to live in a place but don’t yet aren’t voters there yet and current residents have no incentive to vote tax themselves more in order to crowd in more neighbors.

          The State would have to overrule municipalities, but few politicians have much incentive to make it easier for their constituents to move elsewhere against the will of the current residents.

          I like the way my neighborhood is now and I don’t want it more crowded, but I also want my son’s to be able to afford to live in nearby, but there really isn’t a way (that I know) to square that circle.

          • gbdub says:

            Given their immense impact on the fortunes of the state and regions, I do think large municipalities should be overruled more frequently by their state governments, not that I really know how to achieve it.

            It seems like big cities are the sweet spot for lousy and/or outright corrupt governance. Small enough to affect a near-permanent takeover of the institutions that matter, large enough to be worth the effort.

          • Matt M says:

            current residents have no incentive to vote tax themselves more in order to crowd in more neighbors.

            I dunno. A whole lot of people keep going on about how great and awesome large, dense, cities are.

            If you’re someone who thinks that Manhattan and downtown SF are just the coolest, why wouldn’t you vote to make your own slice of suburban hell a little more like that?

          • Plumber says:

            “If you’re someone who thinks that Manhattan and downtown SF are just the coolest, why wouldn’t you vote to make your own slice of suburban hell a little more like that?”

            @Matt M,

            My guess is that folks who think “downtown is the coolest” tend to be younger.

            Younger people tend to vote less, so they’re out voted by those who like less density, plus those with enough money who want to live downtown already do, so in order to transform “suburban hell” to be more like “downtown” you’d have to have a community where the majority of voters wanted more density and builders foresaw profits.

            Mostly where I see permits and developments for greater density is in “transit hubs” where “new urbanism” convinces politicians to approve increased density which is usually opposed by the immediate neighbors (though I did know a homeowner who had solar panels who didn’t fight the house next door being turned into four condos because “It fights sprawl”, but she’s a rare exception).

            If there’s only increased density effecting few enough voters, the politicians may keep their jobs, but too much can lead to voter revolt.

            I’d compare it to San Leandro, California where a bunch of private homes got seized by eminent domain so car dealerships could be built there instead (this was so the dealerships could move out of next door Oakland), San Leandro wanted the dealerships for the sales tax revenue (and to clear out long-term Prop 13 low tax rate owners), and San Leandro then built a new library and swim center, so the remaining San Leandro residents got goodies, and the displaced homeowners mostly had to move out of town and didn’t vote in San Leandro anymore anyway.

            If, however, enough residents found that they were going to be displaced, and an election was close enough, maybe they could have prevented it, but that’s not what happened.

    • Nootropic cormorant says:

      What I’m wondering about is how Silicon valley moguls haven’t crushed NIMYism by now. Who are these locally connected rich home owners that have more political clout that Jeff Bezos?

      • hnau says:

        Jeff Bezos lives in Seattle, but I take your point.

        My guess is that rents aren’t a major pain point for Silicon Valley companies at the moment. Good software engineers are hard to find for reasons that have little or nothing to do with housing, and they’re in very high demand, so salaries (yes, even starting salaries) have gone up to the point where Silicon Valley housing seems pretty affordable.

        There are also political reasons for Silicon Valley companies not to make a big issue of housing. Image is a big concern for them, so they don’t want to start a fight with local governments that will make them look bad. It’s also possible (I’m not well informed on this) that they’re getting sweet deals in other respects, e.g. taxes, and don’t want to rock the boat. Anyway, what political capital they have goes toward securing new office space. Commercial property in the Bay Area is even harder to find than residential.

        As far as the locally connected rich homeowners go: 1. almost every Silicon Valley homeowner is rich by definition, and 2. city government is disproportionately dominated by who shows up– i.e. longtime homeowners with time on their hands who live downtown, not 20-something renters with long workdays and no idea whether they’ll still be there in five years. Mountain View, where I live, is 60% renters by population, but I bet the ballots in local elections are >50% homeowner cast, and as far as I know all the city council members are homeowners.

        • Matt M says:

          Good software engineers are hard to find for reasons that have little or nothing to do with housing, and they’re in very high demand, so salaries (yes, even starting salaries) have gone up to the point where Silicon Valley housing seems pretty affordable.

          Generally agree with this. Facebook and Google are rich enough that that they can afford to pay their talent whatever it costs to locate them in SF. Same with the latest hot new startup backed by serious PE money.

          The biggest threat, IMO, isn’t housing cost, but rather the general shitholeishness of the Bay Area driving away talent who say “I will not live or work there for any price”

          • Brad says:

            That’s fine for twenty somethings, but even google and facebook can’t afford to pay salaries necessary to buy the kind of housing their older workers are going to want.

            Well, can’t is not quite right. They could afford it, but Wall Street is just not going to accept those kind of compensation costs for any company except Goldman Sachs.

            In the past this has been papered over with stock. If you went to go work at google at 25 by the time you were 35, if you were still there you were likely a stock multimillionaire so it didn’t matter that you were “only” making $300k. It’s unlikely that papering over will be able to continue over the next decade.

            One option is to let your mid senior people migrate to branch offices and keep the Bay Area for twenty somethings and high level executives, but that strikes me as dangerous culturally.

          • Matt M says:

            That’s fine for twenty somethings, but even google and facebook can’t afford to pay salaries necessary to buy the kind of housing their older workers are going to want.

            Not sure if it’s the chicken or the egg, but perhaps this is why they recruit so heavily from the hipster demographic. Young SJW types whose primary desire in life is to make money, buy expensive Sushi, and live the DINK dream.

            I think there’s some self-selection going on there, too. It doesn’t strike me that software would necessarily be the career of choice for someone who knows that they will be family-inclined in the future, and “This occupation will probably require me to live in SF or Seattle” is certainly a factor in that decision calculus.

          • John Schilling says:

            but even google and facebook can’t afford to pay salaries necessary to buy the kind of housing their older workers are going to want.

            This is a feature, not a bug. They don’t want their older workers to continue being their workers, but it is politically unpalatable if not illegal to fire them just for being old.

          • arlie says:

            @Brad

            but even google and facebook can’t afford to pay salaries necessary to buy the kind of housing their older workers are going to want.

            This older tech worker is living quite comfortably in the SF Bay area 😉

            It’s a trusim locally, mind you, that the older would-be suburbanites prefer companies with offices down towards the south end of the bay (i.e. near San Jose) and the younger hipster set prefer offices in or near San Francisco.One tech firm I worked for had two local offices, and offered new employees a choice of where they’d be based. (I picked Sunnyvale, where most of those sitting near me were middle aged with kids.)

            And no, I don’t have a major successful IPO somewhere in my past. Some company stock provided useful bonuses, but nothing hugely lifechanging.

          • Matt M says:

            One tech firm I worked for had two local offices, and offered new employees a choice of where they’d be based. (I picked Sunnyvale, where most of those sitting near me were middle aged with kids.)

            A consulting firm I once worked for also did this. The downtown SF office housed almost all of the junior and senior consultants. Virtually all of the partners operated out of the “silicon valley” office near Palo Alto.

          • pontifex says:

            It’s really annoying when people gloss “San Francisco” into “Sillicon Valley.” Sillicon Valley is an hour’s drive from SF, even without traffic. They are not the same thing at all.

            Most older people don’t want to live in San Francisco because it’s not a great place to raise kids. And when you’re older, you spend more time with your family, and less time at bars or events. So once they hit their thirties, people move out. Hence keeping the place “cool” for the next batch of 20-somethings, arriving on the next bus. It’s been this way for decades at this point.

            If you’re an older tech worker in the Bay Area, you should be making at least 150k/year. If you work at a FANG, you can make double or triple that easily, just in salary. That pays for housing somewhere in the south or east bay.

            Most of the FANGS are monopolies in their own little areas. For example, Google makes over a million dollars in revenue per employee. They can afford to be generous. It’s not all stock-based compensation.

            Startup companies are the ones whose compensation is mostly stock-based. And usually, your lottery ticket is not worth anything. But the politics are a lot less terrible than at the bigger companies.

          • Brad says:

            Honest question: if someone works at Google or Facebook headquarters and wants to buy a single family detatched house on no less than 1/8 acre within 30 minutes door to door commute to his office, what is he realistically looking at paying? What about 60 minutes?

          • Eric Rall says:

            Honest question: if someone works at Google or Facebook headquarters and wants to buy a single family detatched house on no less than 1/8 acre within 30 minutes door to door commute to his office, what is he realistically looking at paying? What about 60 minutes?

            Assuming you mean 30 minutes with traffic during standard tech-company commuting hours, the answer for the Google campus is probably something is Santa Clara (20-40 minutes with traffic each way, according to Google Maps). It looks like detached single-family houses with 6500+ sq ft lots (a little more than 1/8 acre) in Santa Clara start at around $1.2 million. The houses themselves are mostly in the 1000-1300 sq ft range. Redfin’s payment calculator tells me that work out to $6,354 per month in mortgage ($4,936), taxes ($1,198
            ), and insurance ($220) after a $239,600 down payment.

            One hour with traffic will get you to South San Jose or Fremont, where you can get a similar house in some neighborhoods in the $800k-900k range. That works out for $4,238 per month in PITI after a $159,800 down payment.

            If you have more flexibility in your working hours and can shift your schedule to avoid traffic, then South San Jose and Fremont come within the 30 minute radius, and the 60 minute radius opens up to include places like Gilroy. The low end of the single-family on 1/8 acre market in Gilroy looks like $650k-700k, or $3,553 per month with a $134,000 down payment. This also gets you a bit more house than you’d get in the South Bay proper: more like 1500 or 1600 sq ft instead of 1000 to 1300.

            Facebook’s HQ is further up the peninsula, in Menlo Park. 30 minutes with traffic only gets you to Mountain View, where the bottom end of the single-family on 1/8 acre market looks like about $1.7 million, for $9,011 per month in PITI after a $339,800 down payment.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Jeebus those numbers are nuts. You could get a comparable home outside Philadelphia for under $200,000, and tech jobs exist that pay into the low 100,000s. The difference in mortgage payments alone is close to $5,000 a month, or $60,000 a year, or in the ball park of $80,000 in pre tax earnings.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If you’re an older tech worker in the Bay Area, you should be making at least 150k/year. If you work at a FANG, you can make double or triple that easily, just in salary. That pays for housing somewhere in the south or east bay

            Unless salaries have gone up a lot since I worked at Google, definitely not $300k easy in just salary, or even salary + bonus. More like low $200s salary + bonus. Equity compensation was considerable however.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Unless salaries have gone up a lot since I worked at Google, definitely not $300k easy in just salary, or even salary + bonus. More like low $200s salary + bonus. Equity compensation was considerable however.

            That’s about what I’m getting as a Senior SDE (level 63) at Microsoft’s Sunnyvale office, and it’s consistent with what I remember from when I worked for Google a few years back.

          • Brad says:

            @Eric Rall

            Thanks!

            It looks like detached single-family houses with 6500+ sq ft lots (a little more than 1/8 acre) in Santa Clara start at around $1.2 million. The houses themselves are mostly in the 1000-1300 sq ft range. Redfin’s payment calculator tells me that work out to $6,354 per month in mortgage ($4,936), taxes ($1,198), and insurance ($220) after a $239,600 down payment.

            At front end DTI of 28, that’s income of $272k.

            One hour with traffic will get you to South San Jose or Fremont, where you can get a similar house in some neighborhoods in the $800k-900k range. That works out for $4,238 per month in PITI after a $159,800 down payment.

            That’s $181k.

            Facebook’s HQ is further up the peninsula, in Menlo Park. 30 minutes with traffic only gets you to Mountain View, where the bottom end of the single-family on 1/8 acre market looks like about $1.7 million, for $9,011 per month in PITI after a $339,800 down payment.

            $386k

            You can get someone to write a mortgage at higher than 28 DTI, because we are back to crazy pants land but it’s probably not a good idea. That’s especially true if you are in a high income tax state, which the formula does not take into account.

            The bottom line seems to be that if you are willing to do a miserable hour long car commute (do the company buses run down to South San Jose and/or Fremont?) you can almost certainly make it work. If you want to cut that down to a half hour, you can probably get there with even a low earning spouse if you work at google, but the numbers are significantly harder to make work at facebook.

            Contra baconbits9 that’s a little less bad than I would have guessed.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I find it interesting that you view those numbers as less bad, Brad :).

            $200,000 extra in down payment at 5% over the 30 years is $850,000 compounded, at 7.5% its 1,800,000. That is how much your 1.2 million dollar house has to appreciate by the time you pay off the mortgage just to cover the opportunity cost of not buying in an area where you can put $40,000 down.

            Anyway, its all bonkers to me and I will continue assuming that a large percentage of these people are making these decisions based on nominal higher pay or prestige of working at these firms and not life long net earnings.

          • Plumber says:

            When I worked construction in “Silicon Valley” (typically Palo Alto or Santa Clara), while I lived a two to four hour drive in Oakland, most of my co-workers either slept in someone’s garage, lived in their vehicles, or had a four to six hour commute to Stockton, California.

            A typical strategy was to start driving at 2 to 3AM to beat traffic and have just a one hour drive-in commute (two hours on Mondays because you’d compete with those who had weekend homes), and sleep in the car until start time.

            Now I work near downtown San Francisco which is a 25 minute commute at midnight, but is typically a 90 minute commute, but has been up to 210 minutes when I was called for an emergency at Noon on a Saturday (yes traffic is worse on the weekends!).

            We bought our first house, a two bedroom, one bathroom house that’s 15 miles from my work for $550,000 in 2011, when I was 43 years old, then rented it out to an overpaid UC Berkeley professor (when the revolution comes he’s on the list!) for 18 months until we moved in. An equivalent house across the street sold last year for $1.1 million.

            Why do I live here?

            I was born here, like the familiar and hate the weather and how the water tastes most other places I’ve seen, also I’m just plain stubborn, and I don’t want to be forced out.

          • pontifex says:

            There are other options than standalone houses, of course. There are condominiums, townhouses, and so on. The new construction around here is almost all three or four story townhouses. You can also rent out a room for $1000 a month, or two rooms for twice that, to help with the mortgage.

          • Brad says:

            @baconbits9

            I expected most of the commutable region to be closer to the quoted Mountain View price.

            It sounds like a house in Santa Clara is it at least within the realm of possibility for a senior software engineer with a spouse that’s a teacher or similar.

            They’d still have to come up with a quarter million for a down payment and closing costs—which post tax is something like $40k/year in forgone consumption for a decade—but at least the possibility exists.

            @pontifex
            I’m in my late 30s and living in an apartment. But that doesn’t seem to be the preference of most my age cohort.

          • Matt M says:

            Brad,

            Are you single? There’s pretty much no reason for a single person not to live in an apartment.

      • Nornagest says:

        Tech companies in the Bay don’t have as much political influence as you’d think. They have a lot of money , but that doesn’t easily translate into votes without doing a lot more overt campaigning than they’re generally willing to.

        • Plumber says:

          It must be COMPLETELY COINCIDENTAL that AirBnB contributed to Mayor Ed Lee’s campaign, and he vetoed a bill thar would have imposed a 60 night annual limit.

          • Nornagest says:

            As far as I’m concerned, that’s bad policy and Ed Lee made the right call, coincidence or not. But AirBnB (and also Uber and Lyft) are exceptional: they invest a lot more in politics than the average tech company because their business plans depend on certain gaps in regulation continuing to exist.

            Even for them, though, getting their way on development policy would take a lot more influence than getting their way on taxis or hotels: they probably couldn’t do it with the amount of money they have to spend. Real estate is just way too closely tied to local politics. There’s a reason why you don’t hear about anyone “disruptively innovating” in the real estate market.

          • yodelyak says:

            Actually, there are disruptive innovations in the real estate market, but they’re often extremely big gambits by extremely deep pockets.

            E.g., look into the class action lawsuits against MERS. Historically, if you wanted to sell your house, or get a second mortgage, you and your bank had to navigate your state’s/county’s relevant property laws, which often required e.g. paying a $20 fee to record the loan and preserve a clean record of exactly who has what interests in the house for what reasons. Either MERS has successfully subverted local governmental power to regulate clean title and tax every newly originated loan on a house with a $20 fee (it sure tried to dodge all that), or it hasn’t.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @yodelyak

            I believe you are misrepresenting what MERS does. Their system handles mortgage re-assignment without the involvement of the counties, not the sale of the property (and consequent settling of the lien) or creation of new mortgage liens.

          • yodelyak says:

            @The Nybbler

            I think my use of the phrase “newly originated” does not match my understanding, and is wrong/misleading as you say.

            I should have said that as I understand it, what MERS aimed to change was that every time a mortgage changes hands *after* the origination of the mortgage, a new filing fee would (if the county’s authority meant anything) need to be filed with an updated record of the new mortgage owner. The MERS system represents a big gambit versus state authority, on a national scale. In Oregon, at least versus Multnomah County, MERS’ gambit went to court, and eventually settled, with MERS paying $9 million to settle the county’s claim for unpaid filing fees and damages to the clear title of every resident of the county, as well as promising that MERS would hereforth behave better (though I didn’t follow the details).

            Here’s a link to the settlement press coverage.

            (Normally if a bank sells a mortgage to another bank, either a filing fee is paid to the relevant county or other state government to record the transaction publicly, or important rights of the original bank do not transfer to the new bank, and a ‘cloud’ can form on the title to the house in general, as anyone buying or selling it now has to wonder about whether they can expect to get stuck in litigation and maybe end up not owning it on a formality.) Basically, a component of the MERS scheme is that because MERS is printed on the title in the relevant filing office, the banks that bundle lots of mortgages together, and then sell tranches of those bundles (which in turn are sold and resold and resold, all remotely.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            The claim that MERS clouds the title is a pretty transparent excuse when what the counties are really torqued about is filing fees. If the note is paid off (e.g. during sale), the MERS lien is removed from the title. If the house is foreclosed by the senior lienholder, that clears the title on its own. What happened in between doesn’t matter. MERS used to allow foreclosures by the actual bank in the name of MERS; this was legal in some jurisdictions but not in others, and MERS no longer allows that. Instead, the lien is transferred (by the standard paper process) from MERS to the foreclosing bank before the procedure begins.

            But as far as I can tell, while banks were taking paperwork shortcuts (not keeping track of the physical mortgage note, in particular) and MERSs procedures weren’t 100% legal in some jurisdictions, there was no cloud on title nor were homes foreclosed upon which weren’t in default (at least, not because of MERS).

          • yodelyak says:

            @The Nybbler

            I’m not a property law attorney. I think I’m going to stop following this thread, because I feel weird talking about this as though I know, when all I’ve done is read a few headlines and a couple things a friend (who originates loans for a credit union) sent me. If you are really interested in getting a discussion on it, if you start a thread in the next open, I bet you’ll get some folks with much more knowledge than me to chime in. I’m not comfortable agreeing with you that there’s definitely no cloud on a title that has MERS on an active loan on that title. The easiest thing I can argue from is the problem would be things like local attorneys telling their clients there is a potential problem, charging $500 or $1000 to “look into it” before deciding that at least in the specific case of the specific homeowner, there is no problem. If I were an attorney who mostly does something adjacent to titles, but sometimes looks at titles, how much would you blame me if I billed a few extra hours at my usual rate the first time I saw a MERS mortgage because I didn’t know how to feel about it? What about a few of my hours and a five to ten of a junior attorney’s hours, after I asked the junior attorney to check on it, and they made the wrong call to start with? You can say the county’s concerns about clean title are a transparent excuse, and all they really care about is fees, but if I don’t agree, how could we settle this dispute… except to spend money on lawyers?

            Only slightly harder to argue is that MERS’ filing runaround actually does create questions of priority among lienholders. I still think there’s the situation where a second-in-line mortgage forecloses, and argues the first-in-line lien was not perfected and is consequently a junior, not a senior lender, because the second-in-line was not properly on notice about it, because “MERS” was not the actual owner of the lien, or because filing fees weren’t paid, or or or. Sure, that makes no difference to the original owner (who is now not an owner, because foreclosure), but that doesn’t answer which lender is now senior. You can say “obviously the second lender was on notice, and is still junior” but if they say different (say they see you as just someone who has fallen for the MERS gambit, which is obviously not an acceptable method for filing and perfecting a lien on real property) where normally the local county paperwork would be pretty dispositive, now it seems to me there’s a very good chance both banks end up in court.

    • sohois says:

      1. But what happens if more units are no constructed, and demand increases? San Francisco is not the most expensive city in the world, so it’s hardly like they have reached some kind of price ceiling beyond which demand simply will not rise. Perhaps denser cities will only succeed in maintaining house prices as more and more people look to migrate to the so-called tier 1 cities, but even that is a clear improvement over a further rise in house prices.

      And on the subject of the most expensive cities in the world, why do you frame your argument as criticising the “anti-Nimby movment”, but then proceed to talk only of San Francisco? YIMBYism is a national and international cause, and even if you have specific arguments against more building in the Bay area, there are plenty of people in Vancouver, or London, or Sydney that will benefit from an increase in housing supply. In fact, the only mega city that doesn’t have to worry about massive rises in housing costs is Tokyo, a city with many of the same structural issues as San Francisco (hard limit on physical space, risk of earthquakes) but one whose sensible building regulations have defeated the massive housing cost increases seen everywhere else.

      2. Again, if you just want to make a San Fran or US argument that’s fine, but not every country has a bunch of mid-tier cities ready and willing to absorb the excess masses. In the UK, London is so dominant that it would take decades of work to bring up a Manchester or Edinburgh; far easier to just increase supply in London.

      3. A fair point, but I think you overestimate that potential damage of an earthquake. Earthquakes largely cause building damage, not people damage, and for those businesses that are harmed they are unlikely to place much of their value in physical assets in any case. A modern tech firm is going to have dozens of redundancies spread out across server farms.

      4. Perhaps instead of punishing city residents with higher property prices, the US should just figure out a sensible voting system?

      5. Reversed Stupidity is not intelligence. Yes, it is true that some YIMBYs have unrealistic ideas about what will happen. But plenty of people will be well aware of likely outcomes – such as simply preventing further price rises – and so you should argue against them, not against the weakest proponents of the idea.

      6. As pointed out with Tokyo, much larger cities have been able to maintian manageable infrastructure and transport.

    • Matt M says:

      It’s more realistic (easier to make say Denver a tech hub and get a lot of startup & tech employers there, than it is to defeat entrenched homeowners in Menlo Park who vote en masse).

      No it isn’t.

      Every one of those cities has been actively trying to do this for years already.

      • Brad says:

        There have been some modest success—Austin, Boulder, Portland, and even Pittsburgh (!).

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, but for every one of those, there’s five decaying rust-belt cities who claim they are re-inventing themselves as “tech hubs” but have achieved approximately nothing.

          I did my MBA internship in Indianapolis. The local government hyped up their efforts quite a bit. The results were… less than impressive. (That said, I liked it there. To me “tech hub” = “import a lot of progressives.” I live in Houston and I’m quite glad that Austin is the “tech hub” and not us.)

          • pontifex says:

            To me “tech hub” = “import a lot of progressives.” I live in Houston and I’m quite glad that Austin is the “tech hub” and not us.

            Hey. Let’s be fair.

            Tech hub also = having a totally dysfunctional, rent-seeking, and corrupt city government.

            Like how Portland dumped 38 million gallons of water after one guy peed in the reservoir. Or how Austin tried to ban Uber and Lyft from the city. Or SF spending 30k on each homeless person in the city.

          • dick says:

            I don’t think “tech hub” means anything more rigorous or specific than “popular place for young CS grads to move to”.

        • Nick says:

          Cleveland has been developing a healthcare information technology industry for a while. We have the concentration of hospitals for it, and we did have our first unicorn last year, CoverMyMeds, but I don’t know that our universities can meet the demand. (Case Western’s CS department doesn’t compare favorably to Carnegie Mellon’s, to give one comparison.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            You don’t need local universities to meet the demand, and there is no reason that successful Cleveland based companies can’t recruit from Carnegie Mellon.

          • Nick says:

            Hey, I’m only mentioning it because people make a big deal about the number of startups and patents and so on that come out of universities like Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon.

    • Murphy says:

      1: when you start by comparing economics to astrology… that does not say good things.

      Sure, it’s hypothetically possible that increasing supply will actually increase demand… but cases like that are super rare and it puts it squarely in the court of the anti-increaseing-supply people to make a really really solid case that this is one of those rare cases. Just generally insulting people doesn’t make the cut. Just stating that it’s theoretically possible is on a par with pointing out that there are hypothetical flat mega-structures that could support life on their surface. The hypothetical is not enough on it’s own.

      2:

      Have you bitten the bullet and moved away from the tech hubs yourself? Or should that cost only be born by everyone else?

      3:

      You already mentioned network effects. There are massive advantages to being near facilities that cater to you. Being able to walk down the hall and find the guy who build the tech your system is built on can be a big deal.

      But again, feel free to be the one who eats the cost of enhancing durability by moving yourself.

      4: same answer as 2&3.

      If people cared that much then democrats could move a few million people around and take almost complete control of everything. Unfortunately people aren’t terribly keen to be shipped around like cattle to enhance their parties vote results.

      5: Sure, sometimes wealthy people outbid people for fun, paying orders of magnitude above market rate. If they do that a lot then they tend to stop being very rich people. it comes down to how many millions people are willing to sacrifice on the alter of fashion.

      6: a reasonable and valid criticism.

    • Urstoff says:

      What does “effectively full” mean? The only US city that comes close to reaching European levels of density (not to mention East Asian density) is NYC.

    • Deiseach says:

      The US has more liberals than conservatives and more Democrats than Republicans, but the former chooses to run up their numbers in cities where they routinely vote Dem 80+%. Cramming even more people into cities with the same number of Congressional representatives is the height of political stupidity. Spread out liberals!

      Isn’t that a chicken and egg problem, though? People who live in large, cosmopolitan, diverse and so on cities are more inclined to be liberal/progressive, so by spreading people out into smaller/less diverse areas, they aren’t going to be liberals. It’s only by cramming even more people into cities that you get larger numbers of liberals!

    • Bugmaster says:

      How much more inefficiently can Democrats spread themselves out?

      If you let Democrats spread out, thus destroying their cultural bubbles, you run the risk of them becoming more centrist, or even outright Republican. Same thing goes for Republicans, of course.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Doh, Deiseach beat me to it.

      • Plumber says:

        “If you let Democrats spread out, thus destroying their cultural bubbles, you run the risk of them becoming more centrist, or even outright Republican. Same thing goes for Republicans, of course”.

        @Bugmaster,
        While people do tend to adopt the views of those around them, I don’t think dispersing Republicans will much change their politics.
        Nine times out of ten I can correctly guess which political party a co-worker supports just by asking him how far his commute is.
        The closer you live to the city center the more likely you are to be a Democrat, and the less people they are in the square mile that you sleep in the more likely you are to be a Republican.

        Simple as that.

    • gbdub says:

      One of the arguments against NIMBYs is that they are reducing funds available to the public coffers by artificially reducing the value of their own property through restrictive zoning (reduced property taxes) and sometimes explicitly through property tax caps. Additionally, reducing the density of housing will also reduce revenue from local income taxes.

      Has any municipality ever tried something like “alternative minimum property tax”? Basically, fine, grandma gets to keep her sprawling single family Victorian, but the city council has determined that the “ideal” zoning for that property is medium density multi-unit residential, so we’re going to set your tax rate as if it was a 20 unit apartment home. Or, basically, set property taxes based on lot square footage rather than actual property value – you can put a single family home worth $1,000,000 on your quarter acre, but no reason you should pay lower taxes than the $10,000,000 apartment building across the street – you’re using up the same amount of the actually scarce local resource, land.

      I get that this is politically infeasible (for the same problem as NIMBY – the people who it helps don’t get a vote), but assuming you could force it, would it work?

      • Tenacious D says:

        Harrisburg (and some other communities in PA) uses a land value tax, along with a lower tax rate on any improvements to a property.

      • The Nybbler says:

        This is basically a land value tax. Aside from eliminating remaining vestiges of land ownership, it also fails to consider that the costs to the taxing entity due to the property are largely due to the improvements and not the land. That is, the municipality is using those taxes to pay for police, fire, roads, schools, sewers, libraries, junkets for local officials, welfare programs, etc… and nearly all those things scale more per-capita than per-land-area.

    • Plumber says:

      @hash872,

      As best as I can tell the essay that you linked to is describing an effect where cramming more people into an area creates more jobs, because one person’s spending is another person’s income, and the resulting extra jobs will further increase demand et cetera. 

      In other words popular places are popular. 

      Not exactly related, but I’m reminded of a pizza place on College Avenue that gave out free samples, tasted better and was cheaper than the pizza place across the street which had lines out the door, but went out of business due to a lack of customers. 

      Why?

      The nearest I can tell is that the more expensive and crowded pizza place had big windows so that everyone from the street could see how crowded it was.

      Maybe people see the crowds and think “If it’s popular it must be good”, or maybe some people just like to be crowded.

      Anyway, if you want to lower rents in San Francisco (as I think someone suggested upthread) tax income more.

      A lot more.

      You could pave the Pacific Ocean and build on it, but people (and jobs) cluster where the most people are already. 

      Gold was in California, but not in San Francisco, but San Francisco grew because it was on the shipping lanes, and already there when gold was discovered. 

      Besides Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Stockton are just too damn hot.

    • bean says:

      For example, Los Angeles County has a population larger than 41 US states (and I would imagine a huge number of countries). Looks like it went 71 to 22% for Clinton for over Trump, roughly (Gary Johnson’s in the mix too).

      Speaking as someone who voted in LA county in 2016, that was a weird year. I came within an inch of not voting because I didn’t have any chance of making an impact on either of the two headline races. If Trump could win California, he’s won the White House, and I didn’t even bother voting for Senator because I didn’t want either of them. The Republican vote was down almost 5% from 2012, 3% of which went to third-party.

    • eqdw says:

      Pre-emptively: I did not read your whole comment. My eyes glazed over around point (2). It’s nothing personal, it’s just that after years of trying to inform myself on bay area local policy issues, while watching everyone else (not here on SSC, but out in the real world in SF) go full on fuck-you-got-mine, it’s hard to participate. And after moving away to a city that is much more functional and livable, I really don’t care what happens in SF.

      So apologies if you actually said this in your post. But anyways, I want to add a point that I think maybe supports your position.

      Anti-NIMBY people say “just build more houses and it will make rent come down!”. This is… usually true. This is true for markets that are at or near equilibrium. Simple supply/demand, etc etc

      But one of the problems with the Bay Area is that there is an absolutely _massive_ amount of pent up demand. Naievely, people think of the pent up demand as the delta between the number of people moving to the city and the number of housing units built: if 5000 people are moving to the city but only 1000 housing units are built, you need to build 4000 more units. But there are many other sources of demand that are _hidden_.

      There’s all the people who want to move to the bay area, but don’t because of the cost (but who will if you build more housing / lower rents)

      There’s all the people who are living cramped lives with too many roommates in too small of a house, who would get their own houses if they could afford it (and will if you build more housing/lower rents)

      There are people who currently live in a place that is insufficient for their purposes (too small, too big, too cheap, too expensive, too dangerous, too long commute, too isolated from services, too far from friends, etc) who would move to a different house if a more preferable one was available (and one would be, in a healthy real estate market where supply meets demand).

      Building more housing absolutely will lower rents… once _all_ of that demand is satisfied. But, well, I think a good argument could be made that there’s easily a million peoples’ worth of pent up demand for San Francisco real estate.

      If you could build ONE MILLION APARTMENTS, you would see rent meaningfully fall. But when pro-development people in the bay area get their way, they don’t build a million apartments. If nothing else, it’s utterly implausible on short term time scales. They get one or two major residential towers built; like what, 5000 units? This is nowhere near enough supply to satiate the pent up demand.

      And as a result, gentrification happens and this actually _raises_ the price of rent. For a bunch of reasons, none of which are terribly important for the underlying point I’m trying to make.

      All of this is to say: you are correct. In my experience the anti-NIMBY people either don’t understand this or (more likely) don’t say anything about it because it would be politically counterproductive for them to do so. And this has always frustrated me, because not acknowledging this makes the anti-NIMBY people (and I count myself among them, generally) lose all credibility with people who don’t spend all day obsessively researching optimal policy, but who do see what happens when new condos go up in the Mission

      • Building more housing absolutely will lower rents… once _all_ of that demand is satisfied. But, well, I think a good argument could be made that there’s easily a million peoples’ worth of pent up demand for San Francisco real estate.

        You also wrote:

        There’s all the people who want to move to the bay area, but don’t because of the cost (but who will if you build more housing / lower rents)

        The only reason what you are calling “pent-up demand” turns into actual people renting is that the cost has gone down, since it was the cost that was keeping them away.

        Demand is a function not a number. Your “pent-up demand” is simply the difference between quantity demanded at what the price will be after the new housing is built and quantity demanded at the current price–Q(P1)-Q(P2). If the two prices were the same it would be zero.

        One of the frustrations of being an economist is watching people invent economics for themselves and get it wrong–with great confidence.

        • eqdw says:

          In the bay area housing market, the price of housing is kept artificially low through a combination of explicit price controls (eg rent control) and implicit price controls (eg zoning and permitting).

          As a consequence of this, given the current supply and demand (yes, I mean this in the sense of functions), the price should be significantly higher than the actual price currently is.

          If the bay area housing market was currently at that equilibrium point and unencumbered by the various restrictions, then a marginal increase in quantity supplied would cause a marginal decrease in the price of housing. However, the price that decreases is not the price fixed by government fiat, it is the theoretical free market equilibrium price.

          Before the construction of additional housing can lower the actual, current, real world price that people are actually, currently, really paying, it would have to lower the theoretical free market price to below the actual, current, real world price. Building a small amount of more housing will not significantly change the price of housing.

          In a normal market, the supply and demand fundamentals would be the main determinant of price. But because of the restrictions on this market, there are other more transient effects that have a stronger effect on the price of housing. As an example, additional housing construction may increase the average rent paid if all additional housing construction is high end housing, through the mechanism of shifting the total distribution of available housing in the direction of the upper end of the market. If we want to be extremely charitable to the communists (usually a bad idea), this is what is bad about gentrification

          https://i.imgur.com/U3HFqou.png

          In a free market with the current level of quantity supplied in the bay area, the price would be at the equilibrium point (read: significantly higher than it is right now). And then every marginal home constructed would marginally lower rent. In the actual market with the current level of quantity supplied in the bay area, marginal housing construction does not cause a marginal reduction in housing costs because it has to bridge that gap first.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            If this is true, wouldn’t there be waiting lists? That is, it would be impossible for a typical outsider to rent an apartment in SF without applying N days in advance.

            I have no prior belief either way, but this seems to me to be a factual claim that is contrary to other factual claims previously made in this thread, and which could be checked on. Also, I’d like to know what the value of N actually is: a week, a month, six months, three years?

          • Matt M says:

            If this is true, wouldn’t there be waiting lists? That is, it would be impossible for a typical outsider to rent an apartment in SF without applying N days in advance.

            This was several years ago, but when a friend of mine was moving to the Bay Area, he suggested this was pretty close to true. That is, in addition to very high costs, basically any place that “became available” on Craigslist or any other such online posting would receive dozens of applications in the first few hours. He told me most people moving there had to accept places (and even pay deposits) sight unseen, because if you didn’t, someone else definitely would.

        • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

          The only reason what you are calling “pent-up demand” turns into actual people renting is that the cost has gone down, since it was the cost that was keeping them away.

          Can you briefly explain how inertia gets fitted into this model? For example, someone might move to SF in response to a reduction in the rent, but if the rent then went back up, they wouldn’t necessarily move out again, e.g., because they’ve got a job now, or a SO, or whatever.

          Similarly, I would imagine the typical person who was forced to leave SF because the rent finally got too high for them to cope with wouldn’t move back just because the rents have gone back down, or at least not straight away. “The burnt hand teaches best”, yada yada.

        • Atlas says:

          One of the frustrations of being an economist is watching people invent economics for themselves and get it wrong–with great confidence.

          You mean the way that Myron Scholes and Robert C. Merton invented the Black–Scholes model and got the Nobel Prize in economics in 1997 but got the economics of actually running the hedge fund they co-founded disastrously wrong—presumably with great confidence?

          (Note to pedants: yes, I am aware that John Meriwether founded LTCM and that Fischer Black played an equal role in developing the model, but I don’t think either piece of information substantially changes my point and the sentence is long enough as it is.)

  6. Well... says:

    Just so y’all know, Wikipedia’s list of Ig Nobel Prize Winners is awesome. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Ig_Nobel_Prize_winners

  7. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Blue sky (ignore political feasibility) fix for healthcare? I agree with Scott that who pays for healthcare is less important than figuring out why it’s so expensive and how to make it cheap. If a doctor’s visit costs $15, setting a broken bone $25, and childbirth $100, then it doesn’t matter if poor people have to pay for healthcare out of hand.

    Furthermore, I agree with Eliezer that the reason healthcare is so expensive is because government is restricting supply. Therefore, what we need is massive deregulation/delicensing of the health care industry. Let people become eye surgeons with 2 years of training, let registered nurses do doctor stuff, let computers do diagnosing, let people sell psychiatric medicines on vending machines, let hospitals be built without getting approval, eliminate residencies, allow any drug legal in Britain, Canada, or Australia to be legal in the U.S., etc…

    • JPNunez says:

      how does this matches with countries with good public healthcare? I somehow doubt they are building illegal hospitals

      • fahertym says:

        IMO, like education, healthcare as an industry is so badly constructed that even the best existing examples are vastly inferior to what is possible with existing tech.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        They have doctors that would be unlicensed in the US, nurses ditto, and instead of CON (state mandated oligopolies) they build based on things closer to market demand.

        There’s the saying that goes something like, “the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing people he didn’t exist”, same is true with US government intervention in healthcare. I doubt people could name many industries without more intervention. Education, electricity, roads, those are the parallels. We already treat it like a public utility, its just more politically advantageous for certain folk to pretend otherwise.

        • JPNunez says:

          Again, it could be even more intervened by the government if the government itself ran it.

          The thing is that, yes, less regulation and letting the free market work more would lower prices, but just not as much as putting that government regulation to work and control the prices. Japan is a good example; they let the free market work somewhat, but all the providers are non profits, so they don’t have incentives to charge as much as possible. It’s far from a perfect system, but at least the costs are below the gdp% of the US with better results.

          Obamacare would have been a good step in the right direction to make the free market work, by forcing people to buy an insurance plan and have insurers compete, but it is honestly unworkable in the US political climate. Obamacare would have tracked in some general ways the chilean system, where insurers sell healthcare plans to workers, every worker has to be insured, and the providers _can_be_ for profits. The results are similar to the US, for less % of the GDP. The Chilean government has to provide public healthcare for the non-workers/poor people, so that would probably be a difference with America, but at least you’d insure the people who can pay it, and the government sometimes forces the insurers to cover new stuff. It is far from perfect, but it’d be a step in the right direction for the US.

          However Obamacare is largely dead after the killing of the individual mandate. Trump may probably dismantle the rest.

          About the costs:

          My hunch is that the cost of USA’s healthcare was not really _that_ inflated by any kind of regulatory capture, but mainly by letting so much of insurance be tied to the employer. Most people do not choose their insurance; they choose a job and the company provides insurance. Thus, while some people will actually be lured by better healthcare to a given company, most people are not really the ones choosing which plan to buy. This allows companies to rise costs, cause what is the consumer gonna do? Switch companies? Very rare. This level of indirection in the insurance market is very damaging imho, at least the Chilean system gets that right.

      • eqdw says:

        I can’t speak for other countries but in Canada there’s a massive amount of implicit rationing going on which keeps costs down. I know in my family, depending on what the specific specialist you want to see is, for non-life-threatening things you’re waiting anywhere from 3 months to 5 years to get seen.

        This is not the main reason for US healthcare being so expensive. But it is _a_ factor: Americans are consuming dramatically more healthcare than Canadians are, so of course there’s more spending.

        Or, to put it another way: Restrictions on supply are less painful when you can also put parallel restrictions on demand

        • Matt M says:

          Note that this is exactly where the “death panels” criticism came from.

          The left (correctly) pointed out that Obamacare does not, explicitly, call for death panels to be formed.

          But anyone able to think a couple steps ahead can see that any system designed to reduce price will increase demand, and that without a corresponding increase in supply, this will inevitably lead to increased rationing.

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt M:

            Scarcity is a fact of life. There will be rationing of medical care in any system ever designed this side of one run by Culture Minds.

            Specifically, someone has to decide which treatments are likely enough to be helpful to be covered (can I get a nose job covered under my insurance?). Someone has to decide when medical care is futile (you’re scheduling the 90 year old with liver cancer for bypass surgery).

            If it’s you paying your own money, then you get to decide how to ration things, subject to a market. (The US healthcare market is massively screwed-up, but if you want to spend $500K on (necessary or unnecessary) surgeries, you can almost certainly manage it.)

            If it’s an insurance company paying, or a government program like Medicare or Medicaid paying, or a government agency providing care like the VA system, then they’re going to have to make those decisions. They’re going to have to be able to say “No, we’re not paying for your accupuncture and reiki sessions.” They need to be able to say “No, we’re not paying for a bone marrow transplant for your cancer given that the statistics show it doesn’t work for this kind of cancer.” They even need to be able to say “We’re not paying for a quadruple bypass surgery on this guy with terminal cancer.” Or they will spend unlimited amounts of money providing care, and a lot of that money will go to care that doesn’t actually help anyone. An unlimited pool of money will draw an unlimited pool of parasites.

          • Matt M says:

            Indeed.

            And nobody comes closer to having an “unlimited pool of money” than the US government…

          • baconbits9 says:

            Scarcity is a fact of life, but it isn’t equal across systems and re-distributive system typically commit the double sin of promising more care while increasing scarcity.

          • albatross11 says:

            That which cannot go on forever will eventually stop.

    • Brad says:

      The bottom line is that there is a too many people making too much money problem. And not just 12 CEO fat cats each somehow a multibillionaire that no one noticed. Those supply restrictions lead to “good jobs” at every level from unskilled direct care, through medical billers, to nurses, and definitely to doctors. That deregulation means that there aren’t going to be several hundreds of thousands of specialist doctors all making 6+ times the median household income. And as much they like to complain about medical school debt or malpractice insurance, do the math–the savings are in no way going to make up for the loss of their monopoly rents. That’s going to be one pissed off group of doctors. Then replicate that for nurses, physicians assistants, imaging techs, etc, etc, etc.

      Whether its through deregulation or government takeover or any other idea anything that works is *by definition* going to mean the loss of an awful lot of income to an awful lot of people. Which means it will be near impossible to enact.

      • arlie says:

        I’ve heard a lot of complaining from providers in the existing system. To listen to them talk, they sure aren’t rich, and their hours suck. Many of the complaints are about all the money going to bureaucrats/administrators rather than those dealing with patients and/or about the need to spend ever increasing amounts of time – or pay someone else to spend that time – satisfying ever more Kafkaesque insurance bureaucrats. Of course none of my acquaintances are specialist doctors; maybe those are still exceptional.

        • John Schilling says:

          Of course none of my acquaintances are specialist doctors; maybe those are still exceptional.

          Even among general practitioners, US doctors are paid roughly twice the global average, normalized by PPP. They may still complain about not being rich and working extra hard, but only because approximately 99.8% of the human race does that.

          The numbers for Registered Nurses seem similar. I’m going to guess that they complain even louder than the doctors.

          If everyone who labors to created “Health Care” in the United States, earns twice what their foreign counterparts do, then US health care will cost twice as much as the rest of the world. And good luck getting anyone to take a 50% pay cut.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            One of the other threads alleges that everybody in the US is paid well over the global average, apparently even when adjusted for PPP. Are you sure healthcare is really particularly extreme in this respect?

          • albatross11 says:

            One extra problem is that everyone in that industry has built their life around the income in their field. From spending a decade being trained to buying a McMansion in an expensive neighborhood, their whole lives are planned around the idea that a cardiologist makes $X / year. Those folks are going to fight tooth and nail to avoid having that become $0.5 X/year, because that will wreck their lives the same way it has wrecked the lives of lots of factory workers when their union $20/hour assembly line job went away and they found they could make $8/hour working nights at the local convenience store.

            There’s no sense in which the cardiologist deserves to make twice as much in the US as in Germany or Japan or Canada, any more than there’s any sense in which the assembly line worker deserves to make $20/hour. But they will still feel genuinely screwed over when their salary drops dramatically over a few years, and they have to sell their huge beautiful house and start driving a Honda instead of a Tesla.

          • Brad says:

            My fairness instinct is to say tough shit, but as a practical matter this is exactly why I think anything that’s effective will be impossible to implement. Our only hope is to slow cost growth and hope for several decades of economic growth to shrink relative costs.

            Even that will produce much gnashing of teeth because employment markets in rapidly growing industries are more pleasant than in static industries.

          • John Schilling says:

            My fairness instinct is to say tough shit, but as a practical matter this is exactly why I think anything that’s effective will be impossible to implement.

            Right. You basically can’t get people to keep doing their jobs for substantially less pay than they are already getting. The old ones will take early retirement, the good ones will find opportunities elsewhere, the rest will either quit out of spite or stay on as demoralized malcontents. And those are the ones who are going to provide on-the-job training for any new hires you bring in at the new pay scale.

            To get dramatic cost reductions, you have to actually fire people. So if someone else either promises or demands dramatic cost reductions, do not accept “efficiency” or “reduce waste” as a mechanism; demand to know who gets fired. If the answer is nobody, there will be no cost reductions.

          • eqdw says:

            My understanding is that doctors in the US make significantly more than doctors in (eg) Canada, but they also have two costs that are significantly higher: Malpractice insurance and student debt.

            Why those costs are so much higher is a different discussion entirely. But if those costs are significantly higher, it’s not really accurate to talk about how much more doctors get paid, if they’re not actually taking it home

          • Brad says:

            Yes, they’ll talk your ear off about those two costs but they aren’t even of the right order of magnitude to make up the differences.

          • IsmiratSeven says:

            @ brad:

            Yes, they’ll talk your ear off about those two costs but they aren’t even of the right order of magnitude to make up the differences.

            From a cursory Google search:

            When a Florida obstetrician/gynecologist discovered what the annual cost of his liability insurance would be if he were practicing in Canada, he was stunned. In the US his costs could run up to $200,000 per year. In British Columbia: $2,400 – $20,000.

            Sounds like an order of magnitude to me, but maybe it’s not the “right” order of magnitude…

          • Googling on the costs of malpractice insurance, it seems to vary a lot by specialty and by state. Ob/Gyn is one of the most expensive specialties:

            On average, medical malpractice insurance can cost OB/GYN providers anywhere from $85,000 to as much as $200,000 per year.

            On average, medical malpractice insurance can cost internal medicine providers anywhere from $8,000 to as much as $50,000 per year.

            (Source)

        • Brad says:

          I’ve heard a lot of complaining from providers in the existing system. To listen to them talk, they sure aren’t rich, and their hours suck.

          It’s frankly bullshit. If you look at every profession that has a non-trivial number of people doing it (i.e. not NYC unionized crane operator), being a specialty doctor (that is anything other than primary care, pediatric primary care, and family medicine) is the best gig out there.

          They like to point to investment bankers making more money, but investment banking is a brutal war of all against that never lets up. A 50 year old investment banker making 3 million a year is a 1 in 100 survivor and still has to spend every waking hour worried about losing his job. Once someone is admitted to an American medical school he never has to worried about being unemployed again. And the bankers have to live in greater NYC (plus the four guys in Chicago and two in San Francisco). A doctor can live wherever he wants.

          They talk about hours, but compare any doctor to a lawyer making the same amount of money. A partner in big law isn’t going to be paged at 2AM because he is still going to be in the office. And everyone hates lawyers, and idealizes doctors.

          They talk about the length of the education process, but scientists have it worse and there’s no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. Just look at the credit card companies — they can’t wait to lend money to residents. No one is desperately trying to lend money to post docs.

          As for dealing with paperwork and bureaucrats do we even need to go through all the professions that have to deal with them far more than doctors?

          And all this for something that is almost always non-multiplicative. It’s not the type of field where one can really have 10x productivity, because at the end of the day they each only treat one patient at a time.

          • AliceToBob says:

            @ Brad

            Big claims, little evidence:

            It’s not the type of field where one can really have 10x productivity, because at the end of the day they each only treat one patient at a time.

            Nonsense. Many doctors who are practicing medicine also pursue research. For example, they help design and run clinical trials which can lead to saving quite a few lives. Oncology is one such area.

            Once someone is admitted to an American medical school he never has to worried about being unemployed again.

            Cannot literally be true. If you’re going to make this argument, you at least need to compare against rates of unemployment for professions of roughly equal scarcity. Your comparison to lawyers doesn’t seem on target as ~40% of graduates don’t go on to practice law [1].

            They talk about the length of the education process, but scientists have it worse and there’s no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.

            Another apples to oranges comparison. You can score in the 50th percentile on the GRE quantitative section and still easily find grad schools who will welcome you for a science PhD. In the tech sector, you likely won’t end up at Google, but you’ll find a decent job in industry somewhere (no pot of gold, but arguably you shouldn’t get one).

            I doubt that many people scoring in the 50th percentile on the MCAT are accepted to medical school.

            Maybe there’s a comparison to be made among those PhDs who attend elite schools, but (a) that’s not what you said, and (b) arguably there is a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, either in the form of a high-paying job with a higher-paying career trajectory given your educational pedigree, or a coveted tenure-track position.

            ———-
            [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-law_school_employment_in_the_United_States#Employment_statistics_and_salary_information

          • Brad says:

            Nonsense. Many doctors who are practicing medicine also pursue research.

            Many? If you had to guess, what percentage of licensed doctors in the US would you guess spend at least 15% of their time doing research tasks?

            roughly equal scarcity.

            I doubt that many people scoring in the 50th percentile on the MCAT are accepted to medical school.

            This argument seems circular to me. Maybe I’m misunderstanding it. Is it that doctors have managed to get themselves a really efficient cartel and therefore they deserve all the excess compensation that monopolization has earned them and more?

          • JPNunez says:

            Unemployment rates for doctors in America are super low. Maybe there are some specialties that are the exception, but the “never have to worry about unemployment again” claim is mostly true.

            The solution to lowering salaries (and thus costs) would be to massively import doctors from abroad. I agree that there may be regulation there that stops this, and also you’d end up rising healthcare costs elsewhere.

            The alternative is educating a fuck ton more doctors.

            The doctors per capita statistic compared to Japan (ie: it’s roughly similar) suggests doctor pay may be an important factor in healthcare costs. You could of course rise the doctors taxes to pay for … more doctors.

          • Plumber says:

            “….You could of course rise the doctors taxes to pay for … more doctors”

            @JPNunez,

            I like this idea.

            I like it a lot!

            Out of each hour that I work a portion goes to fund the union apprenticeship school that trains my future competition.

            We (union plumbers) vote on this.

            Why do we fund our competitors?

            Part of it is “paying it forward” but a lot of it is to have working hands in the future paying to support our pensions.

            Trust is involved, as future plumbers could just decide to walk out of the union and our pensions go bankrupt.

            I’m more than a little ticked off that starting in 1978 a generation decided it didn’t want to pay to sustain the civilization that enriched them.

            To Hell with the Boomers and the Upper Class, please bring back Eisenhower era income taxes and education.

          • I’m more than a little ticked off that starting in 1978 a generation decided it didn’t want to pay to sustain the civilization that enriched them.

            To Hell with the Boomers and the Upper Class, please bring back Eisenhower era income taxes and education.

            Fill in the factual blanks in your rhetoric. Are you claiming that levels of taxes and spending (per capita and adjusted for inflation) are lower now than they were in 1978? Spending on schooling?

            I don’t think either claim is true. If that is what you are saying I will be happy to find the numbers and provide them.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Trust is involved, as future plumbers could just decide to walk out of the union and our pensions go bankrupt.

            If this is true then someone took you guys for a ride.

          • albatross11 says:

            How do grades/test scores needed for getting into a STEM PhD compare with those needed for getting into medical school?

            In terms of science PhDs, the job market is fairly ugly if you’re shooting for an academic job. Basically, you do a PhD, then one or two postdocs, so you can get hired in a tenure-track position, and then several years later you maybe end up with a permanent job. There are also jobs in industry and government that may offer better pay/work-life balance/etc., but doing a hard science PhD is a hell of a hard path, and at the end of it, you’re not extremely unlikely to be making big bucks, and you may end up with some kind of marginal adjunct-at-three-colleges position without much prospect of anything better, after burning a decade on education when you weren’t making anything more than subsistence.

          • AliceToBob says:

            @ Brad

            Many? If you had to guess, what percentage of licensed doctors in the US would you guess spend at least 15% of their time doing research tasks?

            You’re the one making strong claims: being a doctor is the “best gig out there”, other professional pursuits have it so much harder by comparison, the value offered by doctors is non-multiplicative, that the profession is a cartel of people “making too much money”.

            The onus is on you — not me — to back up your claims. I decline to go down some rabbit hole looking for stats to answer your question while you put in zero effort.*

            I responded to your strong claim about the profession not being “the type of field where one can really have 10x productivity, because at the end of the day they each only treat one patient at a time”. There are doctors who do practice and perform research, and that research has multiplicative impact. You want to focus on my use of “many”, that’s fine, but that’s just a diversion.

            This argument seems circular to me. Maybe I’m misunderstanding it. Is it that doctors have managed to get themselves a really efficient cartel and therefore they deserve all the excess compensation that monopolization has earned them and more?

            No, my argument is that your argument is poor for the reasons I gave in my post. Without giving evidence, you come across a just another person who perceives some group as better off, and assumes it’s a conspiracy/injustice (a cartel!) that must be righted for the Greater Good.

            * Perhaps NIH funding can give some indication of this, but pharma-funded projects are going to be a part of that pie and I don’t see how to trace that. Additionally, I’m not convinced that your question is even on target; if a doctor who contributes 10% of his/her time to the development of a new drug that becomes widely adopted, then that seems sufficiently multiplicative.

          • Plumber says:

            “Fill in the factual blanks in your rhetoric. Are you claiming that levels of taxes and spending (per capita and adjusted for inflation) are lower now than they were in 1978? Spending on schooling?

            I don’t think either claim is true. If that is what you are saying I will be happy to find the numbers and provide them”

            @David  Friedman,
            I think you probably did in a previous thread.

            Where did the money go?

            I was ten years old in 1978 when “Proposition 13”, and the resulting cut-backs were obvious to me as a child with the missing toilet paper, classes with not enough chairs for each student, much fewer new books I could tell the difference right away all of which I’m still angry about  decades later.

            I do remember some spending in that my elementary school was at what is now the location of Willard in Berkeley, and they stopped having most of the buildings be used because of “earthquake safety”, they took years to tear it down (I remember playing in the rubble) and when it was rebuilt in time for my 7th grade in 1980, it was junk! A boy sitting next to me leaned back against the wall (because they’ weren’t enough chairs for all of us to sit) and his head went through the paper thin drywall!

            I well remember how adult supervision stopped for recess and lunch and all the fights that resulted, until I realized that no one would stop me if I just walked away, which is what I did at 12 years old, I’d go for the first class in the morning and walked out of that Hellscape every day without anyone questioning me and I’d go to the public library instead (if there have to be cuts please save libraries and cut U.C instead!), speaking of walking, at Berkeley High School to find a bathroom with toilet paper I’d miss either lunch or a class and walk to UC Berkeley or City Hall, because apparently only adults get to have TP. This decade I spoke to a young man who went to Berkeley High School in the 1990’s (a decade after me) and he told me, without my prompting him, that he had to walk to City Hall to use the bathroom as well.

            Maybe the Berkeley Unified School District was being cheapskate scumbags in order to insure that we’d grow up to be anti-libertarians?

            Unfortunately for libertarianism during my lifetime I’ve noticed how life gets worse after tax cuts and better after taxes rise.

            After Reagan cut income taxes in 1981, there was massive unemployment in 1982, I encountered many more beggers year, after year, after year, and I heard more and more gunshots and sirens (I think I heard the most in 1985), and finding jobs was really damn hard for me in 1986.

            After Bush (senior) and Clinton raised income taxes, jobs were easier to come by and I heard less gunshots and sirens, and 1999 was great!

            After Bush (junior) cut income taxes, jobs became harder to find again (but thankfully the gunshots didn’t come back), and many guys I knew lost their homes 2008 to 2010. 

            After taxes were raised as part of Obamacare, jobs became plentiful (very much easier for me to find employment in 2011 to now than it was for me in 2007 to 2010 (or 1986 to 1992 for that matter).

            I’m mostly in the tank for “Tax and Spend” now, but this is where is gets sketchy, as while jobs are plentiful now, so is homelessness (unlike in the 1980’s when it seemed the lack of jobs and how many beggers I encountered correlated), which is puzzling and worrying.

            In my job today for The City and County of San Francisco I try to maintain what were once impressive City buildings with far less resources than previous generations had to build them with, for example the building maintenance crew at The Hall of Justice is a quarter of the size it was in 1979 (according to my old boss).

            If there’s more spending now, where is it going? 

            My beliefs are related to what I’ve directly experienced, and I know my experience isn’t universal as the guy who owns the shop I buy my overalls from says the Reagan years were great for him, while I remember them as being awful, so I imagine that different life experiences would have given me different beliefs, but my life has been what it has been and my beliefs are what they are.

            To get me to support tax cuts, it’s not enough to tell me a theory, or to show charts, I have to actually see things in front of me improving.

            Oh, and for the record we’ve pulled our 13 years old son out of Albany Middle School last year and are homeschooling him after a classmate tried to stab him.

          • After Reagan cut income taxes in 1981, there was massive unemployment in 1982, I encountered many more beggers year, after year, after year,

            Year Unemployment rate
            1981 8.5%
            1982 10.8%
            1983 8.3%
            1984 7.3%
            1985 7.0%

            So up for one year, although not massively, falling thereafter.

            I was ten years old in 1978 when “Proposition 13”, and the resulting cut-backs were obvious to me as a child

            Proposition 13 didn’t cut taxes, it just restricted how much property taxes could rise.

            Year CA Expenditure
            1977-78 11,613.1
            1978-79 16,136.0
            1979-80 18,421.0
            1980-81 20,871.8
            (Source)

            I haven’t checked the rest of your factoids.

            As I like to put it, humans are equipped with extraordinarily good pattern recognition software, so good that it can find patterns that are not there.

            There is a reason to err in that direction. Seeing a tiger in the brush that isn’t there is a much less expensive mistake than not seeing one that is.

          • albatross11 says:

            AliceToBob:

            I don’t know the medical field that well, but it sure seems like most doctors spend most of their time on treating individual patients, where there are hard limits on any multiplicity. My cardiologist is, as best I can tell, a very smart and capable guy, but he can’t really examine more than one patient at a time. Similarly, awhile back I had surgery, and the surgeon is, as best I can tell, extremely competent and smart. But he can only do so many surgeries per day.

            Even if they participate in some medical studies, that’s not most of their work day.

            And the folks doing drug delivery, at least, seem to need to spend a godawful number of man-hours and dollars to get to a useful result, in a process usually spanning decades from the original discovery of some important mechanism of a disease to the point where sick people are getting the new medicine. We make progress, but it absorbs a *lot* of time from very high-value people to get to the next improvement.

          • AliceToBob says:

            @ albatross11

            How do grades/test scores needed for getting into a STEM PhD compare with those needed for getting into medical school?

            Medical school seems to have a significantly higher bar. At random, the relevant FSU page [1] for Computer Science whose grad program ranks #82 according to US News [2] states a minimum requirement of “142 on the verbal section and a 150 on the quantitative section” which puts you in the 17th and 39th percentiles, respectively [3].

            Augusta University’s medical school, which is ranked 90th (by primary care) by US News [4] lists a minimum MCAT score of 509 [5], which puts you in the 79th percentile [6].

            But note that this difference in student quality is inherent even in the way the test scores are considered. Performing well on the GRE only tells the admissions committee that the applicant can handle (essentially) high school mathematics, and might have a reasonable hold on English (the verbal section is typically hard even for native speakers). That is, the applicant may not be a half-wit.

            In contrast, the MCAT tests organic chemistry, for example (albeit, a small amount). But this is indicative of how the GRE and MCAT are testing at different levels.*

            Anyway, getting back to why this even came up: I would (on average) expect there to be a bigger “pot of gold” for those who meet the minimum admission requirements for medical school, than for those who meet the lower standards of a science PhD program. Comparing doctors with scientists along an arbitrary metric (length of the education process) is not useful.

            ———

            [1] https://www.cs.fsu.edu/admissions/graduate-admissions/minimum-admissions-requirements-for-computer-science-ms-and-phd-programs/

            [2] https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-science-schools/computer-science-rankings

            [3] https://www.mbacrystalball.com/gre/gre-score-percentiles

            [4] https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-medical-schools/augusta-university-04024

            [5] https://www.augusta.edu/mcg/admissions/generalinformation.php

            [6] https://aamc-orange.global.ssl.fastly.net/production/media/filer_public/2c/76/2c767bca-4020-45d6-beb6-7b3bcd3baff6/mcat_total_and_section_score_percentile_ranks_2018_for_web.pdf

            * The subject GRE is a different beast. My understanding is that it’s typically not required, although it may be recommended at higher-tier schools.

          • Plumber says:

            “….Year CA Expenditure
            1977-78 11,613.1
            1978-79 16,136.0
            1979-80 18,421.0
            1980-81 20,871.8….”

            @David Friedman,

            Well if that’s the case then I’ve got almost 40 years of misplaced anger.

            That’s a big ship to turn around!

            As I remember it, the teachers (and even more so the “after school program” workers) were very adamant that we tell our parents to “vote no on prop 13”, some telling us to tell our parents to vote yes on prop 8, others that “prop 8 is bad too, just not as bad”.

            But as I related, the cuts were noticeable for this then child, but if your figures are correct they were for show and a way to punish kids for how their parents voted.

          • Randy M says:

            the cuts were noticeable

            They would have to be, otherwise the teachers, and others who warned you, would lose credibility.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

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

            It is not unusual for a group that isn’t in control of their budget to react to budget cuts with punitive measures, instead of just cutting the least-needed/lowest-priority/worst-payoff departments.

          • As I remember it, the teachers (and even more so the “after school program” workers) were very adamant that we tell our parents to “vote no on prop 13”

            I expect the prison guards tell their friends to vote against bills that reduce the number of people in prison. And professors seem to have an odd preference for increasing government spending on universities.

            Prop 13 resulted in less being spent than would have been spent if it hadn’t passed. Expenditure continued to rise, but not as rapidly as it would have. So people whose jobs depended on government spending naturally opposed it.

            One of the problems with a government run school system is that children are being taught by people with an obvious interest in believing that more government spending is better.

          • Brad says:

            It sounds like you aren’t disagreeing that doctors have it the best, the complaints notwithstanding, but instead argue that they deserve everything they get (and more?) because they are really smart. Also because some small percent do scientific research part time.

          • BBA says:

            Those numbers are for the state general fund. Prop 13 affected local property taxes, which (if I understand correctly) were the primary source of school funding in California until the 1970s, but had no direct bearing on the state general fund. You’d have to compare school district expenditures before and after Prop 13, and determine when and whether increased state funding offset the drop in property tax revenue in order to figure out whether the cuts were real or illusory.

            And the proposition limited total (county + city + school) property taxes to 1% of assessed value. They could have been higher than 1% in some localities, in which case there would be an actual cut in revenue. (They certainly are over 1% here in NY today and we have a mostly unreformed property tax system.)

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            It isn’t necessarily malicious. If you anticipate that your budget will be cut, you may want to start saving now, or spending in a different pattern: for example, getting preventative maintenance done now while you still have any money to do it with, even if that means spending less on things like toilet paper.

            (Although from Plumber’s story it sounds to me more likely that the main problem was the cost of replacing unsafe buildings, and may have had nothing to do with the tax rules changing at all.)

          • Anthony says:

            David Friedman – Proposition 13 did significantly reduce property tax rates. I recall hearing that the rate was close to 3% before Prop 13, but this seems really high unless most properties were under-assessed. The State BOE says that property tax revenue declined by half due to Proposition 13 (http://www.boe.ca.gov/proptaxes/pdf/pub29.pdf)

          • @Anthony:

            The question isn’t whether Prop 13 reduced tax rates but whether it reduced tax revenue. What it did, as best I recall, was to freeze the amount of property tax on a home as long as it remained with the original owner. If, after it passes, the market value of a house doubles, the rate will be half what it was before, but the amount of tax will be the same. Since some houses are changing hands and having their taxable value increased, total property tax revenue will be going up.

            As I pointed out earlier, if you look at the figures for total tax revenue of California, it increases in the year after Prop 13 passes and in the year after that (and I think for quite a while longer, but I didn’t post the numbers).

            Plumber’s claim was that government services declined after Prop 13 passed because the state had less money. That can’t be true if the state had more money, and it did.

          • Anthony says:

            David – Prop 13 reset assessments to two high-inflation years before Prop 13 was on the ballot. The link I gave says that total statewide property tax revenue dropped by nearly half.

            Other tax revenue (primarily income and sales taxes) would have gone up because of inflation.

          • @Anthony:

            Thanks. I didn’t realize that Prop 13 rolled back the assessments to 1976.

            You are correct that I ought to take account of inflation, which was high for a couple of years just after Prop 13. Prop 13 was passed in 1978—I’m not sure how fast it went into effect. I also should take account of population. I’ve calculated state expenditure/(CPIxPopulation) for ten years starting just before Prop13 passed.

            Year …….. Exp/CPI*Popn
            1977-78…. 8.2
            1978-79…. 10.3
            1979-80…. 10.2
            1980-81…. 10.1
            1981-82…. 9.4
            1982-83…. 8.8
            1983-84…. 8.7
            1984-85…. 9.3
            1985-86…. 9.9
            1986-87…. 10.4

            The result isn’t as clear as I thought, but I don’t think it supports Plumber’s view of the subject. The pattern of real expenditure per capita is a big increase in the Prop 13 year, gradually falling thereafter but never getting down to what it had been before the increase

            My population figures are here–I interpolated between 1970 and 1980.

            But it occurs to me that there is still a problem. My data are for the general fund, which I am reasonably sure is just state expenditure, not state plus local expenditure. So it’s possible that including local expenditure, which I haven’t been able to find a historical table of, would change the conclusion.

    • Garrett says:

      To make matters more interesting, you also have to balance supply, cost disease, etc.

      For example, I volunteer in EMS. I work full-time as a software developer at a high-enough level that I worked for Google for a while. I’d happily go to medical school and become an ER doc. The problem isn’t the tuition. The problem is the opportunity cost. The last time I did the math, assuming that I got a full-ride scholarship to medical school (ha!) it would take me 12 years to break even.

      Why go through all that work and risk of loss when I can keep my current job which is much more free on time to show up, fewer annoying people to deal with, etc?

      I’m totally in favor of pushing procedures down the training curve (why an undergrad degree is required for medical school, but a degree in philosophy will suffice puzzles me) but you still have to figure out how to deal with convincing people smart enough to do the job and also to get high-paying work elsewhere to do the work.

      • Brad says:

        I think we’d rather have you be a software developer than a doctor. One person can write a program used by millions.

        There’s isn’t any shortage of people smart enough to do the job applying to medical school. On the contrary there are people that would make fine doctors being turned away.

        • IsmiratSeven says:

          Yeah, Brad, we get it, you think the world would be a happy utopia if only those goddamn lazy-ass rent-seeking cabalistic doctor buttholes would just treat a hundred people at a time for $10 an hour.

          • Plumber says:

            Limiting physicians pay by law works very well in Japan, but I tend to think sudden drastic changes usually don’t work well, if we were to adopt the Japanese health care system it should be implemented slowly over forty years, and they’re probably other changes that aren’t directly health care related that would have to be done for it to mesh.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            Limiting physicians pay by law works very well in Japan

            Which is why Japan is a significant source of travelers engaging in medical tourism.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Ismirat banned for three months.

  8. The Nybbler says:

    I’ve posted (or rather, whined) previously about the state of model aircraft regulation in the US. There are some changes coming.

    When last we left it, the state was that a law called Section 336 held sway. This law allowed operation of a model aircraft without a certification or a license or any of that nonsense if

    1) the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;

    2) the aircraft is operated in accordance with a community based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;

    3) the aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization;

    4) The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft; and

    5) when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon operating procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport)).

    The FAA doesn’t like to be told it can’t totally control the air, so in December 2015, it decided to ignore Section 336 and pass a law requiring people flying model aircraft to register. This was eventually struck down as beyond the FAAs authority. Unfortunately, it was re-instated by act of Congress. Since then, the FAA has imposed every limitation it is permitted to by Section 336, plus registration, plus a few others which are not permitted by Section 336, such as prohibiting any flying within 5 miles of a Class B airport.

    A bunch of stuff has gone on, but fast forward to this week. A new FAA authorization bill has come out of conference committee; it is on track to pass without amendment. This bill repeals section 336. It gives the FAA nearly full authority to shut down…err, regulate model aircraft. The new section says you can operate a model aircraft if

    1) The aircraft is flown strictly for recreational purposes.

    2) The aircraft is operated in accordance with or within the programming of a community-based
    organization’s set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the Federal Aviation
    Administration. [Note that no such guidelines exist, since previous guidelines were not developed in coordination with the FAA. Until such guidelines are developed, all model aircraft flying is prohibited]

    3) The aircraft is flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft or a visual
    observer co-located and in direct communication with the operator. [This is terrible for people doing autonomous or first person view flight, but it’s not a change; Sec 336 excluded non-visual-line-of-sight operation in its definition section]

    4) The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.

    5) In Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport, the operator obtains prior authorization from the Administrator or designee before operating and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions. [“Hello? FAA? I’d like to speak to the Administrator, Mr. Elwell, please? What do you mean he’s busy? This is IMPORTANT, I want to fly my toy helicopter.” OK, obviously that’s not how it’s going to work. Most likely it will work the way it originally worked for commercial unmanned aircraft — you fill out a web form a few weeks in advance telling them exactly where and how high you’ll be flying. And for class B they just say “No”.]

    6) In Class G airspace, the aircraft is flown from the surface to not more than 400 feet above ground level and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions. [There’s an entire section of the hobby, sailplanes / thermal soaring, which will be made illegal by this provision.]

    7) The operator has passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test described in subsection (g) and maintains proof of test passage to be made available to the Administrator or law enforcement upon request. [So you need to carry proof you passed a test. They don’t call this a license, but it’s a license. The FAA has 180 days to come up with this test; in the interim all model flying is illegal]

    8) The aircraft is registered and marked in accordance with chapter 441 of this title and proof of registration is made available to the Administrator or a designee of the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.

    That’s bad enough. But wait, there’s more

    “IN GENERAL.—The Administrator, in consultation with government, stakeholders, and community-based organizations, shall initiate a process to periodically update the operational parameters under subsection (a), as appropriate.” That’s Blank Check #1. They can change the rules at any time.

    Then there’s subsection (f):

    ‘‘(f) EXCEPTIONS.—Nothing in this section prohibits the Administrator from promulgating rules generally applicable to unmanned aircraft, including those unmanned aircraft eligible for the exception set forth in this section, relating to—
    ‘‘(1) updates to the operational parameters for unmanned aircraft in subsection (a);
    ‘‘(2) the registration and marking of unmanned aircraft;
    ‘‘(3) the standards for remotely identifying owners and operators of unmanned aircraft systems and associated unmanned aircraft; and
    ‘‘(4) other standards consistent with maintaining the safety and security of the National Airspace System.

    The rules for marking are really going to tick off the people flying period-marked models. Also, some of the FAA proposals require markings visible from the ground… on planes that might be just a few inches long. The bit about remotely identifying has to do with transponders — that section gives the FAA authority to require transponders which can be of arbitrary weight, size, power consumption, and expense. And of course (4) is Blank Check #2.

    Summary: As of the passage of this bill next week, all model aircraft flying becomes illegal in the United States until the Academy for Model Aeronautics and the FAA coordinate on rules (these rules can be arbitrarily restrictive) and the FAA sets up the test. Once both of those happen, flying becomes legal only for those who have passed the test, follow the rules, fly within visual line of sight, stay out of all controlled airspace (including their own backyard in many cases), and stay under 400′. And the FAA can add new rules at any time, including requiring arbitrarily heavy and expensive equipment.

    So it’s basically a meme: The high status aerospace engineer flies home from work over populated areas in his own plane and waves to the FAA guy as he goes to his car. The low status software engineer spends hours getting home on packed transit trains, then when the weekend rolls around, gets arrested and ruinously fined for flying a toy helicopter over an empty field.

    • LesHapablap says:

      What is the justification for this? Are they afraid of terrorists packing bombs in the thing and aiming them at planes, or are they just worried about airspace incursions and accidental loss of separations?

      f.3 and f.4 might relate to mandating ADS-B transponders

      • The Nybbler says:

        Mostly airspace incursions, with a strong dose of “RESPECT MY AUTHORITY”. The FAA’s number one through ten priority is the flying buses. They’re currently so safe that the smallest absolute danger translates into an enormous relative danger, which means the FAA would regulate gnat farts if it could. The next few priorities are other commercial aviation, and all the way at the bottom, grudgingly, is general aviation. Unmanned Aircraft Systems would be something the FAA would just eliminate entirely, except that commercial entities really really want it and have the Congresspeople to make it happen; the FAA dragged their feet for years before enacting what eventually became Part 107 (commercial unmanned aircraft systems — requires an actual pilot’s license and a bunch of other silly requirements).

        When the original Section 336 passed, hobbyists flying models were mostly a relatively small bunch of retired guys flying fixed-wing aircraft in circles on club fields. The exceptions (scale jets, or the soaring people) tended to fly way out in the middle of nowhere. A lot of them were real pilots as well, so could actually talk to FAA and airport people. The FAA published a few advisory rules and otherwise mainly ignored them. Models were relatively low capability, expensive and hard to fly. Technology has moved on and now models are cheap, can be flown from small non-dedicated fields, and can be as easy to fly as you like. They can even by flown by “first person view”, using goggles which show a view from the model. There are 200,000 members of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), which is the organization mostly made up of the retired guys flying in circles. There are over 900,000 _registered_ flyers of model aircraft — and who knows how many unregistered ones, such as myself?

        So where the FAA had no problem with the in-crowd flying in circles, once the unwashed masses started flying, they started panicking. Someone could fly a model into an airliner! And besides, these aren’t “their kind of people”. And furthermore, the commercial drone people — the ones who jumped through all the Part 107 hoops — were rather jealous of the fact that recreational flyers weren’t under the same restrictions. So the FAA went on a years-long campaign of the dangers of drones, publishing reports of every pilot who saw a drone, balloon, trash bag, strange light, or full-scale aircraft in the distance and calling it a near-miss with a drone, and, along with the Commercial Drone Alliance, lobbied for repeal of Section 336.

        They got their way. The irony is, it’s going to hurt the old-school fliers the most. The AMA and its clubs have fixed fields, many in controlled airspace — their headquarters field looks to be in Class E surface airspace. That means the FAA has enormous leverage over them. The FAA says “frog”, the AMA will jump. And when that means their members can’t fly (or can’t fly without jumping through a ridiculous number of hoops), they’re not going to be members for much longer; clubs will shut down, possibly the AMA itself will. The other people, flying from non-dedicated fields? There’s no organization to control us. There are less than 600,000 real pilots, mostly trying to follow the rules. There are well over 700,000 non-AMA modelers, none of whom has passed the FAAs test, most of whom aren’t even going to know about these new rules. The FAA has nothing like the enforcement capability to handle this. What agencies usually resort to in these sorts of cases is enforcement by terrorism — find someone who looks like they can’t defend themselves, hit them with multiple civil penalties and criminal charges, and publicize the hell out of it.

        And yes, I believe (f)(3) is about ADS-B. Several thousand dollars, power requirements and size greater than my smaller helis.

        • LesHapablap says:

          There are some relatively cheap and light ADS-b units out there, 20g and $2000: https://uavionix.com/product/ping2020/

          Drones seem to be much higher risk than model aircraft, since the purpose of a drone is often to get high quality video footage which can mean jumping up into approach paths. And still, the drone apocalypse has been predicted for a while now without any strikes on airplanes of any kind.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s been one drone strike on a military helicopter near Staten Island. That’s the only one.

            The smallest outdoor-capable model I have is an Oxy 2, which runs about $400 fully equipped. All-up weight is about 320g, which means that 23g Ping2020i is significant, though not weight prohibitive. The 30W burst requirement is a problem, though. And I see the full-size pilots complaining about spending $2000 on a $20,000 airplane; spending $2000 on a $400 airplane (and I have about 6 in flyable or almost-flyable condition, ranging in initial cost from $300 to $2000) is ridiculous.

      • Mustard Tiger says:

        I think it’s the same thing as any other hobby or endeavor that used to be difficult suddenly becoming (too) easy.

        15 years ago, if you flew model airplanes, there’s a good chance you spent hours and hours building the thing on your dining room table. You likely attended coordinated flying events where people cared about what frequency they were on, never flew over people or buildings or other things they weren’t willing to crash-land on, and generally took the hobby seriously. It was expensive and it wasn’t easy. There was a filter of effort that dissuaded the riff-raff.

        Now, anyone can go out and buy a drone that will fly itself wherever you point it to with your cell phone. It can still crash, it can still hurt someone, and many, many more people are using them, arguably less carefully than the old timers.

        So, the government sees this problem with people getting “autonomous” quad-copters for Christmas that require virtually no training to get up in the air. People are using them to fly around wildfires and creating dangers for water-dropping aircraft. People are using them to take pictures of airports or whatever.

        Is there a term for this? I’m thinking Tragedy of the Commons, but I don’t think that’s right. When something becomes easier to access, less conscientious / dedicated people start accessing it and it gets used less carefully / skillfully than before..? And this causes a clamp-down on everyone (and obviously upsets the careful old-timers more)?

        • John Schilling says:

          There’s also a big difference in that, for classic model aircraft, flying the model was the goal. Which means, A: the operators tend to be diligent about flying well and B: they don’t have any particular reason to fly dangerous, except possibly at informal exhibitions where spectators get too close to the flight line.

          For modern quadcopters, the goal is often to position a camera someplace really interesting. So, A: less diligence about the flying-for-the-sake-of-flying thing, and B: the interesting cameraworthy things are very often things that involve or attract other people, i.e. crowds of potential victims. Also, things that attract camera drones have a significant probability of attracting police/fire/medevac/news helicopters and the like. And nobody is going to like what happens the first time a helicopter carrying a photogenic accident victim sucks a quadcopter through its turbine.

          If there are problems with the FAA’s new rules, there would have been even bigger problems with using the old model-airplane rules and pretending nothing had changed.

          • bean says:

            This makes me wonder if it would be feasible to loosen the rules for vehicles that do not carry cameras. But that’s unlikely, because you have to figure out if that means don’t carry cameras or can’t carry cameras. I have a friend who has RC model planes and would occasionally strap a camera to one. No transmission, no intent to see cool things, just a view of what the thing was doing. But I can’t see an anti-camera copter regulation which wouldn’t trap him, too.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s a group of people who think the regulation is about the camera drones. But this seems unlikely. There’s nothing in the new law which even addresses any of the things John mentions. There are things that explicitly address traditional R/C from fixed fields. And the only way the new regulations are actually _looser_ than the old Section 336 is that one can legally fly a model using “first person view” (from a camera on the model) if there’s someone else watching it from the same location. It’s not about the cameras or people on the ground; its about the FAA wanting full control of everything artificial in the air, and preferably paring down the number of those things to a controllable level.

    • CatCube says:

      Are you getting the “will be illegal the moment Congress votes” thing from somewhere, or are you assuming it? Because that’s really atypical of legislation of this type. Usually there’s an effective date to avoid exactly what you’re talking about: requirements that can’t be fulfilled because there’s no time to implement regulations.

      You’re going to have to articulate the problems with 1-4, since to me they make perfect sense, and are not much more onerous than what other airspace users must do.

      …the operator obtains prior authorization from the Administrator or designee before operating and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions. [“Hello? FAA? I’d like to speak to the Administrator, Mr. Elwell, please? What do you mean he’s busy?…

      If you’re just reading through the language yourself, you might want to get some help from a website with people who read laws on a regular basis, because this is a really weird thing to get wrapped around the axle about. This is how laws implemented by a particular agency are written–all agency action is done in the name of the responsible Executive official. Here, the Administrator of the FAA.

      For my own agency, laws authorizing construction are phrased as directing either the Secretary of the Army or the Chief of Engineers to do something, but nobody in or outside of government seems to think that that means that I have to run my calculations package by either Mr. Esper or General Semonite. They have massive bureaucracies beneath them that contain experts in the particular field, and who sign the actual drawing sets (or authorization to use a UAV, in your case).

      Similarly, if you sue the FAA, you technically sue the Administrator, since whatever action is taken in his name.

      The most concerning thing here is the 400′ requirement in Class G, because that’s the most limiting thing proposed. However, my opinion on it will depend on how well you can answer this question: Why do you think they chose 400′ as the upper limit? It’s a little unfair to put my opinion of all hobby UAV users on you, but you’re putting yourself out there. But there’s a reason that they may have chosen 400′, instead of 300′, 500′, or 600′, the rest of us flying around know it, and I don’t think it’s unfair that you should too.

      As far as the rest, especially the fact that the language permits further regulation: this isn’t much different than other airspace users deal with. The FAA dropped an ADS-B requirement imposing several thousand dollars of costs on people who want to continue to fly inside the Mode C veil. I’m not saying that it’s right, just that nothing in this tells me that UAV users are being singled out for persecution here.

      I just can’t get worked up over the notion that to cruise around near an airport you should know what the hell everybody else knows about how the NAS works, and have some form of communications.

      • The Nybbler says:

        You’re going to have to articulate the problems with 1-4, since to me they make perfect sense, and are not much more onerous than what other airspace users must do.

        Except 2, these aren’t a change. Whether the rules are terrible or not depends on what they are; the FAA (“in cooperation” with the community-based organization, which means what the FAA says gets written down and given the AMA’s stamp of approval) may choose, for instance, to require models fly from dedicated fields only.

        Are you getting the “will be illegal the moment Congress votes” thing from somewhere, or are you assuming it? Because that’s really atypical of legislation of this type. Usually there’s an effective date to avoid exactly what you’re talking about: requirements that can’t be fulfilled because there’s no time to implement regulations.

        There’s a section of the bill which says

        (a) REGULATIONS.—Notwithstanding the repeals under sections 341, 348, 347, 349, and 383 of this Act, all orders, determinations, rules, regulations, permits, grants, and contracts, which have been issued under any law described under subsection (b) of this section before the effective date of this Act shall continue in effect until modified or revoked by the Secretary of Transportation, acting through the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, as applicable, by a court of competent jurisdiction, or by operation of law other than this Act.

        Section 336 is listed as one of those. However, since Section 336 didn’t authorize any regulations, orders, determinations, rules, etc, it’s not clear that the exemption is covered. The exemption for operation of model aircraft came directly from the statute, not from FAA regulations. In practice, whether or not model aircraft operations are allowed depends entirely on how hard-assed the FAA feels like getting about it.

        This is how laws implemented by a particular agency are written–all agency action is done in the name of the responsible Executive official. Here, the Administrator of the FAA.

        I’m aware of that; that was a joke; the rest of my parenthetical goes into what the actual procedure will likely be, based on the Part 107 procedures. Making a request to fly a model helicopter weeks in advance is not really practical. Nowadays there’s an expedited procedure (LAANC) for Part 107 licensees at some airports, but there’s no reason to think they’ll allow not-technically-licensed recreational fliers to use it.

        Why do you think they chose 400′ as the upper limit? It’s a little unfair to put my opinion of all hobby UAV users on you, but you’re putting yourself out there.

        500′ is the typical minimum altitude for full-sized aircraft set out in 14 CFR 91.119(c). Setting a 400′ upper limit for models gives 100′ of separation. Like I said, doesn’t affect me and my little helicopters (which rarely go above 100′; they could, but I’d have a heck of a time getting them back down in one piece where I could find them), but puts the thermal soaring people out of business.

        FAA dropped an ADS-B requirement imposing several thousand dollars of costs on people who want to continue to fly inside the Mode C veil.

        What’s unreasonable for someone flying around in a full-sized aircraft that’s tens of thousands of dollars is mega-unreasonable for someone flying models that weigh a few pounds, which cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and can neither handle the weight nor the power requirements of a transponder.

        I just can’t get worked up over the notion that to cruise around near an airport you should know what the hell everybody else knows about how the NAS works, and have some form of communications.

        “Near” an airport includes large swathes of the United States; there’s a LOT of Class D/E airspace. People have been flying models in it for decades without issue. And of course you’re not getting worked up, you’re not the one having your hobby outlawed. And as a structural engineer, you have the ability and experience to deal with government officials and red tape and permissions and such. For me, if I need permission the answer is “no”, or it’s “Why?” with the implication being that if I cannot satisfy the asker to why allowing my request benefits him, the answer is “no”.

        • CatCube says:

          500′ is the typical minimum altitude for full-sized aircraft set out in 14 CFR 91.119(c). Setting a 400′ upper limit for models gives 100′ of separation. Like I said, doesn’t affect me and my little helicopters (which rarely go above 100′; they could, but I’d have a heck of a time getting them back down in one piece where I could find them), but puts the thermal soaring people out of business.

          I apologize for doubting you. And reading on the AMA website, I agree with you that this is a problem. I think it’s reasonable to have the altitude limit presumptively top out at 400′ to provide separation, but it doesn’t provide for any way to exceed that, which is not reasonable; if there’s some legwork done to avoid conflicts (e.g., communicating with a flight service station so other flyers are aware) there shouldn’t be any problem with going above that. I mean, unless you’re going to be in the approach path of a runway or something.

          As an aside, both your post and the AMA’s blog on the subject have the same irritation: they state that these rules are deadly (AMA: “…other changes would land a devastating blow to competitions and disciplines that have operated safely in our hobby for decades…”) but don’t articulate what exactly the problem is, because the changes seem pretty subtle. Most of them also don’t seem too unreasonable on their face, since any time I fly I expect to spend at least an hour looking up what’s going on in my area and filing a flight plan before I take off; requirements like “In Class B, C, D, and E airspace, recreational users must obtain authorization from the FAA or a designee” is more or less what we do every time (Class E is the exception). It’s more understandable once you realize that the process is more onerous than just picking up a phone and making a call or making a call on the radio.

          People have been flying models in it for decades without issue. And of course you’re not getting worked up, you’re not the one having your hobby outlawed.

          Not outlawed outright, but they certainly can impose thousands of dollars in costs either through new required technology (ADS-B) or airworthiness directives for a particular aircraft.

          And as a structural engineer, you have the ability and experience to deal with government officials and red tape and permissions and such.

          My insouciance regarding interactions with airspace users don’t come from my job as a structural engineer*, military officer, or government employee, they come with my experiences getting a pilot’s license and a ham radio license, neither of which required any contact with government employees whatsoever**. I’m not going to say that zero of the employees you’re going to interact with are yanking it in their cubicle and need to tell somebody “no” so they can finish, but it’s pretty rare in my experience. Of course, all agencies have their own internal personality, so maybe the FAA is 100% like that. But half the battle is not being afraid to pick up the phone; another 40% is understanding the limitations they’re operating under, and being ready to answer those. I acknowledge that the other 10% is realizing that there might not be a ZOPA, but starting from that assumption is rarely fruitful.

          * I’m a structural engineer for the government, so it’s a bit of a different animal. I don’t have to request permits in the same way as a private developer, and while the law requires us to comply with the building codes of the local jurisdiction, they don’t have any authority to enter our facilities for inspection. Also, I work on things that aren’t technically governed by building codes as such, and many of the standards are internal to our organization–the primary author of one such code is the guy kitty-corner from my cubicle.

          **Well, I guess interacting on the radio with ATC would count, but that’s so heavily protocol-based you’re not asking permission in the same way you mean.

          • bean says:

            Of course, all agencies have their own internal personality, so maybe the FAA is 100% like that.

            Not 100%. I’ve worked with a very different division of the FAA fairly closely, and they were in a lot of ways easier to work with than the internal delegates. Those often seemed unwilling to accept my changes until I’d rebuffed them a dozen times with “the FAA will not let us do that”. The FAA made changes when they needed to, but generally were decent people.

            That said, this was the LA ACO, and the Seattle ACO was apparently much less pleasant to deal with.

          • The Nybbler says:

            As an aside, both your post and the AMA’s blog on the subject have the same irritation: they state that these rules are deadly (AMA: “…other changes would land a devastating blow to competitions and disciplines that have operated safely in our hobby for decades…”) but don’t articulate what exactly the problem is, because the changes seem pretty subtle.

            The AMA post isn’t aimed at a general audience; I imagine their members know which competitions and disciplines they’re referring to. Sailplanes shut down by the 400′ rule are one I know of; I believe there are also large acrobatic R/C planes which regularly exceed 400′. There’s also the turbine jet people; R/C turbine jets are expensive and require a lot of space both laterally and vertically. They’re also only owned by those who are very serious about the hobby. The AMA is probably also worried about the FAA with its new authority to regulate applying the Part 107 rules to models — these include in addition to the 400′ rule, a 100mph restriction (there’s a model helicopter with a 1.5m rotor that can do 180mph, and of course those jets can do much better than 100mph) and daylight-only restrictions (the AMA has night flying competitions).

            While the airspace rules take out a lot of locations for me, the AMA probably isn’t too bothered because they’re operating from fixed fields and can set up operating agreements. However, the FAA can use these operating agreements as leverage on the AMA to force them to police their clubs and to force their clubs to police their members — make sure everyone follows all the rules or they revoke the agreements. And if there’s any fields within Class B they’re probably out of luck (The FAA has claimed for some time “recreational operations are not permitted in Class B airspace around most major airports without specific air traffic permission and coordination”, but until now they’ve lacked the authority to back that up.)

            But half the battle is not being afraid to pick up the phone;

            The FAA does not want part 107 UAS operators contacting facilities directly; they certainly will not want modelers doing it either.

            another 40% is understanding the limitations they’re operating under

            I know what “You have to understand the limitations I’m operating under” means from a bureaucrat. It means “No, and either that’s coming from above my pay grade or I’m going to pretend it is so you go away”. (except in some places where it means “you need to offer a bribe”, but I don’t think it means that from the FAA).

            Most of them also don’t seem too unreasonable on their face, since any time I fly I expect to spend at least an hour looking up what’s going on in my area and filing a flight plan before I take off

            You have a real license, you’re flying a real plane, at least 100 times the weight of my toys, and you get to fly IN the plane and fly over populated areas for long distances. I’m flying a toy helicopter, less than 7 minutes at a time, over an empty field. I wouldn’t have gotten into the hobby if it was about following a model bureaucracy, and the real bureaucracy is certainly far too heavyweight.

    • Garrett says:

      I have no idea how to read this, but it looks like the entire greater Pittsburgh area is Class B airspace meaning that flying a toy 1/2 lbs camera copter would be a violation. Maybe.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        Only the innermost ring is Class B all the way down to the surface. Farther out you see numbers like “80/40”, meaning only the altitudes between 4000′ and 8000′ (MSL) are in the Class B.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I actually do know how to read that. The inner blue ring around the airport indicates class B airspace from the surface to 8000 feet (note the 80/SFC marking), so that’s all that’s relevant for model aircraft purposes. The various shaded magenta curves indicate areas where Class E airspace starts at 700 feet instead of 1200 feet or 14500 feet. Dotted blue circles (e.g. around Beaver County airport, BVI or Alleghany County, AGC) indicate Class D surface airspace; the number [38] means it extends from the surface to 3800 feet. This is also forbidden to model aircraft under the new rules. AGC is the biggest problem for those in Pittsburgh proper, whereas PIT knocks out a large section of western and northwestern suburbs.

        There is a model airplane field in Hillman State Park, just slightly to the west of the Pittsburgh surface class B. They lucked out. There’s another field that appears to be just INSIDE the AGC class D, near the southwest edge, though it’s a very near thing. If they’re inside, they’re going to need someone who can schmooze with ATC and the FAA to set up an agreement to operate, or they’re out of business.

        The huge outer red ring marked “Mode C” is where by 2020 expensive Mode C transponders will be required for all (manned) aircraft having an engine-driven electrical system; one could guess the FAA will require them for all unmanned aircraft within that area as well, but such regulations have not yet been published.

  9. rlms says:

    On Title IX proceedings:

    Many people who bring forward such claims require the guarantee of confidentiality. My worry, though, is that in public culture right now an allegation of sexual harassment can be immediately taken to be the proof of the claim. Since women complainants, in particular, have been conventionally disbelieved and discredited, the trend is now reversed so that whoever speaks is assumed to speak the truth. Legal procedures for the fair adjudication of such claims are sometimes sidestepped altogether as the media becomes the new public tribunal. I understand why it is important to have public discussions such as these. At the same, in higher education we need procedures: clear and accessible ways for claimants to come forward and have a timely investigation of their claims; provisions for faculty review, safeguards against preemptive punishments by administrators who fear liability that short-circuit fair procedure the rights of the accused.

    Sounds sensible? Uh oh, you just agreed with Whqvgu Ohgyre!

    • The Nybbler says:

      Sounds sensible? Uh oh, you just agreed with Whqvgu Ohgyre!

      That’s not really an uh-oh. If I disagreed with all the people on the Other Side all the time, they’d be indistinguishable. Now if it was Amanda Marcotte…

      • Mary says:

        Except, of course, Amanda Marcotte would never say that.

        There may be other subjects on which she is sane, but she wouldn’t say that.

      • Plumber says:

        @The Nybbler

        I had to look up who “Amanda Marcotte” is, and I found that she briefly worked for the John Edwards campaign, but otherwise seems to mostly drawn negative attention to herself (for the record, I have extremely dim memories of the Duke lacrosse allegations, and if commenters here didn’t say so I wouldn’t have known that the accusations were shown to be false).

        I very much know of John Edwards, originally because in 2003 The New York Times published a story on the death of Patrick Walters who was doing the exact same type of work that I was doing at the time, and then Senator John Edwards responded in a letter to the times, catching my attention, and he advocated strengthening OSHA, and for a brief moment there was a Presidential candidate who was talking about the issues that were most important to me, and then the press jumped on a sex scandal story about him and that was that with that.

        This year a quick web search shows me that as a Federal judge Supreme Court nominee Kavaugh has already ruled on issues that are very important to me (including workplace safety), but all the news is about some damn sex scandal. 

        I really don’t get it and am pretty sick of it.

        • Nick says:

          I’m guessing The Nybbler mentioned Marcotte because of the Duke allegations, yeah. From Wikipedia:

          In January 2007, Marcotte made several controversial statements about the Duke lacrosse case including calling people who defended the accused “rape-loving scum”[7][8][9][10] and writing on her blog “Can’t a few white boys sexually assault a black woman anymore without people getting all wound up about it? So unfair.” The post, which Marcotte later deleted, attracted criticism, was mentioned in The New York Times.[11][12] The Duke lacrosse players were eventually found to have been falsely accused. Their accuser, Crystal Mangum, was later convicted of an unrelated murder, and the prosecuting attorney, Mike Nifong, was disbarred.

          I take it The Nybbler’s point is that Marcotte admitting the sort of thing which Butler writes above would be a big deal.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Warning to everyone in this thread: be very careful and don’t let it degenerate into contentless outgroup bashing

    • Philosophisticat says:

      I am annoyed at the description of Ronell as “by all accounts, one of the great academic minds of our time”. The accounts of an incestuous subcommunity of postmodernists are not “all accounts”.

      • Deiseach says:

        This whole affair reminds me of another incestuous academic department that was its own little cult that I read about some years back, but my leaky memory won’t let me remember who it was or where it was. It was some nasty psychological control, though, and the way that Ronell is described as getting her foot in the door and then getting the run of the place (if it’s true) is uncannily similar.

        I can’t remember if it was sociology or feminist studies or something along those lines, but it ended up with a husband and wife team of professors ruling the roost and doing the same thing – cutting out any oversight from the administration, making sure any other professors/lecturers in the department were all ‘yes men (and women)’, wielding immense influence over the students (the description of students confessing all kinds of offences against the queen bee and begging to be allowed back into her good graces is disturbingly familiar). I wish I could remember where I read it – it was some tiny department of a big university that was let go its own way because of producing cutting-edge theoretical work like this professor? But the two stories are very alike in the whole cult of personality and having the whims of the female professor be iron laws for her chosen students.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Reading these accounts it is interesting how little the authors seem to know about dealing with anyone with any will. What was the author expecting when he went to the Dean? That they would immediately side with him without investigating? That he and one other person would take down someone who was committed to building their own army of followers? Did he imagine himself as a good ally, someone who needed approval from an authority figure to fix the issue? What was the plan here?

          • Erusian says:

            Backbone is a great quality, until someone is standing up to you. Most major organizations, especially non-competitive ones like government and academia, are designed to reward people who are compliant with the organization’s goals and directives. Note that ‘submissive’ and ‘meek’ are synonyms for compliant.

            You cannot geld someone and bid they be fruitful. If you train and select people to be compliant, you will end up with an organization filled with people who are compliant rather than willful. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for the organization. But it does lead to a certain shock when these people are exposed to something else. Suddenly they realize they’ve lived their lives inside a walled garden and have no real immune system to deal with bullies, queen bees, and power players.

            In such cases, they must turn to the system to protect them. They cannot fight their own battle. They have been discouraged from developing these skills their entire lives. Plus, they will be punished for doing so. Likewise, walking away is often a life-damaging prospect in a world where recommendations and reputation is everything.

            A true believer will turn to the proper authorities because the system is supposed to be set against such things. And it is in principle. But in practice, it’s optimized to keep things running smoothly, which isn’t always in the individual’s best interest. And no bully prospers in one of these systems without the ability to manipulate it. So they complain, often naively expecting the truth of their claims to weigh heavily, and find they do not live in a just world.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I dont know who that is and it doesn’t sound all that sensible at all.

      1. Faculty review? Why would faculty be involved in a criminal or human relations matter? This is for police and/or HR departments. The Physics 235, Electrical Engineering 200, Psychology 215, and French 201 professors bring little perspective to such matters other than personal and political biases. Police have a high burden of proof, and HR people have an incentive to avoid litigation where courts overturn their decisions. So, including faculty is not sensible at all, its entirely not sensible.

      2. Why would you respect confidentiality of claims? Confidentiality actually only has two real benefits: 1) Allowing a statement to be objectively evaluated; and 2) Preventing undue retaliation.

      1) This is the use of a pen name, somewhat like how you attempted to in this post. Its kind of like how people will quote Hitler or some other hated figure to get their enemies to applaud, then reveal their idiocy, without the last part. Anonymity thus has its uses when making abstract arguments such as in the Federalist Papers. When you apply higher principles to the days current events a pen name can be useful such that readers do no pre-judge your arguments. This is why, for example, the recent Times anonymous Op-Ed was such a failure, it was short on philosophy and first principles, and long on partisanship and specific accusations. In the latter scenario a name must be attached for any credibility to attach (aka sexual harassment or rape allegations).

      2) This is akin to a whistleblower. The whistleblower has a truth that he/she reveals to the public for the public good; however the whistleblower must be protected (at least temporarily) because otherwise he will be bankrupted because of internal backlash (one usually blows the whistle on his bosses). Now, its true that reporting an abuser is a public good, and its true that anonymity can prevent backlash, however there is a crucial difference in the majority of whistleblower cases vs. sexual abuse allegations in a Title IX court: proof other than the allegation, and no plausible other scenario where such evidence could have come about.

      2a) I have no problem with a university expelling a man who raped a woman without the woman testifying and revealing her name given: A rape kit taken that has a DNA match; corroborating pictures of bruises and marks; testimony of contemporaneous actions from one or both parties, and a timely allegation. In that case I am perfectly fine with the school’s HR department conducting the inquiry anonymously such that the accuser submits a written statement and all other witnesses are to refer to the accuser as such. If the physical evidence and non-accuser testimony provides clear and convincing evidence of sexual assault, expel the person without cross-examination of the accuser. But that is rare, because those cases normally go to the police (or no one).

      2b) This brings me to why would there be confidentiality for rape victims in this case? Well there is no compelling reason unless we live under Sharia law or a similar society. If that is the case, then you will lose regardless, so the fact that you win is prima facie evidence that you anonymity request is bunk. Now you could rebut that, but no one does because we don’t live in anything representing a world that shames this, we aggrandize it, reward it, and glorify it.

      • axiomsofdominion says:

        Confidentiality exists to deal with political and social polarization. No one sends nasty hate male, death threats, doxxing, etc to someone who reports other crimes but in sexual assault crimes the response to the reporting party is often quite “intense”. There is a group of people, we’ll avoid the topic of which particular people and smaller groups are truly part of this umbrella group, who will go out of their way to attempt to cause emotional and physical distress to someone who reports a sexual crime in order to maintain an status of limited consequences for perpetrators. Confidentiality is designed to protect from that. When you report a robbery by an average person no one goes out to rob you or threaten to rob you in retaliation. That is not the case for sexual crimes.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          I think that is naive. If a person reported a SCOTUS nominee or Presidential candidate burgled their home 10, 20, 30 years ago and provided no evidence, that person would receive threats as well. Indeed, there are no Title IX tribunals for burglary because for a claim of burglary to be taken seriously there has to be great evidence. An accused burglar and accuser both face scrutiny. The difference is that sexual misconduct is the only crime that is ever alleged under the circumstance where there is no corroborating evidence; or at the very least the only such crime where the person isn’t laughed out of existence.

          I mean, it would be easy for me to craft a more credible allegation of burglary against my hometown mayor than we have in many of these Title IX cases. I would simply FOIA his mayoral records, find a time where he is consistently out of the office, find a time he was alone at home, and then accuse him of burglary at that time. I could even break a window and make a manifest of stolen items. Even under all those circumstances very few people would take it all that seriously (unless I was buddies with an investigating cop, or the cop had a grudge against the mayor).

          Moreover, those “elements” as I’ll call them might be crude, but are they wrong on the whole? The media always seems to be eager to accept these “great white devil” stories from mattress girl to UVA to Duke, and the only time I recall them ever finding a real monster is the California swimmer rapist. The media is batting like .100 on the rapists they like to put on the front pages of national news outlets.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s true that anyone who steps in front of the politics bus is likely to get run down, but I think prominent women in general get more threats from crazy people on the internet, and rape/sexual assault allegations bring the crazies out of the woodwork.

            If Kavenaugh’s accusers are remotely sane and in touch with reality, they have to have forseen that they’d get the attention of vast numbers of crazies, as well as the ethics-free shills and attack dogs and media personalities maintained by the other side (both sides employ such people). This doesn’t guarantee that they’re telling the truth, but coming forward was a personally expensive thing to do, so they probably didn’t do it without some serious thought.

          • Deiseach says:

            This doesn’t guarantee that they’re telling the truth, but coming forward was a personally expensive thing to do, so they probably didn’t do it without some serious thought.

            Yeah, but then you have bandwagon jumpers like Ms “I was empowered on Facebook” which don’t help anyone at all.

            “In my [Facebook] post, I was empowered and I was sure it probably did [happen],” she told Totenberg, who reached out to her on Wednesday. “I had no idea that I would now have to go to the specifics and defend it before 50 cable channels and have my face spread all over MSNBC news and Twitter.”

            I was going to make a highly uncharitable comment about not knowing the publicity would ensue but that would be unfair. However, this is part of the problem – if she truly didn’t think that adding fuel to the fire would bring attention to her, then maybe people don’t factor in all the likely repercussions when they make accusations.

          • but coming forward was a personally expensive thing to do, so they probably didn’t do it without some serious thought.

            Probably true. But it doesn’t follow that she was telling the truth.

            It’s been obvious for quite a while that a lot of people on the left believe that Kavanaugh getting on the court would be a catastrophe. If Ford is one such person, as seems likely, then the benefit of a false accusation, both altruistic—preventing what she sees as a terrible outcome—and selfish in terms of her future status with her ingroup would be large, so after thinking about it she might well decide to do it.

            There were hundreds, probably thousands, of women in a position to make an equally convincing false charge–all it requires is that at some time in the past the event could have happened. The fact that one or two of them did make the charge is very weak evidence that it is true.

          • Matt M says:

            Even aside from the altruistic “I’m saving the world from Hitler” aim, it’s unclear to me whether we can definitively say that this is even “personally expensive.”

            It’s not costless, but on the net of things, the benefits, even entirely selfish ones, might easily outweigh the costs. It seems likely, for example, that she could probably parlay her minor celebrity into a fairly generous book deal. Or a public speaking career as a “sex assault survivor.”

          • Even simpler, since she is an academic in a world where university faculties are heavily left, she could simply get better positions or more pay because the people making the decisions are grateful to her for her efforts blocking a conservative justice candidate.

          • albatross11 says:

            This article describes research into known-false rape accusations, and the patterns that false accusers usually fall into. FWIW, this doesn’t look at all like Ford.

            As best I can tell (this is not remotely my field), this is based only on cases where the authorities could determine that there was a false accusation or where people were actually let out of prison. So this is still including errors in two directions:

            a. There may be successful false rape accusations that stuck and nobody knows that they were false. Just as with other places where the justice system just flat puts the wrong person in prison, it’s very hard to know how common this is.

            b. There may be real rapes that got incorrectly dismissed as false accusations (for example, if the victim looked too much like the common type of false accuser) and released prisoners who really did it but they were let out because of some massive misconduct somewhere in their case.

            This also doesn’t account for possible political motives for a false accusation. The motive is there–the supreme court is extremely powerful and being able to influence its makeup might be worth a huge personal sacrifice to many people.

            But it’s worth noting that (as the author of this piece did on Twitter) if you were crafting a false accusation, you’d probably do better to make a false accusation that was less messy and harder to dismiss as drunk teenagers misbehaving but thankfully not actually raping anyone. She could as easily have fabricated a claim that he’d been alone in the room and had raped her–there would be the same lack of available evidence now, fewer potential witnesses, and an accusation that couldn’t possibly be excused with a “drunk horny teenagers acting badly” kind of explanation. She’s also clearly smart enough to have fabricated such a story.

            This makes me think that Ford’s telling the truth as she believes it. Maybe she’s somehow got her memories jumbled, or she’s done some kind of memory recovery thing that’s planted false memories in her head, or for that matter maybe she’s just making something up and wasn’t very strategic about it. But that sure doesn’t seem like the way to bet.

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt M:

            The world’s a big place, and not everyone shares my values. But it’s hard for me to imagine subjecting myself and my family to this sort of circus, in exchange for some hoped-for payoff in terms of improved chances at jobs or book deals. Even when everyone’s sympathetic to you (as most decent people are when someone says they’ve been sexually assaulted), it’s still going to be an extremely uncomfortable interaction, with people pointing at her in the streets and casual acquaintances thinking “Wow, I wonder if that’s true or she made it all up.”

            As a thought experiment, it’s interesting to ask how much money you’d have to offer the average divorced liberal college professor with teenaged kids to end up where she has ended up. I don’t know the answer, but I suspect it would be a fair bit of money.

          • Matt M says:

            But the relevant question here isn’t “Would the average person do this?”

            It’s “Would at least one out of ~5 million* people do this?”

            *My incredibly rough approximation for “Females who could credibly claim to have been at a frat party in Maryland sometime within the relevant multi-year period”

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Matt M

            For this specific allegation it’s rather less than that; you need to limit it to private school girls (since I can’t see the preppies partying with the public school kids, not even in Montgomery County, MD) in the right place and time period. That brings it down to a few hundred, maybe. The universe of possible unprovable allegations is much larger, however.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            First, my base assumption that Ford simply made this up, having merely met Kavanaugh at some party in the past, is low. Around 10%.

            I also think trying to weigh the destruction of your old way of life with the creation of a new, possibly better one, is very weird and it makes me uncomfortable to try to put any odds on that.

            But by the Democrats own rhetoric, stopping Kavanaugh is the alternative to The Handmaid’s Tale. If you constantly scream that the sky is going to fall, you can’t just brush off the idea that someone will show up to say a piece just hit them in the head.

          • Matt M says:

            That brings it down to a few hundred, maybe. The universe of possible unprovable allegations is much larger, however.

            Okay, but I don’t think this affects my larger point that the “average person” is irrelevant.

            Even if we drop down a couple orders of magnitude, asking “Would 1% of people be willing to do this” is a lot different than saying “I probably won’t do that, therefore it’s unlikely she’s doing it.”

          • Matt M says:

            First, my base assumption that Ford simply made this up, having merely met Kavanaugh at some party in the past, is low. Around 10%.

            If 10% of the females who “merely met Kavanaugh at some party in the past” were willing to do this, why isn’t he facing dozens of such accusations?

            I feel like all of these conversations are exhibiting a very poor understanding of probability. “It’s incredibly unlikely that any one given person would do this” and “It’s incredibly likely that at least one person would do this” can both co-exist.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If 10% of the females who “merely met Kavanaugh at some party in the past”

            That’s not very Bayesian. 10% wasn’t the chance that any random woman who knows Kav would lie.

            I had second thoughts about including a specific number, which turn out to be well-founded.

          • Matt M says:

            What do you know about Ford that is causing you to significantly adjust your prior that she’s a liar, compared to any random other women who met him?

            In any case, my point stands. The fact that any given woman is unlikely to fabricate this charge does not negate the fact that at least one woman is likely to fabricate this charge.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The odds aren’t just about the accusation being false, but also mistaken. Was she really attacked but remembered the wrong guy, in a grey situation that has turned into something more sinister in her mind, or some other option?

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            but I think prominent women in general get more threats from crazy people on the internet,

            This is an oft-asserted idea that has no evidence behind it, and honestly needs to die. The only thing there is evidence for is that women who get even minor harassment are treated extremely sympathetically, in particular pseudo-intellectual left-wing women.

            A pattern I’ve typically noticed is that ladies who claim to be harassed a lot on the internet are just lady versions of Milo Yiabopolis. When their ideas are questioned they give embarrassing answers ala Alexandria-Ocasio-Cortez on Jake Tapper (and every other non-puff interview) so then they stop giving debates, claim to be shut down a lot, engage in provocation, and then point at people replying to provocation and call it harassment.

          • albatross11 says:

            What’s the base rate of women willing to concoct a sexual assault allegation to derail a political figure? I don’t know the answer off the top of my head, but it’s way, way lower than 1%.

            One way to start thinking about this is to look at how many high elected officials have had a sexual assault/harassment claim made against them. A quick Google search turned up this article. There are about 430 male members of congress (house and senate). Let’s say there are W women in a position to make a spurious claim of sexual assault/harassment against each male congressman, and that women never get such a claim. Let’s imagine W=100 for now.

            Let P = the probability that a given woman in a position to make a false sexual assault/harassment claim against a congressman[1], given that she’s in a position to do so.

            Finally, let’s imagine all the congressmen are pure as the driven snow, and all those accusations were false ones. What’s the relationship between W and P? Cheating a bit by assuming each congressman who gets accused at all is accused by exactly one woman: There are 43000 women capable of making an accusation. We see seven accusations. To expect seven false accusations in about a year, we’d need

            43000*P = 7

            P = 7/43000 ~= 0.0001

            That seems like an upper bound on the real number, since I’ve assumed all the accusations were false, and it seems unlikely they all were. And maybe W should be smaller.

            My very rough estimate of P here scales linearly with W–if W gets twice as big, P gets half as big. And if we assume that only half of the accusations listed in that article are false, P gets half as big.

            So this is a very rough back-of-the-envelope estimate, but P(random woman in a position to make a false sexual accusation against a powerful male political figure) might be somewhere around 1/10000 = 0.0001. I suspect it’s lower, but it’s probably at least within an order of magnitude. It seems like a reasonable base rate.

            How many women were in a position to make a false accusation against Kavenaugh? I doubt it was 10,000. Maybe 100-1000? (Though I wouldn’t think of Ford as being someone who was at all likely to make some such accusation, as opposed to (say) some pretty young woman clerking for him or some secretary or something.)

            We can check this another way: male SC nominees don’t seem to have this kind of accusation come up very often. Thomas is the last one I know of. (And the accusation there was quite different from this one–uncomfortable sexual innuendo and maybe hoping to talk a subordinate into bed, vs drunken teenage sexual assault.) If the base rate were high enough to expect this to happen, we’d see it happening a lot.

            [1] Used here to stand in for powerful political figures generally.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @albatross11

            I think you’re trying to solve the Drake equation here. Realistically, you have order-of-magnitude uncertainties in each estimate, and furthermore there are “unknown unknowns”.

          • dick says:

            Plus, for a tribally polarizing issue like this, it seems pretty optimistic to think anyone’s position is going to be swayed by statistics.

            Slightly related: “I think you’ll find that the men from my village are born with, eh, something extra,” Tom said tribally.

          • @albatross11:

            What you are missing in the argument is that the payoff to an invented accusation of Kavanaugh is much higher than to a similar accusation of a random congressman, for two reasons:

            1. An accusation with no evidence is going to cost a congressman very few votes, so is unlikely to result in his losing the election–especially unlikely given that most of the time the winner is the incumbent who wins by a sizable margin. But all the accuser has to do this time is persuade two Republican senators that the chance the accusation is true is enough so they shouldn’t confirm Kavenaugh–or that it will look that way to enough voters to matter to the senator. The same unsupported charge that has has a near zero chance of changing the outcome of a congressional election has quite a good chance of changing the outcome of the confirmation process.

            2. One additional conservative justice has a much larger effect on the world than one additional conservative congressman. That has to be discounted by the fact that if they block Kavanaugh, the result may be to get a different conservative senator a few months later. On the other hand, you have to increase the payoff by the effect on the midterm elections of making it look as if Republicans are soft on rape.

            So I get back to my subjective probability for someone who is a committed partisan being willing to tell a lie that will never be exposed in service of a large payoff to her side, and I think the odds that at least one person will be willing to do that are pretty high.

          • Matt M says:

            Plus, for a tribally polarizing issue like this, it seems pretty optimistic to think anyone’s position is going to be swayed by statistics.

            Of course not.

            But that doesn’t mean we can’t use statistics to call out obviously-terrible arguments like “The average person wouldn’t make this up, therefore Ford isn’t making it up.”

          • Matt M says:

            So I get back to my subjective probability for someone who is a committed partisan being willing to tell a lie that will never be exposed in service of a large payoff to her side, and I think the odds that at least one person will be willing to do that are pretty high.

            Agreed.

            I would also push back on albatross’ suggestion that we can look to the past lack of accusations as informative on the probabilities here.

            Clarence Thomas aside, #MeToo is a fairly new thing. The severity of which sexual assault claims are taken has increased probably by an order of magnitude over the last 2-3 years. This type of accusation is simply more likely to work now than it has ever been in the past, therefore, we can’t judge it based on past behaviors.

            I think we could go back on forth as to how high the potential number of false accusers is, but all I’ll say here is that Ford has established that you don’t even need to provide a location or even the year it supposedly happened for your accusation to be “credible.” Nor do you need a single witness available to confirm the two of you were together at any given time. It occurs to me that literally any woman who might conceivably have been in the general geographic vicinity at any time over a multi-year period could make this same claim with equal validity as Ford.

          • dick says:

            But that doesn’t mean we can’t use statistics to call out obviously-terrible arguments…

            The last time we discussed this, you said that Ford being truthful was “just as possible” as Obama being born in Kenya, Seth Rich being murdered by the Clintons, and the US government being behind 9/11.

          • Incurian says:

            …if you were crafting a false accusation, you’d probably do better to make a false accusation that was less messy and harder to dismiss…

            https://youtu.be/rMz7JBRbmNo?t=51

            And from the article:

            …it’s exceedingly rare for a false rape allegation to end in prison time. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, since records began in 1989, in the US there are only 52 cases where men convicted of sexual assault were exonerated because it turned out they were falsely accused.

            By the same method, we can be confident that police very rarely shoot innocent people, because police investigate those claims of wrongful use of force and almost never find them to be substantiated.

          • Matt M says:

            The last time we discussed this, you said that Ford being truthful was “just as possible” as Obama being born in Kenya, Seth Rich being murdered by the Clintons, and the US government being behind 9/11.

            To the extent that the pro-Ford argument is nothing more than “You can’t prove it didn’t happen!” then those are perfectly reasonable analogues.

          • Matt M says:

            By the same method, we can be confident that police very rarely shoot innocent people, because police investigate those claims of wrongful use of force and almost never find them to be substantiated.

            It amazes me that these articles seem to get away with stuff like this.

            They count the total number of sexual assaults by simply counting the number of times a woman claims to have been assaulted.

            But they count false accusations if and only if a man is arrested, convicted, sentenced, and later exonerated after the fact.

            I wonder what these statistics would look like if we flipped the standards here? The total amount of sexual assaults in society consists solely of assaults that are reported and where a victim is arrested, convicted, and sentenced. But the total amount of false accusations is based on a survey where men are asked if they’ve ever been falsely accused of doing something sexual?

          • albatross11 says:

            Actually, survey data from men would be very useful here.

            The problem I have is that so much of this discussion (the one about sexual assault, unreported rapes, etc.) seems to go:

            ideology -> assumed facts -> discussion/proposals

            So I’m very interested in ways to find any kind of ground truth that we can use to make sure our discussions and proposals aren’t just reflecting our starting ideology.

            I mean, it’s really easy to see this when you see some feminists talking about rape. But it looks to me like *everyone* is doing this–inferring from ideology and vaguely remembered media stories to figure out what the facts must be, to justify some proposed policy.

            [ETA:]

            I’ve seen a similar criticism about using the Washington Post’s database on police shootings to infer things about what police shootings look like in the US. Their database draws on police reports to fill in data like whether the person shot dead by the police was armed or was in the middle of a violent crime when shot. There’s an incentive there for the policeman who’s just shot you to write his report to make you look like a terrifying threat that needed to be shot, since he’d like to keep his job. And yet, this database makes conversations around police shootings *enormously* more worthwhile, because we’re not just going on what stories have appeared in a lot of media coverage or what our ideologies tell us must be going on.

            Where would we get better data on the prevalence and nature of false rape/sexual assault accusations? The article I linked to was using a pretty strong standard there–what do false accusations that are detected by the justice system look like. There’s an opportunity for error in both directions there. But we’re not going to get any smarter about this issue without finding some kind of data we can sink our teeth into. Where else would we go to look for it?

          • Incurian says:

            But we’re not going to get any smarter about this issue without finding some kind of data we can sink our teeth into.

            My complaint is not that they used imperfect data, it’s all imperfect. My complaint is that they did not acknowledge the weakness of the data and did not temper the confidence in their conclusions that was based on weak data (I assume, I stopped reading the article shortly after the part I quoted; I apologize in advance if I’m mistaken {<–That’s how you use weak data, with humility}).

          • The last time we discussed this, you said that Ford being truthful was “just as possible”

            To my ear, “probable” is quantitative, “possible” is binary–something either is possible or is not. So there is a sense in which all things that cannot be proven to be false are equally possible, although some are much more probable than others.

            I don’t know if that was the point being made in the comment quoted or not.

          • dick says:

            To the extent that the pro-Ford argument is nothing more than “You can’t prove it didn’t happen!” then those are perfectly reasonable analogues.

            This seems like straight up trolling, and the fact that no one else is saying so seems like a “we don’t punch to the right” rule here.

            But, carrying forward with the laughable pretense that you’re speaking in earnest, the answer is: you can’t just say “there’s no evidence that Ford was assaulted, and no evidence that Obama was born in Kenya, therefore either is just as likely as the other.” You have to also ask, is there evidence that Ford was not assaulted, and is there evidence that Obama was not born in Kenya? To which the answers are no and yes, which is what makes Ford being assaulted more plausible than Obama being Kenyan.

          • Matt M says:

            You have to also ask, is there evidence that Ford was not assaulted, and is there evidence that Obama was not born in Kenya? To which the answers are no and yes, which is what makes Ford being assaulted more plausible than Obama being Kenyan.

            Incorrect.

            The evidence that Ford was not assaulted includes:

            Did not report an assault at the time (or within 10 years)
            Did not discuss an assault, ever, with anyone except her therapist
            Can not produce a single witness to verify her account
            Cannot name where the assault happened
            Cannot even approximate when the assault happened
            Multiple character witnesses insisting Kavanaugh would not, and never has, done something like this
            Etc.

            Now, you can dismiss all of that and say “Well, that doesn’t prove it didn’t happen.”

            But if you’d care to list out all of your “evidence” that Obama was born in Hawaii, I can just as easily respond with “Well, that doesn’t prove the witnesses aren’t lying, the certificate wasn’t forged, etc.”

          • Randy M says:

            This seems like straight up trolling, and the fact that no one else is saying so seems like a “we don’t punch to the right” rule here.

            Or it could be that “prove you aren’t a witch/heretic/child molester” has bad precedent.

          • rlms says:

            @dick
            Indeed. I think it’s the new stupidest thing I’ve seen in the comments here.

            @Randy M
            I don’t believe anyone here is saying Kavanaugh needs to prove he is innocent, merely that the probability he is guilty is non-negligible.

          • dick says:

            But if you’d care to list out all of your “evidence”…

            A discussion about the relative merits of different pieces of evidence is the sort of thing I would have with someone who hadn’t recently announced that he believes his side despite the lack of evidence because it’s his side.

          • Matt M says:

            A discussion about the relative merits of different pieces of evidence is the sort of thing I would have with someone who hadn’t recently announced that he believes his side despite the lack of evidence because it’s his side.

            Which makes me just like everyone else, except more honest.

          • dick says:

            Or it could be that “prove you aren’t a witch/heretic/child molester” has bad precedent.

            No one is demanding that. Or rather, lots of people are demanding that, on Daily Kos and The_Donald and other fora that aren’t nominally associated with rational inquiry and constructive debate, and I’m here to avoid them as well as the people they’re having their pointless and nakedly partisan shouting match with.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t believe anyone here is saying Kavanaugh needs to prove he is innocent, merely that the probability he is guilty is non-negligible.

            So the argument is between Matt’s negligible and dick’s non-negligible but impossible to positively identify as there has been zero corroborating evidence and you expect us to ride in to chastise Matt about the difference between 10^-5 and 10^-??

          • dick says:

            Which makes me just like everyone else, except more honest.

            I’m pretty consistently and obviously liberal, and I don’t find Ford’s allegations compelling. (Nor do I find the proposition that they’re fabricated compelling). I’m not even convinced that, if he did exactly what she alleges, that it should bar him from being confirmed! But there’s not a lot of room for nuanced discussion when Mr. “Yeah, I guess it’s possible she’s telling the truth, the same way it’s possible that Obama tortured and murdered a hooker” is posting fifty times a day.

          • rlms says:

            @Randy M
            Given that in a “he-said-she-said” situation, a figure in the ballpark of 0.3 seems appropriate for your value of ?, I do indeed expect chastisement. Or do you think the probability of Ford telling the truth is only insignificantly larger than 0.001%?

          • quanta413 says:

            Given that in a “he-said-she-said” situation, a figure in the ballpark of 0.3 seems appropriate for your value of ?, I do indeed expect chastisement.

            This is not just any “he-said-she-said” situation. I’d take odds like 50/50 if the accusation was made about something that occurred last month, and it could be confirmed that the two were at a party together. And there was no reason to suspect many people had a motive to slander the accused.

            This was ~30 years ago with no location or time specified. And it’s a supreme court nominee in the middle of an immense partisan battle.

            Assigning a probability of .5 is like Matt’s mistake just in the opposite direction. It basically assumes that the fact we’re talking about a supreme court nominee who Democrats are desperate to prevent from being seated is totally irrelevant.

          • Nick says:

            Dick, in the intervening thread literally everyone else disagreed with Matt, so no, we do not operate on a “we don’t punch to the right” rule. I thought Matt’s statement was poorly worded at best, but I’m not interested in having that argument.

            One of the nice things about text discussions is that you don’t actually have to respond to everyone. If you think Matt’s argument is so bad that he must be trolling, you can ignore him. The worst he can do to you is bring up something completely outrageous that derails everyone else’s discussion, but, well….

          • albatross11 says:

            We all have a temptation to evaluate evidence in light of our desired conclusion. But it’s a temptation we should try to resist–not by trying extra hard to be epistemicaly virtuous (that probably doesn’t help as much as we’d like), but rather by reducing a factual question to some kind of question of logic or mathematics that can be answered by System 2 instead of System 1. (AKA “Shut up and multiply.”)

            My best guess is that Ford believes the accusation she’s making (90%). I imagine that there is some reasonable chance (maybe 10%?) that she’s sincerely remembering something that never happened, and probably at least 30% that her memory is pretty seriously jumbled by the passage of time and the trauma of the event, to the point where she doesn’t have a basically accurate explanation of what happened. Both probabilities go up quite a bit if she has “recovered” this memory in therapy over many hard and painful sessions.

            Assuming it happened as she remembers, there’s some chance of a misidentification–depending on how well she knew Kavenaugh that could be quite low or pretty high. (For example, if she knew him on a first-name basis and had spent a lot of time around him, then the probability she misidentified him is almost 0% unless she’s face blind or something. On the other hand, if she’d never met him but had seen him at a couple parties sometime, the probability of a misidentification is probably rather higher. I’m not sure how to put a number of this–if he was a stranger to her, maybe 20%? (There must be good data on misidentification by eyewitnesses somewhere….)

            I’d guess something around a 20%-30% chance that Kavenaugh might sincerely not remember such an incident assuming it occurred exactly as she says.

            So maybe we have

            Sincere * Accurate * Correct ID which is probably something like

            0.9 * 0.9* 1 = 0.81 if she knew him well, and

            0.9 * 0.9 * 0.7 = 0.56 if she didn’t know him at all.

            Assuming it happened, let’s say there’s a 0.2 probability he sincerely doesn’t remember it. That gets us to

            P( he did it and is lying about it)

            between 0.81 * 0.8 = 0.64 and 0.56 * 0.8 = 0.45

            This is all back-of-the-envelope, but it seems at least like a reasonable first cut, and I’m pretty sure I’m not letting my team spirit infect at least the multiplication (which is being done by Sage, not me!).

            The reason I’m interested in this particular probability is because this is the situation where I’d say he was disqualified to be a justice–if he did this sexual assault and now is knowingly lying about it, then that seems like a major character issue sufficient to refuse to put him on the court.

            I’m not convinced that the drunken sexual assault as a teenager would be disqualifying otherwise–especially if he genuinely has no memory of it now. (Reasons to say it’s disqualifying would be if you thought it showed important things about his personality or character now, or if you think that sending the signal that sexual assault is bad is important enough to be worth derailing an otherwise acceptable SC nominee, with the added caveat that the deterrent/signaling effect is probably lessened in that about half the country thinks he didn’t do it.)

            The last question is whether something like a 0.5 probability that he’s sufficiently unethical to knowingly lie under oath about something like this is sufficient to disqualify him from the SC. That is, given that we don’t know what happened but accept something like the above probabilities, should we want him on the SC?

            Caveat #1: We also care about future SC nominations. Ford looks (to me) quite unlikely to be making it up[1]. But the other two accusations, especially the most recent one, looks made-up to me. This is basically a worked example, showing that we can expect made-up accusations or hazy memories reshaped into accusations as a feature of SC nominations, probably many in the near future. It’s probably not so hard to create accusations that have something like this level of plausibility, and yet we’d like to be able to nominate judges in the future without this happening every time.

            Caveat #2: You might also disagree about whether knowingly lying under oath in this case is disqualifying. I think a judge ought not to lie under oath, even when he thinks the questions are unfair. Without dragging up too many old political battles, I think Clinton’s defenders were able to justify this sort of behavior to themselves in the past. IMO, it’s bullshit.

            [1] First, because she doesn’t fit the pattern of known false rape accusations. Second, because she seems to have told people close to her that it happened some years ago–it’s hard to believe that she was planning this two years ago, just in case he got nominated to the SC. Third, because an intentional derailing accusation could as easily have been much more damning and had no witnesses (“He pulled me into a dark room and raped me while I screamed and cried for him to stop. When I finally got away, nobody had heard anything over the loud music.”)

          • albatross11 says:

            Addendum:

            If she only realized he was the guy a couple years ago and before that didn’t know who had done it, then the probability of misidentification seems to me to be much, much higher. Maybe 50%?

            I’ve shown my work, so if you disagree, it might be interesting to make an argument about either my calculation or my specific assumed probabilities.

          • Nornagest says:

            Assuming it happened, let’s say there’s a 0.2 probability he sincerely doesn’t remember it.

            That sounds low to me. I’m pretty sure I didn’t nonconsensually grope anyone in high school, but I’m also pretty sure I remember a lot less than 80% of the stuff I did at parties in those years, especially if alcohol was involved — and I’ve got a good memory, and Kavenaugh’s much older than I am.

            Looking at it another way, if we assume you’re more likely to remember something the more significant it is to you, and we’re giving Ford a 20% chance of misremembering the event, then we should only expect the same of Kavenaugh if it meant as much to him as it did to her. That doesn’t seem psychologically realistic to me.

          • Randy M says:

            First, because she doesn’t fit the pattern of known false rape accusations.

            Is this based on false accusations shown to be so at trial? Because there’s not much reason to believe that pattern would hold for accusations made in public but not to authorities.

            That said, you’re probably right that she believes her story at this point, but after 30 years and some coaching, I don’t think that says all that much about reality.

          • Matt M says:

            But there’s not a lot of room for nuanced discussion when Mr. “Yeah, I guess it’s possible she’s telling the truth, the same way it’s possible that Obama tortured and murdered a hooker” is posting fifty times a day.

            Look, my issue here is with her allegations being automatically referred to as “credible” or the odds “non-negligible” based, entirely, on the fact that they cannot be directly proven to not have happened. And especially so, given that the allegations against Kavanaugh are so incredibly vague as to make it literally impossible for anyone to ever prove they did not happen.

            If “nobody can prove it didn’t happen” is what makes something “credible” then, in that case, virtually every wild-eyed conspiracy theory is credible. That is the point of the analogy.

            The point of the analogy is NOT to suggest that “Ford made this up” is literally as statistically probable as “Bush did 9/11.” Because yes, sexual assaults are quite common, and grand political schemes of false flag terrorist attacks are quite rare.

            What annoys me here most is the prospect of someone being torn down over a literal non-falsifiable claim. We reject non-falsifiable claims in pretty much every other circumstance. But in this one they’re “credible” and the odds that they are being fabricated are “non-negligible.” Why? Because politics, that’s why.

            That’s dumb, and it deserves to be called out as dumb.

            Remember after Trump’s election when the MSM was riding high on their “fact-checking” exercises, and how after literally any statement he ever made, they would add their new favorite sentence ever: “The President offered no evidence for his claims.” Have we seen ANY of these media outlets follow-up Ford’s allegations with that line? Why do you suppose not?

          • you can’t just say “there’s no evidence that Ford was assaulted, and no evidence that Obama was born in Kenya, therefore either is just as likely as the other.”

            He didn’t say that. He didn’t imply that. The bit he quoted and responded to was about “possible” not “likely.”

            As I just pointed out:

            So there is a sense in which all things that cannot be proven to be false are equally possible, although some are much more probable than others.

            The point being that “possible” is a binary characteristic, not a matter of degree. Something either is possible or it isn’t.

          • rlms says:

            @quanta413
            Do you have any statistics on how frequently accusations of this kind (i.e. where politics is at stake) are found to be false? If not, 50/50 seems appropriate; one could even argue for a higher probability of truth by using accusations of sexual assault in general. But in any case, I’m not tied to the 50/50 figure. I think reasonable people could come up with a wide range of range of estimates. However, I don’t think a reasonable person could be more than 99% sure in either direction, and even a highly unreasonable figure of say 99.9% certainty is still not comparable with wacky conspiracy theories.

          • quanta413 says:

            @albatross11

            My best guess is that Ford believes the accusation she’s making (90%).

            I’m don’t think it makes sense to peg this at 90%. You’re treating the fact that there’s a strong reason to try to get rid of Kavanaugh and that he’s in the news as irrelevant.

            90-95% is what I’d use in the case that we were looking at a randomly chosen accusation including lots of private ones we don’t hear about. But we already know what accusation we’re talking about.

            I’ll try to explain why I think the conceptual mistake is so severe by making a slightly more ridiculous example in the same spirit.

            This is similar to reasoning about who shot the President from knowledge of regular shootings. Without all the evidence we have, you’d conclude that it was probably the President’s spouse or a close acquaintance. When really, it’s usually someone he’s never met who disagrees with him politically and occasionally someone who thinks Jodie Foster will pay attention to them if they kill the President.

            @rlms

            I don’t think we’re going to find any good numbers for that. For one thing, the nature of sexual assault claims tends to make them hard to prove or disprove. Especially when we’re talking “one time at a party…”. On top of that until recently it’s unlikely such a tactic would have worked at all even if the candidate did it and there was corroborating evidence or witnesses. Yet there has been a recent upsurge in successful takedowns of relatively powerful people for bad behavior.

            See my reasoning for why just using normal probabilities fails above in my response to albatross.

            Using basic probability only works when you have reasonable data in a comparable situation or a strong theoretical model like physics. We do not have anything like either of those things, and we have lots of reasons to believe that the situation is not comparable. It’s like a temporary state of Knightian uncertainty. When you’re in that sort of situation, calculating as if you weren’t in it can be counterproductive.

            I think the overinterpretation of Matt’s hyperbole is something he can answer. He’s already elaborated.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Third, because an intentional derailing accusation could as easily have been much more damning…

            “Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.” –Screwtape

          • dick says:

            @ Matt M

            Look, my issue here is with her allegations being automatically referred to as “credible”…

            So, Diane Feinstein says she believes Ford despite the lack of evidence, and you call that dumb. Then you say you believe Kavanaugh despite the lack of evidence, but we’re not supposed to call that dumb? Is this some sort of “I shall highlight the stupidity of the other side by adopting it” performance art, to which you are so committed as to not break character for weeks on end?

            @ DavidFriedman

            The point being that “possible” is a binary characteristic, not a matter of degree. Something either is possible or it isn’t.

            Riiiiight. Suppose there were an argument going on over whether you’re really in the SCA. You claim to be in the SCA, someone else claims that you’re making it up to sound more interesting. My contribution to the discussion is, “Sure, it’s possible DavidFriedman is in the SCA. It’s also possible that our government did 9/11.” Would you say I’m supporting your claim or disputing it?

          • Matt M says:

            So, Diane Feinstein says she believes Ford despite the lack of evidence, and you call that dumb. Then you say you believe Kavanaugh despite the lack of evidence, but we’re not supposed to call that dumb? Is this some sort of “I shall highlight the stupidity of the other side by adopting it” performance art, to which you are so committed as to not break character for weeks on end?

            I believe the first first time I said “I believe Kavanaugh despite no evidence” I also said “If they can do this, so can I.”

            Which means, yes, the intent is to highlight the stupidity of automatically believing the victim (and to reinforce that “innocent until proven guilty” is a good freaking idea, not just some weird loophole that happens to exist for no real reason in the criminal law but can be safely discarded in all other circumstances)

          • albatross11 says:

            quanta:

            It has been reported that she named Kavenaugh to her husband and therapist and some others a couple years ago. If that’s true, then she’s not making up a new accusation against him now that he’s a SC nominee.

            It looks to me like what happened is that she had an unsubstantiated accusation to make against him, which may be true or false but is unprovable at this point. And she came forward with it when he was heavily in the news as a SC nominee–perhaps for political reasons, perhaps for others.

          • quanta413 says:

            @albatross11

            The reports I’ve seen say her therapist’s notes don’t mention Kavanaugh’s name so we are back to relying on what she says. I don’t think that changes much. If her therapist was questioned and couldn’t confirm Kavanaugh’s name from his memory, that may even point in the opposite direction.

            If her therapist’s notes do have Kavanaugh’s name, I agree that is positive evidence.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It has been reported that she named Kavenaugh to her husband and therapist and some others a couple years ago. If that’s true, then she’s not making up a new accusation against him now that he’s a SC nominee.

            Kavanaugh’s name came up in March 2012 as a possible SCOTUS judge should Romney win. This morning, we learned she started her therapy in May 2012.

            (NB: there is also a perfectly reasonable explanation that she started the therapy because it really did happen and seeing his name in the news reminded her of it. But “she started this long process before his name came up as a nominee” is incorrect.)

            *EDIT*: March 2012 New Yorker article https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/03/26/holding-court/amp

            Written by the same Toobin who is talking on CNN.

          • dick says:

            Is this some sort of “I shall highlight the stupidity of the other side by adopting it” performance art?

            yes, the intent is to highlight the stupidity of automatically believing the victim

            Boy, I’m confused. My position is that both sides are plausible, so a rational person should accept that, which means rejecting the ideologically comfortable lies “She’s definitely telling the truth” and “She’s definitely a fraud.” I’ve been arguing with you because it seemed like your position was that I’m wrong – that she is, if not definitely a fraud, so close to it that a rational person can treat her like one. But now, it seems like you’re saying that you agreed with me all along, but have been acting like someone who uncritically disbelieves her, in order to “highlight the stupidity” of people who uncritically believe her? Do I have this right?

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Oh for. The political payoff for successfully stopping Kavanaugh via false accusation is zero. Because absent the crime he is an spherical exemplar of a Federalist Society supreme pick, and the republicans are going to hold the senate long enough to put someone on the bench, and they are simply going to pick the next name out of the hat who will hold precisely the same views. Changing the name of the person on the court and delaying things for four weeks is not worth the hassle. All of which is obvious.

            However, in the case where the allegations are true… Well, not having a the guy who nearly raped you on the supremes? That is a cause for which nearly any amount of personal sacrifice is justified.

            Sure, the republicans are just going to seat someone else horrifying, but at least you will keep your self-respect.

          • Oh for. The political payoff for successfully stopping Kavanaugh via false accusation is zero.

            I disagree, for two reasons. If they stop him, that almost certainly pushes the vote on the next candidate past the election. If the Democrats take control of the senate, which I think prediction markets gave as a 30% chance recently, the Republicans have until January 2nd to get a second candidate through. Democratic senators currently up for reelection in red states will either be out of the senate or safe for six years at that point, so have little reason to support a Republican candidate. If the Democrats can get two Republican senators to vote against the new candidate, they can block him or her.

            Second, whether or not Kavanaugh is blocked, Ford might well believe that the accusations will cost the Republicans votes in November–perhaps especially if he is confirmed.

            It’s relevant that a lot of people left of center have been describing both the Kavanaugh issue and this election as of absolutely crucial, near end of the world, importance.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      The fence was torn down. The bull is goring people left and right. The correct answer is “put the fence back up” and not “lessons in how to treat goring wounds.”

      • Matt M says:

        Teach bulls not to gore!

        • BBA says:

          …you know, that’s precisely what’s wrong with your metaphor. We’re supposed to be better than the animals. Degraded and devolved as we are, are we not men?

          • Matt M says:

            It was really meant as a throwaway joke, not as a literal metaphor.

          • Incurian says:

            Isn’t that an oxymoron?

          • quanta413 says:

            Some people are teachable. Not all people are teachable. My personal guess is that most people who commit clear and obvious rape (I mean morally clear if you knew all the evidence; not clear in the sense the evidence is known by anyone) probably aren’t teachable.

            I could imagine ways to discourage rapists while mostly maintaining current sexual mores, but those ways involve severe physical punishment. Punishment probably won’t happen enough if it relies upon regular standards of proof through the law system rather than vigilantism.

            I can also imagine a society with a much stricter sexual morality reducing the frequency of rape by making strong norms controlling when it’s proper to have sex, etc. And punishing stepping out of line harshly. But that morality is closer to the morality of centuries or millenia ago than now.

            Moral exhortation is not that effective. We’re not even good at morally exhorting people not to drink themselves to death or to stop taking opiates while we repeatedly revive them from the brink of death…

            That aside for more fuzzy relationship unpleasantness- which is not an insignificant complaint- Conrad Honcho isn’t obviously wrong. I’m not a fan of the solution of returning to earlier stricter social mores, but I’m not a fan of current mores either.

          • Randy M says:

            My personal guess is that most people who commit clear and obvious rape (I mean morally clear if you knew all the evidence; not clear in the sense the evidence is known by anyone) probably aren’t teachable.

            Because society does in fact teach men not to rape. For example, anyone who has seen Back to the Future has seen an example of a lesson that raping is bad. It also teaches “don’t hit”, be kind, and many other lessons that would suggest forcible anything, let along intercourse, is not something good people do. People who haven’t learned that lesson by the time they are capable of raping are not raping for lack of knowing not to.

          • Matt M says:

            Right.

            “Teach men not to rape” has always actually been more of a “Try to convince men that our (much more expansive than what society has long defined it as) definition of rape is the correct one.”

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Conrad Honcho isn’t obviously wrong.

            I will take that as high praise.

            As for “teaching men not to rape,” as Matt says, an awful lot of that involves expanding the definition of rape. I could be okay with this (while calling it something besides “rape”) if we could also teach women to object to this behavior immediately and vigorously and shame women who do not.

            Consider James Franco pushing a girl’s head into his lap (I know he was accused of doing worse things than this). Well, James Franco does that because it works for James Franco. By the time he’s doing that to a girl who objects, that’s probably the 10th girl whose head Franco has pushed into his lap that week, and the other nine said “Oh, this is excellent. The very reason I got into James Franco’s car is because James Franco is rich, famous and attractive, and I was very much looking forward to putting my head in his lap.”

            Now, I don’t do what James Franco does. I like to think it’s because of my morality, but it probably also has something to do with the fact that I am not as rich, handsome, or famous as Franco, and so pushing girls’ heads into my lap will almost never result in a positive outcome for me.

            So hey, I’m already “taught.” How do you teach Franco? Well, lecturing from me isn’t going to do a damn bit of good. Franco does not care what I think. The only opinions Franco cares about is those of the girls whose heads he’s pushing into his lap (and only their opinion vis-a-vis their willingness to have their heads pushed into James Franco’s lap). If even 50% of the women whose heads James Franco tried to push into his lap said “excuse me, Mr. Franco, but I am not interested in having my head pushed into your lap and will now remove myself from your presence,” then James Franco would stop pushing girls’ heads into his lap because it would no longer accomplish his goal of having attractive girls’ heads in his lap.

            If you want to stop Franco’s behavior, you need to teach women not to ever consent to have their heads in Franco’s lap, but I don’t see a lot of feminists writing thinkpieces about that. In fact they tend to do the opposite and criticize people who suggest that route for “slut shaming.” So I’m pretty sure this behavior is going to continue, forever.

          • Matt M says:

            while calling it something besides “rape”

            They will absolutely not agree to this. The notion that the activities that have been folded into rape are “not as bad” as traditional rape is completely unacceptable. The confusion of language here is deliberate, and is a cornerstone of their strategy.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            I will take that as high praise.

            I originally just said “isn’t wrong.” But I don’t know whether you’re right either. I’m not socially that conservative and didn’t want to give people the wrong impression about what I thought. I’m not sure if you’re more wrong or right than other popular ideas.

            From a selfish point of view, I prefer significantly looser sexual mores than Catholic doctrine. But at the same time, I’m not on board with college mores either. They’re not good.

          • BBA says:

            I was mostly getting at how blaming the change in societal values disregards personal responsibility, and I thought conservatives were all about personal responsibility.

            Also, that Devo song was stuck in my head. It doesn’t have anything to do with the topic at hand, but there’s never a bad reason to link Devo.

          • quanta413 says:

            @BBA

            I was mostly getting at how blaming the change in societal values disregards personal responsibility, and I thought conservatives were all about personal responsibility.

            Republican talking points might be something something personal responsibility. Like Democrat talking points might be something something tax the rich.

            But both of those are soundbites. They are pretty bad foundations.

            “Keep the fence” is a pretty conservative sentiment. It’s a better summary of conservative political philosophy than “personal responsibility”.

            If I had to make a matching sentiment for progressivism it’d be something like “we can build a better fence”.

            “Personal responsibility” is a better sentiment for ancaps than conservatives.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Eh, I just really liked the statement “Conrad Honcho isn’t obviously wrong.” If we had signatures on this forum, that quote would be my new sig.

            Also, I’m not big on “personal responsibility.” It’s really hard and people fail at it all the time. I’m more interested in social norms and patterns of behavior that tend towards better outcomes over time and over the population. If men were angels we would have no need of government (or church or whatever), but that is not the nature of men.

          • quanta413 says:

            Eh, I just really liked the statement “Conrad Honcho isn’t obviously wrong.” If we had signatures on this forum, that quote would be my new sig.

            I shall revel in the glory of this accomplishment then.

            Almost the second time I got quoted in a forum signature. So close…

    • Aapje says:

      It’s a pretty decent piece with a lot of nuance, although it still suffers a bit from conventional feminists dogma, like the assertion that “women complainants, in particular, have been conventionally disbelieved and discredited”, when it’s actually the opposite in situations where men accuse women of abuse.

      Then again, in other ways it avoids dogma, like the assertion that we can’t judge people from another time and place (and thus culture) with the standards of today.

      However, I’m a little cynical because this nuance and reason seems to mainly come to the fore when someone from the ingroup is accused, but way way less often when outgroup is accused.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      Members of the outgroup say sensible things all the time, but when they do it’s because they are hypocritically pretending to be reasonable because it serves their immediate needs at the moment — they are either hiding in the motte or an unexpected ox is being gored.

      Anyway, it certainly feels that way. 🙂

    • Plumber says:

      “….Sounds sensible? Uh oh, you just agreed with Whqvgu Ohgyre!

      @rims,

      I had to skim quite a bit of the essay you linked to to find out that “Whqvgu Ohgyre” is “University of California, Berkeley, professor and gender theorist Judith Butler”, so mission accomplished your code game got me to skim some of the article.

      Now please tell me why I should be suprised that something said by Judith Butler (who I’ve no memory of hearing about before your link) would make sense.

      • CatCube says:

        “Whqvgu Ohgyre” is in ROT13, which is a substitution cypher where you take every letter of your text and rotate it 13 places through the alphabet. “A” becomes “N”, “B” becomes “O”, and “C” becomes “P”. This has the advantage that encryption and decryption are the same thing–if you ROT13 again, “N” will be turned back to “A”, “O” to “B”, etc. There are browser plugins for it, or you can go here: https://rot13.com and cut and paste in the text to decrypt it. It gets used on a lot of internet sites to do things like hide spoilers, or as here to hide the answer to a quiz question.

        As far as why anybody would care about that, since a bunch of us are on the right here and have some pretty deep-seated objections to the work of Butler (who we’d expect to normally take the other side of this debate, where Title IX Star Chambers are good and right), he’s doing something like posting the quote “An absolute and permanent ban on vivisection is not only a necessary law to protect animals and to show sympathy with their pain, but it is also a law for humanity itself…” so you can then say, “Do you know who said that? Herman Goering! You just agreed with Herman Goering! How does that make you feel?”

        To be fairer to Butler, it’s very possible that she’s been saying this for a while. I don’t read much about her, so I don’t know what her stance has been over time. There are certainly people on the left who recognize that the rather evidence-free standard used for these tribunals is troubling; several colleges have had open letters from their law school faculty pointing out that not permitting the accused to know enough detail to rebut their accusations, or to question their accusers violates most notions of due process.

        For his point, all I can say is that it’s good to see some respected gender theorist say something that makes sense for once–a stopped clock is right twice a day, after all. Hopefully she’ll actually apply this to everybody, not just one of her ingroup. We’ll see, though.

        • Incurian says:

          We could halve the prevalence of Type I Errors by switching to military time!

        • Plumber says:

          @CatCube,

          Thanks, that explains a lot!

        • Aapje says:

          One reason why I don’t care much for Butler as an academic is because her methodology is awful* and her writing is (probably necessarily) nigh impenetrable (because otherwise her poor methodology would be obvious).

          Her claims have, as with most feminism, a core of truth that is then taken to absurd extremes. One of her main claims is that gender is a performance, but this is taken to the extreme where it is argued that there are no fundamental differences between the sexes. Or as Butler puts it:

          The spectres of discontinuity and incoherence themselves thinkable only in relation to existing norms of continuity and coherence, are constantly prohibited and produced by the very laws that seek to establish causal or expressive lines of connection among biological sex, culturally constituted genders and the ‘expression’ or ‘effect’ of both in the manifestation of sexual desire through sexual practice.

          So my main surprise at the earlier quote was not so much the content, but the clarity of the writing. Apparently, Butler can be legible.

          * For example, she often builds on the work of Freud, which is like trying to build a house on quicksand. However, in engineering trying to do the impossible will obviously fail, while in philosophy you can write the most abject nonsense without a reality check.

      • Nick says:

        ETA: Looks like CatCube ninja’d me. Oh well.

        (Bearing Scott’s warning above in mind, I’m going to try to be as fair as I can here. Scrutiny welcome.)

        It’s surprising because Title IX investigations have been supported, generally by feminists and those on the left, because the intent is justice for victims of rape or sexual abuse on campuses. Title IX has come under fire, though—generally by those on the right—, for having too low an evidentiary standard, not respecting due process or imposing draconian interim restrictions, having policies that define rape too broadly, and so on. Here’s a good article from The Atlantic on the case against contemporary campus rape policies. Key quote as to the evidentiary standards adopted under the Obama administration:

        The most significant requirement in the “Dear Colleague” letter was the adoption, by all colleges, in all adjudications involving allegations of sexual misconduct, of the lowest possible burden of proof, a “preponderance of evidence”—often described as just over a 50 percent likelihood of guilt. (Many universities were already using this standard, but others favored a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, requiring roughly a 75 percent likelihood of guilt. Criminal courts require proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the highest legal standard for finding guilt.)

        The chief concern here is that these policies and investigations sometimes have the result that a student cannot get an education even when he or she has been cleared of wrongdoing or there remains great doubt. This is why The Atlantic later writes,

        the preponderance-of-evidence standard is held to be appropriate by the Supreme Court in civil litigation involving discrimination. But the Court has also ruled that the clear-and-convincing standard is appropriate for those civil proceedings where “particularly important individual interests or rights are at stake.”

        This is a problem for supporters of Title IX (many of whom, again, are leftists and/or feminists). Justice is not always served, regardless of the noble intentions of those carrying out these investigations. They know this—leftist academics have to their credit been studying this sort of thing for decades, and have developed many tools to apply to Title IX too—but there is apparently a widespread failure to do so. So this is the first layer of hypocrisy.

        Now, the Ronell–Reitman case is a Title IX investigation too, but an unusual one. Most cases of Title IX—that capture media attention, at least—are more like the Bonso case in the beginning of the Atlantic article, where it’s between two students and alcohol is involved. (This is not a statement that all these cases “really” are or are not rape.) But the Ronell–Reitman case is between a graduate student (Reitman) and his advisor (Ronell), where the graduate student is gay and the advisor a feminist scholar and lesbian. Alcohol isn’t involved at all, and there are complicating factors like the florid language the two used when privately communicating. The last factor is a draft of a letter by prominent academics in support of Ronell which was leaked.

        Most folks left or right and feminist or not took a very dim view of the letter, as the author of that New Yorker piece evidently does too. On top of the hypocrisy of supporting Title IX for so long, and #MeToo for that matter, it looks all the more hypocritical for these scholars to be criticizing it only now that it comes for one of their own. Butler’s response is better—the sort of criticisms a critic of Title IX might be inclined to agree with—but may still be perceived the same way.

        This comes with particular force at a time when there is disagreement between whether Christine Blasey Ford’s or Deborah Ramirez’s accusations against Kavanaugh are credible or not. Someone inclined to defend or believe Kavanaugh—a group with considerable overlap with critics of Title IX and with skeptics of perceived excesses of #MeToo—would likely agree vociferously that “in public culture right now an allegation of sexual harassment can be immediately taken to be the proof of the claim” and that “Since women complainants, in particular, have been conventionally disbelieved and discredited, the trend is now reversed so that whoever speaks is assumed to speak the truth” and that “Legal procedures for the fair adjudication of such claims are sometimes sidestepped altogether as the media becomes the new public tribunal.”

        Speaking personally, and to make clear my own bias here, I definitely give Butler credit for adding, “I note with some irony that most people on the liberal-left abhor the lack of due process in the indefinite detention of migrants, that we underscore the importance of due process in the civil rights movement because it provided a legal mechanism to protect black men unfairly accused of acting in a seductive way toward white women.” Butler lays bare that first layer of hypocrisy, of leftist academics supporting Title IX apparently unreflectively. I don’t know whether Butler has known about this irony for a long time, or spoken or written against it. Not knowing that larger context—which is required for a fair appraisal of Butler here—I’ll only say it would sound a lot more sincere if this were being said in context other than the allegations against Ronell.

  10. Nick says:

    Did anyone see this article from The Hedgehog Review? “What Is It Like to Be a Man?” by Phil Christman, subtitled “Sometimes we men feel like a bad joke.”

    It’s well written and thought-provoking, but it really rubs me the wrong way. I can’t seem to get my thoughts in order about it, though, so I’d like to see what you folks think of it.

    • Evan Þ says:

      As close as I can tell, it rubs me the wrong way in that it reduces masculinity to the Duty to Protect. That’s part of it, and perhaps the part that’s seeped most into the cultural zeitgeist, but not all. At risk of conflating manhood with husband-hood, and moving from cultural to religious, the Bible calls us to be servant leaders – which includes protection, but goes well beyond it, outside the realm of “lurid, bad-movie scenarios” to the everyday.

      • Randy M says:

        At risk of conflating manhood with husband-hood, and moving from cultural to religious, the Bible calls us to be servant leaders

        Source?
        A quick search did not turn up “servant” in any marriage context.

        • Deiseach says:

          A quick search did not turn up “servant” in any marriage context.

          So far as I understand it, and I’m not up on current non-denominational Protestant hermeneutics, it’s not necessarily within the context of marriage, it’s the idea that “The last shall be first and the first shall be last” from the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, and the washing of the feet at the Last Supper where Jesus says ” “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

          So the idea is that within Christianity, leaders should be at the service of those they lead (as in the papal title “servant of the servants of God”), and that this carries over into marriage where the husband is head of the household (as Christ is the Bridegroom and Head of the Church) and husbands should be to their wives as Christ is to the Church (see St Paul: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”).

          • Randy M says:

            Yeah, I was asking for context because there is sometimes a tendency to place very heave emphasis on the modifier there, to the extent that it almost becomes a negation.
            Worth keeping in mind that not only did Christ suffer and die (and that can’t be minimized) for the church, he also chose, instructs, and disciplines the church.
            I think the fairest understanding of Christian leadership is that the responsibility is emphasized and the privileges diminished, and that a good leader needs to understand the perspective of, and have the humility of, even the lowliest member of the organization.

          • Evan Þ says:

            +1: Deiseach got it exactly right. The term isn’t in the Bible, but the concept is.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Looking at it from the outside, I think he’s generalizing his own neurotic take on masculinity to men in general.

      It’s entirely plausible that he’s not the only one with his point of view, and that there are many more men with milder versions of the same problem.

      However, there are other men who have different bad takes on masculinity, and yet others who have a version of masculinity which works in favor of their lives rather than against them.

      • quanta413 says:

        You said what I was feeling but couldn’t enunciate. Neurotic is the perfect adjective in this case.

        And Christ the length of it! So many words for so little substance. I’m bad, but I hope I’m not that bad.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Here’s a tool which I think can analyse a lot: Karen Horney (an early psychoanalyst) if I understand her correctly, said that if people are mistreated as children (neglected, abused, or pushed to mature faster than they can) are apt to conclude that just being a human isn’t good enough, so they adopt impossible standards, such as always being right, always being altruistic, or always winning. It’s possible that one person will have multiple incompatible impossible standards.

          I should take another crack at reading her– she gets into the effects of finding out that one isn’t living up those strongly held standards, and I don’t know whether she describes treatment.

          Anyway, the fellow who wrote the article has a clear case of impossible standards.

          • Aapje says:

            It seems to me that there are a wide range of coping mechanisms and behavioral adaptations, not just high standards. It also seems to me that such a need doesn’t (only) have to reflect mistreatment, but can result from a specific personality or mental aberration. For example, a naturally highly anxious person may need certain coping mechanism.

            Arguable even most ‘normal’ humans have limited capability of dealing with reality and apply coping mechanisms.

            Her being a psychoanalyst raises some strong red flags as that field has a history of coming up with fancy theories and then searching for cherry picked evidence or pseudo-evidence.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            The pattern I’m talking about isn’t high standards, it’s impossible standards.

          • BBA says:

            Now you have me wondering. Do my impossible standards for myself spring from my background as a burnt-out child prodigy? Food for thought.

        • Nornagest says:

          Neurotic is the perfect adjective in this case.

          Not just neurotic, but neurotic and trying to shoehorn itself into a worldview that’s totally incompatible with that kind of neuroticism. It’s like Woody Allen playing a Clint Eastwood character.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Epistemic status: Never seen a Woody Allen movie.

            “I know what you are thinking… well, no actually that is presumptuous of me, as people we often don’t even know what we are thinking ourselves how could I know what you are thinking. Sometimes I lie in bed wondering, was it 5 shots or 6? Sure its the most powerful handgun in the world, but what does that even mean? Does that make me powerful or is this just replacing masturbation for me? And would shooting you make my day honestly. How sick do you have to be to think of killing someone as making your day?”

      • beleester says:

        Agreed. There’s not a lot that I outright disagree with – it’s true that I sometimes stupidly avoid making my life easier because I think “I’m a man, I’ve got this!” (or a related thought like “Do I really need that?”). It’s true that some of my urges to exercise or work hard come from trying to measure up to my (unreachable) ideal of how a “real adult” would live their life. It’s depressing, on some level, to know that you aren’t Batman.

        But he seems to feel those urges a lot more strongly than I do, which is why I can make quips about not being Batman, while he writes a long column about how he feels like a failure for not being as manly as he could possibly be.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I agree with this. He kept writing “we” and I kept thinking “I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.”

    • Nootropic cormorant says:

      One thing that strikes me as ironic is how chivalrous his feminism is.
      My stereotype of male feminists was that they either suffer from subclinically low self interest or are cynical predators, but his case seems like an extension of exactly the same misplaced masculine values that the article describes.

      In his overeager acceptance of the role of a bumbling sitcom dad, he takes the pleasure of being overly generous while avoiding the scrutiny such an act usually brings and satisfying his value of not making a big deal of his virtue.
      I’m not sure if the article is only meant to satisfy this need or if we’re supposed to understand this behaviour as fellow stoic men and adopt it.

      If you wish to be ungenerous, the article engages in virtue signaling and humble-bragging on multiple levels.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Some men decide to let us know that they aren’t jokes. They turn sullen and grumpy, like people out of a Frank Miller comic. Or they turn defensive, a trait I cannot really blame in anyone, in a society so bitterly competitive—I particularly cannot fault it in men of color, poor men, and immigrants, whose masculinity subjects them simultaneously to actual serious threat from white men and to the feminist scrutiny that they, along with the rest of us, warrant.

        This, I think, is the section that really gets under my skin. “Men are a joke. If you don’t accept that, you’re bitter and defensive. That’s society’s fault. That also means that if you’re not a cis white male I get to call you bitter and defensive if you think men aren’t a joke, but of course it’s not your fault like it is mine. But also you deserve for women to not trust you.”

        I’ll freely admit that part of me feels attacked here, but I also think the author is caught in a axiomatic box which only allows him to identify masculinity with bitter self-recrimination, and that his attempt to “examine” masculinity, while not invalid, is severely constrained by it. Why does he want to be the last one off the boat? Surely not because for him self-sacrifice is a component of love; he can’t bring himself to admit that his experience of love is defined by his willingness to sacrifice himself. Instead, because his wife doesn’t like that part of him, he projects it onto masculinity and offers it for flagellation. He’s unwilling to consider the possibility that even though it’s “masculine,” “pointless,” and possibly even cruel to his wife, it has essential validity.

        I think his view of masculinity, self-hating as it is, almost seems to approach a dysphoric longing for a masculinity he despairs of ever attaining. He believes so much in this institution of masculinity, and is so distressed by the possibility of lacking membership, that his attempts to introspect immediately externalize. He doesn’t ask why he doesn’t take an aspirin, he asks why men don’t take asprin. I don’t (and it’s true, I don’t, unless I’m trying to sleep and can’t) because I think that it’s better to remain conscious of [pain/tiredness/emotions] that are indicative of underlying problems than to chemically suppress them; I’m happier for not taking it. Is that reinforced by cultural perceptions of masculinity? Probably. I’ve been told I’m an idiot for this, though I haven’t been called a chauvinist, but there’s still a logic to it that I find convincing. It has internal support. I don’t sense that in anything he says or describes himself doing, and while I can sympathize with him for feeling that way, I think it makes it impossible for him to see men generally as anything but, as he says, bad jokes.

        • Nick says:

          You! You put my thoughts in order! Thank you. Particularly your middle paragraph.

          The part you quote is pretty bad, but it’s not the nadir. I think the metaphorical bottom of the article is at the literal bottom, in footnote 15:

          As I wrote this essay, I fretted that an argument that seems to reject masculinity as an ideal would insult trans men: Here I am, thoughtlessly tossing aside what they spend blood and treasure to realize. But it turns out that the notion of “men trapped within women’s bodies” has come under fire from within that community as well. See, for example, Andrea Long Chu, “On Liking Women,” n+1, Winter 2018, https://nplusonemag.com/issue-30/essays/on-liking-women.

          • Randy M says:

            How far off are we from “I realize an article rejecting humanity may come as an insult to androids, ems, and others who strive to be accepted as human; but one must really consider that it is the notion of human supremacy that wrongs them, rather than a movement that seeks to move past the privilege granted to meat-bags.”

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I will say that I just attempted to read it, but after a certain amount of it found it unreadable. I will say that I can assert with 95% certainty that I consider myself more manly than the man he holds himself out to be in the portions I read, and while many of his Headers would otherwise be quite manly, the ones I read made him appear to be not manly at all, more of an excuse making loser.

      If someone has a later portion they consider compelling please direct me to it, but really this guy seems to me to be a self-flagellating loser who’s greatest achievement is being linked to by a commentor on SSC.

    • Deiseach says:

      It does rub the wrong way because it equates being a man with being stupid. Why didn’t I buy pillows? Oh, that was the chosen discomfort of masculinity! And then umpteen instances of “doing painful crap I don’t enjoy because er, um, some reason”.

      Which elicits the natural reaction from readers of “well if it’s painful crap you don’t enjoy, why not stop doing it?” And the answer seems to be “eh, I have no idea why except that toxic masculinity or feminism or summat”. It’s as though sitting down and thinking for five minutes about what he’s doing, what he wants, and if A matches with B is some alien concept that never occurred to him as he grunts and sweats his way through life.

      • Nootropic cormorant says:

        I wouldn’t think I’d have to explain this to the wise old woman of the tribe, but this really is what men are like. Or at least many are, and they attribute this to manliness, that is, they will men not acting like this as unmanly.

        We can stop doing painful crap (in fact our revealed preference is to not do it), but we can’t stop desiring to do painful crap.

        I do not know whether men were always like this, whether they inevitably get like this under such unprecedented lack of hardship, or if this is just a social construct we’ve created recently.

        • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

          I can’t be sure of this, because I’m neuroatypical, but I think (this particular variant, at least) is specific to the US. So I’m guessing social construct.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m used to men grunting and sweating their way through life, but I’m not used to them whining about having to do it and they don’t know why they’re doing it and why does society force them into the role of doing it while they’re doing it.

          Mate (addressing the writer of the article here), if you don’t want to be like that, then don’t be like that. If you’re rejecting the traditional role of men because it’s antithetical to feminism or trans men or whatever, then acknowledge “I cannot be lord and master because I don’t accept the principles underlying that, that men as the stronger sex have a duty to use that strength on behalf of the weaker, like women” and then go find some other way of being a husband. Don’t ask me to simultaneously agree with you that your college distance running was absurd pointless masochism and admire you for it at the same time.

          I remember this anecdote from Denis Leary’s “No Cure for Cancer” show, and it really does describe a kind of rural Irish stoicism (that applied to women as well in a different way) so the guy complaining about how hard it is to be a man because a man has to be hard gets no sympathy from me, mainly because yeah, that was the expectation everyone had, what makes you special?

          Leary remembers his father, an Irish immigrant, as a devoted parent, if somewhat emotionally reserved. In “No Cure for Cancer,” he recalled how during his brother’s 10th birthday party, his father calmly walked in from the living room, where he had been cutting paneling with a circular saw, his thumb nearly severed.

          “And I’m thinking, ‘Wow, Dad’s thumb is hanging off. He’s probably gonna start crying any second now.’ And this is what my father says: ‘We got any tape around here? I need to tape this baby up.’ He wouldn’t let my mother drive him to the hospital. That was too much a threat to his masculinity–to be seen in a car driven by a woman. So he taped up his thumb with black electrical tape and drove himself to the hospital. I looked at my brother and said, ‘Hey pal, forget about crying. We’re never going to be able to cry about anything, ever. Our authority figure is a man who could cut his head off with a chain saw, and he’d staple-gun it back on.’ “

          • Randy M says:

            Oh, yes indeed, taking an aspirin is way more manly than whining about cultural expectations that you never take an aspirin.
            Knowing when to not care about cultural expectations is a part of masculinity.

          • Nootropic cormorant says:

            “A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants.”

            He doesn’t complain about society forcing him to do anything, he’s annoyed with himself holding a value system that to him appears to be irrational and harmful to its advertised purpose.

            “Find some other way of being a husband” sounds like something that scores you a Fields medal in gender studies.

            He considers pointless masochism to be admirable, so he asks (in an act of pointless masochism) for this admiration to be accepted in some form despite being antithetical to the feminist project.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          So, the way this manifests for me is, I like doing stupid painful crap. The crap I choose generally isn’t that painful, and I feel proud of it afterwards, so I’m almost always glad I did it. That’s why I keep doing it, and I’ve always assumed I’d stop if that ceased to be the case.

          My girlfriend likes to walk up mountains. I’ve done it with her, and there’s plenty of pain involved. So not strictly a male pathology.

          • Nootropic cormorant says:

            I think he’s exaggerating for rhetorical purposes, he probably enjoys it too.

            Of course some women also enjoy struggling, but I wouldn’t judge a woman who didn’t the same as I would a man.

      • Randy M says:

        A healthy masculinity does, at times, eschew comfort in order to train and accustom one to function well in a harsher environment and to master one’s own body. Living without a pillow is akin to fasting.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah. I think this is pretty common, and it’s part of the reason the article actually sucked me in at the beginning. Speaking personally, denying myself things has always been pretty easy, or maybe I should say “uncomplicated.” (Holding myself to positive obligations has always been a lot harder; look at me failing women over here!) I haven’t done anything as stupid as carrying a desk home myself, but I’ve done lesser things in the same spirit.

          • Deiseach says:

            Living without a pillow is pretty typical ‘young guy out on his own for the first time where his mother has been the one in the home doing stuff like buying furnishings’. The reason it never occurred to him to buy his own goddamn pillows is because up till then that had been “Mom’s job”. That it took him getting a girlfriend to finally clue him into the fact that pillows are not provided by the Bedding Fairy in the night but you have to purchase them your own self is, again, the kind of anecdote that gets told and indeed used in comedy routines, to the point where women get annoyed by it as coming under “emotional labour” – yeah, we have to replace your mother and teach you how to function as an adult, otherwise you’d continue living like a dog.

            So you’d expect the point of this little story to be “thinking about it now, why didn’t I buy my own pillows? Why did I expect that to be a woman’s job, even on a subconscious level?” and then something about how parents should teach their sons as well as their daughters things like how to do their own washing and cook and the rest of it, but he goes off into a self-indulgent spiral of how hard it is to be a man when all you have is traditional roles that no longer fit the modern world oh look at me I’m so tortured and deep.

            Oh brother.

          • Nick says:

            I think you’re missing the point here, Deiseach. He could have told a story like that about womenfolk doing all the pillow-buying, and I’ve seen stories like that told. But he wasn’t making the point that he didn’t think about things like that, he was making the point that even when did occur to him he took the harder option, because that’s what the voice of masculinity in his head told him to do.

          • Randy M says:

            Has anyone made a comic that basically shows a bell curve (or normal distribution, if being reminded of the eponymous book is triggering) with a speech bubble pointing at a speck just a hair past the long tail on one side or the other saying “Wow, this social system we’re under sure is oppressive, isn’t it?”

            I’m not trying to say any particular more is perfect or even on net beneficial, but someone with an extreme view might not be representative. I don’t think someone with a view of masculinity so particular that he sleeps on wadded up laundry says much about the Patriarchy either way.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “When the means are autonomous, they are deadly”– Charles Williams

            In this case, male stoicism and willingness to take on difficult tasks are *means* to protecting people and making life better, but that author has last all connection to sensible goals.

            Or you could look at it as Goodhart’s Law. Prove you’re doing useful work by how much you’re suffering.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Nancy’s knocking it out of the park on this one. That was a great insight.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Conrad, I’m glad you liked it.

            One more point– a lot of commenters seem to think the author at that link is just a fool. I see him as driven by very bad emotional imperatives.

            He’s in the hell of knowing that what he’s doing makes no sense, but having no idea of how to do better.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Stoicism isn’t something that you get to choose when to apply, it is something that takes practice and effort.

            Which means the things you want out of male stoicism come at the cost of years of practice that, divorced from purpose, become hard to distinguish from a kind of self harm.

    • cryptoshill says:

      I just read it and it bothers me because in every economic analysis that has ever been done, women have worked less than men. The studies he is citing conveniently includes homework such as cooking and cleaning – and ignores the fact that men do quite a lot of that too.

      It seems like a really weird mistake for someone who can write that well to make, so I feel like there’s a lot of personal bias here.

      • Nootropic cormorant says:

        My reading is that he doesn’t believe it himself, he’s just being charitable because he deeply believes men should be doing more and taking less credit anyways.

    • baconbits9 says:

      It rubs me the wrong way, and a major part of it (for my tastes) is the complete disconnect between his descriptions and the actions he describes.

      For a while I gardened, and when my wife and I first moved to Ann Arbor, I’d spend hours working in the yard, always finding the costliest, least productive, most epic way of doing everything. I tried to remove a tree stump with my hands, a saw, and a shovel. I cleaned the gutters with a ladder so short that I pulled a shoulder muscle reaching overhead to dig out the muck. I’d purchased that ladder, too, at a nearby Salvation Army, and had walked home carrying it on my head like a canoe. I mowed the lawn with a series of Nixon-era push reel mowers I’d rolled home from the same place. I enjoyed none of these activities.

      Are any of these examples epic in any way? Are any of the the most costly way (unless you only mean effort cost, which just goes right into inefficient)? He sounds like a guy who literally doesn’t have any idea to do anything.

      Then I realize, days later, that the reason the statement is still bugging me is that I am literally never not sore from the gym, because I am so concerned with looking a certain way.

      9/10 experts would tell you if you are literally never not sore from the gym you are working out way to much and way to hard. He doesn’t know how to remove a tree stump, or that there are plenty of ‘masculine’ ways to dig one out, and far more ‘epic’ ones as well.

      His writing comes across (to me) as oblivious, and someone who is telling it like it is while clearly having no idea about anything is grating.

      • Rowan says:

        Maybe he means “epic” in a more classic sense, as in a work that’s really long? It certainly sounds epic in that sense.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, his descriptions of the garden and yard work sound more like “never learned from my father how to do it the right way” more than any epic “Sing, muse, of the muscle strained-man, gym-haunting, garden-vexed”.

        Epic whinging, I have to admit. You don’t have to enjoy doing necessary work, either you can’t afford to hire someone to clean your guttering and so you do it yourself, or you pay a man with a van to do these kind of jobs because you don’t want to climb ladders and dig out muck. Some men enjoy doing these jobs, that doesn’t mean all men do. Same with women and housework (I have not knowingly ironed anything in years, thank God for modern fabrics and crease-free settings on the washing machine and tumble dryer, yet there are other women love ironing and find it relaxing and soothing).

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yeah, even if a Real Man removes his own stump, he rents a stump grinder or a stump puller to do it. Doing really hard things by hand was for before humanity invented power tools.

          I used to clean gutters by going up on the roof and doing it from the top. It’s easier that way because you don’t have to move the ladder constantly, just walk along the roof. Not for those fearful of heights however. Doing it with a short ladder is just masochism, not masculinity.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m loathe to defend this guy, but for a lot of “hard labor” situations, like cleaning gutters, where there is no easy way to do the job, someone who doesn’t really know any better might not stop to consider “hmm, this seems too hard, perhaps there’s an easier way…”

          • baconbits9 says:

            The issue isn’t that he doesn’t’ know how to do stuff as there are many things that I don’t know how to do, its that he is so oblivious to the fact that he doesn’t know how to do things well that he presents this obvious flaw as a strength and then goes on to lecture his audience. Who would listen to someone with so little awareness, both self awareness and a complete lack of understanding that many people do know how to do these things.

          • Garrett says:

            Epic and manly stump removal involves dynamite. Lots of dynamite. And possibly beer.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The issue isn’t that he doesn’t’ know how to do stuff as there are many things that I don’t know how to do, its that he is so oblivious to the fact that he doesn’t know how to do things well that he presents this obvious flaw as a strength and then goes on to lecture his audience. Who would listen to someone with so little awareness, both self awareness and a complete lack of understanding that many people do know how to do these things.

            All of this. All of it. My god.
            The author seems to confuse masochism with masculinity. Being a man is not intentionally hurting yourself to show how tough you are. That’s what stupid teenage boys trying to impress girls do.

            There were a couple of at least useful notes in the beginning of the essay. “What’s it like to be comfortable in your own body and not worry at all how you look, which you obviously do because you are a cisheteronormative white man in a patriarchy” is an utterly alien sentence to me. It does not match any of the young men I know.

          • Deiseach says:

            where there is no easy way to do the job, someone who doesn’t really know any better might not stop to consider “hmm, this seems too hard, perhaps there’s an easier way

            And that’s true, but they don’t generally then write whiny pieces about how they completely made a mess of doing manual labour and that is all the fault of the model of socially constructed masculinity they have been indoctrinated with (and not because “well heck, I had no idea what I was doing but at least I tried”).

          • Thegnskald says:

            Deiseach –

            Your criticism, from a certain perspective, seems to come down to “Quit whining about it, that isn’t masculine”. Which is fair, in that it isn’t masculine to complain, but misses the point.

            If men can’t complain about the expectations society places upon them, who do we get to advocate for changes to our social expectations? Women are allowed to complain, so things get to improve for them – our gender role doesn’t even allow us to say “Hey, this fucking sucks”.

            Which seems to be the persistent response here. Yes, he fails at masculinity. But treating that as a valid criticism renders it impossible for men to self-advocate.

          • Randy M says:

            Yes, he fails at masculinity. But treating that as a valid criticism renders it impossible for men to self-advocate.

            Context matters. The target in the spectrum of advocacy vs agency is not identical for masculine vs feminine, but neither is it an absolute in either case. So, at the margins, this might mean that some men incorrectly think masculinity requires that they suck it up when, say, the family courts take their kids, because they think being a man means never complaining about anything since they are told not to complain about scrapped knees. And some women might have thought (in times long past when we didn’t have 24/7 grrl power) that being feminine meant calling daddy up to squash the daddy-long legs in the bathroom.

            That doesn’t mean that Mr. Ladders-are-for-Ladies shouldn’t be ever hear “Man up and solve your problem, bud”.

            It’s like that old post about how not everyone needs the same advice.

          • Nick says:

            Randy, yeah, that is actually one of my favorite posts from Scott.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Is “Quit complaining” useful advice in this case, however, or is it just shutting up someone who is saying that the social standards they have absorbed are making them miserable?

            “Just be miserable in silence” seems to be advice men already get throughout their entire lives. A major element of different advice for different people is that the advice has to be balancing against an excess of inclination – that is, we should be providing advice that brings people into a healthy balance. Given that men already get lots of “Shut up about your suffering” advice, the prior on it being useful for any given man should be really, really low.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I have to say, I found it neither well written nor thought-provoking. His personal observations of manhood all conflict with mine, his supporting evidence is all stuff I already knew, and the information density is horrible.

    • Thegnskald says:

      I am amused both by the author’s inability to concentrate on conveying the concepts he is attempting to describe, and also by the deep irony of many of the responses here by people who apparently completely missed what he is attempting to describe. Which isn’t the self-imposed misery; that’s more the excuse to write this than what he is writing. It’s the restrictions themselves, the sense of “This is what I must be”. The… restrictiveness of a sense of identity. He understands he doesn’t have to care – he doesn’t know how not to.

      He’s not quite accepting of the fact that he cares, as well; he jokes about it, but they’re bitter jokes.

      Feminist angst in a nutshell; “Do I want to do this womanly thing because I’m trying to be more womanly, or because I actually want it?”

      Ah, the joy of awakening to the fact that your identity isn’t you.

  11. Taymon A. Beal says:

    Somebody told me that Scott was interested in meetup attendance numbers; we had 12 in Boston yesterday. I’m not sure where else to put this, so I’m putting it here.

  12. Telminha says:

    I have a question (a desperate one): My aunt came to the US looking for a second opinion about her cancer treatment. She was in AZ for three months and now she’s at my house and will spend 10 days here, then she’ll travel back to Brazil. Somehow she lost her last nine tamoxifen (20 mg) pills during her trip here. She is now very, very worried about missing 9 doses. She’s been taking it for one and a half years. How serious is it to miss 9 doses? What do people usually do when they forget or lose vital medication during a trip?

    • Cheese says:

      Obligatory not a doctor and have no specific training in oncology other than a background in molecular biology.

      It is most likely inconsequential, or of such minor consequence that in the long run it is not an issue. Tamoxifen is, for laypurposes, a drug which stops oestrogen from exerting growth-promoting effects on breast cancer cells and exerts it’s own anti-proliferative effect. It does this by, in effect, inducing the production of certain gene products and suppressing the production of others. This kind of thing is a more long term effect biologically and it is not really a case of missed doses will let the cancer cells out of their cage so to speak. Yeah, ideally you keep taking it because you want to exert the effect constantly. But we’re talking about a therapy that many will be on for the order of decades, 9 days in the scheme of things is not a huge amount.

      As for what to do when you lose medication – i’m not familiar with the US/Brazil health systems in this regard. I would go to a pharmacy with her original script for advice, i’m not sure if you’ll have much luck there – you could also ring a local hospital with an oncology centre for advice. I imagine you’ll run into bureaucratic walls, but it can’t hurt to try. Perhaps someone from the US might be better able to answer that.

  13. Daniel Frank says:

    I’m heading to sao paulo and rio de janeiro for 8 days in November.

    1) Does anyone on here live in either of those two cities and want to meet up?
    2) Does anyone on here have any recommendations for either of those two cities (aside from the usual)?

    Thanks!

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Didn’t spend a whole load of time in Rio de Janeiro when I was there (and obviously I now regret not going to the National Museum while it was not on fire), but one charming little bit of the city that I visited was the Parque das Ruinas, where they have preserved the ruins of a turn-of-the-20th-century mansion as a little cultural centre, on a hill overlooking central Rio with a great view of the city – if you’re comfortable with heights – and if not, Rio is probably not the place for you 🙂

    • Tenacious D says:

      I’ve only been to SP.
      These probably count as the usual recommendations, but the Pinacoteca and Iberapuera Park are both really nice.
      SP has a lot of people of Italian descent so you can get good pizza etc. there.
      I didn’t have time to do this, but I would have liked to take a day trip from SP to Santos: the route through the coastal mountain range looks quite dramatic, and Santos has some neat heritage as the premier coffee-exporting port in the world.
      Have fun!

    • IsmiratSeven says:

      Telminha’s aunt could use some Tamoxifen, while you’re there.

  14. RavenclawPrefect says:

    In reading strange takes on weird issues across large swathes of the internet, I’ve seen a lot of contrasting opinions on things, but one topic about which I can recall exactly zero people dissenting despite hearing hundreds of different people’s opinions is the moral status of Elsevier and the like. I can’t even recall a single instance in which someone’s recounted a minor redeeming quality of anything they do. By all accounts this seems to be a fairly accurate assessment and I don’t know of anything to contradict the thesis that Elsevier is basically uniformly awful, but it seems worth inquiring about: anyone have a steelman of this sort of thing? I would assume that out of the thousands of people involved in some capacity with their endeavors, someone has at least tried to justify it.

    The closest thing I’ve found was this comment (the only such in that thread, if I didn’t miss something), which only holds if one conditions on the idea that knowledge-seeking institutions are dangerous and thus worth inhibiting.

    • peterispaikens says:

      The way I see it, there’s a particular need that Elsevier (and company) serves – there are a bunch of important organizations e.g. funding agencies, various regulatory bodies and gov’t agencies who all (a) want a way to evaluate whether something is “good research”; (b) don’t want to have the capacity to do that evaluation themselves; and (c) don’t trust the universities or the researchers they’re reviewing or other organizations controlled by the researchers they’re reviewing to do that evaluation.

      They want an outsourced way to get a number “the product of this research group is 7.3 good” in a way that’s somewhat correlated with reality, somewhat comparable across all the various disciplines, and shifts any possible blame for misevaluation to some other authority. There’s some consensus that doing it *well* might be nearly impossible, but anyway such a metric is needed and they’ll use whatever fits the needs best even if all alternatives are poor. Elsevier is providing such a service (SCOPUS), and so is the rest of the industry (e.g. Web of Science). The existing journal and review structure/process, as well as all the motivation and incentives to follow that process is deeply tied into the need to provide this service. The various incentives to avoid Elsevier (e.g. self-publishing, Arxiv, new open-access journals, etc) don’t show a credible way to fill this niche and provide this service, so in that regard Elsevier is fulfilling a real need. You could argue that perhaps in an ideal world this service wouldn’t be needed, but in our world it is considered an absolute necessity by the people holding all the cards for research funding.

    • Cheese says:

      I don’t necessarily disagree with the general internet takes about the moral aspect of having a large proportion of humanity’s expert knowledge locked away in walled gardens. I find it is a topic that irks me though because people ascribe moral motives to publishers like Elsevier. I mean it is obvious why they as a company act the way they do.

      I think peterispaikens answer is a good one. They hopefully function as both an access point and a quality rating system. It is a bad system, but in that way perhaps better than open access. My preference would be a system that involved paid peer review.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I’m going to attack Elsevier-owned journals yet again, but I’m going to give a general-purpose argument that should rebut any defense of such journals. If you ever do find a defense of such journals, consider this attack and see if it applies.

      Of course printers used to be important. But some journals are owned by Elsevier and other journals are merely printed by Elsevier. Comparison shows that ownership by Elsevier has provided no benefits.

    • Plumber says:

      @RavenclawPrefect,

      Until your post I’d never heard of “Elsevier’ so it’s pretty normal that I wouldn’t write anything defending them, or attacking for that matter.

  15. WashedOut says:

    It recently happened to me that something I understood to be true for a long time got completely falsified in light of pretty trivial evidence, which I came across by accident. For no obvious cultural or political reason, I went through my formative years hearing a lot about Yitzhak Rabin mainly from people casually citing examples of questionable characters turning out good in the end.

    Over time I developed a mental model of his death, wherein he was assassinated (true) by a member of Hamas (false), punctuating one of the many bouts of violent conflict between Israel and Palestine. Turns out he was actually killed by Yigal Amir, a conservative jew from Israel, who vehemently opposed the Oslo Accords which Rabin signed as part of a diplomatic effort between Israel and the PLO.

    Has this happened to anyone else? It’s a mixed feeling of excitement for having ones beliefs updated and embarrassment for not looking into things more, but I really like it.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I will say in your defense that the fake reality you constructed for yourself did you no harm on a larger scale (unless your were quizzed on this question and lost a job). Sometimes small misconceptions could be helpful to your interpretation of the world. Say you see an apple drop (which is by random chance), then you see some rats run and decide its time to leave the area based on the combination. Then an earthquake happens. You have become right based on luck. Same happened to you in this situation, you demonized (correctly) Hamas based on a misunderstanding.

      • Aapje says:

        I disagree that this is a harmless mistake, because while Hamas is bad, the Israeli extreme right are very bad too (including using terror against Palestinians). Furthermore, the narrative that the Palestinians are preventing peace is common, but not very fair.

        Believing that Rabin was killed by Hamas can very easily help create or maintain an alief or belief in a one-sided narrative.

        • Salem says:

          But what’s the harm? Unless WashedOut is in a very small set of actors, his views of the Palestinian conflict don’t matter. Would there be peace in the Middle East now, if only WashedOut had correctly attributed blame for Yitzhak Rabin’s murder? Come on now.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Hmmm. It has always seemed to me that the common but unfair belief (internationally) that Israel is preventing peace has significantly contributed to Palestinian intransigence and therefore had the effect of preventing peace, or at least making it far less likely.

            Presumably, if you have differing beliefs, e.g., about what peace terms would be reasonable (?) that argument works much the same either way.

          • Aapje says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            One of the claims that Israel is and was least willing to accept is the return of refugees (and their descendants) to their homes.

            To me it seems like a human right to be able to return to your home if you flee from violence with the intent to return when the violence is over.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @aapje

            Except that is ahistorical. The occupied areas of dubious government are not filled with people who fled Israeli persecution they are full of people who either already lived there, or moved their to be part of the coalition of countries that tried to eliminate the Israeli state during the various wars at the time.

            Gaza was part of Egypt, Egypt lost it in the Six Day War and has rejected offers to reclaim parts of it because that was politically advantageous at the time. The West Bank was part of Jordan and they lost it during the Six Day War. Parts of it would, ideally, be returned to Jordan, but the original pre-1967 borders are not sensible so some of it would have to become permanently part of Israel proper.

            It really makes no sense historically to harp on these things, no one talks about returning Puck, Gdansk, Konisberg and the rest of Prussia to Germany. Nor do they talk about border problems caused by France having Metz and Strasbourg.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Aapje, I don’t think any absolute right to continue to live in a particular place is commonly recognized. Just as a random example, when the Clyde Dam was built (not far from where I grew up) a number of people had to be relocated, and I don’t recall the UN getting involved.

            I think the Palestinian situation is more about what this article calls the right of conquest. That made me much more sympathetic to the European position, because I can understand wanting to avoid a dangerous precedent.

            But that leaves us with no way forwards, because Israel can’t both recognize the right of return and continue to exist, and it isn’t like the Israelis have anywhere else to go either. From a pragmatic point of view it seems to me like the Palestinians have far more to gain from peace than the Israelis do, and insisting on the right of return seems unhelpful.

          • Aapje says:

            @idontknow131647093

            You are ignoring a lot of history there. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled during the 1947–48 Civil War and ‘Plan Dalet.’ The latter plan, executed by Haganah, the paramilitary organization that turned into the IDF, had the removal of Palestinians from certain areas as an explicit goal:

            Mounting operations against enemy population centers located inside or near our defensive system in order to prevent them from being used as bases by an active armed force. These operations can be divided into the following categories:
            – Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously.
            – Mounting search and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the armed force must be destroyed and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state.

            Note how this is written to allow destruction of villages that are in inconvenient locations. There was no plan to house these people elsewhere within the Jewish state, with the predictable outcome that these people would be forced out. Of course, aside from Palestinians being expelled, many chose not to hang out near the fighting and fled, as people tend to do for most conflicts. The Palestinians had an extra good reason to do so, as during this time two other Zionist paramilitary organizations, Irgun and Lehi, massacred Palestinian civilians at Deir Yassin.

            The refugees were actually a major reason why the Arab countries went on the offensive:

            According to Yoav Gelber, the Arab countries were “drawn into the war by the collapse of the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab Liberation Army [and] the Arab governments’ primary goal was preventing the Palestinian Arabs’ total ruin and the flooding of their own countries by more refugees. According to their own perception, had the invasion not taken place, there was no Arab force in Palestine capable of checking the Haganah’s offensive”.

            There is a narrative where none of this happened and Israel was just minding its business when the nasty Arabs attacked. Reality is a lot more complex, with the UN partition plan being implemented really poorly and with little support from the involved parties, resulting in many on both sides seeing violence as the only way to get justice done (with Jewish violence against Palestinians, the British and other Jews and Palestinian violence against Jews, the British and other Palestinians).

            I never heard this particular narrative of yours where the refugees never even lived within the area that became Israel. That’s really a very, very extremist claim that goes against so much evidence that it is on par with Holocaust denial for its, eh, creative interpretation of the facts.

            Anyway, my opinion and that of the UN at the time was that after the violence died down, people should be able to return.

            As for the logistics, most refugees seem to be willing to return to Gaza or the West Bank with compensation for their lost property/land, which seems reasonable.

          • Aapje says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            The insistence that Israel must be a white Jewish nationalist state merely requires a two state solution, which in itself is relatively simple to achieve within the original division as decided upon by the UN.

            It is a lot more difficult to implement if Israel insists on being Greater Israel. In fact, even without the refugees returning, Israel already has a big issue with their Greater Israel plans, which doesn’t leave a viable state for the Gaza and West Bank Palestinians.

            Any peace plan that leaves a viable state for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank surely also results in a place to go for the refugees.

            PS. I assume that the displaced people for the Clyde Dam got compensation and relocation to a decent place in their own country, not a camp in a foreign country that doesn’t treat them too well.

          • quanta413 says:

            it isn’t like the Israelis have anywhere else to go either

            Arguably Israelis had better choices than Palestinians. The United States is pretty great. A lot of Jews did move to the U.S. in the early 1900s.

            The U.S. could still absorb a huge number of Israelis. On the order of a million easily. With Israel’s level of wealth and human capital, even absorbing all of Israel would be like absorbing a rich chunk of Europe. A lot of Israelis already have English proficiency to boot. Ties between Israel and the U.S. are strong too.

            Palestinians on the other hand are screwed. GDP per capita isn’t even a tenth of Israel’s. Absorbing all of Palestine’s people would cause immense stress on any country that tried.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Aapje,

            As I understand it, the Palestinian demand is that all the refugees (and their descendants) be allowed to return to their original homes. Merely allowing them to return to a newly created State of Palestine is not considered acceptable. Nor can I find any suggestion that the Israeli proposals routinely (or ever) include any clauses denying the putative new State of Palestine the right to accept as many of the refugees as it sees fit.

            If you agree with me thus far, perhaps you are suggesting that the dispute is around whether the proposed borders are large enough to allow a viable state that can absorb the refugees? That’s plausible, I suppose, except that (a) I’ve never seen it presented that way, and (b) it seems to me that if you can fit nearly 2 million people into the Gaza strip, it should be possible to fit a bit over 8 million people into the West Bank, which is about fifteen times as large. Are there factors I’m not considering?

            (Regarding compensation, Israel, and in particular the Israeli left, appear to be willing to negotiate on that point. The Palestinian position appears to be that compensation should be provided for those who choose not to exercise the right of return, but is not an acceptable alternative to it.)

            To provide a frame of reference, these are the articles I read in fact-checking myself before writing this response:

            Palestinian right of return

            Two-state solution

            The Two-State Solution: What It Is and Why It Hasn’t Happened

            Happy to check out anything else you might suggest, so long as it isn’t too long. Material of about the same length as the above would be ideal.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @quanta413,

            Arguably Israelis had better choices than Palestinians. The United States is pretty great. A lot of Jews did move to the U.S. in the early 1900s.

            Sure, and personally I tentatively lean towards the idea that Palestine was a bad choice, though I don’t know enough of the history to form a sensible opinion. I was talking strictly about the situation now, not historical counterfactuals. (Am I using that word correctly?)

            The U.S. could still absorb a huge number of Israelis.

            … I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the US wouldn’t agree to accept all nine million Israelis, even if the Israelis would agree to move. And it would be even less likely to allow them to form a separate nation within US territory.

            Absorbing all of Palestine’s people would cause immense stress on any country that tried.

            Can you expand on this? I’ve always been mildly puzzled as to why forcing them to stay in refugee camps makes the surrounding nation any better off. At the very least, couldn’t proper cities be built for them? Even if you’re not going to let them leave?

          • John Schilling says:

            Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled during the 1947–48 Civil War

            That’s two different things being lumped together. Is there a breakdown on how many fled vs. how many were expelled? Also relevant, what were they fleeing and what happened to the ones who didn’t flee?

          • quanta413 says:

            … I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the US wouldn’t agree to accept all nine million Israelis, even if the Israelis would agree to move. And it would be even less likely to allow them to form a separate nation within US territory.

            Sure it has no interest; the idea’s not even on the horizon and probably won’t ever be. But both American parties are pretty pro-Israel. American Evangelicals think Jews are god’s chosen people. I think it would be easier to sell 9 million Israelis immigrating (well, all the Jewish Israelis immigrating would be not too hard of a sell I think) than it would be to sell 2 million more Mexicans immigrating. And there are a hell of a lot more than 2 million Mexicans already here despite the law. I think the logistics is a bigger deal than the politics.

            But if Israelis immigrated here over the course of a decade or two, I doubt it would be a problem. My guess is they’d generate less opposition than Chinese immigrants. And you see relatively few complaints about Chinese immigration.

            The only groups that would be much easier to integrate economically and culturally are British or British descended.

            Obviously they can’t form their own nation though. That’s wholly untenable. Why should they get to form an ethnostate in the new world? There are no other ethnostates in the new world. They’d have to integrate more or less like all the Jews who immigrated to the U.S. before integrated (more or less).

            So I don’t think we could mass import Israel’s population in a year. But if there were Israelis immigrating to the U.S. at a clip of about a million a year I think it would be doable. Of course, Israelis don’t want to leave so it’s all moot. And obviously if they were leaving, at some point their population would be too small to sustain a military to hold their border.

            Can you expand on this? I’ve always been mildly puzzled as to why forcing them to stay in refugee camps makes the surrounding nation any better off. At the very least, couldn’t proper cities be built for them? Even if you’re not going to let them leave?

            My best guess is…

            Why would Israel want a functional and likely hostile state on its borders? Functional cities need to be able to engage in trade. They might challenge you or serve as a base for resistance. It’s far easier to push around a disorganized and weakened group. Even if you could get 95% of Palestinians to sign on to a two-state solution, 5% would still be really angry about what happened to them.

            I don’t think you can just build cities for people. People have to have the ability to run the city or trade for what they need to run the city. What total set of skills does a group of people who’ve lived in a weak quasistate that’s periodically invaded by a far superior force have? Much less when they can easily be blockaded and cutoff from external trade?

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @John Schilling, I don’t see that it makes any difference.

            @quanta413, I was thinking of the refugee camps in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon; were you talking about the ones in Gaza and the West Bank?

          • quanta413 says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            Yes, I was thinking of the West Bank and Gaza which I suppose are mostly not camps but are desperately poor. Not camps in another nation’s territory. I agree there is no benefit to Jordan of having a refugee camp. On the other hand, Jordan’s GDP per capita is only about double or triple the West Bank’s when I quickly searched for an estimate. Jordan may lack the capacity to create a new city.

            Syria isn’t even able to hold together. Lebanon has had a lot of troubles too. It’s hardly surprising a functioning city doesn’t spring up in either place. Brazil has favelas around some cities even though it’s not war torn.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Well, it didn’t have to happen quickly; the camps have been there 50+ years. And it isn’t like Jordan would have had to fund the development themselves, the same organizations that help rebuild Gaza each time Hamas and Israel start fighting again could surely have assisted.

            I suspect that at least part of the reason is that if the refugees are resettled or even just treated well, it limits their usefulness as leverage against Israel. I’m just not sure to what extent this is true, and to what extent there are real practical or political problems. Or even to what extent this has already been done and just isn’t mentioned much.

          • albatross11 says:

            I expect we would accept most or all Israelis in a genuine pinch (Israel has collapsed and they’re fleeing for their lives). Everyone remembers what happened the last time lots of Jews were running for their lives and got turned back from lots of places, and I imagine that Israeli refugees would have massive amounts of sympathy from most Americans.

            OTOH, there is no chance we’d carve off a bit of territory and turn it into New Israel.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t think there’s much of a scenario where we’d accept several million Isreali immigrants.

            Mainly because the American right (and a decent chunk of the warmongering left) would rather nuke the entire region than concede military defeat to some sort of Muslim coalition driving the Isrealis off the land.

            And “Muslims are the rightful owners, all the Jews have to leave” isn’t within light years of the overton window for most people, so….

          • Aapje says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            Of course the Palestinians publicly demand that the refugees should return, because that’s how negotiations work. You demand anything that you can make a semi-decent argument for, especially if it is important to your people. That doesn’t mean that you expect to get it. But you don’t publicly demand the minimum compromise that you’ll accept.

            Information from the actual negotiations suggests that the PA was willing to accept a token group of Palestinians that would return to Israel (so small that the demographic effect would be minimal) and that the rest would slowly be moved into Palestinian territory.

            This again is what I mean by false narratives, there is this narrative of Palestinians blowing up any peace deal unless they get all refugees back to Israel and there is this:

            In an email Ziyad Clot, a legal adviser to Palestinian negotiators on the refugee file, writes, “President [Mahmoud] Abbas offered an extremely low proposal for the number of returnees to Israel a few weeks only after the start of the process.”

            That is not the behavior by someone who desperately wants the refugees to return to their homes.

            Note that this is nothing new since Arafat already gave up the right to return in thinly veiled language:

            We understand Israel’s demographic concerns and understand that the right of return of Palestinian refugees, a right guaranteed under international law and United Nations Resolution 194, must be implemented in a way that takes into account such concerns. However, just as we Palestinians must be realistic with respect to Israel’s demographic desires, Israelis too must be realistic in understanding that there can be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if the legitimate rights of these innocent civilians continue to be ignored.

            By arguing that “Israel’s demographic concerns” must be taken into account, he gives up the solution where the refugees return to Israel as citizens with full rights who get to vote in Israeli elections.

            So if they cannot be citizens of Israel, they must then become citizens of the Palestinian state, right? But then that means that they can’t return to land that is part of Israel, rather than the Palestinian state. So…here is how I would undiplomat that statement:

            We accept that it’s not realistic to have the refugees return to Israel, but we won’t accept a deal that won’t help the refugees.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Aapje, the article you link to puts Abbas’s ability to sell any such deal to his own people in serious question. There’s also this which puts Abbas’s willingness to accept a symbolic right of return into question. But in any case, if the right of return isn’t blocking a peace agreement, this entire subthread is moot, since your assertion that it was is how it started.

            Pulling back from that particular issue, then, my overall impression remains. I’m not attempting to convince you or anyone, but the Palestinians just don’t seem to me to be acting in their own best interests. I suspect some sort of coordination problem.

            (In fact I’ve sometimes speculated that the original problem was that because of the British Mandate, etc., the Palestinians had no central authority that could negotiate terms of surrender with the newly formed State of Israel in the same way that Japan, say, was able to negotiate terms of surrender with the US. Probably a very naive suggestion.)

            The more interesting question to me right now isn’t any of that, but the question @Salem brought up shortly before we got derailed: would the situation would be markedly different if international opinion was one-sided, either one way or the other? Would the Palestinians in fact be more willing to make additional concessions if the UN tended to take Israel’s side rather than theirs? Would Israel in fact be more conciliatory if the international community was united against them?

          • Aapje says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            Israel seems unwilling to accept any state that can be a threat, which is any state that is viable. Furthermore, the current government consists in large part of Greater Israel fans, which means putting colonists ‘out there,’ which then exposes them, which then results in very oppressive measures against Palestinians to keep the colonists safe.

            I don’t see how putting pressure on the Palestinians is going to result in peace in this environment, unless this pressure convinces them to commit mass suicide (convincing them to leave isn’t going to do anything, since no one will accept them).

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Aapje,

            Israel seems unwilling to accept any state that can be a threat, which is any state that is viable.

            OK. I don’t agree, but I can understand and respect this argument. I would only add that Israel’s paranoia in this respect is also entirely understandable under the circumstances.

            (The ideal solution IMO would be to relocate the Palestinians en masse, perhaps to the southern end of Israel where it forms a triangle between Egypt and Jordan. That way, the border would be a short, straight line, easily defensible, and no more of a threat than Israel’s existing borders with Lebanon or Syria. Even better, you could relocate them to elsewhere in the Middle East. Unfortunately any such relocation would be way outside the Overton window, for reasons I don’t really get. But then, I’d also want to split Northern Ireland in half and move everybody to whichever half they feel they belong in. I suspect these opinions qualify as kooky.)

            Furthermore, the current government

            Well, yeah. Those guys are aholes. Not much more so IMO than many other right-wing, religiously influenced governments, except that their circumstances exaggerate the impact. From my perspective, this only underscores why the Palestinians should have made peace decades ago.

            which means putting colonists ‘out there,’ which then exposes them, which then results in very oppressive measures

            Another valid point. I’ve always been ambivalent on the subject of non-contiguous settlements, this may push me towards opposing them.

            On the other hand, this is an example of the sort of thing I mean when I say that the Palestinians and their supporters aren’t acting in their best interests: why don’t I ever see them objecting to the settlements on those sort of grounds? It seems like it’s always “but international law” or “stop stealing our land” or my personal favourite, “like two people negotiating about the disposition of a pizza while one of them is eating it” which just baffles me. (So accept a deal already, before the pizza is all gone!)

            On the gripping hand, I guess I’m not the kind of person they’re talking to. OK, I’ll try to update on that as well.

            convincing them to leave isn’t going to do anything, since no one will accept them

            … I’m not convinced of that. Or, rather, I am, but only in the sense of “I have acknowledged that the international community would never allow such an arrangement”. If not for that, I don’t see any compelling reason why a deal couldn’t be made. There’s plenty of precedent for one government buying territory from another, after all.

            PS: out of curiosity, and only if you don’t mind saying, are you old enough to remember PLO terrorist attacks against the international community? I suspect that influences people’s positions, I’m sure it influences mine. If I were even older, and remembered Zionist terrorist attacks against Britain, that might have influenced my opinion too.

          • Aapje says: