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Links 4/16: They Can’t Link Our Dick

[Disclaimer: None of these immediately set off alarms, but I have not double-checked all of them to make sure they are accurate. Please correct me if any are false or misleading]

Zerão is a Brazilian football stadium with the dividing line exactly on the Equator, so that each goal is on a different hemisphere.

Maybe the most important article I’ve read this year: When Confounding Variables Are Out Of Control. A new PLoS paper argues that “controlling for confounders” doesn’t work as well as we’d like. Confounders are always imperfectly measured, so when you control for your measure of a confounder, you’re only getting a portion of the real confounder, and the portion you didn’t get might be more than enough to sustain a significant effect. So many studies that claim to have gotten a result after “controlling for confounders” but which haven’t used complicated statistical techniques that nobody uses are now potentially suspect. I’ve always noticed that correlational studies that control for confounders get confirmed by experiments much less often than I would expect, and now I finally understand (some of) why.

Related: Andrew Gelman: “Let’s just put a bright line down right now. 2016 is year 1. Everything published before 2016 is provisional. Don’t take publication as meaning much of anything, and just cos a paper’s been cited approvingly, that’s not enough either. You have to read each paper on its own. Anything published in 2015 or earlier is part of the “too big to fail” era, it’s potentially a junk bond supported by toxic loans and you shouldn’t rely on it.”

Related: Internal Conceptual Relations Do Not Increase Independent Replication Success. That wouldn’t make sense if the problem was just the normal vagaries of replication, and suggests that “the influence of questionable research practices is at the heart of failures to replicate psychological findings, especially in social psychology”.

Related: A long time ago I blogged about the name preference effect – ie that people are more positively disposed towards things that sound like their name – so I might like science more because Scott and science start with the same two letters. A bunch of very careful studies confirmed this effect even after apparently controlling for everything. Now Uri Simonsohn says – too bad, it’s all spurious. This really bothers me because I remember specifically combing over these studies and finding them believable at the time. Yet another reminder that things are worse than I thought.

Wikipedia: List Of Games That Buddha Would Not Play

The lost medieval City of Benin in Nigeria had streetlights, great art, and was larger than many European capitals. It also boasted “the longest walls in the world”, beating the Great Wall of China. I’m confused why I never heard about this before – not in a “neocolonialist society covers up the greatness of Africa” sense, but in a “even the people complaining about how neocolonialist society covers up the greatness of Africa only ever talk about Zimbabwe and Kilwa which are both way less impressive” sense. Also, how did one small British expedition destroy earthworks longer than the Great Wall of China?

Some very complicated and potentially questionable attempts to ferret out all the different personality traits involved in religiosity tentatively conclude that it is directly related to moral concern and inversely related to analytic thinking, which are inversely related to one another.

Vox: You Can Finally Stop Feeling Guilty For Eating Quinoa. Apparently some people felt guilty because they thought that quinoa-eating Westerners were taking all the quinoa and then Peruvians were starving. But a new study suggests that the increased Western demand for quinoa has increased welfare throughout Peruvian quinoa-farming regions both for farmers and for non-farmers, presumably because the farmers’ increased wealth is trickling down to non-farmers.

Vox: The Most Important Foreign News Story This Week Was About Russian Tax Policy.

Did you know: when the British Empire abolished slavery, it paid 40% of the government’s total annual expenditure as compensation to slaveowners.

The prison phone system is a national disgrace. Predatory companies make deals with the government to get a monopoly on calls to and from specific prisons, then charge inmates trying to call their families rates that are orders of magnitude higher than normal. I have some patients with incarcerated family and they confirm that this is a big problem for them. The FCC has been trying to cap rates, but was recently thwarted by the courts. This seems to me like one of the clearest and most black-and-white political issues around.

Business scientists run a trial to compare promotion-by-merit with promotion-by-seniority and include random promotion as a control group. Now the results are in and random promotion does the best. Even weirder, the result seems to have been replicated. This kind of reminds me the old saying that “anyone who can be elected President shouldn’t be allowed to do the job”. [EDIT: Study uses potentially faulty computer model]

New study in Nature by leading climatologists says that the consensus is now that the global warming hiatus is real. And here are some blog posts (1, 2) explaining the result in more accessible language. Both emphasize this doesn’t mean that global warming has stopped or was never real, only that it seems to be slower now than it was before. Leading theory – complicated ocean cycles working in our favor now may work against us in the next few decades, and we should still be careful.

Thirty-five overweight people were asked to do the same amount of extra exercise. They differed wildly in how much weight they lost. Authors theorize a distinction between “compensators” and “noncompensators” with different metabolic reactions to exercise.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Gallup poll finds Clinton supporters are more likely to describe themselves as enthusiastic about their candidate than Sanders supporters. [EDIT: Maybe some extra complications. See here]

The largest area of dry land under sea level, by volume, is the Qattara Depression in Egypt. If it were ever connected to the Mediterranean, it would produce loads of hydroelectric power and form a giant lake in the middle of the Sahara. By my calculations it would also reverse one year worth of global-warming induced sea-level rise.

Ideal Conceal is a handgun which can be folded up to look exactly like an ordinary cell phone. Nothing can possibly go wrong. [But these guys think it’s a hoax]

Old studies: Australia’s experience in the 1990s proves gun control worked. New study: Australia’s experience in the 1990s proves gun control didn’t work. I am so past the point of trying to figure this out now.

Did you know: the computer game “Ecco the Dolphin” was partially based off the work of LSD-abusing delphinologist John Lilly, who thought reality was controlled by an alien conspiracy called E.C.C.O.

After a study a few months ago showing that toxoplasma didn’t produce behavioral changes in humans, a new study suggests toxoplasma is no more common in cat owners than anyone else. All of the cool toxoplasma theories are going out the window. [Edit: This is confusing]

Yasmin Nair: Suey Park and the Afterlife of Twitter. Firebrand Twitter activist Suey Park has reinvented herself as a speaker warning about the dangers of firebrand Twitter activism, now says that social justice is a “cult” and that “the violence I have experienced in SJW circles has been greater than that of ‘racist trolls'”. Nair questions the convenience of a pipeline between fame as a Twitter activist and fame as a person speaking out against Twitter activism. But part of me worries that the entire chain – Park engaging in activism, Park speaking out against activism, Nair writing about Park, and now me linking Nair – is part of the problem, in that it promotes paying attention to Twitter activism at all.

Higher amounts of dairy fat markers in the blood associated with less diabetes. Very reminiscent of past studies showing that whole milk drinkers are healthier than nonfat/lowfat drinkers. Unclear if this says something profound or just that milk is a healthier source of calories than a lot of the alternatives. Related: TIME: The Case Against Low-Fat Milk Is Stronger Than Ever.

Reason #6894019 not to mess with Finland.

Previously: a short conversation with someone can decrease prejudice. Later: no, sorry, that study turned out to be fraudulent. Now: okay, the study was fraudulent, but the conclusion was actually true.

Successful charter schools seem to do much better than public schools in educating the most disadvantaged minority children, but critics have scoffed that they must either be selectively admitting the best students or just “teaching to the test”. But one new study finds charter school success cannot be explained by selective admission, and a second finds commensurate success on non-test-related outcomes, including lower teenage pregnancy and lower incarceration rates for charter school students. Educational establishment vows to respond to findings by improving their own performance calling charter schooling racist a lot.

When Queen Elizabeth I wanted to claim the New World, she asked court mathematician/astronomer/historian/angel-summoner John Dee for scholarship relevant to the expansion. Dee hit the books and conveniently discovered that King Arthur had led a vast army to conquer America, Greenland, and the North Pole

Some changes in Italian penal law help us more accurately determine the time discount functions of criminals.

Police, emergency responders, and other professionals try to trace Internet users’ IP addresses to find out where they live. Untraceable IP addresses – a big chunk of the total – all show up as coming from the geographic middle of the United States, which happens to be on a random farm in Kansas. Here’s a look into the life of a random Kansas farmer who has no idea why everyone is after him.

Everything we knew about classical Chinese civilization came from attempts to reconstruct it after the Qin Emperor burnt all the books around 200 BC. Now for the first time archaeologists have found original texts from Confucius’ time, and they’re a lot less orderly than expected.

Study finds violent video games do not increase misogyny, as usual everyone ignores this, seizes on a single doubtful sub-subfinding out of context and reports that the study proves violent video games do increase misogyny. The only thing at all surprising about the whole process is that Science Of Us notices and complains about it.

New study finds Haidtian moral foundations aren’t stable, heritable, or predictive; Haidt says that’s because the study did a terrible job measuring them.

A team including Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, American billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, and scientist Stephen Hawking have announced a plan to build a fleet of interstellar (!!!!) probes. The idea is very clever and has at least partially overcome the obvious skepticism such a plan should warrant. But I can’t help thinking it’s another dead end like the moon landing – something that will make it into the history books but have no broader impact on human activity or the colonization of space. Billionaires are obviously allowed to spend their money on whatever cool stuff they want, and goodness knows this is better than another yacht, but my sympathies are still with the less glamorous projects of Musk, Bezos, and Branson.

The latest step in the sportification of the political process is the release of Decision 2016 Trading Cards.

Women With More Feminine Digit Ratio Have Higher Reproductive Success (p = 0.002) – mediated at least in part by longer reproductive lifespan. The effect is sufficiently strong that we should be really curious why evolution preserved the contrary set of genes – maybe they’re better for men?

The Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations collects apparently complimentary phrases to use in recommendation letters for people you secretly loathe. For example, “you would be lucky to get him to work for you”, “I recommend this man without qualifications”, “You won’t find many people like her”, “I cannot recommend this person too highly”, and “Nobody would be better than her”. The obvious review for this book is Moses Hadas’ “I have read this book and much like it”.

What happens when people from primitive tribes without mirrors who live in areas without clear water see their reflections for the first time? They freak out. [warning: includes scary picture]

A beautiful theory killed by an inelegant fact: sex offenders have no more testosterone than anyone else. Not in this study, but IIRC violent offenders do have more testosterone than others.

Vox: Everyone says the Libya intervention was a failure. They were wrong.

GiveDirectly will be starting large-scale tests of a universal basic income in Kenya.

RIP The 10,000 Year Explosion co-author and anthropology/evolution blogger Henry Harpending.

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1,393 Responses to Links 4/16: They Can’t Link Our Dick

  1. Anthony says:

    Clinton supporters are more likely to describe themselves as enthusiastic about their candidate than Sanders supporters

    No! Clinton supporters are more likely to describe themselves as enthusiastic about voting in 2016! It’s killing me how this is being reported, and I’m not even a Sanders supporter. The obvious response to this poll is “Of course Clinton supporters are excited about voting in 2016. Their candidate is going to win the party’s nomination, and run in the general election. Sanders’ supporters are going to have to hold their nose and cast a ballot for Hillary on election day. Why should they be enthusiastic?”

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks, fixed.

    • JayT says:

      At the same time though, Trump’s supporters are even more enthusiastic than Clinton’s, and it’s looking less and less likely that he will be the nominee, never mind the general election. I’m not so sure that there isn’t something to this.

      • Anthony says:

        There’s certainly something to this. Just not at all the something that’s being reported.

        Even if Trump does not get the nomination, he’s in a very different position from Sanders, in that he’s emerged as the clear front-runner of the Republican field. Being a Trump supporter right now must feel like being in the middle of a potentially successful revolution. Being a Sanders supporter must feel like… it always feels to be on the left of the Democratic Party: taken advantage of by the goons in charge.

        If you think that Hillary’s been short-changed — that her supporters are secretly more enthusiastic than Sanders’ — then that’s an argument you can make, and I’d be interested to hear it. You just can’t make it on the basis of this poll. Not without a lot of stretching, at least.

        • JayT says:

          I don’t necessarily think Clinton’s supporters are more enthusiastic, I just think that the enthusiasm behind Sanders is overstated because the group that is very enthusiastic about him has a disproportionately loud voice.

      • E. Harding says:

        “and it’s looking less and less likely that he will be the nominee, never mind the general election.”

        -Wait ’till we see the results from New York State. And, yes, Trump had difficulty gaining unbound delegates. But he’s a billionaire. He’ll find them, one way or another. And there is good reason to expect Trump to win the general.

        • erenold says:

          Now you’ve piqued my interest – what is this good reason to expect Trump to win the general, and how much weight would you assign to that probability?

        • Nathan says:

          NY is going to go heavily for Trump, he’ll gain in excess of 80 delegates there easily. Even so, and assuming a sweep in the other northeastern states, he’s looking shaky. The key states to watch are Indiana and California. If Trump takes those two he’s very likely the nominee, if Cruz wins them he very likely is.

          If Cruz wins Indiana and Trump wins California, who the heck knows.

          (I am also heavily skeptical of Trump’s chances in the General Election.)

        • John Schilling says:

          538 is as usual the place to go to get quantitative analysis of the primaries. They project Trump as getting 85 of the 91 delegates in New York, and still coming up about eighty delegates short of locking in a victory before the convention. New York is the last place to look for evidence of the hidden strength that will propel Trump to victory; New York is where he’s demonstrated his strength openly and it’s not enough to sweep the nation.

          As for the thinly-veiled hint that Trump is going to bribe(*) the uncommitted delegates, first, he’s an alleged billionaire who has been very reluctant to spend his own money in this campaign. Second, you can’t bribe eighty party activists without having several of them talk, and that’s one of the few things that would give the rest of the GOP the moral authority to do what they have wanted to do all along – change the rules of the convention before the first vote.

          *Yes, yes, we all understand that it won’t be literal envelopes of cash.

          • As for the thinly-veiled hint that Trump is going to bribe(*) the uncommitted delegates … you can’t bribe eighty party activists without having several of them talk…

            That’s only a problem if it involves literal envelopes of cash, as opposed to nice favors that a powerful politician can do for a mere delegate.

            If things get to the point where, say, 35 more votes would get Trump the nomination, I can’t imagine every uncommitted delegate standing firm.

            Almost everyone has embarrassing secrets they don’t want exposed. How likely are those secrets to remain secure when you’re one of a handful of people standing between a ruthless [near-]billionaire and his goal? Professional oppo researchers are very good at finding these things.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            @Larry Kestenbaum – I know that Perot claims he was blackmailed into backing down by HW Bush, any idea how plausible that was?

          • @ God Damn John Jay

            I know that Perot claims he was blackmailed into backing down by HW Bush, any idea how plausible that was?

            On the one hand, the GHW Bush campaign was thoroughly ruthless. On the other hand, Perot is perhaps not the most reliable reporter.

            Moreover, “blackmail” is often used loosely to mean political pressure, or persuasion efforts that don’t rise to the level of, say, a threat to publicize photographs of the candidate in flagrante delicto with an underage sex worker.

            I guess I don’t think a classic blackmail situation is more likely than not, but if it turns out to be true, I won’t be too shocked.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            There were people inside the Perot campaign working to destroy it, because they saw Perot up-close and knew he couldn’t be allowed to win.

            The same thing happened with the Edwards campaign, too. High-level insiders saw he was having an affair on the campaign trail and worked to sabotage the campaign since he wouldn’t drop out.

            We complain a lot about tribalism here, and fairly, but sometimes the insiders of a tribe really do care about stopping a monster from their own tribe.

          • ThaddeusMike says:

            What evidence is there that he is not a billionaire?

          • John Schilling says:

            What evidence is there that he is not a billionaire?

            Well, Forbes thinks that he’s not nearly as rich as he claims, but probably still a billionaire. Fortune is even less certain. Trump is conspicuously secretive about his finances, accessible public records reveal little, and the core of his business model is branding himself as Essence of Pure Richness whether it is true or not. He can afford a PR machine to back up his celebrity-businessman status, but beyond that nobody outside of Trump’s inner circle (and maybe the IRS) can really say.

      • JuanPeron says:

        One relevant question, though: do his supporters agree with that assessment?

        Several of the (admittedly small pool) of Trump supporters I know are basically shrugging off all polls and predictions that he won’t win, at least by delegate count. I can’t even say I think it’s an ignorant viewpoint given the track record of Trump predictions. These people will acknowledge that maybe the RNC will ‘steal’ Trump’s nomination, but that doesn’t really dampen enthusiasm. It just turns it to anger.

        Most of the Bernie voters I know, by contrast, look at him as a dead man walking. Ever since Day 1 they’ve said things like “I don’t think he can win, but it’s worth voting for him to send a message”.

        None of this means candidate energy is meaningless, but I’m not sure Trump supporters are responding with a mindset of “he won’t win but I still like him”.

  2. Dr Dealgood says:

    Now I’m picturing Buddha standing next to a bunch of kids playing hopscotch and pick-up sticks, the whole while silently glaring at them with his arms crossed.

    What on earth is the context of this anyway? Does the list have some significance in laying out Buddhist principles or something?

    • hipmanbro says:

      I’m going to assume that games distract you from the path to enlightenment. Buddha was pretty hardcore, and he’d try to avoid any temptations or cravings towards ’empty’ pleasure. The competitive aspect of games can also come at odds with the whole selfless, compassionate, altruistic philosophy.

      But woooow, I’m mostly surprised at the list of games. Each of those seem to have survived in some shape or form to today. That tile one I remember making up, and playing as a kid! I wonder which games have been independently reinvented by children across the world.

      • Peffern says:

        Where is that post about the “floor is lava” game and how everyone seems to independently discover it even without hearing about it form other people?

    • PDV says:

      No, he specifically said that these were not prohibitions. These were games he did not like.

    • Pobop says:

      The text is a code of conduct, only it’s given from the viewpoint of a worldling outsider. So the Buddha lists all kinds of supposedly good things that an unenlightened commoner would say (and perhaps be impressed by?) of him, the buddhist community, or the teaching. The implicit point is that the monks should live like this, and the explicit point is that when people talk about the Buddha living like this the monks should confirm it.

      It’s not just games either. The Buddha abstains from rejuvenating dead fetuses, fortune telling (including predicting various end-of-the-world scenarios), talking about politics, antelope-skin rugs and wrestling shows.

      These are stated as good ways of behaving, but also as trivial, “minor details of mere moral virtue”. I think the point is that concentration and insight are still needed, and proper behavior is not a substitute for them.

      So it’s not only about games and also not only games that the Buddha didn’t personally enjoy.

    • Vamair says:

      I was picturing a meditating Buddha, one of his disciples and a bunch of kids. Kids are: “Mr. Buddha, do you want to play dice with us?” Buddha: “No.” Disciple *writes*: “Buddha won’t play dice”.

  3. Nornagest says:

    The latest step in the sportification of the political process is the release of Decision 2016 Trading Cards.

    73 dollars? That’s a lot of money to pay for a short stack of cardboard that’ll be thoroughly obsolete in six months.

  4. David Pinto says:

    Instead of a universal income, just get the Kenyans to grow Quinoa.

    • Leit says:

      Neat idea, but unfortunately as I understand it quinoa is one of a multitude of useful crops that would flat-out die in Kenya’s equatorial heat.

      • Devilbunny says:

        I’m not sure about the temperature requirements of quinoa, but substantial parts of Kenya have quite mild temperatures due to altitude.

  5. Tim C says:

    Not a fan of the Vox article on Libya. While the framing to look at the counterfactual is correct, the author doesnt take that to the logical conclusion – how many civilians would Ghaddafi have killed, compared to the civil war occuring today? Seems like he buys into the “imminent genocide” narrative, but his reported death toll of 1,000-2,000 before the intervention (a number that is just a guess once you follow the source, and seems like its both military and civilian) doesnt suggest that – such a death toll, while tragic, is par for the course in any military conflict. Without any strong case that Ghaddafi was going to mass murder hordes of civilians, the 4-5,000 dead from today’s civil war make the intervention look like a net loss (depending on assumptions of course, but they go both ways).

    Also simply assuming that Libya would have been Syria is a key part of the premise, the idea that no side could “win” – but its also ridiculous. The idea that no one can win a civil war in the middle east is made with a sample size of 1 in Syria (maybe 2 in Yemen), with no actual basis in any facts on the ground in Libya. If I recall correctly, the NATO mission was justified on the grounds of Ghaddafi’s “imminent victory”, which mandated a quick response. Sure, the war could have gone on for years – but there is little evidence, again, to suggest one way over the other.

    Overall the article just makes the worst assumptions about one counterfactual, and the best about the others, then says thats an argument – which it can be, its a possibility, but to me seems like a poorly justified one.

    • voidfraction says:

      Also, weren’t we supplying the rebels with arms and support well before the intervention was officially announced? Who’s to say the rebellion wouldn’t have fizzled out much earlier without CIA support?

      • vV_Vv says:

        Indeed, it seems quite plausible to me that rebels wouldn’t have even started a civil war if they couldn’t count on foreign support.

        • John Schilling says:

          That’s a bit of a stretch. The first lesson of the Arab Spring was that, as in Tunisia, a bunch of agitated protesters willing to make sacrifices could shame an Evil Dictator into standing down and letting a democratic government take power. The second lesson of the Arab Spring was that, as in every place other than Tunisia, the first lesson was a lie and would just get a bunch of people pointlessly killed. But Libya was early enough in the process that the first lesson was still fresh in everyone’s minds and the second lesson hadn’t really sunk in yet.

          That doesn’t make for a particularly big conflict, what with the rebels mostly expecting the government to cave after a few skirmishes and not being up for the reality of civil war. But it was I think pretty much inevitable that a bunch of Libyans with guns were going to try and overthrow the regime in 2011.

    • Leonard says:

      The article also ignores the most damning consequence of intervening under the rubric of “responsibility to protect”: it caused Syria.

    • E. Harding says:

      “Vox: Everyone says the Libya intervention was a failure. They were wrong.”

      -Clearly shows what a crappy news source Vox is:

      http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-skeptics/no-the-libya-intervention-wasnt-humanitarian-success-15710

      “If I recall correctly, the NATO mission was justified on the grounds of Ghaddafi’s “imminent victory”, which mandated a quick response.”

      -Exactly. The leadership of the perfidious West was afraid Gaddafi would imminently capture Benghazi, and, thus, pretty much win the war. Also, one could not expect Egypt to support the Libyan rebellion to the same degree Turkey, Jordan, and Israel supported the Syrian one.

      “By my calculations it would also reverse one year worth of global-warming induced sea-level rise.”

      -:-)

    • John Schilling says:

      We talked about Libya here not too long ago, but I’m having trouble finding the thread. Bottom line, this is far from Vox’s best work.

      1. The Libyan rebels had been essentially routed on all fronts by the time the first French airstrikes came. Those strikes, and the American and British ones to come, were decisive, and a testament to the capabilities of modern Air Forces with a clear mission, adequate resources, and appropriate rules of engagement. Absent those airstrikes, there would have been about three more battles, maybe a siege in Tobruk, and some mopping up. That would have been it for the rebels, at least insofar as waging open war against Gaddafi is concerned.

      2. The only way this would have turned into genocide or mass murder, or violence on any scale much beyond the thousand or two people already dead, is if Gaddafi had decided to unilaterally engage in mass reprisal killings. Which he had conspicuously not done before, either during the decades of his rule or in the cities where he had defeated the rebels before the airstrikes. He was a ruthlessly efficient murderous dictator, and while that’s not generally something to be praised the “efficient” part includes being pretty good at killing exactly the people he needed to kill so that he’d be left with the maximum number of cowed, obedient survivors.

      3. Is there anything you can’t justify by saying that the people you did it to were going to commit mass murder and genocide the next day if you hadn’t done what you did to stop them? I mean, if you can deploy the argument against people who have conspicuously failed to commit mass murder or genocide before, and you can just assert without evidence that their genocidal plans had already been set, and if it doesn’t matter how mass-murdery your version is because the propaganda says their version would inevitably be worse…

      • E. Harding says:

        Didn’t Gaddafi’s forces fire a great deal on protestors, though?

        And, yes, that article definitely showcases the quality of personnel that Brookings is hiring, and material that Vox is willing to publish. You’re definitely correct on your #1 and #3.

        • Some Troll's Legitimate Discussion Alt says:

          Maybe? The rebels sure said he did, and western media sure did uncritically report on a lot of rebel press releases as though they were facts.

          But they said a lot of stuff, and most of it was bogus.

          • E. Harding says:

            There was a lot of video from the conflict, so these things can be tested for accuracy.

          • John Schilling says:

            The quantity and quality of the video allegedly showing Gaddafi’s forces shooting unarmed protesters leave much to be desired. If what I saw then and what I could find in a brief search now is the best the rebel propagandists can come up with, then there was no more of an imminent genocide in Benghazi than there was in, e.g., Ferguson.

            Also, if you are in the position to film the opening stages of a genocide, try to point the camera at something other than the ground and don’t put your thumb over the lens. But even in those cases, the audio is enough to dispel claims of indiscriminate mass slaughter.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, Gadaffi wasn’t a nice man by any means, but he was famously not one of the “And I’ll kill off everyone not in my tribe once I seize power” African dictators. Libya was fairly stable and fairly well-off (at least, well-off enough that it was worth the while of the Irish government of the day in the 80s to send trade missions to get them to buy our dairy/beef exports) and my admittedly ignorant view was that a large part of the reason for Western intervention was in retaliation for the Lockerbie bombing.

    • Biller says:

      You brought up most of the criticisms I had for the Vox article, but I just wanted to add one more (very minor) additional error: the article states that Gaddafi actively suppressed social institutions and intentionally made the running of Libya dependant on him. In fact, Gaddafi was deeply concerned with how to allow social institutions to be created, given the conflicts between the population groups within Libya. How do you encourage social groups when you know they could very well be coopted by extremists? He was so concerned about this that he invited Robert Putnam to a personal meeting in order to get his thoughts on how to encourage social cohesion.
      http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703408604576164363053350664
      Now, it is entirely possible to take the view, as Putnam did, that Gaddafi’s concern was insincere and his fears were unfounded (though I would disagree given the electoral success of radical Islamic groups in Lybia recently). But to state without qualification that Gaddafi wanted to eliminate social institutions merely to keep all power vested in him seems… Disingenuous.

      • Levantine says:

        Hugh Roberts:
        The [Libyan] Jamahiriyya’s formal institutions were extremely weak, and that included the army

        Gaddafi, unlike any other head of state, stood at the apex not of the pyramid of governing institutions but of the informal sector of the polity, which enjoyed a degree of hegemony over the formal sector that has no modern counterpart.

        http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n22/hugh-roberts/who-said-gaddafi-had-to-go

        This link is the best account on Gaddafi’s Libya I’ve ever read in the mainstream media.

      • Zip says:

        I think I remember reading something about Gaddafi’s son being educated in the West and very gung ho about democracy too.

        • John Schilling says:

          “Gung ho” may be overstating it, but yes. I’ve seen him analogized to the fictional Michael Corleone, and I think it fits. He doesn’t want to run the family business. If he has to run the family business, he doesn’t want to run it the way his father did. But if his father is under attack, family first and death to those who stand against them.

          Or, in the end, with them, and we’re still not done with the killing…

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            A weird story of the whole Libyan debacle (which I had waited for an opening to mention, because its kind of funny and non-serious) was that Ghaddafi’s son Mutassim Gaddafi dated an italian supermodel who responded to the war by defending him and his family and was promptly fired.

            The funny part was that she had attempted an acting career featuring a role in a modern adaption of Cinderella- because nothing is ever a coincidence.

        • Agronomous says:

          I think I remember reading something about Gaddafi’s son being educated in the West and very gung ho about democracy too.

          Every dictator has a son educated in the West who’s much more “reform-minded” and “democratic” than he is.

          The dictator sets it up that way, so that when the West is tempted to overthrow Papa Dic, they figure they can instead just wait it out until he dies* and democratic reform-minded Baby Dic takes over and everything’s hunky dory. It is totally a Thing, and if I were looking for a business opportunity, I’d start Agronomous’s School for Much More Reformist Offspring of Strong Rulers (probably somewhere in Switzerland) and cash in.

          The most recent example of such a succession was when Hafez Assad died and left things to his son Bashar. Turns out he was a lot more like the old man than we’d been led to believe.

          (* Like Hyman Roth, dictators seem to always be dying of the same heart attack for twenty years….)

          • onyomi says:

            Didn’t Kim Jong-un have some Western education too? Turns out spending a few years in the hallowed halls of academia isn’t enough to convince you to do a bunch of reforms that will probably end in you getting killed due to the logic of Ceaușescu.

            Heck I’m not even sure I would do a bunch of reforms if I were the scion of a cruel dictator. I’d want to, but be scared to death of getting killed for it. The best route to me seems to be to embezzle as much money as you can and move to Europe.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yeah, I think I’d make a deal to get the heck out. If my country dissolves into chaos as a result… well, it’s not like there were good alternatives. Either I rule with an iron hand, which makes me an evil dictator, which seems like HARD WORK in addition to being distasteful. Or I do reforms and the country collapses into chaos with me getting killed (or captured, tried, and killed) in the bargain. Or I get the heck out and the country collapses without me, while I retire comfortably.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Nybbler: You’d abandon your family to be brutally murdered, because fighting to protect them would be HARD WORK? You could find comfort “retiring” among the people who e.g. killed your kid sister a generation ago, promised the rest of you they’d lay off if you toed the line, and then set your father up to be murdered while they watched safely from a distance the moment the political winds changed, because opposing them might be dangerous?

            OK, maybe you might. But that’s not how most families work, and it’s not a coincidence that dictatorship tends to be a family business.

          • I’ve read that the highly educated (non-Jewish) German academics had no resistance to Nazism.

          • The Nybbler says:

            No, of course if I have family the deal includes them. Unless some other family member really wants to run the place and is in a position to, in which case good for them.

            As for them killing my kid sister… well, I’m probably not going to make a deal with that exact polity, but I’d hardly be a credible dictator-candidate if I couldn’t accept the necessity of dealing with people allied with my personal enemies. As for what they did to my dad… well, he would have done the same given the chance.

            There’s no good answer.

    • Zakharov says:

      I know Ghaddafi had a habit of intervening in African conflicts, almost always on the wrong side. Might the Western intervention been a net positive because it prevented future destructive Libyan interventions?

      • Gbdub says:

        He was much less likely to do so with an American army in his backyard (Iraq). He was basically contained as an external threat at that point. Of course who knows how he would have acted in the power vacuum of the withdrawal from Iraq.

        • John Schilling says:

          Your globe must look very different than mine

          • Gbdub says:

            “In his backyard” did not mean “on the border of”. Point being that a large US ground force and a demonstrated willingness to use it probably dampened any Libyan adventurism (of the saber rattling, nuclear program, and terror exporting type) Gadaffi may have wanted to undertake. And yes I am aware Saudi Arabia is closer but that’s a bit different than an occupied Iraq with a US army on a war footing.

          • Nornagest says:

            The French had ground forces in the Ivory Coast the year the Libyan Civil War started, and had been involved five years previously. Granted, France has nothing like the military power that America does, but they’re a nuclear state with one of the larger and more active Western militaries, and they have greater ties to, and historical willingness to intervene in, North Africa than we do.

          • John Schilling says:

            During pretty much the entire period in which Muammar Gaddafi earned his reputation as an Evil Dictator in general and an enemy of the United States in particular, the United States maintained in Western Europe a rather larger military force than was deployed in Irag in 2011. Western Europe is also closer to Libya than is Iraq, particularly by sea, and does not require crossing multiple intervening Arab nations to reach Libya. On the various occasions when the United States found it necessary to deploy military force against Libya, this was done with US military forces based in Western Europe.

            If there are reasons to believe that Gaddafi’s days of military or terrorist adventurism had ended by 2011, the relatively small and distant US presence in Iraq is not among them.

    • akarlin says:

      Completely atrocious article which as expected neglects to mention that the from the get go the “peaceful protests” involved Molotov cocktails being hurled into police stations (a development which would have the National Guard out on the streets and firing real bullets in the US itself).

      In other words, typical Western MSM propaganda, which even many self-styled “rationalists” predictably lap up.

      Critics erroneously compare Libya today to any number of false ideals, but this is not the correct way to evaluate the success or failure of the intervention. To do that, we should compare Libya today to what Libya would have looked like if we hadn’t intervened.

      Let’s.

      (1) Its GDP per capita (PPP) would not be down by more than 50%.

      (2) There would almost certainly be no civil war by now.

      (3) There would be no Islamic State: Sirte Expansion with outposts across the entire country.

      (4) There would be no flood of African migrants crossing unimpeded into Europe due to Libya being a failed state at this point. (At least there’s a sort of measure of poetic justice in that. The only problem is that the most responsible parties – the political elites – are also the ones most able to escape the consequences personally).

      • The Nybbler says:

        Actually at the BLM protests in Minneapolis, activists threw Molotov cocktails at the police station there and nothing happened to them.

        • Levantine says:

          I’ve just recalled there is a decent book on the conflict available online, so in principle one can save oneself from extended arguments where you have to explain any single detail:

          https://theburningbloggerofbedlam.wordpress.com/the-libya-conspiracy/

          Basically, it was human rights impostors and UN officials who created the war.
          That’s documented in the following film:
          Libye: La Guerre Humanitaire (2011)
          and its accompanying article:
          http://www.voltairenet.org/Lybia-Human-rights-impostors-used

          • Ant says:

            Yeah, no. Voltairenet is a well known haven for political crank of any kind, found by a Thruther.

          • Levantine says:

            Ant, April 17 at 5:15 – You imply guilt by association and attack the claim on the basis of the medium. You avoid tackling the arguments in the book I linked to, arguments that more or less debunk the discussed article.
            Bottom line: you are avoiding the subject at hand.

          • FeepingCreature says:

            Levantine, please read http://squid314.livejournal.com/350090.html . If you’re the sort of unusual person who takes arguments seriously, there’s a real risk of being taken in by arguments that are wrong but hard to disprove. If merely sounding plausible is enough to change your mind, and lots of people here think that way, there’s a real risk in exposing yourself to sophisticated arguments for positions that you currently believe to be false, that you’ll end up believing them whether or not they’re true. As such, pruning sources on the basis of guilt-by-association is a vital heuristic.

            “Now,” you might say, “that sounds like an excuse to never have to change your mind!” However, there is a way to avoid this. If you like, summarize the presented argument here in the comments. This is a public place where criticism is invited, which improves the odds that good-sounding-but-wrong arguments will be called out. That, or make an argument that the voltairenet comments sections are properly contrarian and not, as I’ll guess blindly without looking, the sort of echochamber you get when every not-totally-committed voice would be shouted down as an ally of the system.

    • Outis says:

      One thing that is generally overlooked when talking about interventions in North Africa and the Middle East is that there is no “West”. There is America calling the shots while being almost completely isolated from any consequences, and a patchwork of European states going along with it and/or running around like headless chickens, while taking 95% of the “Western” impact. The refugee crisis has enormously weakened the EU, which is something the US government must have foreseen when deciding on its interventions.

      Once you take into account unspoken anti-European policy goals, a certain level of chaos in the Middle East starts looking like a success rather than a failure. If Vox really wants to make a case for America’s policies there, that’s the direction they should explore.

      • John Schilling says:

        Except that in Libya, it was the French who called the shots. Well, the first NATO shots, which were the ones that counted. Masterful game of “let’s you and him fight”.

        • Outis says:

          France’s president at the time was Sarkozy, probably the most pro-American French president ever, who was having trouble at home and hoped that a quick and cheap military success would make him look good in the following election. I still count that within the “going along with it and/or running around like headless chickens” category.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        Whence my hollow laughter when too that Europe is free riding on US military might….not till refugees start swimming accross the Atlantic, it isn’t.

      • There is no united “West,” but the US does not call all the shots. France in particular has a heavy interventionist hand throughout the world. The intervention against the Islamic Maghreb in Mali was entirely French driven.

      • Anthony says:

        The refugee crisis has enormously weakened the EU, which is something the US government must have foreseen when deciding on its interventions.

        You give the U.S. government far too much credit for foresightedness. Even if they’d realized that toppling Libya and attempting to topple Syria would create a flood of refugees, only bad old right-wingers said that trying to incorporate Muslim refugees into European culture was doomed to fail, and nobody listens to them.

        • Biller says:

          Well, they should have realized that there would be a flood of refugees at least, since Gaddafi explicitly warned Europe that that would happen:

          http://www.lejdd.fr/International/Afrique/Actualite/Exclusif-L-interview-integrale-accordee-par-Mouammar-Kadhafi-au-JDD-278745

          Voilà ce qui va arriver. Vous aurez l’immigration, des milliers de gens qui iront envahir l’Europe depuis la Libye. Et il n’y aura plus personne pour les arrêter.

          Translation:

          Here’s what will happen [if I’m removed from power]. You will have immigration, thousands of people from Libya will invade Europe. And there will be no one to stop them.

          Though you’re right about the bad old right-wingers thing.

          • vV_Vv says:

            The hawks (France and the US, mostly) and their fellow headless chicken (everybody else in Europe that joined them in supporting the Arab Spring), probably thought that they would quickly wipe out the existing Arab governments and install stable pro-West governments (because this had worked so well in Iraq and Afghanistan…).

            They only really succeeded in Tunisia (quite irrelevant country) and partially in Egypt (at least so far, but Mubarak’s government was already quite pro-West to begin with). Things went shit in Libya (government toppled followed by anarchy), Syria (Putin said: don’t dare to directly attack Assad or it is WW3), and they managed to screw up Iraq more than it already was.

            I blame this on incompetence.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            Egypt was already reasonably pro-Western. The government was willing to accept money in return for not attacking Israel.

            The irony of the situation was that Erdrogan was a cruel tyrant willing to execute protestors then the revolution couldn’t have happened.

            (Egypt’s big problem was that the entire world was in a recession and they bankrupted themselves to offer a program of subsidized fuel that was so regressive and ineffective that Freakonomics dubbed it the worlds dumbest Transportation policy)

      • BBA says:

        “Unspoken anti-European policy goals” – but I thought a strong EU was considered very much in America’s (and the world’s) interest. At the very least, if the former Great Powers are subordinated to an unaccountable supranational bureaucracy they’ll spend all their effort fighting against it, which leaves them no time for fighting each other.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          I thought a strong EU was considered very much in America’s (and the world’s) interest.

          In the world’s, possibly. In America’s? Not at all. A strong EU might actually do something, or have its own opinions. Can’t have that!

          • It follows from your argument that Obama should advise the British to leave the EU. Have you told him? He doesn’t seem to have gotten the message.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            The EU’s laws mean its strength is (somewhat) inversely proportional to its size, as every additional state means one more independent agent trying to gain what it can from it and veto stuff it dislikes. Aside from that, I could very well see Obama prefering the status quo of nothing getting done and states quibbling incessantly over one where some leave and the remainder get together to do some much-needed reform.

          • BBA says:

            A strong EU might actually do something, or have its own opinions. Can’t have that!

            I said a strong EU, not a strong Europe. The point of the EU is to prevent intra-European wars, which it’s succeeded at so far. Nobody’s going to be up for another round of fighting over Alsace-Lorraine or Schleswig-Holstein when it’s such a pain in the ass to close the borders.

          • A strong EU is definitely in America’s interest. Here’s Zbigniew Brzeznski on the subject:

            The enlargement of NATO and the EU would serve to reinvigorate Europe’s own waning sense of a larger vocation, while consolidating, to the benefit of both America and Europe, the democratic gains won through the successful termination of the Cold War

            http://www.activistpost.com/2014/05/the-role-of-nato-and-eu-on-brzezinskis.html
            I know everyone thinks of Americans as unabashedly realist, but America’s populist political nature means Wilson’s 14 points are just in the water supply now.

          • vV_Vv says:

            A strong EU is definitely in America’s interest.

            It depends how strong it is. An EU that decides to become a single country is not in the US interest (at least as long as the US interest includes maintaining world supremacy).

            The UK is probably the most US-friendly EU country, and one of the most skeptical towards further political unification, hence its continued membership in the EU is in the US interest. Without the UK, the EU becomes pretty much the Third Reich minus Nazism.

        • LCL says:

          Agreed, “unspoken anti-European policy goals” is rubbish. The U.S. explicitly and implicitly supports a strong Europe, and in particular would like to see a Europe more committed to its own military defense/security (and footing the bills associated with that). You could make a case that’s a shortsighted position, since a less-militarized Europe has been a more peaceful Europe. Yet shortsighted or not, it’s clearly the U.S. position.

          Actually, that reminds me of a talk I attended (in the U.S.) a couple weeks ago to hear a Brexit-supporting conservative MP make the case for it. He was fairly eloquent and passionate speaking from a British perspective. But when asked why it was in the U.S. interest to support a move that would weaken Europe, he fumbled a bit before essentially admitting that it wasn’t (but the U.S. should keep out of it anyway because sovereignty, national self-determination, respect for the will of the people, etc.)

          • Outis says:

            The US might like individual European countries to spend more on their militaries, but that has nothing to do with strengthening Europe as a unified entity. The US likes a situation where individual European countries are medium-strength and can serve as useful allies, but it definitely doesn’t want Europe to coordinate and act like a single power (keep in mind that the EU’s economy as a whole is larger than the US’s).

            That is why the US has supported hasty expansion of the EU. With incomplete integration and weak European institutions, expansion has made it even more difficult for the EU to come to an agreement on anything. That’s just how the US likes it.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            You’re much more articulate in expressing my opinion than I am. Thank you.

          • Creutzer says:

            So why is the EU so phenomenally incompetent at looking after its self-interest? Can this be explained by some coordination problem or runaway holiness signaling?

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Of course coordination is an issue. The EU is practically a classic issue on how the prisoner’s dilemma can screw people over.

          • Creutzer says:

            Well, but it is so obvious that they’re dealing with lots and lots of PD-like situations? For example, if you think the expansion was overly hasty, how can one conceptualise this as mutual defection in a PD? How does being against the expansion while others are for it substantially hurt the interests of a country?

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            (keep in mind that the EU’s economy as a whole is larger than the US’s)

            Even excluding Great Britain and the countries it’s rapidly expanding to?

          • Outis says:

            @Whatever: I see what you did there. Yes, a smaller but much more politically integrated EU would be a bigger threat to US dominance than an EU that is economically larger but politically weak and uncoordinated.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            I don’t think I was one to imply the EU’s horizontal expansion in specific has to do with the prisoner’s dilemma. If anything, it seems to happen every time some people see their chance fit to ‘steal’ some country away from Russia’s sphere of influence.

            The case of veto rights is one example of the prisoner’s dilemma in action. It’d be generally better for the EU as a whole if every damn country in it didn’t have a veto, but they do, and as long as everyone keeps defecting by holding on to theirs the end of it is not long in sight.

            Aside from that, the EU catches a lot of flak for national-level politicians taking credit for its successes, whilst simultaneously blaming unrelated problems on its existence.

            Not everything may be a PD in the perfect sense, but coordination is definetly an issue.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            @Outis: Those are interesting theories. I have to ask you, though: what has the United States government done in the past twenty years to make you believe that they have the competence to carry out such subtle manipulation?

            Was it the brilliantly elegant way they brought about peace and pro-Western governments in Iraq and Syria? The cunning fashion in which strongmen like Putin or Erdogan have been prevented from consolidating power or attacking their neighbors, maybe? Or perhaps how good they are at keeping their most secret documents and personnel records from being splashed all over the internet or stolen by China? I must know.

          • Creutzer says:

            @Stefan Drinic:

            I don’t think I was one to imply the EU’s horizontal expansion in specific has to do with the prisoner’s dilemma.

            Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that. The unfortunately chosen “you” in my sentence was meant to be generic. The only way I can see of conceptualising that in particular as a PD is if it’s about holiness signaling, where saying that these countries should be included to save them from Russian influence is the defection. Somehow that doesn’t sound too plausible to me, but the problem is, I don’t actually remember what the arguments were, that was somewhere in my long-forgotten childhood…

            The whole business of going along with whatever the US do can be seen as a PD, though. Given that there is no strong Europe, everyone wants to get on the good side of the US, but as long as they try that, there can be no strong Europe.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Yeah, nah, the expansion thing is definetly not related to the PD the way veto rights are. It’s true all the same though; Bulgaria kinda got fast-tracked into EU membership when some very pro-Russian politicians were looking to win the next election, and the Polish tried their best to join because, with their current leaders doing so now more than ever, they really, really don’t want to end up in their sphere again. They’re trying something similar in Ukraine, except this time it’s flaring up much more than it did earlier.

          • Levantine says:

            Are there U.S. “anti-European policy goals”? Or the US explicitly supports a strong Europe?

            The basic notion of the USofA has to be made clear in order to answer these questions. The United States is largely based on its Constitution and the status of that Constitution. Every civil liberty in the US Bill of Rights is routinely violated. [*] The root of these violations is in the fact that the United States is far less than a sovereign country.
            The United States of America lack monetary sovereignty: control of credit and banking. The United States also lack sovereignty in terms of defining its relations with corporations. Therefore, to talk of the United States pursuing their interests is to promote illusions, and submit to illusions.

            [*] http://www.unz.com/proberts/does-the-united-states-still-exist/

            Yet there is certainly an entity, encompassing what is considered the United States and quite active on the European continent. (Bismarck said “Whoever speaks of Europe [as a political entity] is wrong. Europe is a geographical expression.”)
            It is approximate to NATO. NATO’s purpose has been once defined as “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”
            Does that set of goals require a strong or a weak Europe? It depends: 1. What shall we agree to mean by Europe? And 2. What is the specific situation?

            One obvious implication, as far as I can see : A too weak EU or a too strong EU would be ruinous for the initial purposes of NATO.

          • vV_Vv says:

            @Whatever

            Even excluding Great Britain and the countries it’s rapidly expanding to?

            Without the UK, the the US has a slightly greater GDP PPP than the EU, but the EU has a larger population, which means a larger potential for growth (Eastern European countries, in particular, have lower GDP per capita but tend to be growing fast).

            I’m not sure what the “countries it’s rapidly expanding to” are supposed to be. Ukraine, perhaps?

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Ukraine is one, yes. Serbia and some of its neighbours is another.

            EDIT: also, re: manipulation..

            Thirteen years ago now, the Georgian government magically managed to get overthrown in an otherwise peaceful manner.

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

            The person who became president for the next decade thereafter, Mikheil Saakashvili, was a remarkably pro-Western sorts; having been educated in the US and worked at some prestigious places there, talks were had of Georgia heading an effort to connect the Caspian sea to Europa by pipeline efforts and even join the freaking NATO. Predictably enough, the Russians threw a fit, war happened, and after some chunks of Georgia got broken off such talks quieted down again.

            Now, much later, Ukraine somehow, magically, manages to get itself a pro-western government. Nevermind that many of the protestors over there weren’t from Ukraine to begin with and were apparently previously involved in pro-western protests elsewhere; there is a pro-western government in Ukraine now, it’s all totally legitimate, obviously we should talk about Ukraine joining the NATO and the EU as well to make sure it doesn’t get overru-

            – oh hey there’s a war again.

            And why would you come up with new lackeys when the old ones are still around just fine?

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikheil_Saakashvili#Governor_in_Ukraine

            I mean, you can tell me that this is all a coincidence, and that these things just sort of happen, but the case for manipulation isn’t a very hard one to make. Looking further back you could also bring forward half of South America as evidence, but I’ll concede that there’s little subtle about US support for regimes over there.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I’m not sure how that implies a conspiracy. If you don’t like the Russians there are few people to side with to back you in that part of the world. We should expect a lot of commonality for that reason alone (similar to what occurred during the cold war).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Samuel Skinner:

            Exactly.

            Of course the US is going to jump in and offer support to people who are extending a friendly hand and wanting to join in with NATO and the EU. Why shouldn’t they?

            But it’s quite a different thing to say the US does that, from saying they US orchestrates everything from behind the scenes like the Elders of Zion.

            Even in many cases in Latin America, there is this kind of confusion. People will say that the CIA somehow brought about Pinochet’s coup in Chile. They did no such thing. The Chilean military arranged it and the CIA essentially said “good job, guys”.

          • Viliam says:

            If you are in Eastern Europe, and you are not pro-Russian for some political reasons (typically because you are a commie or a nazi), the situation seems quite simple:

            Russia is poor, USA and Western Europe are rich. If you join EU, some of that richness may come to you, or it may be easier for you to find a better job abroad.

            Russians already have a history of violence against you. USA also has some crappy history, but against other parts of the world. Serbia is an exception here.

            If you try to go your own way, it is only a question of time until Russia becomes interested in your territory. If you are their neighbor, a military invasion is possible, but even if you are not, you should expect various Russia-backed groups appearing in your country and gradually gaining power.

            So the logical way is to join either EU or NATO or both. (The specific choice depends on whether EU is interested in having you, and whether you believe that being in EU without being in NATO makes you safe enough from Russia.)

            And the time is running out.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Re Chile
            It is actually crazier than that. In 1971 the CIA paid some people to kidnap the head of the military. They ended up blotching it, shooting him and the incident backfired horribly (it turns out trying to get the military on your side is hard when you kill their boss).
            So in 1973 when the new attempt came up the US just paid a guy to be a channel of information between the CIA and the plotters.

    • Vaniver says:

      Yeah, this article is complete trash.

  6. drethelin says:

    The random promotion study is based on a computer model. My priors say the computer model is far more likely to be bullshit than that randomly selecting people is actually the best way to promote.

    • DrBeat says:

      “Every time I have to hire for a new position, I throw half the resumes in the garbage. I don’t want unlucky people working for me.”

    • Viliam says:

      I can imagine that in some companies random promotions would work better. Specifically in companies that are unable to distinguish between competent and incompetent employees, so in their evaluations “merit” is merely a synonym for office politics.

      Promotions based on “merit” will promote incompetent people. Promotions based on seniority will also promote incompetent people, because those are more likely to remain in the dysfunctional company for decades. However, random promotions could once in a while promote a new competent person and give them a chance to improve something.

      If the computer model truly reflects this, I admire the authors’ cynicism.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        Sadly someone who looked over it said the model works by rerolling the competency of individuals after promotion (so promoting the worst employees is the best choice).

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          Now the question is, is the competence of an individual the same no matter what position they have in a company?

          Depending on how strong the correlation is between competencies at different positions each employee, promoting the worst employees may be a good strategy in real life.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        It will also work in any company where the competency of managment matters significantly less than the competency of non-managment employees, because it prevents the most competent employees from being promoted out of the pool of people actually working.
        There are companies where this is the situation. Those companies would be better off just abolishing a bunch of managment positions, because this happens when the labor force is largely self-organizing, but the fact that a company doesn’t actually *need* mid-level managment at all, does not imply said company will actually fire it’s mid level managment.

  7. Fazathra says:

    I don’t know anything about Benin, but those wall figures seem tremendously off. If the walls make a square then they would enclose an area of nearly 2 million km^2, about 220 times the size of New York. which just seems enormously implausible, especially for there to be no trace of them today. I suspect some shady arithmetic is involved somewhere.

    The whole article just feels incredibly shady to be honest.

    Edit: Having just read the comments it appears that even the Graun’s commentariat is shredding it.

    • Protagoras says:

      They’re described as earthen walls, and as having been used as dividers between districts, not just as outer walls surrounding the territory. Given the former, one wouldn’t expect a lot to be left of them, and the latter helps a lot with your worries about the length.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Why would not much be left of them? It’s still hard to move x zillion tons of earth. Do they wear away with time because of wind and rain?

        • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

          There are still plenty of remains of the earthen walls built by romans (limes) on their frontiers. Of course the walls are not standing, but they are still visible in many places 1500 years later because earthen walls are pretty thick and spreading the material requires a lot of effort.
          Even where they are not visible their traces can be spotted from the air or using underground detection, methods that are regularly used by archeologists especially since cheap drones are available.
          The far more recent walls of Benin should be highly visible.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Why do you think the walls of Benin are gone without a trace? They aren’t.

          • Nita says:

            The Nybbler is right. Here’s a short page about the remains: https://www.wmf.org/project/benin-city-earthworks

            As for the length estimate, Koutonin cites an article by the science journalist Fred Pearce, who in turn refers to Dr Patrick Darling, who seems to have come up with the estimate himself, after taking a look at various old walls and ditches in person.

            (As far as I can tell, both Pearce and Darling are white men from the UK, so if you’re going to mock them in ALL CAPS, you should probably use a stereotypical English accent instead of an African-American one.)

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          Because a city that doesn’t use them as district dividers will actively level them as obstacles. The walls were the physical embodiment of administrative structure. With that gone, they became annoyances. So destroyed.

      • Fazathra says:

        They’re described as earthen walls, and as having been used as dividers between districts, not just as outer walls surrounding the territory. Given the former, one wouldn’t expect a lot to be left of them, and the latter helps a lot with your worries about the length.

        That makes more sense but doesn’t it make the comparisons to the great wall of China massively misleading? Like if it just counts the length of all the walls in the territory then they can be hardly said to be comparable to one long massive defensive wall. The length of all the drystone walls in medieval England was probably also massively longer than the great wall of china (and loads are still left today!) but nobody compares this to the great wall or uses it as evidence for some sort of civilisational greatness.

        Also just because it’s earthen doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy to get rid of. A lot of celtic hillforts are still noticeable today and they have lasted for several millennia not just a few hundred years. The climate in Benin could be much worse for earthen walls though. I don’t know.

        • Ryan says:

          That makes more sense but doesn’t it make the comparisons to the great wall of China massively misleading?

          Clickbait is dead, long live clickbait.

        • MugaSofer says:

          Did anyone seriously expect that not to be misleading?

          (Ooh, we have built-in formatting now. Nice.)

        • Ano says:

          That’s the part that annoys me. These kinds of articles always have to engage in that kind of showy one-upmanship where it’s not enough for Benin to have been a large and well-organized city that’s not well-known, it has to be better than all those white European cities and based on advanced mathematics and be apparently so peaceful people don’t lock their doors and a greater architectural achievement than the Great Wall and the Pyramids, all based on the scattered testimony of a few tourists.

          • Deiseach says:

            These kinds of articles always have to engage in that kind of showy one-upmanship

            Don’t forget “Europeans never had soap until they encountered more advanced and cleaner Asian/African civilisations” and “African-Americans invented the comb” 🙂

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Yes, dear Celt, you invented a thing. I’m sure you’re very proud now 🙂

          • AlexanderRM says:

            @ Deiseach: Well (according to Wikipedia) the first evidence of “soap-like substances” is from Babylon, and the earliest combs were found in Persia; this is roughly what I’d expect given the patterns with other technology. Being introduced from the Near East in prehistoric times isn’t exactly what most modern Americans would picture when they hear “Europeans encountered more advanced Asian/African civilizations”, though (mostly because continents are just a terrible paradigm for understanding anything).

        • Steve Sailer says:

          The stone walls of Ireland would supposedly go ten times around the earth at the equator:

          http://www.insideireland.com/sample15.htm

          And indeed Ireland has a lot of walls. But they aren’t really comparable to the Great Wall of China.

    • lionel says:

      WE WUZ KANGS

      • Elissa says:

        Hey that’s not very interesting or substantive and also, I’m pretty sure, intended to be broadly racist, so I reported you.

        • ilkarnal says:

          I found this when I googled that phrase, it seems like it’s from a sarcastic vocaroo that a black man recorded. Maybe lighten up?

          • Elissa says:

            That’s cool I guess (in the sense that it was 30 seconds of my life I won’t get back and lionel’s comment has now wasted my time in yet another way). Thanks for bringing it to my attention and all, but why you gotta be a dick about it? Not actually an interesting or a funny comment even if not intended to be read as racist, so I feel little remorse.

          • Matt says:

            It’s definitely racist. It’s a meme from /pol/, 4chan’s white supremacist board, intended to make fun of overstated claims about African civilizations. You primarily see it in the context of threads about how dumb black people are.

          • Dirdle says:

            Matt is correct. If you had an abundance of iron-carbon alloys, you could interpret lionel’s comment as being extreme shorthand for sabril’s comment below, which is essentially the argument being pointed to by the meme. But really, there are times and a places for “just joking” internet racism, and I’m not sure this is one of them. Even if we do accept that there’s no malicious intent, when presented this way it’s just a really awful argument, a square on a bingo-card. “Blacks are stupid” – “No they’re not look at these historic civilizations” – “Haha, can you believe they pulled the ‘we was kings’ line, ha, idiot.”

          • Outis says:

            I don’t think making fun of the outsize claims of Afrocentrists is racist per se. Is it something a racist would do? Yes. Is it something *only* a racist would do? Hell no.

            Still not a substantive or interesting comment for SSC, though.

    • sabril says:

      The article reminds me of those invention myths that have been circulating for decades — claiming that it was a woman who invented windshield wipers, or that a black person invented traffic signals, etc.

      The fact is that there are people out there who really really really want to believe that sub-Saharan Africa had thriving civilizations in the past and is now so dysfunctional only due to European misadventures. Anything which panders to those desires is suspect.

      • From what I’ve heard, Kush was comparable to Egypt. Do you have information otherwise?

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          I don’t think that is what he means by Sub-Saharan Africa.

        • sabril says:

          “From what I’ve heard, Kush was comparable to Egypt. Do you have information otherwise?”

          I’ve never heard of “Kush” before, so I would have to say “no.”

          Anyway, I am not sure what your point is. First things first: Do you disagree with anything I stated?

          • Samuel Skinner, you may be right, although when I looked it up, Ethiopia is considered to be sub-Saharan.

            When Egypt was a major empire, Kush– sabril, look it up– was at a comparable tech and wealth level, at least to a casual glance, and (from the art) it was inhabited by black people.

            I haven’t studied Africa enough to have a strong opinion about whether the only thing wrong with is the result of European atrocities. The atrocities have certainly contributed. Marxist ideas have also had a very bad effect, though without benefiting Europeans/white people.

            Have a couple of links about the ill effects of slave-taking, which include both the loss of a large number of people whose work would have enriched Africa if they’d been left in peace and the development of large scale defection of between Africans because selling Africans to slavers became both a primary method of gaining advantages and of self-defense (selling slaves to get European weapons to protect one’s people from neighboring slavers).

            http://www.academia.edu/3022016/_The_Economic_Political_and_Social_Impact_of_the_Atlantic_Slave_Trade_on_Africa._

            http://www-personal.umich.edu/~baileymj/Whatley_Gillezeau.pdf

            I’d have sworn I’d seen a piece claiming that the parts of Africa where slaves were mostly taken from were still in worse shape because of damage to trust, but I can’t find it.

          • sabril says:

            “When Egypt was a major empire, Kush– sabril, look it up– was at a comparable tech and wealth level, at least to a casual glance, and (from the art) it was inhabited by black people.”

            Sorry, it’s not my responsibility to go searching for evidence to support your claims. Particularly when you don’t seem to disagree with anything I have posted.

            “I haven’t studied Africa enough to have a strong opinion about whether the only thing wrong with is the result of European atrocities. The atrocities have certainly contributed.”

            Would you mind identifying 3 such “European atrocities” and summarizing your evidence for the claim that they have contributed to the dysfunction in sub-Saharan Africa? TIA

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Oh, go be edgy some other place. I know the mean old social justice crowd’s view of history is dumb, but yours seems to be no better.

            European atrocities aren’t particularly hard to name, but it’s very easy to fall into the trap of ‘it was juuuuust a war’ or ‘they do that stuff on their own just fine.’ The French wars to conquer and (fail to) retain their parts of Africa were nasty ones; the amount of people the Belgians managed to kill in Congo is two million at least and somewhere over ten million at most; concentration camps were invented for the purposes of keeping under control populations the British found unruly, whether those were white South Africans or the very black Kenyans.

            The adverse effects of European rule over Africa aren’t uniform, but they’re easy to point out all the same. Many African nations have borders that are painfully obviously drawn along unnatural lines, and their peoples are jumbled together moreso than unified. Having multiple ethnicities may work out well for the Swiss, if only because they’ve decided to stick together, but doing so involuntarily is just dumb. Similarly, the US and Mexico now agree the Rio Grande makes for a nice border to have, but if the border were instead a perfectly flat horizontal line because reasons, issues might instead emerge.

            Aside from that point, completely dissolving prior institutions and then later pulling out without leaving a good infrastructure is bound to cause problems. The Japanese had a very long history of governing themselves, and made it into modernity with great ease because governance and politics weren’t too much of an issue. If people had come in, told everyone with a shred of local power to get lost and submit, and then pulled out again fifty years later, things might have looked a lot differently. One of the reasons former French, Belgian or Portuguese African colonies for example appear to do worse than those the British owned is that the British centralised their colonial rule less, and instead chose to delegate it to local sorts more.

            Buuuuuut then talks about topics like these tend to end up getting dominated by the sorts of people who want to blame white guys for every evil ever or instead claim they were the messiahs of everything come to save the world, so my general expectations of this thread are low for now.

          • “Ethiopia is considered to be sub-Saharan.”

            Ethiopia is (very) sub-Saharan. Kush isn’t Ethiopia, even though that’s what the Greeks called it.

            For one dynasty Kush ruled Egypt. Mostly they were adjacent polities, Kush higher up the Nile.

          • sabril says:

            “Oh, go be edgy some other place. I know the mean old social justice crowd’s view of history is dumb, but yours seems to be no better.”

            Please quote me where I espoused (or seemed to espouse) a view of history which is “dumb” so that I know what you are talking about. TIA

            “European atrocities aren’t particularly hard to name”

            Then it should be very easy for you to name 3 and summarize the evidence that they had a significant contribution to today’s dysfunction in sub-Saharan Africa.

            Please do so. TIA.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            You mean exactly that one thing I just did?

            That’s okay, thanks. I’ve posted enough in this subthread by now.

          • norm says:

            “Please do so. TIA”

            Your tone is all wrong. Your speech and manner of address is overweening toploftical and bumptious.

          • sabril says:

            “You mean exactly that one thing I just did?”

            Umm, what you didn’t do. You claim that my view seems dumb, but you are unable to even point to what I supposedly claimed which was dumb. Probably because you are not responding to what I actually said, but instead to what you wish or imagine I said.

            Nor are you able to point out 3 specific examples of European “atrocities” and summarize the evidence that they had a significant contribution to today’s dysfunction in sub-Saharan Africa.

            “Oh, go be edgy some other place.”

            Oh, go and think sloppily some other place.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Congo
            – rubber prices went up. King Leopold decided to encourage cultivation instead of food and killed people who objected. Approximately a fifth of the population died.
            – negative results; epigenetic (due to widespread famine), large scale social break down
            -long term results; Belgium took over the colony; unfortunately they proceeded to run everything so there were no high ranking natives; when they decolonized…
            -the first democratic government lasted less than 6 months. This was partially due to Belgium backing an independence faction in the country which started a war after only 17 days (Patrice Lumumba came into office on 24 June 1960 and Katanga rebelled on 11 July 1960).

            Congo is the worst (the had the largest war since 1945 in their country), but there are other examples in other countries that have also screwed them up to varying degrees.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Nor are you able to point out 3 specific examples of European “atrocities” and summarize the evidence that they had a significant contribution to today’s dysfunction in sub-Saharan Africa.

            European atrocities aren’t particularly hard to name, but it’s very easy to fall into the trap of ‘it was juuuuust a war’ or ‘they do that stuff on their own just fine.’ The French wars to conquer and (fail to) retain their parts of Africa were nasty ones; the amount of people the Belgians managed to kill in Congo is two million at least and somewhere over ten million at most; concentration camps were invented for the purposes of keeping under control populations the British found unruly, whether those were white South Africans or the very black Kenyans.

            I find you’re projecting a lot here. If you’re not the troll others and I appear to think you are, you’re putting very little effort into sustaining proper discussion.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Stefan Drinic:

            You forgot to number them one, two, three!

          • sabril says:

            “I find you’re projecting a lot here. If you’re not the troll others”

            Check back — you started our exchange with an attack. You said “go be edgy some other place.” You then asserted that my position seemed “dumb” but you refuse to clarify what position you are referring to.

            Seems to me you’re the one who is projecting.

            “The French wars to conquer and (fail to) retain their parts of Africa were nasty ones”

            I didn’t realize that you were presenting this as an example of an “atrocity” and evidence of the same having an impact on modern dysfunction.

            Please tell me (1) Which wars are you talking about; (2) where in Africa did they take place; (3) in general terms, what did the French do which was a problem; and (4) — most importantly — please summarize the evidence that this “atrocity” is a significant cause of dysfunction today in modern Africa.

            ETA:

            Oh, and please tell me what about my position is “dumb.” TIA.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            No, thank you. I’ve posted thrice too many, and feel a bit annoyed at myself for having done so, let alone this post here. You can have this subthread now, it’s all yours.

          • Stephen Drinic,

            Thank you for doing some replies. I was getting tired opposing sabril by myself.

          • sabril says:

            “No, thank you. I’ve posted thrice too many, and feel a bit annoyed at myself for having done so, let alone this post here. You can have this subthread now, it’s all yours.”

            i.e. you are unable to offer even a shred of evidence that these wars you refer to as “atrocities” are a significant reason for today’s dysfunction in sub-Saharan Africa.

            But the funny part is that you aren’t even able to describe what my “dumb” position is. All you know is that it seems I am not a member of your tribe so I must be attacked. Which you have done, effectively demonstrating tribal membership. No need to actually present facts or evidence.

          • sabril says:

            “Thank you for doing some replies. I was getting tired opposing sabril by myself.”

            Why oppose me when you were not even able to specify what I said you disagree with?

      • AlexanderRM says:

        The problem is that there were “thriving civilizations” in sub-Saharan Africa by comparison, if not quite to Europeans of the day, then at least to the ancient Romans, or Egyptians or whatever.
        The trouble is that compared to modern western civilizations, the European civilizations of the time were pretty terrible, as in probably worse than the average place in sub-Saharan Africa today (almost the whole population at subsistence level on the edge of starvation, rampant disease, brutal dictators and warlords ruling most countries, every state has a civil war once every few decades at the longest), so the question of “then why are African civilizations so terrible today?” is pretty misguided.

        It seriously baffles me how every time this topic comes up with statements like “comparable to the great European capitals of the time”, people on both sides somehow miss how important a distinction “of the time” is.

        • sabril says:

          “The problem is that there were “thriving civilizations” in sub-Saharan Africa by comparison, if not quite to Europeans of the day, then at least to the ancient Romans, or Egyptians or whatever.”

          That may very well be true, but I would want to see evidence before accepting such a claim. Please identify 3 such “thriving civilizations” comparable to ancient Rome or “great European capitals of the time” and summarize the evidence for your claim.

          “so the question of ‘then why are African civilizations so terrible today?’ is pretty misguided.”

          Did anyone ask that question in this discussion?

          • Nicholas says:

            1. The Kush
            2. The Zulu
            3. The Ethiopian Empire
            4. The Mali
            5. Those guys who created the Sahara Desert through poor land management.
            The trouble is, as I understand it, that all of these empires collapsed in really brutal ways that destroyed a lot of infrastructure (particularly 5). Basically when European explorers showed up Africa was in the middle of their 300 year dark age ala 600 AD Britain. Coming back from that dark age in direct competition with the world’s most globalized colonial powers know to history has been an unprecedented challenge that, unsurprisingly, most nation of Africa failed at.
            Bonus Track: Some atrocities.
            1. The Dutch intervention in Rwanda creates the Hutu/Tutsi ethnic strife that later leads to Rwanda.
            2. DuBeers is literally behind the entire blood diamonds thing, they are the only world-wide diamond cartel of their kind.
            3. Italy’s poision gas attacks in Ethiopia.
            4. Arguably the Libyan interventions.
            (5?). Was the CIA behind Angola? Does anyone remember?

          • Nornagest says:

            Those guys who created the Sahara Desert through poor land management.

            The Sahara’s alternated between desert and non-desert for many thousands of years, but only once during historical times, and then only barely: the last green period predates the Egyptian Old Kingdom. Whoever inhabited the area then, we know almost nothing about, and I recall there’s a strong argument that large-scale agriculture in the area only emerged after — and maybe as a consequence of — the most recent round of aridification.

            That said, when I went to Wikipedia to confirm this, I found these guys. Are they who you’re talking about? They’re not exactly sub-Saharan, but I hadn’t known they existed before, and now I want to read a novel set there; lots of dramatic possibilities.

          • sabril says:

            “2. The Zulu”

            Ok, and can you please summarize the evidence that the Zulu civilization was comparable to that of the European civilizations at around the same time? TIA.

          • keranih says:

            It’s not clear to me why no one has mentioned Zimbabwe yet. Is it clear to anyone else?

            The Zulu are more modern than the Aztecs. Speaking of which – “everyone” acknowledges, and “most all” American high school graduates are aware of, at least three “great civilizations” of the Americas – the Mayans, who declined into thatched roof villages long before the Europeans showed up; the Aztecs who were brought down by a coallition between the newly arrived Spanish and all the non-Aztec tribes who had been kept down by bloody non-European tyranny; and the Incas, who were a buncha tough bastards who would still be a going concern if not for the realities of epidemiology. (Plus/minus the Mississippi mound builders and the traders of the Caribbean.)

            Non-European economic empires and city centers are an actual thing. But one does have to provide evidence.

            Also – it’s a bit stacking the deck to list Euro-on-Africa horrors without any acknowledgement of nasty (human) behavior in any other direction. Given previous discussions on the Thirty Years War, it’s a bit much to expect the commentariat to react with pearl clutching horror at the supposition that Europeans might be horrible to other humans.

            (Also: Blaming Rwanda on European colonialism is one of the more eyebrow-raising examples of the bigotry of low expectations of non-Euro humans that I’ve seen in some time.)

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Please identify 3 such “thriving civilizations” comparable to ancient Rome or “great European capitals of the time” and summarize the evidence for your claim.”

            What time period are we talking for Rome? Because Africa never had a continent covering empire (if only because the terrain ruled that out) or a city that held over a million people because it had entire provinces dedicated to feeding it.

            If you mean advanced states, the areas that traded with the Muslim world (west Africa, Ethiopia, East African Coast) tended to be similarly developed, but the rest of the continent… not so much.

    • Matt says:

      It’s worth noting that sixteenth and seventeenth-century travelers love to talk about how much better foreign kingdoms are than Europe, and that their standards for accuracy are basically nonexistent. That Portuguese captain the article cites as saying Benin had no crime is almost certainly making stuff up. You can see this in a lot of accounts of the New World – they almost always make it sound like paradise on Earth.

      • AlexanderRM says:

        I think that’s slightly uncharitable- I’m guessing that his statement of “no crime” was based on “I walked around the city and didn’t see any crimes being committed” (but you can easily get the same statement with “I lived in the city for years and didn’t see any crimes being committed”). “Standards for accuracy basically nonexistent” is probably still a decent guideline for a modern person trying to get information from it, though.

        One thought comes to mind- are there perhaps an equal number of 16th and 17th-century travelers who talked about how awful the foreign kingdoms they visited were (as you’d expect with a random distribution with simplification and sensationalism), and modern people talking about great African civilizations only cite the ones that had positive impressions? That doesn’t quite match my sense, although I suppose my impression that Europeans of the time generally had such a sentiment is itself based on modern historians.

        Other explanations that come to mind might include: such sentiments actually being pro-colonialist (as in explorers wanting people to fund further exploration; this is clearly the case with Columbus talking about how nice the Arawaks were); possibly books describing wondrous foreign lands selling better if that was a thing back then; the above-mentioned bias of knowing about their own civilizations more thoroughly and thus knowing their flaws better.

        What’s interesting is that, with the possible exception of the last one when more European explorers were going to a given place, I can’t see a particular reason for any of those tendencies to switch in the 18th or 19th century. Did they definitely have a distinct switch from positive descriptions to negative descriptions somewhere around there?

  8. D F Linton says:

    I thought it was “anyone wants to be elected President shouldn’t be allowed to do the job”.

    • lvlln says:

      I don’t know if this is the correct reference, but a famous line from Douglas Adams’s Restaurant at the End of the Universe was “anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
      https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/2416-the-major-problem-mdash-one-of-the-major-problems-for-there-are

      IIRC the book goes on to mention that on some planets, being elected president is grounds for immediately being arrested and sent to prison.

      • A chapter in Hayek’s Road to Serfdom is entitled “Why the Worst Get on Top.”

      • LHN says:

        In Illinois, being elected governor at least constitutes probable cause.

      • Harkonnendog says:

        I remember reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a kid, and (I distinctly remember!) thinking anybody who thought they were qualified to be the president proved they weren’t humble enough to be the president.
        Because Frank declined the job of King when Aslan offered it.
        “Begging your pardon, sir, and thanking you very much I’m sure (which my Missus does the same) but I ain’t no sort of a chap for a job like that. I never ‘ad much eddycation, you see.” (MN, Ch. 11)
        I remember Aslan saying that was proof he was worthy of the job, (though I can’t find the quote to prove I remember correctly.) That massively effected my political beliefs.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          That was Prince Caspian who was told by Aslan “since you know you aren’t ready to be King that proves you are wise enough to be king” or words to that effect. I think the Cabby was merely told he had a good heart or such.

          • Harkonnendog says:

            Thanks you, Edward!
            It was bugging me a bit, wondering if I’d made it up altogether.

        • thisguy says:

          Does this mean Washington was the only qualified president (i.e. turning down kingship)?

    • quote bonsai specialist says:

      >President shouldn’t be allowed to do the job

      >President shouldn’t be allowed

      >President shouldn’t be

  9. Russell says:

    Doesn’t the fact the British Empire paid compensation to the slaveholders speak rather well of the Empire? The slaveholders would be among the richest best connected people in the land and would have fought hard against its abolition. Presumably they’d have used the argument of the iniquity of the expropriation of wealth by the government which would have been a huge fear at the time. Well the government dealt with that argument good and proper and still got the slaves freed. Yes, nowadays it sort of boggles the mind, but in a society when slavery was actually legal and only the rich had influence they’d have been looking at it a bit differently. So two cheers for the British Empire.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      According to this source from UCL, several MPs who owned large numbers of slaves spoke in favour of and voted for abolition.

      I think a large part of the difference between abolition in the UK and in the US is that major British slaveowners were absentees whose slaves were thousands of miles away (slavery has been illegal in Britain itself since medieval times). This meant that their slaves were purely a financial investment, and they had no problem with giving them up in return for sufficient financial compensation.

      On the other hand, in the American South plantation owners enjoyed social advantages beyond the financial value of their slaves. I don’t think you would have seen a slave-owning Southern Congressman voting for abolition with compensation.

      • Ryan says:

        Slavery in the south was the institution that mediated social relations between all white and black people. Northerners offering compensation to slave owners would have to answer a very difficult question, what will replace the institution that mediates our interactions, what new social form will replace the old? Without a satisfactory response, I don’t think any amount of money was going to change things.

      • JayT says:

        I wonder how much of their arguing for emancipation was because they saw the writing on the wall and knew that they would lose their slaves whether they liked it or not, so they figured they might as well get something while they still could.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        That’s true, but I think it’s besides the point. Slave owners in Britain were necessarily absentee owners, but there were plenty of slave owners in the colonies that enjoyed social advantage from it. Colonists weren’t MPs and couldn’t even vote for MPs, but is that the right metric? Slave owners still had the option of rebellion, an option that they exercised sixty years prior. I think that the more relevant point is that the metropolis had overwhelming force.

        • AspiringRationalist says:

          The British Empire abolished slavery well after American independence.

          • Jbay says:

            I guess Douglas is talking about other colonies?

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Presumably Douglas was referring to the Caribbean colonies, which held the vast majority of Britain’s slaves and were not granted independence in the Treaty of Paris.

    • hlynkacg says:

      @ Russell
      I agree.

    • Anyone know how the British government was talked into spending 40% of a year’s income on restitution for slaveholders?

      • Nathan says:

        I’ll guess that a part of it was that annual govt expenditure was a lot lower proportionally back then.

      • Harkonnendog says:

        Seems like an incredibly important question. Was it a primarily moral choice? I would be so happy if it were.

        • Vaniver says:

          Seems like an incredibly important question. Was it a primarily moral choice? I would be so happy if it were.

          Yes. You may be interested in William Wilberforce.

          • Flight&Sundry says:

            Not only was Britain’s abolition v costly and unusually morally motivated but the action it took afterwards was as well: it relentlessly pursued the slave trade abroad, investing a huge amount of naval power in the exercise at the cost of much blood, coin, national security and economic power.

            For sixty years almost all of the costs of suppression were borne by Britain, which took the initiative to cajole, bribe, and, where possible,coerce the other slave-trading nations into compliance. It also provided nearly all ofthe naval strength needed to police slave trade suppression, maintaining squadrons off West Africa, South America, and in the Caribbean for this purpose. Despite agrement by several states at various times to stop trading in slaves, slavers found it easy to simply shift from one to another, with the result that the trade continued almost unabated. An average of 525,000 slaves per decade were shipped across the Atlantic from 1811 to 1850. In the end the effort to suppress the Atlantic slave trade would last sixty years until the three main remaining slave-importing states either emancipated their slaves, as France did in 1848, or decided to enforce their own bans on further imports, as Brazil did in 1850 and Cuba in 1867, both under British coercion. In the end direct British efforts accounted for eliminating approximately 80 percent of the slave trade, with the rest eliminated through independent French and American decisions to stop importing slaves

            From Pape, Robert A. and Chaim D. Kaufmann (1999). ‘Explaining Costly International Moral Action: Britain’s Sixty-Year Campaign against the Atlantic Slave Trade.’ International Organization 53(4): 631-668. which is a very good overview of what lead to Britain’s immense moral undertaking.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Just a nitpick, but the abolition of the slave trade was in 1807, before the abolition of slavery in the Empire in 1833. 1807 is also the year that the USA banned the importation of slaves, the first year allowed by the 1789 Constitution.

          • Harkonnendog says:

            Thank you Vaniver. Wikipedia has wet my appetite. I’m looking forward to studying up on him.

  10. Mary says:

    “Higher amounts of dairy fat markers in the blood associated with less diabetes. Very reminiscent of past studies showing that whole milk drinkers are healthier than nonfat/lowfat drinkers. Unclear if this says something profound or just that milk is a healthier source of calories than a lot of the alternatives.”

    I suspect that it may be the diet soda correlation with obesity. People turn to lower-fat milk to avoid fat.

    • Patrick L says:

      There’s a far more pedestrian answer

      Making skim milk requires taking fats out and adding sugar.

      I mean, it’s also likely that there’s something in milk fat that helps with metabolism, but there isn’t some magical connection here.

      The data seems to suggest that much of the benefit is for men and boys, given that shopping decisions are done by the women of the household, it’s less likely to be a “fat people avoid fats” issue.

      On a personal note, I’ve personally switched to Aussie Yogurt, which is the most fat yogurt you can buy. It’s superior in filling, tastes better, and hopefully is healthier than low fat yogurts. More expensive though.

      • Mary says:

        1. That’s a less pedestrian answer.

        2. It’s also false as anyone can see by looking at the ingredients list and seeing there is no sugar added.

        3. Women of the house do choose things on basis of benefits to the others in the family.

        • Patrick L says:

          2 OK sure, if you go out to your cow and spin your own milk you can have milk without cream. A similar unadulterated product is available to purchase in many places. That’s technically how skim milk is made: you separate milk sugars from milk fats. It’s kinda wrong to imply that they ‘add sugar’, more like, you’re taking more from the sugar part and less from the fat part. But it’s easier to hijack how people think about it by saying, “you’re drinking more of the sweet part and not the filling part”

          But also some milk sold totally does add sugar.

          The other day I had some milk that had for its first three ingredients: Reduced Fat Milk, Nonfat Dry Milk, Sugar. It’a not unusual for Low-fat dairy products sold commercially to compensate the removal of fat with sugar, especially in products targeted to children such as chocolate milk or strawberry milk.

          This is also true of Skim ‘enhanced’ or Skim ‘plus’ (Which add milk powder), and low fat dairy products like yogurt and cheeses.

          Labeling has improved for milk over the past few decades, so there’s a bunch of information out there from like the 1960s, but corporate America is still allowed a few tricks here and there.

  11. Rusty says:

    The Ideal Conceal cellphone gun may in fact be a hoax.

    http://zelmanpartisans.com/?tag=ideal-conceal

    Carl Bussjaeger has done the legwork on this and it certainly smells fishy.

    • Anonymous says:

      My local gun nut club disliked the idea anyway.
      They say this thing would be so under-powered you would be better off just throwing your smartphone at attackers.

      • Psmith says:

        Shot placement > stoppan powah

        Inb4 caliber flamewars on SSC

        (On a related note, Zelman Partisans? Did that crop up when Googling the handgun concept, or just how many of us came to SSC via the gun blogosphere?)

        • John Schilling says:

          Right, so explain how you get proper shot placement with the ergonomics and (lack of) sights of that thing?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            …and how is it actually any more concealable or usable than any number of .22/.25/.32 automatics? how is this better in any way than a seecamp?

            …If the idea is a hide-in-plain-sight weapon, the russian folding 9mm carbines are way better.

          • Donny Anonny says:

            The design is supposed to have an integral laser sight built into it.

            Also, is a glorified Derringer meant to be used at very close range, so it’s not exactly like sights are a necessity.

            Heck, even the early incarnation of the Rohrbaugh didn’t include iron sights.

          • William O. B'Livion says:

            (coming to this party late)

            You shove it in their face and pull the trigger. Nothing in the world likes getting shot in the face, and as long as you keep the shot below the eyebrows it’s VERY unlikely to skip off (this happens occasionally. Usually on shots that hit high on the forehead). If they don’t fall down immediately you pull the trigger again. With that thing you would then get in a fist fight with their friend. If he didn’t run (and 99% of the time it IS a he).

            It uses the same cartridge and has about the same barrel length as a Ruger LCP. I’ve got, let’s just say “more guns than your average texan” and generally buy ammunition by the case, and I recently bought a LCP because I now have to travel places where I’m not legally allowed to carry a gun, and that LCP freaken *disappears* in the front pocket of a pair of properly (if not well) tailored dress pants.

            And yes, the .380 is suboptimal as a fighting round. This (and the LCP) is not a fighting gun. It’s a “GTFO ME” gun. It’s a “No, I won’t get in the car with you” gun.

            That said, this is not (in my reasonably well trained opinion) a good idea, and it will *probably* require a Title II tax stamp (any other weapon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Title_II_weapons#Any_other_weapon ). Things like this are much more heavily regulated at the state and local level (and not without good reason, in the opinion of this rather extreme gun nut[1]), and if you get caught with it you’re going to get the hammer dropped on you.

            For not much more than the cost of that cellphone gimmick you can get a LCP, 2 spare magazines, a wallet holster ( https://smile.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=LCP+wallet+holster) and enough ammunition that you can at least get rounds, uh, where they need to be at 3 to 5 yards.

          • William O. B'Livion says:

            @ FacelessCraven

            It’s only more “concealable” than what you mentioned in that it does not look like a pistol until it’s opened.

            To the unobservant it looks like a cellphone. To the observant it looks like something that is trying to look like a cellphone.

            It is not until the stock is down that it looks like a gun, and even then a not very gun like gun.

            The Seecamp is, I am told by reliable witnesses (not owning one or having shot one…yet) the Rolex of “mouseguns”. It is a finely tuned little jewel of a thing. As a tool for preventing others from enforcing their will on you the Seecamp is, if you can carry it legally, and cannot carry something bigger, really your best bet. I would trust more than my LCP.

            However this thing is better in 2 ways: One is that it IS more concealable because it looks like something else, and secondly because it’s 1/2 the price of a Seecamp, if you DO have to carry it places you’re not allowed to have it, and you think you might get caught you’re much more likely to toss this piece of junk down a storm drain.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          just how many of us came to SSC via the gun blogosphere?

          *raises hand* at least one over here.

        • Psmith says:

          @Schilling and Craven, the phone gun is about as worthwhile as the shoe phone, which is to say, not very; the highly concealable niche is already covered by derringers and such, as you say. I just don’t think “underpowered caliber” is a very salient objection. No h8 m8s.

          @Hlynka, no shit? I used to read Ride Fast And Shoot Straight and The Smallest Minority and some of those guys back in like 2009. From there to Popehat (and Moldbug! though I didn’t read very much of his stuff at the time) to SSC. A bunch of them haven’t posted anything since 2013 or so, but it looks like a fair number are still up and running. Neat.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @Psmith
            I started off with LawDog, Borepatch, Breda, and The Ambulance Driver Files, they lead me to Popehat, Instapundit, and the Smallest Minority who in turn lead me to SSC and the “rationalist diaspora”.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Hoax” connotes intent to defraud and is an overly strong word for a rather everyday “product that has been conceived and maybe designed but hasn’t raised enough capital to be developed and manufactured.” The website is your bog-standard product pitch to gauge interest and gather potential-backer emails, and makes no claim to the thing actually physically existing yet. There are a million pitches that look just like that, most of which won’t even make it to Kickstarter.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Read the second link.

        Leaving aside the obvious scaling issue (for those barrels to be 9.6mm in diameter it would have to be roughly 3 times the size of a normal smartphone) there’s some shadiness going on with their address and BATFE paperwork.

        • Anonymous says:

          Already did. The second link establishes what I already said: it’s a product that has been conceived but not developed. Calling it a “hoax” betrays zero familiarity with how manufactured products are developed these days.

          • John Schilling says:

            Isn’t that a necessary condition for this sort of hoax, though? You generally do have to conceive of a fake product before you can get people to pay for or invest in it, and if you do actually develop it then it isn’t a hoax any more.

            In this particular case, a strong and well-supported argument has been made that these people will never develop the product they have “conceived” and do not intend to try.

    • Leit says:

      “May”? If there was a single less useful design for a firearm that could cause more of a law enforcement/”think of teh chilluns” anti-rights reaction, I’d like to see it. Hell, the “cellphone gun” thing isn’t even a new law enforcement meme, though the last one I saw was allegedly a zip gun .22 built into an old Nokia frame.

      I mean, the damn thing needs preparation before you can even use it as a gun, which is the last thing you want in a holdout. Plus the list of points of failure is substantial with that proposed design.

      Seecamp was suggested elsewhere, but if you’re going for obfuscation I’d rather go with an NAA mini in one of the popular lanyard holsters. Sure, the ergonomics on the NAA aren’t any great shakes, but it gives you more shots, is reliable enough that you can count on it going bang when it needs to and not falling apart in your hands, is smaller, and has the benefit of actually existing and having product support.

      Also, Seecamps are expensive asf.

    • Donny Anonny says:

      I don’t think it’s so much a hoax as it is an example of vaporware.

      There’s nothing in the design that is inherently impossible to make, and even the claims that it would constitute an AOW are over blown.

      I think what we have is an example of someone who’s confused building CAD model worth going to market.

      • Hlynkacg says:

        The fact that the website gave a false address and that the images provided contradict the stated parameters of the pistol would seem to indicate that this is something a bit shadier than “vaporware”

  12. ThirteenthLetter says:

    Other games Buddha will not play: Monopoly, Ticket to Ride, Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, and World of Warcraft ever since the pally nerf.

    • Wouldn’t Buddha be more likely to play a Monk? 🙂

      • Pku says:

        Nah, he (He? does Buddha count as a god?) believes that the purpose of roleplaying is to be someone different.

        • NN says:

          You only capitalize pronouns for monotheistic deities, and most forms of Buddhism explicitly reject the idea of a monotheistic creator God. So Buddha is definitely a he, not a He.

        • after8 says:

          >does Buddha count as a god

          priest caste? tick.
          something like a church with his own iconography? tick.
          statues of him that people pray in front/make offerings to? tick.
          canonical texts? tick.
          something like a heaven? tick.
          spoke about resurrection/rebirth? tick.
          ascension? tick.

          if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck etc

          • NN says:

            something like a heaven? tick.
            spoke about resurrection/rebirth? tick.

            Buddhism’s heavens, hells, and reincarnation exist completely independently of the Buddha, though. After all, they all supposedly existed long before the Buddha reached Enlightenment. In fact, some traditional Buddhist texts discourage trying to get reincarnated in heaven, because the pleasures of heaven make it ill suited for trying to achieve Enlightenment.

          • Samedi says:

            I agree that Buddhism as practiced today (especially Eastern countries) looks like a religion. However, if you strip away all the supernatural bits (re-incarnation, the various planes and gods, etc.) you still have something quite interesting. You still have the mental training of meditation and its surprisingly sophisticated metaphysics. If you strip away the supernatural part of western religions I don’t think you are left with much of value.

            I find Buddhist “metaphysics” (for lack of a better term) fascinating because of how well they align with modern empirical science. The albatross of essentialism has long hung around our necks and still refuses to die out completely. But the Buddhists always had a better intuition about the primacy of change. We in the West didn’t get it until Darwin.

          • onyomi says:

            For this reason I will identify as a Buddhist if pressed to identify with any organized religion. Though all major religions have mystical traditions, few are so well-developed as Buddhism, and, as mentioned, the metaphysics is much more sophisticated, to the point that Hinduism and Daoism ended up borrowing quite heavily.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            Several months ago, I read an article which showed evidence that David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature was inspired by the Orient.

            IIRC, Hume’s ideas were transmitted to him via a Jesuit monk residing in Hume’s hometown. The monk at some point had visited a Jesuit friend in an Eastern mission. This friend had spent the majority of his life trying to convert the Asian citizenry to Christianity, but also learned a great deal of Eastern metaphysics along the way.

            [REVISION: it turns out it was Desideri who had visited France, rather than Dolu who had visited Tibet.]

            I’ll link the article if I can find it.

            —————————————–

            http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/10/how-david-hume-helped-me-solve-my-midlife-crisis/403195/

            Allegedly, the town was La Fleche, France. The name of the Jesuit Missionary who studied Eastern metaphysics was Ippolito Desideri. His mission was in Lhasa Tibet. The name of the middleman between Hume and Desideri was P. Charles François Dolu. The reason this historical link is underreported is because Desideri’s manuscript has been locked away in the Vatican’s archives for ages.

            Given Hume’s central role in the realization of Modern Science, this suggests that the correspondence between Science and Buddhist Metaphysics was no coincidence (in keeping with the Kabbalah, nothing is ever coincidence). Rather, Modern Science was at least partly inspired by Buddhist Metaphysics.

          • Protagoras says:

            Don’t exaggerate. It has recently been noticed by various scholars that some of Hume’s ideas have interesting parallels in Buddhism, and the article you mention shows that it could be the case that direct influence played a role, as Hume may have had some exposure to Eastern ideas (via the Jesuit in question). But a lot of Hume’s Western influences are quite obvious and well known, and most of the Treatise was clearly inspired by those Western sources.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            Of course he was also inspired by other Western philosophers. Isn’t that common knowledge already?

            Like, maybe the Jesuit had no influence on Hume at all. It just seemed like a novel hypothesis worth sharing. Maybe you’re upset that I said “inspired” instead of “influenced”, which you interpreted as saying the oriental influence was the only influence?

          • Protagoras says:

            Yeah, the wording seemed to imply something quite strong. Apologies if that’s not what you intended.

    • I won’t play Monopoly either. It is strictly dominated by Chinatown.

    • EyeballFrog says:

      It doesn’t look like the list rules out Magic: the Gathering. I wonder what deck the Buddha would play.

      • Machine Elf Paladin says:

        Turbofog – achieve victory by abandoning the desire for victory.

      • Tom Richards says:

        He gave up playing competitive formats when Pod got banned, but he’s working on a savage Jalira, Master Polymorphist EDH list.

  13. Sniffnoy says:

    The confounding variables link currently points to a Google cache link, is this deliberate? (The original article is here.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Original article’s site was down when I checked, but seems to be up again so I’ve replaced it.

  14. sourcreamus says:

    From what I can read there are two separate walls being referenced in the Benin article. In the capital city of Benin was a seven mile long wall that enclosed the royal part of the city and was destroyed by the 1250 British soldiers who conquered the city in 1897. The walls that were longer than the great wall of China refers to walls that totaled 4-8 thousand miles long and were in placed in the various cities and towns of the empire. By the time the British conquered it Benin had been in decline for about 200-300 years and the city was pretty much all that was left of the empire.

    • anon says:

      > By the time the British conquered it Benin had been in decline for about 200-300 years

      Also, the reason of the decline was largely that Benin was too far from the coast and therefore could not compete with the coastal kingdoms that sold slaves to Europeans. The opening of the transatlantic trade route allowed the exploitation of a massive arbitrage opportunity. The Europeans were willing to pay tens of times more per head for slaves than what they were worth locally, and still made massive profits themselves. This completely rerouted the major trade routes in Africa and made former backwaters (eg. Dahomey) into major powers. They could then use their newfound advantages to prey on the previous powerful empires.

      • TMK says:

        Does not really matter. Trade with Europeans was not causing development, on the contrary, it destroyed whatever crafts were already established there, including these very important to further development like metallurgy. Dahomey is actually good example of this, since it was basically a warlord, pirate, state.

  15. onyomi says:

    A friend who works on digital approaches to Pre-Qin and Han texts recently reported an interesting finding: according to his analyses (which control for things like “this sentence is exactly the same but substitutes one grammatical particle or uses a synonym”), at least 40% of the pre-Qin and Han corpus is recycled. It isn’t surprising to find big chunks of text lifted and copied directly in a manuscript culture, of course, but this applies also to sentences and phrases. That is, it would be like reading an SSC post in which 40% of the sentences were not Scott’s originally, but which Scott had arranged in a novel way. Seems to reflect a more oral culture approach a la Homer.

    • Vaniver says:

      Quotation is recycling, though, and the pre-Qin text that I’ve read has quotes all over the place. (Not 40%; I expected it was closer to 10%.)

      I’m also curious what running the same analysis on, say, articles in a scientific journal would result in. I could easily see upwards of 20% of the text seeming ‘recycled,’ but where the number ends up depends on exactly how recycling is defined.

      • onyomi says:

        I am counting quotation as “recycling,” but what is more interesting and, perhaps, surprising, is the frequency of inserting whole, unoriginal sentences into a new composition without any attribution.

        • Vaniver says:

          Right, but that’s the point of the scientific article comparison–many sentences in such a paper will be almost completely unoriginal. And using idioms or turns of phrase that are unoriginal is also very common, and people don’t attribute those. (“This expresses my meaning.”, for example, is a complete sentence that I picked up from reading Xunzi but wouldn’t reference as a Xunzi quote whenever I used it. It’d be used similarly to “Endorsed” or “This is what I was getting at” used after quoting someone else–both of which are also unoriginal sentences!)

          To put it another way, without context for what the percentage is for modern corpuses, I don’t think there’s much reason to see 40% as a remarkable number.

          • onyomi says:

            I think he discounted very short, formulaic phrases as would be expected of a particular genre. Though another friend does find that using digital analysis to determine authorship in the Chinese case is complicated by the latter’s stronger generic conventions (yes, individual authors have their notable idiosyncrasies, but one must control for genre, since genre more strongly determined diction in the Chinese case than the Western).

            I also don’t think you’d find anywhere close to 40% unoriginal sentences in modern scientific papers. Also, scientific papers are not of the same genre as the texts we’re comparing. We would need to compare Xunzi to, say, Kant, or something.

  16. Sniffnoy says:

    Regarding the Kansas article — my understanding is that (though the article doesn’t say it explicitly) the service used returns a radius of uncertainty as well, so that it’s actually returning a circular region rather than a specific location. The problem is that people who actually used the service were ignoring the radius. And so they had to move the centers slightly to avoid the problem discussed.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      We have always advertised the database as determining the location down to a city or zip code level. To my knowledge, we have never claimed that our database could be used to locate a household.

      If they provided error bars, he would be saying that they explicitly disclaimed precise locations, not just that they never promised precision.

  17. TheAltar says:

    Hmm. Does his refusal to play dice throwing games preclude Buddha from playing Dungeons & Dragons? (Or for that matter, Dungeons & Discourse?)

    That would be really sad.

    • Writtenblade says:

      It is known that religious strictures can be circumvented by loophole, so Buddha should be okay if he uses random.org instead.

      Then again, maybe that’s actually an exhaustive list of every game that existed at the time, and the idea is to avoid all games because they encourage attachment to winning. In which case, never fear, Buddhists—you can still play Dwarf Fortress.

    • Vamair says:

      There are RPGs that use cards as a random generator instead of dice. As there are no cards in a list, they’re okay.

    • Leit says:

      Buddha takes 10 on every check, since mindfulness means he is never distracted or threatened.

  18. Jaskologist says:

    Some of these studies are interesting and about stuff I’d like to discuss, but given that half the links here indicate that all studies are garbage, what would be the point?

    • Wrong Species says:

      Just write one comment assuming it’s true and then another comment assuming it’s false. Whenever someone links a study debunking that study, you just link to your skeptical comment proving that you were right all along!

    • The Nybbler says:

      Yeah, being That Guy who points out the blatant flaws in all the studies other people mention makes you unpopular at cocktail parties on internet forums. Believe me, I know.

  19. Writtenblade says:

    I bet the people who spent years building a secret data center directly underneath that Kansas farm are pretty upset right now.

  20. Speaking of sad deaths David MacKay, who wrote the excellent and free online Sustainable Energy – without the hot air, passed away yesterday.

    • William Newman says:

      For that matter his _Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms_ is quite good and online (and contains some pretty TeX-with-figures book design even if you don’t feel like diving into equations).

      http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/itprnn/book.html

    • Murphy says:

      🙁

      Damnit.

      The world needs more people like that with their heads screwed on, not less.

      I was hoping to one day see an updated version of that book but no chance now.

  21. Tom Scharf says:

    I was howling with laughter on the climate science paragraph’s first sentence…expecting yet another the warming pause is not real…until I read the second half of it. What has happened? Have the scientists taken control of the climate asylum now? It must be mentioned that this is one in a long line of potential explanations for the pause, and there is little consensus on this subject.

    A major pet peeve of mine on this not to be named subject was always that we are inundated with “hottest year ever” and so forth reports and it was to the point of absurdity that no media outlet ever showed comparisons of observational temperatures vs. modeled / projected temperatures.

    A major debate with climate science is not whether warming has occurred or whether greenhouse gases are part of this, it is whether the models are useful and accurate enough to base policy on. To tie it into earlier parts of this post, the confounders in climate modeling are many, not least of which is the unknown magnitude of natural (non-man made) climate variability.

    Even if you view the observed vs modeled temperatures charts in this link, what is not obvious is that these models have only been operating in prediction mode for ~15 years and they are almost out of their 95% thresholds *already*. (How they came up with these error bands is ludicrous if you want to examine this). Viewing the hindcast (historical) model sections of these charts show clear signs of overfitting, they match the historical record way too closely.

    What the modelers lack is long term observational records for some of the parameters they are most interested in. For example there are not detailed aerosol measurements or ocean depth temperature observations or atmospheric temperatures until very recently (past 20 years). This has left historical models with a lot of guesswork. Perhaps they guessed well, perhaps not. Based on model vs observation, I’m leaning toward “not” at the moment, but it is still too early to tell. Many agree you need about 30 years to judge a model due to climate variability.

    The oceans contain ~90% of the climate’s heat and move it around on a decadal long cycle. There is some evidence for a 60 year cycle, and if they store and release heat as part of this long term cycle it will cause significant problems with models until they get this part correct.

    There was a runup of temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s and to vastly oversimplify things, modelers assumed that this base rate of warming would continue. Then the 2000’s came. So either natural variability is suppressing this base rate of warming or they got the base rate (i.e. climate sensitivity) of warming wrong in their models. This is not a detail, it is the foundation of climate predictions. There is a lot of political pressure from environmentalists to not adjust climate sensitivity in the downward direction.

    I don’t think I am going out on a limb here to state that the major media outlets will ignore this story like an ugly step child.

    • Nornagest says:

      no media outlet ever showed comparisons of observational temperatures vs. modeled / projected temperatures.

      I don’t even have a dog in the climate fight, but I would love a relatively nonpartisan site that made those comparisons public, ideally in some form that’d make it easy to crunch numbers on them.

      • For what it’s worth, I did a very simple version of comparing model predictions to outcomes on my blog some time ago. I had been told by people on one side of the argument that the IPCC did a wonderful job of predicting warming, by people on the other side that it did a terrible job.

        So I read through the IPCC reports and calculated, for each, what one would have expected thereafter on the basis if what that report said. Then compared it to what happened. For details see:

        http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2014/03/have-past-ipcc-temperature.html

        • James Picone says:

          For reference, the trend from 1990 to 2013 in GISTEMP is 0.166 +/- 0.081 c/decade, your numbers in that post are wrong. There’s a convenient trend calculator here.

      • Tom Scharf says:

        I don’t think there is a nonpartisan climate site out there. This is definitely a “if you are not with me then you are against me” political environment.

        This particular site does some fairly in depth examinations:
        http://rankexploits.com/musings/2009/year-end-trend-comparison-individual-model-runs-2001-2008/

        The models are running hot, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be on target given more time. It’s really more complicated than it seems. The models are run forward assuming certain external climate forcings (such as the expected rate of volcanic eruptions) so they could show errors even if they were perfectly programmed due to an out of range forcing introduced.

        My guess is models are going to take literally decades to centuries to work out because the measure-evaluate-edit modeling cycle takes so long to occur.

        • Gbdub says:

          But if a couple of events that we suck at predicting (e.g. volcanic eruptions) knock you outside your prediction, doesn’t that count against the usefulness of your model for policy purposes? It certainly seems to suggest that your signal to noise ratio is not that good.

          Anyway that’s why I hated the “pause isn’t real” vs “pause proves global warming never happened” debate. It’s pretty obvious that something interrupted the 80s/90s trend. And that means that either we overpredicted climate sensitivity to CO2 output, or we underpredicted natural variability (or both). Either way, it means we still need to update our models. (Of course it’s also bleedingly obvious that it’s hotter now than it was a century ago, so something is really going on)

          And, it means that the science is not “settled” and it’s important not to demonize everyone even lightly skeptical of doomsday predictions as a “denier” because there’s still a lot we need to learn about the climate. Dumping stuff into the atmosphere and assuming it will have no effect is hubris – but so is assuming our still fledgling enlightenment can both dominate and fully predict the vastly complex system of the planet.

      • gda says:

        Read this post and its accompanying comments for some pretty good insight on just how badly the models are “overheated”. https://climateaudit.org/2016/01/05/update-of-model-observation-comparisons/#comments

      • Vaniver says:

        I would love a relatively nonpartisan site that made those comparisons public

        Suppose it is the case that one side in the fight is acting in bad faith, massaging their data, selectively picking sources, and so on. Would you be able to distinguish between a nonpartisan site correctly diagnosing the issues and a partisan site slinging mud? How?

        • Donny Anonny says:

          I get the argument you’re making, but for the Anthropogenic Climate Change side to be acting in bad faith would require a worldwide conspiracy and workforce that would dwarf the manpower that would have been required to pull off a moon landing hoax.

          In this case, Occam’s Razor applies.

          • John Schilling says:

            Collective bad faith does not require an organized conspiracy. If members of a community share common interests and incentives, their individual acts of bad faith may be highly correlated. See, e.g., the Social Justice movement, or most forms of racism since the end of Jim Crow.

    • Deiseach says:

      So we are not all going to burn/freeze to death in the next five years? Well, colour me surprised! 🙂

      The only advantage of being grumpy old person: you’ve seen all these flaps before about “Unless we do something immediately NOW we will all die, so give me $$$$$ to research this!”

      Having lived through at least three “the end of the world because of overpopulation/oil will run out/the new ice age” scares, I have always taken the ” global warming climate change” panic with a grain of salt. (Also, Al Gore’s big smug face pontificating on global warming while he jetted around the globe annoyed the heck out of me, which is not very rational, I realise, when it comes to deciding the merits of the case).

      Does human activity affect the environment? Yes. Should we be cleaning up our act when it comes to polluting energy production? Yes. Are we all going to die tomorrow? Eventually, yes, but not by one of these scares.

      • Nornagest says:

        Climate projections, alarmist though they sometimes are, generally do not make predictions along the lines of “we will all die in five years”. It is common to see claims that such-and-such a model has us passing an irreversible tipping point in <10 years, but even those models reserve the actual apocalyptic consequences for a century or two out.

        You could be forgiven for getting the opposite impression from media reports, but if death and taxes are the two great certainties in life, media sensationalism can't be a very distant third.

        • Anonymous says:

          On the other hand, Deiseach is absolutely right that the outside view implies one should be somewhat sceptical of climate change alarmism. Not just in spite of, but especially because of, the fact that there is a consensus of 100% of scientists who are all 110% certain that this is definitely going to happen and double definitely going to cause Hell on Earth. Because that was also true of the previous imminent disasters that ended up not happening.

        • meyerkev248 says:

          Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t a fairly decent average be something like 2C warmer in 2100, and 2 feet of sea rise in that same time period?

          And that’s SUPER-annoying (Among other things, farming seems to be very temperature-sensitive), but people talking about Florida underwater or the end of snow in the USA are just… no.

          • Nornagest says:

            That sounds about right as an average, yeah. I’m talking mainly about the more fringey, speculative stuff, though, not the IPCC estimates or the various models they’re based on.

            And that still doesn’t predict doom in the next couple decades.

          • James Picone says:

            Depends on the scenario. Wiki has a pretty good summary. I’ve been told that RCP8.5 burns more fossil fuel than is reasonably recoverable, but I’m not sure how true that is. RCP6.0 has a mean of 2.2c by 2100 and half a metre of SLR, so 2c and 2 feet is a pretty good estimate.

            …Except that that’s relative to the recent past, not preindustrial. That is, it’s 2c warmer than nowish, which is already warmer than preindustrial by ~0.6c.

            Quick calculation: CO2 has gone from 280 to 400. We’re ~half of the way to doubling (ln(400/280) / ln(2) ~= 0.51). Climate sensitivity of 2c implies 1c warming, sensitivity of 4c implies 2c warming, already at about +0.6 from preindustrial, so 0.4 to 1.4c more than we’ve currently got if we emit no more.

          • Tom Scharf says:

            RCP8.5 is pretty unlikely, huge population increases, burning 10x more coal than today, etc. If China / India can reign in their development or use cleaner energy than the middle RCP scenarios are much more likely. I think China will do it for air pollution (smog) concerns mostly. If you have visited China recently you will know what I am talking about.

            RCP8.5 was never intended to be a likely scenario, it was there to bound the problem. Activists routinely quote RCP8.5 numbers like they the middle ground.

        • Deiseach says:

          Climate projections, alarmist though they sometimes are, generally do not make predictions along the lines of “we will all die in five years”

          Ahem.

          We have already reached a tipping point where we will soon see an ice-free Arctic Ocean in the summer.

          There’s nothing we can do about that. It could be in 2015. It could be in 2025. It almost doesn’t matter. It’ll happen in this generation.
          As a result, the whole weather system could change.
          — Dr. David Carlson
          Director, International Polar Year
          July 2009

          Given that we are now in the Year of Our Lord 2016, perhaps we should be expecting to all drown as the melted Arctic ice cap floods our coasts in 2015 2025?

          Though I agree: forecasts in 2009 for the Dread Year of 2015 are not “in five years time” but six years 🙂

          And of course, you were all doubtless labouring under the malign effects of the Global Air Conditioner shortage in the over-heated USA last year?

          2015. Global sales of air conditioners projected to reach 78.8 million units by 2015. “Tempered by the recent economic recession, which forced a considerable decline in its growth over the last few years, the global market for air conditioning systems is expected recover poise and reach 78.8 million units in volume sales by 2015. Growth in the short to medium term period will be driven by factors such as focus on energy efficient air conditioners, growing replacement needs and increasing demand from developing markets. . . . Global warming continues to remain a major factor propelling market demand, especially in the residential segment. Depletion of ozone layer, El Nino effect, and global warming, make up for the primary reasons that create the need for air conditioning systems.” (“Air Conditioning Systems – A Global Strategic Business Report – new report released,” CompaniesandMarkets.com delivered by Newstex, June 30, 2010 reporting findings in Air Conditioning Systems: A Global Strategic Business Report)

          – How will the existing stock of air conditioners perform under long, intense heat wave conditions with a dramatic spike in temperatures?
          – What is the current product life of the average air conditioner in-place and how will product life be affected by more frequent heat waves and temperature spikes?
          – How will long, intense heat waves affect the performance and failure rates of the existing stock of air conditioners?
          – Are new air conditioners being designed to operate effectively under the forecasted high intensity heat wave operating conditions? Or are current models still being designed based on a presumption of the continuation of historical temperature and climate patterns?

          I am so glad we in Ireland were spared the horror of mass rioting in the streets as desperate citizens turned on one another like rabid dogs, fighting over the last remaining stock of air conditioners, due to our Nine Months of Constant Rain from what would have been the summertime onwards 🙂

          • Protagoras says:

            Arctic Ocean ice melting doesn’t cause sea levels to rise, because the Arctic Ocean ice is floating. Dr. Carlson could well be right about the ice free Arctic Ocean happening soon (the minimum level of arctic ice has been dropping, and the trend wouldn’t have to go that much further for his prediction to come true). What you quote doesn’t say anything about sea level rise, which would be caused by melting in Antarctica (and Greenland), melting that is thankfully proceeding much more slowly.

          • James Picone says:

            Hey, Deiseach, actually looked at a graph of Arctic summer ice extent? Just by eye that’s ~3 million kilometres of extent gone over 36 years, 0.08 million km/year, 5 million left, when arctic researchers talk about an ice-free or nearly-ice-free Arctic they mean ~1 million km**2 left (see this abstract for an example), so 48 years from now.

            But there are definitely papers suggesting it could happen earlier, and straight-forward linear estimates of Arctic extent have been plenty wrong. Maybe Dr David Carlson prefers a quadratic fit, or something less statistical and more model-y. Arctic sea ice extent is an area where models are more conservative than the projections. See this paper, for example, looking at CMIP3 vs CMIP5 vs observations. 2025 is a perfectly respectable estimate. I certainly expect to see an ice-free arctic in my lifetime. And I note that the prediction wasn’t terribly clear on timeline – just ‘within a generation’, and noting that 2015 and 2025 both fall inside that area, with some implication of bounds.

            tl;dr the only reason you think that one is ‘alarmist’ is because you’re ignorant. Also it doesn’t say “we will all die”

            I have no idea what that last one is supposed to be. And maybe it’s funny to you, but living in Australia, whether or not your air conditioning functions in summer is a really big goddamn deal. And yes, air conditioners do have temperature constraints they expect to operate in and if they go outside them it reduces operating life.

          • Tom Scharf says:

            Climate alarmism hyperbole is not hard to find. I expect most people ignore this stuff. I find it hard to believe it ever makes it to print sometimes.

            Ignore climate change and 100m people will die by 2030, shocking new report claims
            http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2208953/Shock-report-claims-100m-people-die-economic-growth-drop-3-2-2030-climate-change-ignored.html

            Goodbye Miami
            By century’s end, rising sea levels will turn the nation’s urban fantasyland into an American Atlantis. But long before the city is completely underwater, chaos will begin

            http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/why-the-city-of-miami-is-doomed-to-drown-20130620

          • Deiseach says:

            James Picone, “48 years from now” is not the same as “by 2015 – or 2025”.

            I am indeed ignorant but having heard various Chicken Littles running around about how the sky is falling, and then the sky does not fall, when yet another one runs around I tend not to jump so quickly to belief that this time for sure it’s gonna happen.

            And if you don’t think breathless forecasts of “I don’t know when but I know it’s gonna happen and we can’t stop it and it could be tomorrow or the day after” aren’t alarmist, what do you consider alarmist?

            I’m not denying that there is something going on with the climate, I don’t know anything near enough of the science to have an opinion. But I can certainly have an opinion on how it is reported, how it is splashed about and presented to the public, and how people with an interest and conviction that Something Must Be Done are quite happy to see the mass of the public stampeded into a panic as the only way to get any change going.

          • Richard says:

            @Deiseach

            I am indeed ignorant but having heard various Chicken Littles running around about how the sky is falling, and then the sky does not fall, when yet another one runs around I tend not to jump so quickly to belief that this time for sure it’s gonna happen.

            So:
            * Chicken Little was screaming about the ozone layer. We changed our ways rather drastically with respects to CFCs and dodged the bullet.
            * Chicken Little was screaming about the Y2K problem. We put in a truly impressive number of programmer hours and dodged the bullet.
            * Therefore when Chicken Little screams about global warming we should do nothing.

            I think there may be a flaw in that logic

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Richard

            Speaking of Chicken Little predictions, I recall being told in the 1970s that Social Security was going broke any day now, but here it still is.

          • Speaking of Chicken Little predictions, I recall being told in the 1970s that Social Security was going broke any day now, but here it still is.

            Social Security might be a good analogy. It WAS unsustainable on its trajectory, and has been patched with numerous tax increases over the years.
            SS is projected to max out at 6.5% of GDP before falling to 6.1% of GDP, so it will still require additional taxes, but it won’t balloon much further.
            Medical care is the new hip thing to Chicken Little about.

        • I have fun in climate arguments citing the IPCC against the alarmists. One of my favorite lines:

          “Some low-lying developing countries and small island states are expected to face very high impacts that, in some cases, could have associated damage and adaptation costs of several percentage points of GDP.”

          Consider the last five words.

          • Sastan says:

            Several! That means more than two!

            For some of these low-lying communities, that could run into the dozens of dollars! Hundreds even!

          • Tibor says:

            I’m not sure how much people who argue for strict and expensive measures against the GWO actually care about the economy and the GDP. They operate with those things insofar as they believe that it will convince the other people to support their cause. But I think their main concern is either with the modern lifestyle which they don’t like or with preserving animal species and biodiversity (which is where they probably might have the strongest case, although there might be more efficient ways to do it than battling GWO, but it requires one to admit that it is not the costs to humans which he actually cares about – at which point they might be worried about not getting enough support).

    • James Picone says:

      The study’s authors include several well-known climate scientists – Mann, Meehl, Xie, Kosaka, Santer, England, in no particular order. They were always scientists.

      I’m still with Cahill et al. 2015 – there’s no statistical evidence of a change in trend.

      p.s. it’s transient climate response, not sensitivity, we’re not at equilibrium yet.

      • Wrong Species says:

        You do realize that there is not necessarily a contradiction between saying that there is a pause and that that the trend is still going right? The underperformance of the last few years is counterbalanced by the overperformance in the 80’s and 90’s. But if the pause continues, then that won’t be true anymore.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Hasn’t the pause ended, with El Nino?

          Of course, with all the adjustments to the data sets which were made to try to make the pause go away, the data is even more hopelessly contaminated than it was before.

          • Wrong Species says:

            One year doesn’t disprove a trend. If the years 2015-2025 are hotter than 2005-2015 then it would be safe to say the pause is over.

        • And the rapid warming from 1911 to about 1940 and from 1970 to about 2002 is counterbalanced by the constant to falling temperatures between 1940 and 1970. The IPCC special cased the midcentury pause to aerosols rather than interpreting it as part of a recurring pattern.

        • Wrong Species says:

          In fact, from your perspective, you are actually hurting your case by insisting that there is no pause. Because when the layman looks at a graph of global temperatures and quite clearly sees that the last 10-15 years haven’t been heating up he’s going to(quite reasonably I believe) believe that global warming has paused. Whenever you come and tell him “no, no that’s not a statistical pause”, he’s going to assume you’re pulling a fast one on him in the sense of “lies, damn and statistics.” And then he’s going to start questioning everything your saying.

          So please stop telling us that there is no pause, because we can clearly see otherwise. Admitting that the last 10-15 years hasn’t been heating up as much as before doesn’t mean that you have to give the idea of global warming. Just acknowledge that there hasn’t been as much of an increase in the last few years and then point out that we are still following the same trend. As Mann has seen, denying it only hurts your case.

      • Tom Scharf says:

        The pause implications are mainly about climate sensitivity, and that it begins to make the higher climate sensitivity numbers much less likely.

        There were a lot of people in the 90’s that thought the models were too conservative and the rate of warming would rise sharply after 2000.

        It is not unreasonable to suggest that the warming rate is the average of the higher 80’s/90’s trend plus the post 2000 lower trend. What seems pretty clear is that nobody really knows.

        A lot virtual ink will be spilled on this subject but the only path to the real answer is to wait and measure, wait and measure….

      • Tom Scharf says:

        It should be noted that many people claimed the run up in the 90’s could not possibly be due to natural climate forcings, or that natural climate variability effects were negligible. Many of those same people are now claiming a strong negative natural climate forcing is suppressing the 90’s warming trend.

        As for the oceans, they have only had global deep depth coverage for less than 15 years, so anyone who claims to know the answer of historical ocean dynamics, doesn’t. They have attempted to model past ocean dynamics which are then used in conjunction with climate models. As the attachment to actual observations become more tenuous these modeling efforts become more what the modelers think the answer should be than a useful model with prediction skill.

        I trust the weatherman because he has established prediction skill. The jury is out on climate models. See you in 2030 when a more definitive answer is available. Until then we should convert to lower carbon energy where it is economically feasible and try to make it cheaper so China/India will embrace it. The world won’t end before then.

        • gda says:

          I find it telling that the standard for determining whether climate models are useful has moved from 15 years to 30 years just as the “hiatus” reaches 15 years in length.

          I seem to recall there being at least one prominent warmist who boldly stated that a pause for 15 years would be sufficient.

          But perhaps thats just my faulty memory.

    • On the “hottest year ever” as proof there is no pause argument …

      Assume that temperatures are trending up until 2002, constant with random variation thereafter. For the next decade plus, one would expect hottest years ever to be reasonably common–every time the random variation happens to be positive and bigger than before.

      • John Schilling says:

        I also note that for about as long as the “pause” or “hiatus” has been under discussion, defenders of the consensus have assured us that the whole thing was a statistical artifact caused by the anomalously warm El Nino year of 1998. And to an extent they are right – 1998 was a clear outlier that should probably be discounted in any statistical analysis. Mind you, even with 1998 thrown out the hiatus is still real and statistically significant, though it doesn’t clearly show up until 2003-2004.

        But if we have to throw out 1998 because anomalous El Nino years don’t count, then we probably have to throw out 2015 as well. The hiatus is real and statistically significant if we include both outliers, and it is real and statistically insignificant if you throw out both outliers. It needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed as something that is ongoing and may continue well into the future. I am glad to see that the community is taking this seriously.

    • SJ says:

      I’m still trying to figure out if climate science can reliably describe the cause of the end of the last Ice Age.

      Not that Little Ice Age thing in the 1700s, but the Ice Age that had glaciers south of the current border between the U.S. and Canada.

      Once we get a good grasp of the causes of the beginning and end of that kind of Ice Age, then I think science can begin to quantify the human impact on Earth’s climate for the upcoming century.

  22. Herbert Z. Oinlein says:

    I prognosticate that the guaranteed income experiment in Kenya will go so badly that it will be either gracefully terminated in due time, allowing for some milquetoast screeds in its defence (25% probability), or terminated too late, by necessity, demanding that it be never spoken of again (50% probability).

    • MugaSofer says:

      I prognosticate that it will go very well, and will be trotted out as This One Study Says It Will Work during online debates, which will persuade exactly no-one and won’t do anything to make the idea more popular.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I prognosticate that it will go decently but not spectacularly well, and people will keep eternally arguing about just how well/poorly it went, and whether its results can be extrapolated to national scale in the West. (Guess what? They’re already getting a head start on that last one, and I’m on Team Can’t Extrapolate From There.)

    • Walter says:

      Dark Star Safari and its ilk have persuaded me that throwing money at Africans usually hurts them. That was written a long time ago though. Be interesting to see how this goes.

    • Nathan says:

      I don’t know what the overall effect will be, but I predict that one outcome will be for recipients to work less than comparable Kenyans. In a situation where a country with a developed welfare system replaced it with a GBI, I would not expect this to be the case.

      • Anonymous says:

        On the other hand, an argument against UBI I often see is that it probably wouldn’t replace welfare systems but would just be introduced as an extra layer on top of them.

      • Samedi says:

        I thought GBI was being proposed as a way to provide social stability in the face of mass unemployment due to the machines having taken most of the jobs. This sounds more to me like variation of welfare, especially since it is only for the poor.

    • Max says:

      I donate to GiveDirectly and I’m glad that they’re doing this experiment. Even if the results can’t be extrapolated to First World countries, it can still tell us about how to (or not to) do charity. But the headline of that article really rubs me the wrong way.

      What If We Just Gave Poor People a Basic Income for Life? That’s What We’re About to Test.
      By giving them a basic income for 10-15 years.

      And it’s even written by GiveDirectly cofounders. I can see that a basic income for life would not be feasible for them, but that headline is really misleading.

      • AlexanderRM says:

        …darn, that’s really unfortunate. So if the experiment finds a lot of people getting educations and good jobs and saving money, that could just be a result of them knowing the income will end which wouldn’t replicate with a lifelong guarantee.

        Maybe if the study goes well, the correct response is to try a subsequent lifelong study, although unfortunately that means a 10-15 delay just in trying it.

        • Nornagest says:

          I honestly doubt it. People in the West don’t often think ten to fifteen years out, and I don’t think there’s anything about the Third World that’d make people there more likely to do so.

          There might be small differences, but discounting being what it is, I wouldn’t expect large ones.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The unstated assumption is that all of them will be dead in 15 years

          • ” People in the West don’t often think ten to fifteen years out”

            From which it follows that nobody enrolls in law school unless he has a scholarship that covers most of it. You are unlikely to recover the costs in the first seven years of practice.

            I wouldn’t think med school plus internship would be much of a deal either.

          • Nornagest says:

            “Not often” is not “never”. We’ve developed a handful of institutions revolving around specific long-term payoffs, mainly having to do with education, real estate, and retirement savings. But how often do you see people going after non-traditional versions of these, or inventing new ones?

          • BBA says:

            People in the West (and outside it too) tend to be innumerate.

          • roystgnr says:

            “You are unlikely to recover the costs in the first seven years of practice.”

            Wouldn’t that imply that you are also unlikely to be required to pay back the loans in the first seven years of practice? In theory a lack of full consideration for long-term income could be balanced out by a lack of full consideration for long-term debt.

    • Alia D. says:

      If they only treat some villages and not other that have access to the same market towns, then this will work at least to some degree. It’s only when you give a basic income to everyone in an economy that you run into the limits of a static pool of resources.

  23. Deiseach says:

    I’m confused why I never heard about this before

    This is where I roll my eyes and do grumpy old-person tut-tutting about “what are they teaching them in school nowadays?”. Or else I jump up and down and go “This! This is why sciency-types need the humanities, and not just in a “we did an easy module for our degree requirements where we all wrote an essay” manner”.

    The Benin bronzes? Not ringing any bells? Large powerful indigenous kingdom with European and other trade links, until they got on the wrong side of the British in the late 19th century?

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      Didn’t Scott major in the humanities for his undergrad degree?

      • Deiseach says:

        There seems to be odd gaps in art and music, for one. This is why I’d grab all the curriculum setters who include the latest (by their reckoning, actually they’re twenty years out of date) trendy authors etc. for schools in order to be “relevant to the youth” and force them to include a good global historical overview, and not to be afraid of the Classical past because of Oh No Not More Dead White European Males notions; 16th century Benin is just as Classical as anything 🙂

        • Izaak Weiss says:

          I mean, people can’t realistically learn everything. Once you’ve added a “good global ____ overview” for every subject, there’s no room to specialize.

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, it doesn’t have to be deep, just broad; for specialisation, people can then pick “Hey, this sounds interesting, I’d like to learn more!” rather than, as is currently complained of in the history course for schools in Britain, the 20th century curriculum is basically the Second World War and there’s not much in the years after that, much less modern history, and of course it gets reduced down to Hitler vs Britain.

            Niall Ferguson, with whom I do not often agree, said in a 2011 article for the Guardian newspaper:

            I have complained before that it is possible to leave school in England knowing only about Henry VIII, Hitler and Martin Luther King Jr.

          • Murphy says:

            What’s the old phrase “jack of all trades, master of poverty”

            It’s about as practical as making sure that every linguist spends a few years learning the “basics” of quantum physics: most likely effect making everyone’s lives worse.

            I got a chance to try out no less than 19 subjects, it was first year of secondary school. A history course which covered every dead empire in that year would have little room for anything beyond “Benin existed”

      • onyomi says:

        In Scott’s defense, I have a PhD in humanities, spend a ton of time in museums and have never heard of this empire. Reminds me a bit of Cahokia in that it’s a case where you have a supposedly huge city which basically left no trace except, in this case, some large mounds. Part of me is skeptical that the scale of Benin (and maybe Cahokia) isn’t being exaggerated (comparing these walls to the Great Wall of China seems misleading), though I agree with Scott that even the people one would expect to exaggerate their significance don’t seem to (I see Nubia and Abyssinia cited far more often), but I think there’s another reason: we are very biased toward people who build in stone.

    • Shellington says:

      Honestly, the whole Benin Bronzes issue seems to be a pretty parochial issue that wouldn’t be part of an American curriculum. Just like I wouldn’t expect Europeans to know about the Battle of Wounded Knee or the controversy around the Black Hills & Mt. Rushmore.

      • Right, there are huge portions of history that simply wouldn’t pop up in any reasonable syllabus. Even closer to home, much of Central European and Eastern European history is glossed over compared to Western developments.

        As an example, my ancestors, the Hungarians, walked over from Europe, conquered an ethnically diverse and economically vital region of Europe, created a superpower that lasted centuries, and then was crushed.

        Not really my ancestors, though…”Hungarian” is more cultural than genetic. The conquered peoples all became Hungarian.

        I mention this because I want to name a future son Attila, a very popular name in Hungary. My Wife is….uhh…not convinced.

        There’s a lot of glossed over history, is my main point. Closer to home, we don’t pay anywhere near enough attention to the Western Hemisphere, even events like the Mexican Revolution that had a major impact on Western affairs.

        • Tibor says:

          I don’t know how history is taught at schools in Hungary, but what I remember (I’m Czech) is that once it covers the prehistory and antiquity (which is probably taught the same everywhere) and moves on to the middle ages it was mostly centered on the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire (which it was a part of) and subsequently the Austrian Empire with emphasis on Bohemia. Other than that, the only two countries which get covered in more detail and without huge gaps in time are France and England, most of the rest of Europe gets usually glossed over or is only mentioned if something happens there which affects Bohemia or Austria. Some countries are hardly ever mentioned at all – Ireland, Scotland, Portugal, the Low countries or Switzerland, Baltic countries, the various states in Italy. So it was more like France and England/Britain got a lot more coverage than anything else in Europe (or anywhere), save for the local history. I’m not sure where the choice of France and Britain comes from. Probably because they ended up being (HRE and Austria excluded) the countries (maybe) most influential on medieval and early-modern European history. Spain is also mentioned quite often.

          Outside of Europe, there’s a bit about the pre-colonial Incan and Aztec Empires, then a little bit about the conquistadors and then nothing until the Boston Tea Party. Non-US American countries get very little coverage. Far East: Genghis Khan, Marco Polo, Pearl Harbour. Middle East: A little bit about how Muhammad came up with Islam and that’s about that, the Ottomans are only mentioned when they threaten Austria. Sub-Saharan Africa is rarely mentioned at all, save for more or less “The English conquered those places”.

          By the way, not that you should care, but I think Attila is a horrible name 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            I mention this because I want to name a future son Attila, a very popular name in Hungary.
            By the way, not that you should care, but I think Attila is a horrible name ?

            How about Imre as a Hungarian boy’s name? I’ve always liked it, though my exposure to it was through Hammer Horror’s Countess Dracula where Sandor Elès played Lieutenant Imre Toth, which may not endear the name to your wife 🙂

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            And Imre Lakatos, the philosopher of science.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @TheAncientGeek

            There is a mathematics professor at Cambridge named Imre Leader, who is not Hungarian but is named after Lakatos, who was his godfather.

            The other famous Imre, of course, was Imre Nagy.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            You spent that much time on Czech history? I’d figure ‘don’t stand too close to windows’ would have sufficed. It might’ve saved you all a lot of frustration just doing that.

          • Svejk says:

            Stefan, defenestrations are like Pringles – you can’t have just one.

          • Tibor says:

            @Stefan: :)) Actually, in Czech, there is an idiom “throw him out of the window, he will come back through the door”. Actually, I don’t know what it means exactly. I think it is supposed to be used to describe someone who keeps annoying you and won’t leave you alone 🙂

          • He’s a sea lion!

          • Tibor says:

            @Nancy: A sea lion?

          • A cartoon about a sea lion that just won’t go away— it’s been discussed here (probably not worth starting up again).

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            “A cartoon about a sea lion that just won’t go away”– wonderfully ambiguous phrase, that, and true either way.

        • Kush isn’t very well known.

          Mary Gentle on the forgotten kingdom of Brugundy:

          Nick Gevers: Ash makes much play of the nature of the Duchy of Burgundy as a lost Middle European Kingdom, which indeed it in retrospect is: effectively a fully-fledged state separating France and Germany; a powerful ally of England in her Hundred Years’ War with France, and much besides. What made you choose to highlight this “forgotten” area of history?

          Mary Gentle: The fact that it is “forgotten”.

          I can’t remember how long ago it was that I first came across the key fact. Which is, as Pierce Ratcliff says, that Burgundy does disappear, as far as history is concerned. The Grand Duke of the West, Charles of Burgundy, gets killed on the battlefield at Nancy in 1477, and from being the kingdom in Europe that everybody’s watching, suddenly it’s just — gone.

          And that fascinated me: how does something so central, so key to the medieval experience, just get written out of history — as if Europe was an airbrushed Soviet photo? Truth told, the territory gets eaten up by France and the Germanies, and life goes on; but there is still something strange about the way in which Burgundy isn’t even mentioned. It vanishes from the popular conception of European history almost instantaneously.

          I still don’t know why this happens. The reason in Ash, I have to say, is probably not the correct reason; but it’s a reason that I like…

          Nick Gevers: Carthage is another submerged empire, powerful in Punic and Vandal times, but now utterly vanished, even as a city. Why Carthage as Burgundy’s antagonist? And why Visigoths rather than Vandals?

          Mary Gentle: The latter comes from a line I scribbled down in a notebook.

          About six years ago I was going to a history course, run locally. (It doesn’t now — cuts.) At that point, it could teach the less well known parts of European history, rather than the “Bermuda Triangle” of England, France, and Italy. When I saw their next course advertised, I didn’t know anything about the Visigoths and the medieval Spains, so I decided I ought to.

          And about halfway through, a line popped into my head out of nowhere, which I wrote down — it’s what the master gunner Angelotti says to Ash, when he’s describing how Carthage governs itself: “Elective monarchy — a method which we may call succession by assassination!”

          The Visigoth form of government continued to fascinate me, and I followed them through Iberian history, until the Moors arrived from North Africa and began to kick the crap out of them, in the war that runs right through the medieval period, on and off, until 1492. Being me, I thought, what would have happened if it had run the other way: if the Visigoths had invaded North Africa instead?

          I’m not sure why I thought of Carthage. Perhaps because, like Burgundy, Carthage vanishes…

          Although there isn’t any mystery about it: the Romans conquered it, razed it, and sowed the earth with salt. (You can tell they were pissed off.) I thought: what about if it hadn’t been, if Carthage were still there, for the Visigoths to inhabit up until 1476?

          When I came to do some research, to see if I could buttress this ridiculous idea of a Germanic tribe conquering Carthage and settling down there, I found that it had happened — granted, it wasn’t the Visigoths: it was the Vandals. And it was a thousand years too early for my purposes. But I was cheered, because when history starts playing ball like that, I know I’m on to something with the novel!

          By that time, I was very fond of the Visigoths, so I decided that in this alternate version their expedition to North Africa — some thirteen years before the Vandals: a storm sank it — would be the one to succeed. There’d be some Vandal names, to indicate that settlers moved over there from several tribes, but the main civilisation would be Visigoth.

          Well — Visigoth, plus H P Lovecraft…

          • anonymous says:

            Burgundy was an important kingdom only briefly.

            Also there’s the usual equivocation between “kingdom” and “civilization”. Burgundy may be forgotten as a state but the Benelux cultures that were its economic engine didn’t vanish and are of course known.
            This is not the same thing as the civilization in Benin being ignored.

            Anyhow there are lots and lots and lots of significant historical kingdoms and cultures people don’t know about. Nothing special with Benin and Kush and Burgundy.

          • Deiseach says:

            Kush isn’t very well known.

            At the risk of parading my ignorance once again, really? Because I knew of Kush from the Queen Mother of Kush being shown in Egyptian wallpaintings and Mentioned In Dispatches, as well as Kush trading with Egypt.

            And once again, if I know it, it surely can’t be that obscure?

            (I swear to God, I do recognise this stuff when I read it linked on here, I don’t rush off and Google it and pretend I knew about it before it was cool).

            I do get very confused, though, between the Hurrians, Hittites and Hattians and I can never remember who came first: the Akkadians or the Sumerians 🙂

            (I did have links to online Akkadian dictionaries/word lists for translation purposes because of following Tolkien blogs that, when role-playing as the Valar, used Akkadian to eke out the Valarin word list Tolkien gave but I’ve since lost/deleted those).

          • anonymous says:

            The problem with Kush is that it’s more famous under other names.
            It is refered to as “Ethiopia” in the New Testament and in Latin writers (although it’s entirely unrelated to present day Ethiopia).
            It is also known as the kingdom of Meroe.
            “Nubia” sometimes denotes Kush/Meroe.

            The Biblical “Candace”, after whom many women are named, was the queen of Ethiopia=Meroe=Kush.

            I had always known that kingdom under those other names. I checked Wikipedia and realized that Kush is the same one.

          • I could simply be mistaken about Kush not being well known. I only found out about it because of a National Geographic article, and I haven’t seen much about it since. The article said that Kush got less attention because no one knew how to translate the inscriptions.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Maybe I’m estimating myself too highly, but I think I’m pretty knowledgeable by my generation’s standards, and I couldn’t have told you what Kush was, I only know about Burgundy from the Europa Universalis games, and as for Benin I only recall a quick mention in history class.

            I might be overestimating my knowledge, but I really think Deiseach is severely underestimating hers.

        • gda says:

          “My Wife is….uhh…not convinced.”

          Funny, I had the same reaction when I suggested we consider the name Barabbas for our son….

      • Deiseach says:

        I was lent a book on Wounded Knee back in the 70s, so it was in the cultural air at the time, and I was made aware of the controversy around the Black Hills of Dakota through watching Westerns (and these were the older, black-and-white Westerns, not the 70s consciousness-raising ones).

        I mean, African art – like the Benin bronzes and ivories – is not exactly what I’d call “parochial”, especially when it comes to the USA and specifically invented culturally-sensitive festivals like Kwanzaa.

        Maybe it’s just that I’m weird and had an unusual exposure to art and history in my rural Irish childhood? 🙂

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        Incidentally, a lot of people thought that when the Battle of Wounded Knee is mentioned in Bioshock Infinite it was a reference to Skyrim (I used to be an adventurer like you till I took an arrow to the knee).

        • Deiseach says:

          So does that mean the Skyrim reference was itself a veiled allusion to Wounded Knee? Circles within circles!

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I sure hope you know about every interesting thing in the world, because if you don’t I’m going to make fun of you and your education the next time it comes up.

      • anonymous says:

        True, kind, necessary?

        Comment reported.

      • Deiseach says:

        I was not intending to mock your education, Scott. I was surprised that if I, someone from the arse-end of nowhere in rural Ireland, was aware of the existence of the Empire of Benin, then how was it someone well-educated, from an urban background that was not unsophisticated or unlettered was apparently ignorant of it?

        Again, this is one of those instances where I really should do the “Attention! Humour attempt forthcoming!” signposting, in order not to inadvertently cause offence (I want my offensiveness to be very advertent and intentional).

        Go on, throw something mathematical at me, I’ll be shockingly ignorant, all can point and mock, and Cosmic Balance will be restored.

          • Deiseach says:

            James Picone, I definitely was not calling Scott an idiot; I forget that I am much older than he so naturally I have a couple of decades’ head start on bumping up against things in the world (that xkcd comic could probably shift the “Fraction of people who know it by age 30” up a few years).

            My attitude tends to be “If I, uneducated bumpkin from the back of beyond know this thing/have heard of it, then it must be commonplace knowledge and surely someone who is demonstrably more intelligent, better educated, of a higher socio-economic class and from an urbanised background must also know this plainly obvious thing”.

            I assure you, it does not often happen that I know Thing that smarter person does not know. This should not be seen as me mocking smarter person, but rather finding amusement in the oddity of how the world works.

            Scott is perfectly entitled to make fun of my education when next I display my ignorance of a commonplace fact that everyone does know, as my education is largely autodidactism and a self-made (wo)man has been justly remarked to often be a waste of the original materials.

          • “My attitude tends to be “If I, uneducated bumpkin from the back of beyond”

            Not a correct description.

    • nimim. k.m. says:

      One could get relatively well versed in humanities without ever hearing about Benin. (Talking about university level education.)

      More of the mystery is why it isn’t included in pre-university level, either. At least wasn’t here.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      When I was at UCLA in 1980-82, I helped set up an exhibition of “Benin bronzes” at Exhibition Park. The art was impressively well done and some pieces were quite charming.

      Here’s an NYT review of an earlier stop of this art tour:

      http://www.nytimes.com/1981/02/06/arts/art-the-glories-of-benin-s-royalty.html

  24. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    Maybe the most important article I’ve read this year: When Confounding Variables Are Out Of Control. A new PLoS paper argues that “controlling for confounders” doesn’t work as well as we’d like

    Paging Ilya Shpitser

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      I don’t disagree, re: importance — this is about “measurement error.” The three biggies in causal inference are (in increasing order of difficulty): confounding bias, selection bias, and measurement error. This article is about measurement error.

      The other big thing with “adjusting for confounders” is this is only correct if a certain model holds. If not, more complex adjustments are needed (see my thesis for details).

      For people who read Judea’s book, the graph is:

      C -> C*
      C -> A
      C -> Y
      A -> Y

      You want the causal effect of A on Y. You see C*, but not C. C is the real confounder. Conditioning on C* does not d-separate A and Y via a backdoor path. So adjusting for C* does not eliminate bias properly.

  25. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    Pardon my inattentiveness. I’m not sure when easy to use formatting buttons appeared but they are a fantastic addition.

  26. Liskantope says:

    In regard to the complimentary=sounding remarks in recommendation letters, I’m reminded of a professor I know who, in academic recommendation letters for students whose personalities he dislikes, has adopted the practice of writing “He/she is smarter than he/she is wise”.

    • JayT says:

      When I graduated college the engineering department would have their own graduation ceremony the night before the whole university’s ceremony. At the smaller ceremony you could write a short thanks on a card that was to be read when your name was called. I got together with a bunch of my friends to all give horribly back-handed thanks to our most despised teacher. Mine was something along the lines of “I want to thank [teacher] for teaching me how to learn on my own”.

  27. James Babcock says:

    > After a study a few months ago showing that toxoplasma didn’t produce behavioral changes in humans, a new study suggests toxoplasma is no more common in cat owners than anyone else. All of the cool toxoplasma theories are going out the window. But how could this be?

    That is not what the study you linked to said, nor what the previous study you alluded to said. The previous study had too small a sample, included the generally-accepted hazard ratio within its giant confidence interval, and called that a negative result. The study linked this time says:

    > The risk of infection by T. gondii had a significant association with cat contact (P Interestingly, the risk of infection by T. gondii has no significant association with neighborhood cat contact versus no contact, and the analysis of the data extracted from a case-control study shows that there is no significant difference in the rate of cat ownership between those infected by T. gondii and those uninfected.

    So observational studies found correlation (albeit with a fairly small hazard ratio), while a proper controlled study did not. Ok, question: is the effect size that the correlational studies found within the 95% confidence interval that the controlled study reported? Ctrl+F “case-controlled”, find the citation:

    > Chiang, T. Y., M. C. Kuo, C. H. Chen, J. Y. Yang, C. F. Kao, D. D. Ji, and C. T. Fang. 2014. Risk factors for acute Toxoplasma gondii diseases in Taiwan: a population-based case-control study. PLoS One 9:e90880. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24609112?dopt=Abstract)

    And (drumroll)…

    > having a cat in the household (adjusted OR = 2.9; 95% CI = 1.1-7.9)

    Wait wait what the fuck? Something is very wrong here. I haven’t looked closely enough (in particular, haven’t bypassed the paywall) to find out if they re-analyzed that study’s data in a weird way, or if there were two case-controlled studies, or what.

  28. Shellington says:

    I think the most likely reason the Benin empire is not celebrated today by Afro-Centrists et al is because they were unrepentant slavers and human sacrifice was an important part of their religion. Zimbabwe and other older cities don’t have eyewitness accounts of their societal problems so they are easier to idealize.

    • Deiseach says:

      Zimbabwe and other older cities don’t have eyewitness accounts of their societal problems so they are easier to idealize.

      Ah, like the Tumblr post I saw yesterday on “how to know if your ancestors owned slaves: Step one: Are you a white person descended from white people? Step two: Then yes!”

      I’ve often wondered what the gay rights movement would make of the Anglican and Catholic Ugandan martyrs: one of the martyrs was a page at the royal court who opposed the king’s practice of having sex with the male pages, whether they consented or not, and the king did not take this religiously-based opposition well. (Not the only reason he and others were opposed to the growing influence of educated young Christian converts in the social hierarchy, of course). Would they say it was all down to colonial Christian propaganda and lies, and that no culture that accepted and practiced homosexuality was ever oppressive or exercised what we’d now call sexual harassment and coercion? That all past cultures, especially non-European ones, were tolerant and free and it was only repressive Christian colonialism that made sex shameful?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Link me this Tumblr post?

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:
          • BBA says:

            Looking at all of world history through the lens of current American race relations is not going to end well. It reminds me of the student activists who dismissed the Holocaust as “white-on-white crime.” (DISCLAIMER: This was at Oberlin, known for being on the bleeding edge of the loony left.)

          • Deiseach says:

            jaimeastorga2000, are you by any chance the Tumblr Anon who asked me the following? Not trying to start ructions, genuinely curious since you managed to link to my Tumblr; if you are, that’s fine, if you’re not, that’s fine too 🙂

            Anonymous asked:
            Why are you so filled with hate?

            It caulks the gaps between my self-loathing, ennui, desire to see this world BURN IN THE FLAMES OF THE ETERNAL INFERNO, and my love of the amethystine skies of dusk

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Deiseach: I read a number of rationalist Tumblrs, including yours. I find your occasional rants amusing.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I notice that you didn’t answer the question.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @hlynkacg: That’s all the answer I’m giving. Confirming or denying being a specific anon is bad for plausible deniability.

          • Deiseach says:

            Dear jaimeastorga2000, I think this is the first time I’ve ever been mistaken for a rationalist (unless you are being tongue-in-cheek, in which case I appreciate the humour even more) 🙂

            If I may mangle Christina Rossetti’s poem by wrenching the sense away to adapt to my own situation:

            My heart is like a singing bird
            Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
            My heart is like an apple-tree
            Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
            My heart is like a rainbow shell
            That paddles in a halcyon sea;
            My heart is gladder than all these
            Because [I’m yclept rationally].

            Raise me a dais of silk and down;
            Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
            Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
            And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
            Work it in gold and silver grapes,
            In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
            Because the birthday of my life
            Is come, [I am held rational to be!].

            Though now, remembering the content of my Tumblr and having been made aware that you occasionally read it, I am covered in confusion. Ah well, you already know I am not perfectly sane! 🙂

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Deiseach: If you get into enough rows with Tumblr rationalists, you can eventually become a part of rationalist Tumblr; just ask su3su2u1 and nostalgebraist. In fact, Ozy recently made a post about this.

        • Deiseach says:

          Here you go.

      • anonymous says:

        Ah, like the Tumblr post I saw yesterday on “how to know if your ancestors owned slaves: Step one: Are you a white person descended from white people? Step two: Then yes!”

        The actually amusing thing here is that that’s the exact opposite of the truth.

        African Americans have about 15% white genetic admixture – almost all of which is from slave owners.

        How to know if your ancestors owned slaves? Are you black in the United States and does your ancestry there go back to slavery? Then yes.

        • The Nybbler says:

          That’s slaves in the US. Owning slaves anywhere… well, chances are most of us are descendants of both slaves and slaveowners somewhere along the line.

          I’m white, but no ancestor of mine had owned slaves in the US (for the simple reason that I have no US ancestry prior to emancipation). But go back far enough… who knows?

        • Outis says:

          If you immigrated into the US as an adult, you can accurately say that the average living African-American is both more closely related to slavers *and* has benefited more from slavery than you have. I don’t recommend actually saying it, though.

      • Jiro says:

        How to actually know if your ancestors owned slaves: are you a human?

        • My impression is that slavery came in with primitive agriculture, possibly with large-scale grain agriculture.

          I’m not sure whether there are any people who have a lineage with no one doing early and/or large scale grain agriculture, but there might be a few.

          • NN says:

            IIRC the Aboriginal Australians never developed agriculture before European contact, so Aborigines who don’t have any white ancestors might not have slave owning ancestors.

            Though this probably depends on which definition of “slavery” is used.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ NN, Nancy

            My Just-So is that, depending on environment, slavery becomes practical mostly after agriculture has made the world safe for stupidity.

            Hm. How about some Rand Just-So fan-fic where the bad guys who won’t do their own homework, send some informed slaves out to fetch some safe mushrooms. Me, I’d have the slaves fetch hallucinogenics, free any hostages, and scatter back to each ex-slave doing zis own foraging.

          • Murphy says:

            @NN

            There is some evidence that Aboriginal Australians did develop agriculture

            http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bushtelegraph/rethinking-indigenous-australia's-agricultural-past/5452454

            Considering what happened when europeans arrived in the america’s with new diseases wiping out large portions of the population and causing large sections of land to revert to fallow, it wouldn’t be too surprising if something similar happened in some of the richer land in Australia

  29. hlynkacg says:

    Just looking at that cell-phone gun, there’s no way that thing is both chambered in 380 AND the size of an iPhone. The 380 ACP is basically a shorter, squatter, 9mm Luger round. The “phone” pictured would need to be at least 3 times size of a regular iPhone for the size of those barrels to be correct.

    Edit:
    And now I’ve read the zelman partisans link and I’m pretty well convinced that it is a hoax. The above issue in conjunction with solicitations for money and jiggery-pokery with the business address all scream “This is a scam”

    • SJ says:

      If it were chambered in 0.25 ACP, it might be more dangerous to throw the pseudo-phone-gun than to shoot with it.

      (And still be much thicker than the average iPhone.)

  30. isionous says:

    Apparently some people felt guilty because they thought that quinoa-eating Westerners were taking all the quinoa and then Peruvians were starving. But a new study suggests that the increased Western demand for quinoa has increased welfare throughout Peruvian quinoa-farming regions both for farmers and for non-farmers

    Basic economics wins again, I guess? At least, it’s my impression that economists would find this result extremely unsurprising.

    Has this sort of fear ever been justified, where increased demand for X decreases the welfare of most people in an X-producing area?

    I could imagine a scenario where the producers of X are an already rich minority and implausibly keep the increased wealth mostly to themselves and people outside the area, while the poor majority of the area implausibly don’t get into the X industry themselves, and mostly suffer increased prices for X. But notice how I had to say “implausibly”, twice.

    • Anonymous says:

      Basic economics wins again, I guess?

      But does basic economics say that? I’m wondering about the claim I see made by various people, along the lines: “Basic economics says that if demand increases then quantity sold will increase; that if supply falls, price will increase; and so on. Supply and demand is a reasonably accurate model of the real world. But, absent empirical evidence, we not only can’t know for certain the size of the changes involved, we have literally no idea what size to expect them to be. Basic economics says absolutely nothing about the probable elasticity of a given supply or demand curve. As such, we have no basis for expecting that the market will produce an optimal outcome in any area where we have not gathered lots of strong empirical evidence suggesting this is the case.”

      So according to this, basic economics could equally say, “Supply of quinoa will rise until the original buyers as well as the new buyers can both get as much of it as they want, with its price remaining at roughly the level it was before the new buyers came along.” Or it could say, “Supply of quinoa will stay exactly the same, the new buyers will come in and buy up all the quinoa, causing the price of quinoa to skyrocket and the original buyers to starve.”

      David Friedman, or any other economist here: what is wrong with the above argument? And why, if it’s correct, does there seem to have been such a strong consensus among economists for so long (although perhaps not anymore) that price floors and ceilings are a bad idea and almost inevitably hurt the people they’re intended to help?

      • Supply of quinoa will stay exactly the same, the new buyers will come in and buy up all the quinoa, causing the price of quinoa to skyrocket and the original buyers to starve

        That’s fine. The quinoa producers are flush with cash. They buy other food-stuffs and hire local labor to perform various tasks. The local labor then uses the money to buy other food-stuffs.

        The real risk is shifting the entire agricultural system to a mono-culture system, and not having a financial system. All commodity prices rise and fall.

        • Anonymous says:

          Maybe the localers’ demand for quinoa is really inelastic. How do you know it isn’t?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            They can’t eat anything else?

            Peruvians aren’t like Pandas, they ought to be able to eat other crops.

          • Anonymous says:

            Maybe they really like quinoa. Maybe they don’t know how to cook anything else. Maybe the supply of alternatives is really inelastic too, as I said below. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

            You can construct a plausible argument for this not being the case, but how can we know unless we test it? And if you accept that we do need to test it, in what sense are we relying on ‘basic economics’ to deduce this, rather than on pure data, that perhaps doesn’t even need to be attached to a model at all?

          • JayT says:

            For what it’s worth, Peru has some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. They have a wonderful mix of South American and Chinese styles. Also, I definitely had rice more often than quinoa…maybe because they were exporting it all?

          • Deiseach says:

            They can’t eat anything else?

            Peruvians aren’t like Pandas, they ought to be able to eat other crops.

            I would just like to mention the Great Famine here, about “can’t they eat anything other than potatoes?”

            So who does eat quinoa as a main food source? The very poorest/lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder? I wonder if there’s an ethnic hierarchy going on here, as the raving about quinoa being a wonder-grain in the Western promotion of it has been all along the lines of “ancient native foodstuff” and when you’re talking about ancient native cultures, you may mean “indigenous people who got short end of the stick after colonisation”.

            No dates or data on actual food sources given here, but the United Nations World Food Programme says of Peru:

            More than 18% of children under five suffer from chronic undernutrition and over 37% have anemia. In the Huancavelica Department almost 50% of the children under five are undernourished whereas in the highlands the rate climbs to 80%. Insufficient access to food commodities, poor consumption patterns, inadequate child care, poor nutrition practices and low educational levels are the main causes of chronic undernutrition.

            Approximately 11 million people (38%) do not cover their minimum daily calories intake (2,100Kcal). Fourteen out of 25 regions in the country are extremely vulnerable to child chronic undernutrition.

            Highlands regions sound to me the kind of areas where a staple native crop like quinoa would be the major food source, and if it is now become a cash crop, it could be exported instead of being consumed, the agents get the money, but the labourers are the ones suffering from lack of alternatives.

            Again, harking back to the Famine, Ireland was actually exporting grain and butter and cattle, the ones who suffered most were the lowest class: the farm labourers with no land of their own, depending on wages which were depressed, and subsisting on an easily-grown, productive, monoculture crop that was vulnerable to disease. When it failed, they couldn’t afford to buy replacement food and a lot of the existing food stocks were cash crops going mainly to our trading partner, Great Britain, which depended heavily on imports of agricultural goods (not just from Ireland) to feed its burgeoning population in the industrialised cities.

            Maize was imported from the USA as an emergency food source and sold at reduced prices but even this was not sufficient:

            During the winter of 1845-1846 Peel’s government spent £100,000 on American maize which was sold to the destitute. The Irish called the maize ‘Peel’s brimstone’ – and the nickname was only partly because of the yellow colour of the maize. Eventually the government also initiated relief schemes such as canal-building and road building to provide employment. The workers were paid at the end of the week and often men had died of starvation before their wages arrived. Even worse, many of the schemes were of little use: men filled in valleys and flattened hills just so the government could justify the cash payments. The Irish crisis was used as an excuse by Peel in order for him to the repeal the Corn Laws in 1846, but their removal brought Ireland little benefit. The major problem was not that there was no food in Ireland – there was plenty of wheat, meat and dairy produce, much of which was being exported to England – but that the Irish peasants had no money with which to buy the food. The repeal of the Corn Laws had no effect on Ireland because however cheap grain was, without money the Irish peasants could not buy it. No government at Westminster was prepared to give food to the starving, on the grounds that the Irish already were lazy and free food would merely encourage this trait.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >They have a wonderful mix of South American and Chinese styles.

            I’d say the biggest outside influence in peruvian cuisine is Japan, rather than China, but yes, it’s very good and generally highly regarded.

          • You’re correct, certain economic models would predict absolute chaos. But doing so requires a lot of odd assumptions, or bad policy and bad law.
            It’s certainly not impossible. For instance, the shift to quinoa monoculture might actually result in decline of overall productivity per land with a commiserate rise in capital intensity. I am not an agriculture expert, but “How Asia Works” describes this process in some detail.
            Essentially, subsistence farmers can use their massive labor to intensively cultivate patches of land. But for large-scale mono-cultural plantations, it makes more sense to scale back labor and substitute in capital, which lowers productivity per hectare but is overall more profitable.
            A lot of regions rely heavily on rural farm labor, and Peru might be the same. These people own no land and are essentially proletariat of the farms. They are shut out, they can cultivate no land, and their job opportunities decline. Maybe they have nowhere else to move because of local political problems.
            That’s steel-manning, though, and even if I think it might be true, I certainly wouldn’t assume it is true.
            I would wager reputation most people are economically naïve and operate on a fixed-pie fallacy, though. If I eat more quinoa, there’s less quinoa available. End of story.

          • Koldos the Shepherd says:

            If local demand for Quinoa isn’t elastic, it really should be. At world market prices, wheat is more than an order of magnitude cheaper than Quinoa, so clearly if you’re poor at the level of “starving” you’d be better off selling Quinoa and buying imported wheat.

          • JBeshir says:

            A big issue here is timescales.

            Even if supply can adjust and is adjusting, things can suck badly while it’s in the process of doing so.

            Crop supply to the international market is very inelastic in the *short term*; on the months-to-a-year timescale, because you have to plant it and wait for it to grow, you can probably more-or-less treat the supply you have as the supply you have. But over say ten-year timescales it’s probably pretty decently elastic.

            I think you do sometimes see shortages or substantial price movements in lesser used commodities for this kind of reason, where some fad makes something produced in small amounts very wanted and supply takes time to catch up (or simply declines to catch up, if manufacturers expect the demand to end and are loathe to make expensive investments that will lose money when it does; American ammunition prices have been an example of this, IIRC).

            It’s just the marginal person switches to eating something else, which just about everyone eating/using those niche things can do, and everything is fine.

            And apparently they could do the same here, presumably because there was a good international market in basics, the imported food supply *was* relatively elastic, and quinoa is relatively expensive compared to other basics so the extra costs involved in importing food were readily absorbed.

            Short-term inelastic supply of what they were eating isn’t essentially a problem, as other people have pointed out, if they can just buy something else.

            Basic economic theory doesn’t guarantee that “if”, but maybe current economic realities do. At least when what you’re currently eating is expensive on the market.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        I am not an economist, but the answer seems obvious:

        If the price of Quinoa rises so much that locals cannot afford to buy it the money gained from the sales should be more than enough to buy wheat, barley, corn, rice, etc. Unless the price of food rose across the board Peruvians should be able to substitute cheaper imported grains for their expensive local ones.

        Edit: Ninja’d

        • Anonymous says:

          See above. Or maybe the supply of those alternatives is really inelastic too. Or maybe both.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Why would you expect them to be?

            Increases in demand tend to result in increased production due to increased payouts.

            In order for a supply of something to inelastic it has to be A) not produced by people, or B) subject to some outside constraint.

          • “In order for a supply of something to inelastic it has to be A) not produced by people, or B) subject to some outside constraint.”

            Did you mean “perfectly inelastic”?

            Inelastic only means that if price increases by one percent, quantity increases by less than one percent.

      • It is true that economic theory doesn’t tell you the size of the predicted effects. If the Quinoa is being grown by a small minority of the local population and consumed by everyone, then foreigners buying Quinoa results in a rise in the price of Quinoa, a net increase in economic benefit as economists define it (look for the discussion of “economic efficiency” in several of my webbed books), but that might mean that the local Quinoa producers are a lot better off and the local Quinoa consumers worse off. Under some circumstances total utility goes down. Economic efficiency is a proxy for utility, but an imperfect proxy.

      • isionous says:

        But does basic economics say that?…absent empirical evidence, we not only can’t know for certain the size of the changes involved, we have literally no idea what size to expect them to be

        Then I am glad I have an idea and have some empirical understanding of how food production works and that food supply is not infinitely inelastic. The extremely basic facts of how food can be grown is not hidden from the people who were worried about Peruvians starving. It was their (mis)understanding of economics that led them astray.

        Or it could say, “Supply of quinoa will stay exactly the same, the new buyers will come in and buy up all the quinoa, causing the price of quinoa to skyrocket and the original buyers to starve.”

        I keep on hearing in economics about how people respond to incentives and usually increased demand leading to increased prices usually leads to increased production because of the increased potential profits. Basic economics is full of reasons to conclude that it would be really weird for something to have perfectly inelastic supply. Also, basic economics includes the idea of substitution goods, which goes against the idea of people starving from the price of one good increasing.

        • Nathan says:

          Yeah, you can get (nearly) any result from an economic model with the right assumptions. But assuming that quinoa is all Peruvians eat and they have no capacity to grow more no matter how much they invest in doing so would be a really weird set of assumptions to make.

    • James Picone says:

      Has this sort of fear ever been justified, where increased demand for X decreases the welfare of most people in an X-producing area?

      Middle East and oil? It’s led to some people becoming massively wealthy, in some parts of the country the wealth has flowed to the people to some extent, in other parts it’s just led to dictators and war.

      But that’s more about the political system than the economics.

      Oh, and the ivory coast and slaves. Congo under Leopold and rubber.

      • isionous says:

        But that’s more about the political system than the economics…Oh, and the ivory coast and slaves.

        Right, I should have put in a caveat to my question about how it’s easy to dream up a bad result if government/coercion is involved.

        Congo under Leopold and rubber

        I’m not familiar with that one.

        • Virbie says:

          It’s the example most famously held up to show the cruelties of African colonization (even contemporarily, iirc). He was the Belgian king under whom Congolese slaves had limbs chopped off and stuff.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          I think wiki sums up the insanity pretty well
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congo_Free_State#Humanitarian_disaster
          “Failure to meet the rubber collection quotas was punishable by death. Meanwhile, the Force Publique were required to provide the hand of their victims as proof when they had shot and killed someone, as it was believed that they would otherwise use the munitions (imported from Europe at considerable cost) for hunting.”

          Yep, he unintentionally created an economy where the unit of exchange was human hands.

      • JBeshir says:

        I dunno if Ireland and its famines count, because that was less rising demand and more a drop in supply coupled with static international demand (I think? I’m a bit ignorant here), but the external demand did harm there.

        Only in the short term, of course, but the “short term” is long enough to have a pretty bad famine.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          From paradox history forum (and sadly not me)

          As to the continued export of food from Ireland during the famine years, that is true. And yes, it is worth comment, since it was pretty routine and expected in times of famine emergencies to embargo food exports. This had happened in the 1760s and the 1790s. The difference in the 1840s wasn’t really ideology, but the new dependence of the English poor on Irish grain. English harvests had themselves been quite crappy in those years. Peel & co. were under no illusions. If they had embargoed the export of food from Ireland, the English poor would have come marching down on Westminster. When the choice is (or seems to be) between English starving or Irish starving, that was a no-brainer for an English government.

          Now there was a brief surge in food imports into Ireland in 1847, in the immediate aftermath of the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. For obvious reasons – the Corn Laws were lifted and food prices are high in Ireland. But there was still no attempt to embargo exports. And the surge died down anyway. Harvests were generally quite bad across the European continent in the late 1840s, accentuated by the disruptions caused by the 1848 disturbances, so prices rose there too (I forget if they also imposed export embargoes of their own). In any case, there was plenty of money to be made elsewhere.

          At any rate, the refusal to embargo grain exports was not really the big mistake. Grain is grain, whether Irish-grown, European-grown or American-grown, doesn’t really matter. The point is bringing grain to Ireland, whether locally grown or not, during the emergency. Irish food leaving Irish ports during a famine makes for scandalous television, but that’s about it The point is ensuring food supply and distribution of food – whatever its provenance – during a famine. And that is where the English government really failed. “

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      It has happened. It has happened in *spades*. Banana republics, the congo and the rubber trade… Basically if the area in question can’t defend itself from colonial exploitation, then having stuff with a ready market abroad can turn out really badly. Massacres and enslavement bad.

  31. Chalid says:

    It always bugs me when you attribute an opinion to a publication as opposed to a person. Can’t you say “Shadi Hamid writes in Vox that…” instead of “Vox says”? Shadi Hamid doesn’t even work for Vox and he surely isn’t setting out the official position of the organization.

    It’s only really proper to attribute an opinion to a publication when it’s in an editorial. I’d maybe forgive it if the article was authored by Ezra Klein or Matt Yglesias but even those two have written articles in Vox explicitly disagreeing with each other.

    This is a small irritant to me in practically every single link thread.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Nobody knows who Shahi Hamid is, everybody knows what Vox is. One attribution adds information, the other doesn’t.

      • Nathan says:

        It’s also not like Vox.com is a meaningless aggregation. Yeah there’s some disagreement between writers, but there’s also a pretty strong “brand”. The people they choose to hire and the pieces they choose to run are clearly indicative of a particular worldview.

        • Chalid says:

          The Libya piece is an opinion piece. If this had appeared as an op-ed in the New York Times, would you think it was correct to attribute it to the publication and omit the author? I don’t think anyone believes that that is good practice.

          Vox makes it a bit harder by not having as strong a dividing line between news and opinion as the NYT, but this is still very clearly on the “opinion” side.

      • Anonymous says:

        That’s kinda self-fulfilling.

        • drethelin says:

          If he wanted to be known for himself he should’ve started his own blog instead of writing for Vox

      • Agronomous says:

        “Vox’s Shahi Hamid says…” leaves us with even more information.

        For that matter, not reading Vox seems to leave us with the most information.

  32. Wrong Species says:

    >New study in Nature by leading climatologists says that the consensus is now that the global warming hiatus is real. And here are some blog posts (1, 2) explaining the result in more accessible language. Both emphasize this doesn’t mean that global warming has stopped or was never real, only that it seems to be slower now than it was before. Leading theory – complicated ocean cycles working in our favor now may work against us in the next few decades, and we should still be careful.

    I wonder if the people who have been claiming that global warming hasn’t slowed down are going to accept this. Either they admit that all the evidence isn’t in their favor or they get to be the crackpots who disagree with top scientists. Stay tuned.

  33. ediguls says:

    Scott,

    can you maybe add a content warning for the picture at the bottom of the mirror article? I would have appreciated a warning.

    • Tibor says:

      Since I was reading this just before going to bed, I was also not terribly happy about it 🙂 Now I can’t brush my teeth because a scary monster will come out of the mirror 🙂 Well, night night!

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I didn’t even notice that the first time; I had to go back and look. Reminds me of my favorite creepypasta.

    • Max says:

      Speaking of Lovecraft, this article and picture really remind me of The Outsider.

      I think the picture is cool, but I’m still glad I didn’t see it yesterday evening.

  34. I’ve discovered an additional part to the list of games Buddha would not play. It was inscribed on a stone tablet discovered at a dig site near Sarnath. It reads:

    “Oh yeah, and Diplomacy! Last time I played that I cursed out my mother for moving into Munich!”

    The Buddha was wise.

  35. gwern says:

    The prison phone system is a national disgrace. Predatory companies make deals with the government to get a monopoly on calls to and from specific prisons, then charge inmates trying to call their families rates that are orders of magnitude higher than normal…This seems to me like one of the clearest and most black-and-white political issues around.

    What you did there. I see it.

    Also, better Dee/Arthur link: http://www.heroicage.org/issues/15/green.php

  36. anon says:

    > By my calculations it would also reverse one year worth of global-warming induced sea-level rise.

    The plan for making hydroelectric power using Qattara is not to flood the entire depression until it’s flush with the sea level. It’s to create a wide, shallow pool on the bottom that would evaporate at the rate that water is flowing in.

    I find the project very interesting. Unfortunately, it will not be built any time soon, mostly because the best routes for the canal are, due to WW2, some of the most densely mined terrain on earth.

    • Noumenon says:

      Step 1, Pentagon announces mine-defusing robot contest. Step 2, free earth-moving explosions. Step 3, profit!

    • FacelessCraven says:

      densely-mined terrain seems like a problem we could solve. Mine flails exist, after all. Would it really be that expensive to just flail the hell out of the whole area? …The fact that mined areas are a big problem tells me I’m missing something, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what. Maybe I’m just not appreciating the scale?

      • NN says:

        From wikipedia’s article on mine flails:

        It is known flails don’t reliably detonate all the mines in the area being swept, leaving it potentially hazardous. Some mines, such as the Italian MAT/6 mine are designed to be flail resistant. Mines that have been buried for many years may become unreliable and fail to detonate when struck, yet they may still be hazardous. Also, some mines are smashed without being detonated. This is referred to as a disruptive strike and still renders the mine harmless, but the ground is contaminated with metal debris and undetonated explosive material. This makes it harder to carry out the necessary manual check of the area after the flail had finished, either with metal detectors or explosive sniffer dogs. There were also anecdotes of mine flails flinging live mines out of the mine field and into safe areas. An experiment with inert mine-analogues demonstrated that this could happen; some mines were thrown over 10 metres (33 ft) by the flail and, in one case, 65 metres (213 ft).

        An additional problem is the vulnerability of some current mine flail vehicles to anti-tank mines. This means that if the presence of anti-tank mines is suspected, the mine-field must, paradoxically, be manually checked first to make it safe for the mine flail. These problems have led many humanitarian demining organisations to abandon the use of flails.

      • CatCube says:

        Mines are really hard to find by design. Using a flail or something like a Casspir to detonate mines might be a good first step, but you pretty much have to go over every inch with metal detectors afterwards. It’s incredibly labor intensive and dangerous.

        Even then, demined areas are usually only certified to a depth of 14 cm (about 6 in).

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Isn’t there also the fact that the “Qattara Sea” would become incredibly salty?

      • Nathan says:

        Yeah, but given that it’s the Sahara already it’s not like you’re going to be damaging prime agricultural land or anything.

    • Octapode says:

      The proposals linked there talked about filling to somewhere between -20 and -70m from sea level. The depression bottoms out at -133m, according to wiki, so there would still be a lot of water trapped in the basin, slowly getting cycled out by evaporation. The exact amount would depend on the details of the shape of the depression floor, and that’s far beyond the effort a blog comment’s worth, so I’ll just assume Scott’s estimate was close enough.

      If we can’t conventionally dig the required canal because it’s full of mines, why don’t we just dust off the Project Plowshare files? That’d get a nice big hole dug fast, and the nukes wouldn’t complain about the mines.

  37. I wonder whether Saudi Arabia has something to do with Russian plans to wreck the Russian oil industry.

    Maybe the situation is that given enough time, any organization actually *is* run by the agents of its enemies.

  38. BBA says:

    Ah, #CancelColbert. If Park hadn’t picked such a popular target and hadn’t misinterpreted his joke so completely, she might still be a social justice true believer today. But then we wouldn’t have heard of her, so who’s to say what would’ve left her better off?

    • Artificirius says:

      There is something eminently satisfying about how true ‘the burned hand teaches best’ continues to be.

    • Agronomous says:

      While normally I’m against mandatory courses, I can’t help thinking that making all incoming college freshmen everywhere take a semester-long course on the Cultural Revolution would put a damper on a lot of SJW activism.

      • onyomi says:

        I think the main thing to remember, which is so hard to remember, is that the people who did all the horrible things we can’t comprehend in the past were no different from people today.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Actually I was under the impression that this was the fundamental split between “left” and “right” wing philosophies.

          The left seems to see “humans nature” as something that is malleable. while the right claims that it’s intractable.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Sounds about right, yeah. It’s also why SJ seems like more of a new hardline rightism with its own prefered groups than something that’s still actually leftist to me.

      • Murphy says:

        I think there’s too much of a tendency to paint any groups who did horrible things in history as evil and never explaining their motives from their own point of view.

        I think it’s partly due to the fear that if people hear the reasonable-sounding arguments for positions then they might support them rather than developing better memetic resistance to similar future movements.

      • I’ve been wondering whether some of the people who read The Three Body problem thought the part about the Cultural Revolution was an invented dystopia.

  39. Joscha says:

    …name preference effect – ie that people are more positively disposed towards things that sound like their name – so I might like science more because Scott and science start with the same two letters. (…) Now Uri Simonsohn says – too bad, it’s all spurious.

    But you noticed that “Uri” means “my fire”? Some people just like to see things burn.

  40. The Nybbler says:

    Any study about gun control can be reasonably assumed to be politically motivated junk until proven otherwise. Any study proven otherwise should be re-examined before trusting, at least twice. My favorite remains the study proving gun control worked in Washington, D.C in the late 1980s (when the murder rate soared), though any study using “Cook’s gun prevalence index” to correlate gun prevalence with gun misuse gets a dishonorable mention. Since, as mentioned here before, that index is actually a measure of gun misuse.

  41. David Barry says:

    Old studies: Australia’s experience in the 1990s proves gun control worked. New study: Australia’s experience in the 1990s proves gun control didn’t work. I am so past the point of trying to figure this out now.

    McPhedran has been writing papers that argue against Australia’s gun laws since at least 2006, so this is par for the course.

  42. On the matter of the pause, I had a blog post making essentially the argument sketched here some time back, along with a link to a published article making the same argument with more evidence:

    http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2015/09/an-explanation-for-pattern-of-warming.html

  43. wilson says:

    >But part of me worries that the entire chain – Park engaging in activism, Park speaking out against activism, Nair writing about Park, and now me linking Nair – is part of the problem, in that it promotes paying attention to Twitter activism at all.

    And then there’s the danger you haven’t even considered – retwittivism.

  44. It depends on the individuals and the organization, but I think part of the problem is that meritocracy is that most people have a hard time separating merit out from all sorts of other things in their judgment for promotion. Technical competence is often overwhelmed by other factors like workplace politics. People are able to improve their promotion prospects by taking credit for others work, playing people off against each-other, avoiding making waves or questioning things, avoid outshining superiors, avoiding difficult projects, feigning victim-hood at the right time, appearing confident and relaxed at other times, tribal affiliation, and often just plain being charismatic and likable (which seems to do wonders for covering up dreadful incompetence). Most of these things have a weak inverse correlation with competence in my experience, and so I could definitely see random outperforming other methods in some organizations. Competence can be effective to a certain degree too, especially in combination with a bit of charisma. But if it tries it go it alone, all these factors will motivate people to twist and distort the facts in the promotion process to fit with what their emotions tell them about who makes them feel the most warm and fuzzy on the inside.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Do you really believe that people who are incompetent are being picked at a higher rate? Sure, businesses aren’t perfect but it strains belief that all businesses are so terrible at their job that they can’t even tell which employees are better than others. It’s not that hard and people doing the hiring have some incentive to pick good candidates.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        Managers who don’t want to be outshone have an incentive to promote the incompetent over the compotent. Also, if competence is negatvely correlated with charisma, and charisma outweighs competence in promotion decisions, then the less competent will get promoted.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The higher you get in an organization, the more important charisma is. To the point where someone with high charisma and low competence can rise to executive (or equivalent) levels, whereas someone with low charisma and high competence will go absolutely nowhere.

          • CatCube says:

            When you’re in high leadership positions, charisma is just as much a part of competence as technical skills. I’ve only been in “middle management” level positions (company command in the Army), and the personnel management and development skills are an order of magnitude harder than basic technical skills like engineering.

            I got a lot happier when I got to a job where I’m handed a pencil, a pad of paper, and a technical problem.

        • onyomi says:

          But if you promote incompetent people that also makes you look bad. People will remember whose idea it was to promote the guy who turned out badly, as they will give you at least some credit for scouting out new stars (though whether that credit compensates for being outshone by your new hire may depend on personality priorities).

          • ‘Incompetent’, here, is being overloaded. It’s referring to ‘technical incompetence, combined with competence at playing organizational politics to enrich one’s reputation at the expense of the organizational whole’.

            Promoting Alice, who uses her authority to refactor, re-engineer, and do a bunch of crucial, invisible back-end work totally looks less good than promoting Bob, who makes a big splash by re-tasking the mobile team to abandon the old, slow standards. Bob’s work can be spun much more easily as important and visible to the promoter’s boss, making the promoter look good, and so on.

          • Murphy says:

            I can only speak from my own experiences in large companies… but there’s incompetence and there’s incompetence.

            I had a manager who was a lovely guy, to be fair to him he didn’t actively get in the way of his teams work very often but if the team needed anything that involved him doing actual work… be prepared to wait a few weeks or months.

            I’m guessing that more than 90% of his time was dedicated to self-promotion. Making himself look good to his superiors through mostly superficial means. Attending vanity-meetings for superiors, showing his face at meetings related to likely-successful projects and generally boosting the perception that he was successful.

            He was extremely competent at self-promotion but contributed almost nothing. Again, lovely guy, hell, part of his skill involved being likable.

            Middle management seemed to have a very high proportion of such people. They work hard, they’re very good at what they do assuming that what they do is self promotion, they’re not lazy but almost everything they do is dedicated to self-promotion and increasing their perceived value pretty much orthogonal to any goals of the company.

            On the other hand grab someone random and put them into the same position and there’s a good chance that they’d dedicate a lot of their time to trying to help their team and probably be out-competed by people who are taking all the energy they could put into helping their own teams and instead directing it towards self-promotion.

            It’s like how the first generation of politicians in a new regime are often (semi-random) idealists and can often have great successes but they’re eventually pushed out by psychopathic career politicians who’ve optimized themselves for political climbing orthogonal to actual ability to lead or competence as administrators.

          • Agronomous says:

            @Murphy:

            Your actual manager was successful. The hypothetical manager you describe would be effective.

            Successful vs. Effective Real Managers from 1988 still applies.

            By the way, do successful managers count as rent-seekers?

        • Wrong Species says:

          Do you realize how strong of a claim you are making? The implication is that I could start a a business and hire minimally competent people and wipe the floor with my competition just through that. Any manager who consistently hires incompetent employees is going to get in trouble with his superiors and the business owner is going to lose money. You can’t base something so contrary to common sense based off one or two studies.

          • anonymous says:

            The implication is that I could start a a business and hire minimally competent people and wipe the floor with my competition just through that.

            Which is exactly what happens.

            The problem is that it’s illegal to accurately assess competence because such an assessment is racist and sexist because for some reason every assessment lies and shows that women and NAMs are less competent. Therefore all promotion in organizations large enough to be noticed has to be done by personal judgement – personal judgement, of course, isn’t racist or sexist because it’s illegal to have racists or sexists in positions of personal judgement.

          • NN says:

            The problem is that it’s illegal to accurately assess competence because such an assessment is racist and sexist because for some reason every assessment lies and shows that women and NAMs are less competent.

            Um, women have been outperforming men academically at every level of education in the West for decades. Even in math, studies have found that women and men are basically tied at standardized tests of mathematical ability. Men do have a statistical advantage in spatial ability, but women have a statistical advantage in verbal ability, and these tend to cancel each other out in most IQ tests.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Aren’t those studies showing average ability? And since men have a higher variance (and the worse men aren’t in the pool of hires) the pool of male candidates is better?

          • NN says:

            Another study that I read a while back but I unfortunately am currently unable to find claimed to have done the math and found that greater male variance could only explain a very small portion of the gender gap in the “hard sciences.” The paper also found that the discrimination theory wasn’t consistent with the evidence, and concluded that the primary reason for the gender gap was most likely differences in interests, not differences in ability or opportunity.

          • On the question of male vs female IQ, I believe their equality is an artifact of the test design. Women do better on some sorts of questions, men on others, there is no obvious basis for deciding just how many questions of each sort are on the test. I thought I had read that the usual tests were designed, by suitable choice of questions, to give about the same average IQ for men as for women.

            Am I mistaken?

          • The Nybbler says:

            I don’t know if the tests in that study were designed to attain gender balance. Note that they left out two of the most widely-taken standardized tests in the US — the SAT and the ACT. The SAT-M and the ACT mathematics show a consistently higher score for men.

            https://research.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/publications/2012/7/researchreport-2006-5-historical-view-subgroup-performance-sat.pdf

            Apparently the NAEP is given to all 12th graders whereas the SAT and ACT are taken by college-bound students (usually 11th graders) only, which likely makes a difference. In particular, if there were higher male variance in the population, that would show up as higher male average on a selective test. And further, “college bound” for men is currently a more selective criterion than “college bound” for women, though that is a relatively recent phenomenon.

            Even the NAEP has shown a small but consistently higher mean score for men at age 17.

          • anonymous says:

            Um, women have been outperforming men academically at every level of education in the West for decades.

            Exactly. The goal of the educational system isn’t so different from the promotion / hiring process in corporate America. In corporate America the legally mandated phrase is “equal opportunity employer” – in eduction the goal is “closing the gap”. We all know that “equal opportunity” means meeting minimum numbers (and never using biased objective measures – only unbiased and fair subjective measures) – not maximum numbers.

            In education, “closing the gap” is mostly racial (and subject to endless hand wringing) but women’s lower and more evenly distributed is also a concern. That one, at least, they’ve been able to solve by making school intolerable for boys and suiting it as much as possible for girls. As the original anonymous pointed out – objective measures tend to be biased so move to subjective measures as much as possible. Testing shows boys doing better but better grades are given to girls. Of course.

            I’m not going to make a Scott Alexander length post about that study you linked but almost every paragraph contains an intentional deception – a statement that’s technically true but doesn’t actually get at the core of the argument while looking like it proves the point of the paper.

          • NN says:

            So the academic underperformance of “non-Asian minorities” is proof of their innate intellectual inferiority, but the academic underperformance of men is proof of the existence of a massive conspiracy to oppress men? That sounds totally consistent and not at all like a product of motivated reasoning.

            Incidentally, the conspiracy to oppress men is so good at keeping itself hidden that investigations of gender bias in University Admissions instead tend to find that many American colleges are actually secretly engaging in affirmative action in favor of men.

          • anonymous says:

            So the academic underperformance of “non-Asian minorities” is proof of their innate intellectual inferiority, but the academic underperformance of men is proof of the existence of a massive conspiracy to oppress men?

            Is that really so hard to understand?

            Every single measure of intellectual performance shows the exact same racial gap – as La Griff du Lion called it – the fundamental constant of sociology. Academic underperformance, life outcome underperformance, brain volume underperformance, gestation period underperformance, etc. Men and women show no such differences in favor of women.

            With regards to sex differences, they’re much smaller than racial gaps – about 4 IQ points in favor of men (although that’s on IQ tests where the component factors were weighted in such a way as to most closely align the scores of men and women) and they’re accompanied with huge differences in temperament, attitude and inclination. Primary and secondary educators are almost universally female and progressive – women so they design and teach the way they’re comfortable and progressives so that they see “equality” the way they see “diversity” – if the favored group comes out on top, that’s equality – just like “diversity” simply means the presence of NAMs (NBA? Diverse. PGA? Not diverse.).

            Meanwhile, the objective measures keep showing the unapproved truth – men are both smarter than women and are highly overrepresented at both tails of the distribution. The objective measurements say one thing – the highly motivated to show the opposite of reality subjective measurements show the opposite. Shocker.

          • Artificirius says:

            The feminist movement, which strives for EQUALITY between men and women, would definitely disagree. Men and women should be admitted into college and given their degrees based on the work they put forth to get them. Giving any sort of affirmative action advantage to either gender is completely against what the whole movement is about.

            Erm. Hang on.

          • Agronomous says:

            @NN:

            and these tend to cancel each other out in most IQ tests.

            My understanding is that IQ tests are rigged designed to score men and women evenly overall. That means women could be significantly smarter than men (on average) and the tests would never show it.

            Off-Topic: Hey, you can select text and then click one of the formatting buttons! I’ve been putting in the quote tag and pasting into the middle of it like a chump! We really need a “how to read and write SSC comments” FAQ.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          (Poor) managers arent incentivised to hire or promote maximally incompetent people, but rather those who are only fractionally worse than themselves. Also, better managers have more opportunies elsewhere, so are not so incentivised to protect themselves. So what you get is slow decay in some cases.

      • Tseeteli says:

        Do you really believe that people who are incompetent are being picked at a higher rate?

        The Competence:Sociability tradeoff isn’t that implausible. It’s a natural consequence of comparing people who’ve stabilized at similar levels given similar experience.

        To see it, imagine Bob, a median engineer who’s hit rank X after Y years. Bob’s peers are going to be people who are (+competence / -charisma) or (-competence / +charisma).

        After all, if the person were (-competence / -charisma) they wouldn’t have become Bob’s peer. And if they were (+competence / +charisma) they’d have been promoted ages ago.

        So, long term, the pool of people available for promotion at any given level should follow a curve where management has traded off competence for charisma.

        Citizensearth’s position could be true under conditions as mild as, “Managment tends to over-value Charisma for technical roles.”

        There are a bunch of reasons why this could be the case. Soft skills could be easier for managers to evaluate. Or, as @The Nybbler suggests, managers could be biased by coming from roles that do need more charisma.

      • I’m offering it as a partial not full explanation (otherwise we need to explain why the empirical data there is wrong). I take your point that it’s not a full explanation, and certainly there is plenty of organizations where this isn’t the case and things work effectively. Especially in small technically focused organizations there little room for this (contributing to the tendency for small business often manages to outperform much larger organizations in many situation). But in large organizations the individual hiring incentives don’t line up as closely with choosing competence in achieving organizational/official goals (except in exceptional internal cultures), and so skills like navigating the political/social environment are comparatively more important for the individual or small team. And I think its easy to overestimate our ability to accurately identify the most competent people – humans are so terribly prone to all sorts of bias.

    • onyomi says:

      Might not the efficacy of various hiring and promotion strategies (including random) vary depending on the specific labor market? For example, in my field right now, and, I think, many others, there is a glut of overqualified candidates competing for too few positions. In such a situation, we would expect random selection, if not to actually outperform merit selection, then at least to work out better than it would at a time or in a field with a lower labor supply.

      • Seems reasonable, except I’d imagine random selection would be at a disadvantage where the competing field was highly varied in suitability, as opposed to it simply the average being high or low.

  45. Tröll Tröllson says:

    The prison phone system is a national disgrace. Predatory companies make deals with the government to get a monopoly on calls to and from specific prisons, then charge inmates trying to call their families rates that are orders of magnitude higher than normal. I have some patients with incarcerated family and they confirm that this is a big problem for them. The FCC has been trying to cap rates, but was recently thwarted by the courts. This seems to me like one of the clearest and most black-and-white political issues around.

    Why should prisoners have an inalienable right to cheap phone rates? It’s not like prisoners are forced to use the phones – if the companies are making money, then they are obviously providing more value to the prisoners than the fees they charge. States choose to use private companies to provide these services because the private sector can do it more efficiently than some bloated government bureaucracy dragged down by public-sector union bosses.

    After all, why shouldn’t the state seek to transfer the costs of imprisonment onto the prisoners? Prison is a punishment, so making it costly is, if anything, a net good for our society as a deterrent against crime. This blog has a group of readers who are, for the most part, very invested in civilization and open to debate. It’s easy to forget that there are people in this world who will only change their behavior under threat of force.

    • I think there’s externalities in keeping prisoners (who probably aren’t rich) connected to their families and non-criminal social networks and not just exclusively socializing with a bunch of hardened “colleagues” who they are inside with.

    • stargirlprincesss says:

      If I kidnap you and then offer to let you go if your family sends me 500K this is fine because:

      “It’s not like anyone is forced to pay the ransom– if the kidnappers are making money, then they are obviously providing more value to the family than the fees they charge.”

    • Protagoras says:

      I’m sensing that some people didn’t read the name under which this comment was posted.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Likewise, Carlos Slim, the largest individual shareholder of the New York Times, has been perhaps more effective at punishing illegal aliens than anyone else, by using his telecom monopoly to extract high charges for talking with their loved ones back in Mexico.

      • Tale of Two Cities says:

        Prison phone system contracts and international calling monopolies are essentially updated forms of tax farming.

        That baleful program was manifestly unpopular in Ancien Régime France and other Old World places over the past few centuries, so why should it be any different when dressed up in more modern clothes?

  46. What’s up with the title? I’m guessing its a tweak of some well known phrase and Scott hasn’t just taken to swearing at random times?

  47. Steve Sailer says:

    “Did you know: when the British Empire abolished slavery, it paid 40% of the government’s total annual expenditure as compensation to slaveowners.”

    A lot cheaper than the American Civil War …

    Ralph Waldo Emerson had put forward a plan to buy out U.S. slaveholders for something like $2 billion, but it never got any traction. During the Civil War, Lincoln floated the idea of buying out slaveholders in loyal Union states, but it never went anywhere.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      @Steve Sailer – “but it never went anywhere.”

      Why?

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Don’t know. But Southern arrogant bloodymindedness is a candidate for why slaveowners weren’t interested in a deal:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S72nI4Ex_E0

        • Steve Sailer says:

          The cotton price boom of the later 1850s explains something about Southern intransigence. A generation before, when tobacco farms were wearing out from exhausted soil, Southerners had tended to be apologetic about slavery and some argued that it would fade out in the future so no need to abolish it now. But as new cotton fields opened up in the deep south, the world price for cotton stayed very high, leading newly rich Southerners to take up a boastful King Cotton ideology about how slavery wasn’t a necessary evil, it was a positive good. Cotton prices peaked in 1859, but during the Civil War it turned out to be fairly easy to expand production in places like Egypt, India, and Brazil. The south never really recovered.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Yes, and the South was too big to buy out. But the question was: why didn’t Lincoln buy out Kentucky during the war?

          • Steve Sailer says:

            I don’t know. Lincoln talked about buyouts of Unionist slaveholders, but nothing much came of it.

            There were other missed opportunities. For example, a glance at a map shows that Virginia seceding after Fort Sumter was a colossal disaster that may not have had to happen — other slave states at the same latitude such as Kentucky and Missouri did not secede. Then there’s another tier of upper south states that did secede late, such as North Carolina.

            It would seem as if there was an opportunity to stop secession at no more than the crazies in South Carolina and the six states inland from South Carolina, but that Lincoln didn’t seem to pay much attention to how to isolate South Carolina and keep it from infecting Virginia. Lincoln’s early lackadaisicalness drove Seward crazy.

            But all that’s forgotten.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Between Virginia’s rabid secessionist governor who was calling out the militia against the US Army before the secession convention even met, its rabid pro-slavery legislature, and its planter aristocracy, I don’t see how Lincoln could have kept it in the Union. How could he possibly have isolated South Carolina, much less the early Confederacy? The South – or, at least, the Southern aristocracy – had a strong regional identity; politicians from across the South had been meeting together since the previous summer. Are you recommending Lincoln send in the army to cut railroad and telegraph lines? It was his calling for volunteers (which the far-understrength army sorely needed) that caused the Upper South to secede.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Interesting, and thank you all much for the history!

  48. Ghatanathoah says:

    Flooding parts of the Sahara has been discussed for some time. I know of at least two science fiction novels that deal with the idea, “The Invasion of the Sea” by Jules Verne, and “The Secret People” by John Wyndham. It was such an out-there idea that I didn’t even know where it came from until I came across discussions of the Qattara Depression.

  49. JayMan says:

    Thirty-five overweight men were asked to do the same amount of extra exercise. They differed wildly in how much weight they lost. Authors theorize a distinction between “compensators” and “noncompensators” with different metabolic reactions to exercise

    Uh huh. See also my page:

    Obesity Facts

    For links to studies and trials with much larger samples.

  50. Sniffnoy says:

    Firebrand Twitter activist Suey Park has reinvented herself as a speaker warning about the dangers of firebrand Twitter activism, now says that social justice is a “cult” and that “the violence I have experienced in SJW circles has been greater than that of ‘racist trolls’”. Nair questions the convenience of a pipeline between fame as a Twitter activist and fame as a person speaking out against Twitter activism.

    When Park says this, do we have any way of knowing that she means actual, y’know, violence? I am skeptical here.

    • Jiro says:

      She’s comparing it to the violence done by “racist trolls”. So if she means something other than physical violence, she’s also comparing it to something other than physical violence by the “racist trolls”, so the comparison is not misleading in the way that just saying “people are violent to me” would have been misleading.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I think it is misleading; it suggests that both are violent when, I’m guessing, really neither is likely to be.

        More generally, I guess my point is, this sort of thing, whether you consider it to actually be misleading or merely somewhat unclear (and devaluing the word “violence”), seems like a reason to generally not consider Suey Park to be very credible, regardless of whether she’s for SJ or against it.

  51. onyomi says:

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

    Including:

    Thousand-spoked wheel sign on feet
    Toes and fingers finely webbed
    Hands reaching below the knees
    Well-retracted male organ
    Body hair graceful and curly
    Area below armpits well-filled
    Forty teeth
    Jaw like a lion
    Saliva that improves the taste of all food
    Eyelashes like a royal bull
    Fleshy protuberance on the crown of the head
    and
    His navel is without blemish.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      I looked it up and apparently this means circumcised – correct me if I am wrong. One site suggested that it was circumcised, and another elaborated that it was like a horse- whose genitals look circumcised.

      Okay, I looked it up some more, and this means he can literally suck his penis up into his body so that people will not be compelled to lust upon seeing it.

      • onyomi says:

        The “well-retracted male organ” or the navel?

        I thought it was like a horse in that a horse’s genitals appear to be fully encased within a sheath, which is how I’ve seen it translated elsewhere. Far from meaning circumcised, I think it means the opposite: having a penis the head of which fully retracts within its foreskin.

        Some of these things have to do with Yoga practices. The long tongue–sometimes described as so long it could touch the eyebrows, for example, probably relates to the ability to perform khechari mudra, and some yogis (and daoists) also cultivate the ability to retract the testicles within the body, so that might be yet another explanation of the retracting genitals.

        Many of these others are just plain weird, of course, to the point anyone possessing all these qualities would look like an alien, but my best guess is that it is just a long compilation of every physical characteristic considered desirable and/or associated with ascetics, in many cases exaggerated to a point that would be comical if real.

        Some apotheosized Chinese heroes get similarly bizarre physical descriptions: the Three Kingdoms heroes like Liu Bei for example: he also has arms past his knees, earlobes he himself can see, big red lips…

      • John Schilling says:

        You all are making me really, really want to fall back on a literal reading of Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him”

  52. Mark Dominus says:

    Related to bogus name-preference effects: Nicholas Christenfeld’s dumbass “Theory of Deadly Initials”, purporting that people with “bad” initials (like B.A.D., A.P.E., etc.) have worse outcomes, and in particular shorter life expectancy than people with “good” initials (like G.O.D., A.C.E., etc.).

    One particular problem with the paper: people with good initials supposedly outlive people with bad initials by seven years on average. You’d think someone else would have noticed this by now.

    Christenfeld is a serial producer of bad research. He was also responsible for the claimed result a few years back that infants look more like their fathers than like their mothers for some incompletely-thought-through pseudo-evolutionary reason. I discussed this on my blog a while back.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This is beautiful. Thank you.

      (I would add that having bad initials signifies bad parenting, since my parents’ original choice for my name had bad initials but they realized that beforehand and changed it. If better-educated / more caring parents are more likely to do this, that would explain the effect. But it looks like the effect doesn’t exist anyway, so whatever.)

    • Fahundo says:

      Don’t most people just…not have initials that form an acronym? Mine are CJB. Would that be good ir bad according to Christenfeld?

    • Agronomous says:

      @Dominus:

      Did you read A Clockwork Orange in the Summer of 1984 at F&M?

  53. Galton says:

    Sometimes I think economists are too dismissive of other work in social science, and then I see articles like that Westfall and Yarkoni piece on confounds. Confounds are a real problem, but the solution is not fancy correlations with arrows (“structural equation modelling”) as they present it. That just masks the problem with a different bunch of hard to follow and subjective assumptions regarding the structural relationship and rotations around the variables. It’s sort of how economists thought about identification back in the 70s.

    For most of these problems we should be looking for exogenous instruments or shocks.

  54. onyomi says:

    Is anyone surprised the prison phone system is a disgrace? Not because you necessarily knew about the particular issue, but because, given the incentives involved, I’d be surprised if it weren’t a disgrace.

    • Jordan D. says:

      I only knew about it because of relatives in the same area of the industry- otherwise, it seems to fall victim to the unconscious and powerful ‘Nobody Cares About Prisoners’ effect.*

      There are a lot of reasons that get cited for restricting and limiting inmate communication, but I’ve always suspected that things would be better on the whole if we opened it up instead. There are security risks inherent in that, but I wonder if they would outweigh the benefits of reducing how insular prison society is.

      *Actually some people care about inmates quite a lot, but statistically.

  55. Naomi says:

    A few notes:

    Although charter school success may not be explained by selective admission, it could be explained by selective kicking-out-right-before-the-tests-are-taken. I haven’t seen any studies on this, but it seems worth mentioning (source: my mother worked as an art teacher in a non-charter public school in a district with charter schools. She noticed a large influx of new kids in the late fall and early spring, asked where they had come from, and found out they were all from a local charter school and were expected to perform poorly on the tests, so the charter schools bumped them back into the normal school system.).

    The obesity/exercise study was performed on both men and women, not just men.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I summed up the study as “selective admission”, but the abstract says:

      “Skeptics of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) charter school network argue that these schools rely on selective admission, attrition, and replacement of students to produce positive achievement results. We investigate this using data covering 19 KIPP middle schools. On average, KIPP schools admit students disadvantaged in ways similar to other local students, and attrition patterns are typically no different at KIPP than at nearby schools.”

      I think (though I am not sure) that “attrition patterns” covers what you’re talking about.

      I’ve corrected the exercise patterns link; thanks for the tip.

      • 57dimensions says:

        But KIPP is also the most well regarded charter school network that exists. Using KIPP as a stand in for all charter schools is like using the Ivy League for a stand in for all colleges. They may be the same type of school, but they are not comparable on all levels. So that makes me question that study in particular. Also, I’m pretty sure most charter schools have an opt in lottery, so the people who go there tend to be more likely to care at least somewhat about education.

        My take on charter schools vs public schools is that most of the problems with underperforming schools have little to do with administration or curriculum or teachers, but with a few unruly students who set the tone for a class and force the teacher to spend more time on classroom management rather than teaching in itself. Out of all the I-taught-in-an-urban-school articles I’ve read a common theme is always classroom management and that a few slightly more difficult students make it impossible to get anything done. Charter schools are much more liberal with their short suspensions and are usually more serious with discipline and do tend to expel more kids, not because of test scores specifically, but because of behavior problems.

    • Deiseach says:

      Although charter school success may not be explained by selective admission, it could be explained by selective kicking-out-right-before-the-tests-are-taken.

      But ordinary schools do this, or a version of this, as well. Over on this side of the Atlantic, in Britain low-achieving students may not be permitted to sit the advanced GCSE (the old A levels) or may be only permitted to take subjects at a lower level. In Ireland, they can be directed into the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (introduced in 1994) or Leaving Certificate Applied (1995) for the less academically gifted, instead of sitting the traditional Leaving Certificate.

      All schools that receive funding/are seen as desirable by parents based on league tables for exam results will find ways of making sure they get the best results from their students, and if that means the less able students are discouraged from sitting the tests, in order not to drag down the overall results, that is what will happen.

      • BBA says:

        In America it used to be extremely uncommon for public (as in government-supported) schools to compete with each other for students. The most common system was purely geographical – your children attend the school that your school district assigns to your home. If you want a different school, move.

        Now some districts have charter schools, vouchers, and/or school choice, all of which were controversial even though they’re equivalent to common practices outside the US. But the old zoned schools are still the educators of last resort. They can’t kick out students like other schools can, so the poorest performing students will end up there. (Those students are also unlikely to seek out those alternative choices to begin with.)

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Which leads to a fully general counter argument to partially privatized systems: the public element ends up as a last reaort ,and gradualy degenerate, even as the private alternatives improve, so that there is no aggregate improvement, only an enhanced abilit of the privileged to access better services.

  56. Canjobear says:

    The article on Chinese texts is interesting, better than the title/way it’s hyped led me to expect. The title and the media hype are all about this being the first pre-Qin political text discovered, which is false: the Bamboo Annals (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo_Annals) were a similar discovery and caused quite a stir in 300 AD. They were historical chronicles but many parts clearly had a political agenda. Then they were lost themselves.

    The media hype focusing on how the texts advocate meritocracy of rulers is also somewhat strange to me because I thought it was pretty clear that the Confucians would have preferred meritocracy of rulers, but accepted family succession as a sign of the fallen times. Isn’t this is what the Yao Yue passage in the Analects is about?

    All that said the article itself had cool insights and was fun to read. An ancient text where Confucius discusses “divine insemination” is definitely a change from the typical picture. And the sociology of how these discoveries are being treated in China is also fun. I’m looking forward to reading the texts!

    • onyomi says:

      We also shouldn’t forget about oracle bones and bronze inscriptions… so it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say the Guodian texts are the “only” political texts dating before the Qin, which is not to downplay their importance, or the neatness of the fact that they’ve now all been translated into English.

      • Wrong Species says:

        How informative are oracle bones though?

        • onyomi says:

          Well, not very, but you can intuit historical/political information based on the questions they ask: “should we sacrifice the 3,000 POWs from the kingdom of X we captured in yesterday’s battle?” tells you that there was a battle at that time and Kingdom X lost. And that sometimes POWs were sacrificed en masse after battles.

          Bronze inscriptions sometimes get a little more detailed, though.

        • Deiseach says:

          How informative are oracle bones though?

          Oracle bones are written on (you inscribe your question before making the divination). If Lord X or Emperor Y wants to know the outcome of the battle for/against the rebels, this is the kind of thing that survives and bears witness to “yes, there really was a battle as described in the folklore or legends”.

          According to Wikipedia:

          The oracle bones bear the earliest known significant corpus of ancient Chinese writing and contain important historical information such as the complete royal genealogy of the Shang dynasty. When they were discovered and deciphered in the early twentieth century, these records confirmed the existence of the Shang, which some scholars had until then doubted.

    • Jaskologist says:

      @onyomi

      I finally got around to the article, and this paragraph seems like a howler to me:

      But the texts show that some philosophers believed that rulers should also be chosen on merit, not birth—radically different from the hereditary dynasties that came to dominate Chinese history. The texts also show a world in which magic and divination, even in the supposedly secular world of Confucius, played a much larger part than has been realized. And instead of an age in which sages neatly espoused discrete schools of philosophy, we now see a more fluid, dynamic world of vigorously competing views—the sort of robust exchange of ideas rarely prominent in subsequent eras.

      I’m no sinologist, but every sentence in that sounds absurd to me. For example, last I checked, the I Ching was part of the Confucian “canon,” so obviously magic and divination played a big part. And I would expect a priori for philosophical schools to be fluid and mutually influential, especially in the early days.

      Am I way off? Is the rest of this article worth reading?

      • onyomi says:

        I actually don’t see anything seriously wrong with that paragraph. I think the point is precisely that most of our understanding of the Warring States and earlier periods, as well as what constitutes “Confucianism,” as opposed to “Daoism,” or “Legalism,” etc. is heavily refracted through the eyes of Han Dynasty politicians and scholars like Emperor Wu and Guo Xiang. The idea that Confucius wrote the “Ten Wings” (commentaries) of the “Changes,” for example, is almost certainly anachronistic.

        Also, I don’t think Confucianism’s reputation for secularism is undeserved. Confucius supposedly refused to discuss ghosts and spirits, and Xunzi, the third most important Confucian after Confucius and Mencius is one of the earliest thinkers whom I’d describe as an outright atheist. But I think it’s also correct to say that the Spring and Autumn and Warring States period were a world of many schools of thought competing alongside and heavily borrowing from one another. To divide them very clearly into a few major “schools” is itself probably anachronistic, an interpretation the Guodian texts seem to support.

        Yes, to some extent that should be obvious even without these texts, but you also have to keep in mind the millenia of traditional interpretations of Chinese schools of thought which, again, come refracted heavily through the Han Dynasty, and exaggerate the extent to which these were clearly defined “schools” for the sake of the compulsive traditional Chinese categorizing impulse.

        I haven’t carefully read the linked article myself since this isn’t news to Sinologists, but I wouldn’t say the quoted portion discredits it.

  57. vV_Vv says:

    Vox: You Can Finally Stop Feeling Guilty For Eating Quinoa. Apparently some people felt guilty because they thought that quinoa-eating Westerners were taking all the quinoa and then Peruvians were starving. But a new study suggests that the increased Western demand for quinoa has increased welfare throughout Peruvian quinoa-farming regions both for farmers and for non-farmers, presumably because the farmers’ increased wealth is trickling down to non-farmers.

    Switching from subsistence farming to commercial farming improves standards of living. Who could have possibly guessed?

    But the real issue is: Is Westerns eating quinoa cultural appropriation?

    /s

  58. akarlin says:

    Vox: The Most Important Foreign News Story This Week Was About Russian Tax Policy.

    Russia’s government relies overwhelmingly on oil and gas taxes, which fund about half of its national budget. Half! So with those oil taxes falling from $74 to $17 per barrel, that’s been catastrophic for the Russian economy, to the point that some analysts fear political instability.

    More sensationalist nonsense from Vox.

    A onetime GDP decline of 3.7% is not “catastrophic” by any stretch of the imagination. And while the budget after years of treading water has gone into the red (but with virtually no debt), the deficit still remains lower than that of most of the developed world years after the Great Recession.

    Wishful thinking passed off as insightful analysis as per usual.

  59. Mars says:

    I have a question for you and your commenters. Im asking because it seems that many of you are interested in nootropics and while it isn’t technically a nootropic I have heard of people using it in order to control anxiety. The substance in question is Kratom. I have recently started lifting weights again at the age of 38 and the idea of something that would allow me to work out as hard as i did when I was in my 20’s but wont screw up my hormones (as roids seem to do) would be very appreciated. However the various claims about Kratom seem contradictory. There is some precedence for this in the wildly different effects of sativa and indica strains of marijuana but some of the claims seems to be more in line with snake oil than anything else. So has anyone here ever had any experinces with Kratom and if so how does reality stack up aagainst the claims made?

    • Deiseach says:

      Anything that claims it will let you do the same amount of hard physical work as in your 20s but without the side-effects is snake-oil. The aging body is slowly breaking down; you will not have the same recovery capacity. 38 isn’t ancient and you can work hard, but you will not bounce back as you did when you were 19.

      Looking up kratom on Wikipedia, it seems its main effect is as a pain-killer (it’s in the same family as coffee and it is used in its native habitats as a substitute for opium). So I’m taking a wild guess here and supposing that the effects of kratom are to blanket the pain signals from over-work; you’re hurting, you may have damaged your body, but you don’t feel the pain so you continue to work hard or over-work.

      There is no magic pill to turn back aging.

      • Mars says:

        I understand your point, but I wasn’t so much assuming it had no side effects as assuming the side effects would be far less than the other method of pushing harder and recovering faster which is of course anabolic steroids. While I am considering medically supervised TRT, I have no interest in using steroids as a performance enhancer. While I can’t do much about recover times even something that could mask some of the discomfort while working out would allow me to push harder.

    • Psycicle says:

      Yeah, I’ll mirror what Deiseach said. The main relevant effect is pain-killing. Now, of the opioids, kratom is pretty much at the very bottom of the ladder. Still moderately addictive, still has opioid withdrawals, but you get pretty nauseous above a certain dose, so it’s effectively self-limiting (unless you are messing around with the extracts, which you really shouldn’t be doing), and you’re definitely a good deal less likely to get hooked on it than you are on things like hydrocodone or oxycodone. And even if you do get hooked on it, it’s more like the “I NEED my daily coffee” sort of addiction than a “I sold my pet dog to pay for it” sort of addiction.

      I really think the medical establishment should be encouraging its use more. And for recreational use, its main effect is more anxiolytic (no duh, it’s a freaking opioid.)

      But anyways, to return to your main point, there are different strains of kratom, that have more stimulating or sedating aspects, rather like sativa vs indica. And because of an unregulated market, some of the kratom is bunk. And people do vary a bit in how it affects them.

      The basic alkaloid in kratom is 7-hydroxymitragynine (the opioid one), but there are several other types of opioid alkaloids, and ajmalicine is a sedative, and there are other miscellaneous psychoactives in there, but I’d really like to see the actual numbers, as I suspect many of them are in low enough concentrations to not matter. Think of it kind of like THC vs CBD in marijuana, but less studied.

      The strains are generally distinguished by leaf vein color (red, white, or green), potency, and where it was harvested from.

      • Mars says:

        See thats what Im trying to understand are the different vein colors really comparative to indica/sativa differences or is it all just hype. I guess at the end of the day Ill just have to try it out and see what happens.

    • Fool says:

      Kratom is surprisingly awesome for productivity if you struggle with procrastination or something like that. (If you have no procrastination troubles and you want raw energy, I would suggest taking rhodiola when you get tired and making sure you have sleep/diet/exercise down pat.) It makes you nauseous after a while, so have some ginger handy for that. (Or maybe just take small doses over the course of the day?) I’ve heard that cycling different strains can do a lot to prevent tolerance. Re: strain differences, based on my limited experience I’m inclined to believe they are significant.

      …oh wait, you mean lift weights? No idea but I’m not optimistic. I’d be slightly worried about doing lifts under the influence of kratom as it can be very significantly psychoactive, somewhat like lifting weights after a few beers. Try BCAAs?

  60. Ted Levy, MD says:

    “Ideal Conceal is a handgun which can be folded up to look exactly like an ordinary cell phone. Nothing can possibly go wrong.”

    As I suspect you know, and as Radley Balko has demonstrated numerous times, what could go wrong is that police already routinely shoot people for holding cell phone they “mistake” for a gun. Now they’ll really have an excuse!

  61. Eggoeggo says:

    Re. the vidya-soggyknee article: “Boys should be encouraged to find a means of demonstrating physical prowess” is CREEPY now?
    Jesus, I’m done. Apparently even baby lambs playing king of the hill are agents of the patriarchy now.

  62. Da5id says:

    The trading cards aren’t a new idea, politically. I own an almost-complete set of Iran Contra Scandal Trading Cards from 1988.

    http://www.authentichistory.com/1974-1992/3-reagan/5-irancontra/cards/Iran-Contra_Cards.html

  63. LHN says:

    Re the interstellar probes, have any of the articles reporting on it included a plausible means for something of the size and mass contemplated to transmit any information back here?

    • John Schilling says:

      No, and they don’t have a way for the probe to survive the trip against the dual threats of dust-particle impact and galactic cosmic radiation, and they don’t really have a way to launch it in the first place – by my math (caveat: I’m sick this weekend and not solving second-order differential equations for fun, so this is a quick approximation) they need a laser with a power aperture of 5E14 watt-meters; a two trillion watt laser with a mirror the size of a large football stadium would about do it, or the equivalent. They talk about a hundred billion watts of laser power, so presumably they are imagining something five kilometers wide.

      No, you can’t do it by combining lots of smaller lasers; the beam spread is defined by the optical aperture of a single element unless you can combine the elements coherently – and we don’t have the technology to do that with anything smaller than microwaves. We also don’t have the technology to push such a beam out through the atmosphere without it being horribly distorted. Those are two common bits of handwavium that people often invoke in laser propulsion schemes, but if you’re planning your project around future technological breakthroughs wouldn’t a nice fusion drive be more practical? I am assured we will have those in no more than twenty years…

      They also don’t have a budget. Aerospace cost estimation is perhaps only slightly more accurate than reading chicken entrails, but diode lasers cost about $1/Watt in bulk, so that’s $100 billion right there. And I’m pretty sure there’s no place on Earth where the power grid can actually deliver a hundred billion watts, certainly not in the Chilean Altiplano or wherever. So they’ll need to build their own power plants. According to the DoE, the cheapest way to do that in the short term is natural-gas turbogenerators, with a capital cost of another $1/Watt. Cost estimation in basic infrastructure development, unlike aerospace, is I believe pretty well established.

      If they’ve got $100 million in investment and a vague notion that this is going to cost them $10 billion in total, they’ve got maybe five percent of a plan and 0.05% of a working interstellar probe system. Whose probes will probably be dead before they leave the solar system and we still haven’t worked out the way to get their data back to Earth…

      No, wait. If they genuinely have a five-kilometer optical aperture on Earth they can use that as the receiver for a laser communications link. Assuming the probe can reconfigure its lightsail as an optically perfect beam director, and they can fit a watt of modulated laser power in their one-gram electronics package, I think that gives a link budget sufficient for 560 kbaud from Alpha Centauri under ideal circumstances. There were only two or three bits of handwavium in that paragraph.

      Meh. This sort of thing is a lot easier to do if you already have a spacefaring civilization when you start. And for the cost of launching these probes from Earth, you could pretty much build a small spacefaring civilization.

      • bean says:

        You left out the bit where the very light craft manages to survive 10-20,000 Gs. The best case here is for them to build a prototype, run out of money, and then have someone convert it to doing laser launch, which is at least quasi-plausible.

  64. Eltargrim says:

    Please forgive me if this is too gender specific/unrelated for a link thread, but I’ve just seen this on reddit and I’d love to have another set of perspectives:

    Current sales taxes on tampons and other feminine hygiene products: yea, nae, or other?

    My take is complicated by the fact that in my jurisdiction, similarly important products (e.g. toilet paper) are currently taxed as any other non-essential product. Part of the local debate is over how essential feminine hygiene products actually are

    On the one hand, it isn’t “fair” to expect one gender to front any special fees. On the other, there are many important products that are taxed regardless of how “important” they are. Further complicating matters are societal standards (can’t be freebleeding), the invisible hand of the market, alternative options (e.g. Diva cups), and the actual amount of wealth involved (e.g. taxes on feminine hygiene products amount to dollars per year per individual, but collectively account to millions of dollars of government revenue).

    My current stance is that the taxes are not unjustified as part of the base taxation sample.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      In the UK, tampon taxes are mandated by the EU, which I find entertaining to people who oppose both the taxes and leaving the EU.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Seems to me feminine hygiene products are as essential as toilet paper. But there’s no general “essentials” exception to sales taxes. In New Jersey, both tampons and toilet paper (actually all paper goods for household use) are exempt. In New York they are both taxable.

      I don’t know of any state where feminine hygiene products are taxable and general hygiene products are not taxable. But if there are any, I’d bet it was the unintended effect of a web of unprincipled exceptions, not the moustache-twisting patriarchy trying to find a way to stick it to women.

      But that’s not the point, of course. The point is to demonstrate the existence of the moustache-twisting patriarchy oppressing women, and use that to obtain power (and not just to add another sales tax exemption) for the group complaining.

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s difficult to judge because there isn’t a comparable male-only product to see if that is taxed or not.

      If they’re taxing toilet paper then taxing sanitary pads and tampons is not making an exception. Incontinence supplies seem to be taxed also; child diapers may or may not be taxed, depending on the state.

      Medical supplies do not seem to be taxed; do you therefore count tampons etc. to be medical supplies or not?

    • brad says:

      I don’t see any particular reason to have any exemptions in a sales tax. If you want a progressive tax, the income tax is sitting right there.

      • onyomi says:

        Though I think the economic effects would be great if the US federal income tax were replaced by a national sales tax with exemptions for food and, maybe lodging and medical care, on which poor people spend a disproportionately large percentage of their income.

        • The current federal income tax collects almost no money from the bottom half of the income distribution, so although what you describe would be equivalent to a graduated income tax, it would be considerably less graduated than the income tax now is.

          • onyomi says:

            To me, that is a feature. Mitt Romney got in trouble for saying so, but the negative incentives created by the current situation seem pretty severe, both practically, and from the perspective of the notion of government as something “we” all do together the left so loves.

            (They insist on everyone having a voice, a vote, etc., but when it comes to everyone contributing to the government, even if a much lower sum, they are suddenly silent; I think this is because the reality is that, for the left, one of the major functions of the government is precisely to take from the rich, successful, and able-bodied to give to the poor, infirm, old, and historically oppressed: the graduated nature is, in some sense, the whole point. But my point is that that reality doesn’t mesh well with all the nice rhetoric about “us” doing things “together.”)

            Having everyone pay at least something provides a very good incentive to keep the tax from ever getting too high, and, moreover, encourages people to think of government spending in terms of cost-benefit (is this new program worth the inevitable increase in sales tax it will mean for me?), rather than as something which just sort of comes out of thin air, funded vaguely at some point by unsympathetic rich people and corporations (and this is precisely why the government wouldn’t want that).

          • Anonymous says:

            for the left, one of the major functions of the government is precisely to take from the rich, successful, and able-bodied to give to the poor, infirm, old, and historically oppressed: the graduated nature is, in some sense, the whole point. But my point is that that reality doesn’t mesh well with all the nice rhetoric about “us” doing things “together.”

            Well, without disagreeing with what you say about incentives, one of the things I want us to do together is help those among us who are poor, infirm, old, and historically oppressed. So I don’t think a steeply progressive income tax is in conflict with rhetoric about togetherness.

          • onyomi says:

            Does the “us” doing things “together” include the old, poor, infirm, and oppressed themselves? If yes, in what sense are we doing anything “together” with them if they aren’t actually contributing? If no, then why can they vote? Or is their contribution of their desire/demand to be helped enough to count as part of the “us” doing things together? The latter sounds more like “taking stuff from people who have more” than “doing things together.”

            Two conceivable ways this rhetoric about “us” would seem more justifiable: 1. you don’t get to vote that year if you didn’t pay any income taxes last year or 2. abolish the income tax and replace it with a sales tax which will still hit rich people harder (albeit not as much harder) because they buy more expensive things and because we can exempt things poor people spend a lot of money on.

            I would personally be okay with 1. There were a few years in my early twenties when, though eligible to vote, I paid no income tax because I earned no appreciable income. If you had told me that I didn’t get to vote until I started paying into the system, that would not have seemed a huge injustice to me. But I’m sure it would to many people, so option 2 is better, though also not likely in the near future (but more likely than option 1, I think).

            Option 2 also has the following benefits: besides the aforementioned incentive to keep taxes low, it eliminates huge amounts of money, time, and resources wasted on preparing personal income tax documents and, moreover, incentivizes savings and investment over spending: rich people who put their money into charity, or reinvest in companies (which usually employ poorer people) will avoid the tax. Rich people who buy a bunch of yachts will have to pay it.

            Income taxation, perversely, disincentivizes making money in the first place, therefore disincentivizing the very growth which tends to make poorer people better off in the long run.

          • Jiro says:

            One big argument against limiting the franchise is that they are still subject to laws made by politicians who get voted for.

            Perhaps the fact that poor people still have to abide by laws that disadvantage them make them part of “us” for these purposes.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I think this is because the reality is that, for the left, one of the major functions of the government is precisely to take from the rich, successful, and able-bodied to give to the poor, infirm, old, and historically oppressed

            Your language of “taking” and “giving” depends on the assumption that we are (at least pro tanto) entitled to every penny of our pretax income and that the federal government by imposing taxes is “taking” it from us. I do not see any reason to buy into this assumption.

            Does the “us” doing things “together” include the old, poor, infirm, and oppressed themselves? If yes, in what sense are we doing anything “together” with them if they aren’t actually contributing? If no, then why can they vote? Or is their contribution of their desire/demand to be helped enough to count as part of the “us” doing things together?

            I’m not sure if “togetherness” should be seen as anything more than a poetical metaphor. But we are all bound by the same social contract no matter what shape our life happens to take, which means we should get equal say when society considers changes to that contract. It seems bizarre to me to suggest that whether you get a voice in the political system whose laws govern you should depend on accidents of birth, health, natural talents, or age. You couldn’t find a job for a couple years, got hit by a car, or are too old to work, so you don’t get any say in determining your own fate. Sorry!

            I sometimes worry if I am paranoid for thinking that every libertarian is about three bad arguments from becoming a fascist. But if you’re already talking about marking off society into the class of contributors and the class of parasites, and restricting the civil rights of the latter, well…

            Income taxation, perversely, disincentivizes making money in the first place, therefore disincentivizing the very growth which tends to make poorer people better off in the long run.

            By the same token, sales taxes disincentivize commerce and thereby inhibit economic growth. Maybe there are recherche economic arguments for why we should think that income taxes hurt more, but you haven’t presented any.

          • Urstoff says:

            I sometimes worry if I am paranoid for thinking that every libertarian is about three bad arguments from becoming a fascist.

            Well, I think every social contractarian is about two steps from becoming a proud authoritarian, so I guess it cuts both ways.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Your language of “taking” and “giving” depends on the assumption that we are entitled to every penny of our pretax income.

            Assuming for the sake of argument that we are not, what exactly is the moral case against slavery?

            It seems bizarre to me to suggest that whether you get a voice in the political system whose laws govern you should depend on accidents of birth, health, natural talents, or age. You couldn’t find a job for a couple years, got hit by a car, or are too old to work, so you don’t get any say in determining your own fate. Sorry!

            It follows from the previous assumption. If the money/resources you give the state belong to you, you ought to have a say in how they are used.

            It all comes back to the old argument about whether the government belongs to the people or the people belong to the government.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Assuming for the sake of argument that we are not, what exactly is the moral case against slavery?

            Do you seriously think that the chief objection to slavery is that the slaves do not receive 100% of their pre-tax earnings?

            It follows from the previous assumption. If the money/resources you give the state belong to you, you ought to have a say in how they are used.

            Huh? How do you get from “you ought to have a say in how the government spends your taxes” to “old people should be disenfranchised”?

          • onyomi says:

            “But we are all bound by the same social contract no matter what shape our life happens to take, which means we should get equal say when society considers changes to that contract.”

            Embedded here are many problematic assumptions I don’t share.

            And I’m not saying this “you must pay in to vote” thing is a good idea (nor did I talk about a “class” of “parasites”: in my example, I was a “parasite” in my early twenties and a payer now); I’m just saying it is one conceivable way of justifying all the “stuff we do together” rhetoric, which I fundamentally don’t buy, though not the best one (the best one, as I said, was to actually have everyone contribute at least a little, even if the net contribution of the poorest ends up being only nominal).

            Also, even if I were suggesting disenfranchising some large underclass of “parasites,” I’m not sure how that would make me any closer to being a fascist. Fascists are all about the “unity” of “das Volk” and the like. In fact, the whole “government is something we do together” thing strikes me as a bit fascist.

            Re. the question of whether it’s better to disincentivize making money or spending money on consumer goods, it’s a more basic economic question which may come down to supply side v. demand side or some such, but to put it simply: do you really think that what is holding back Americans economically is their chronic tightfistedness? Their unwillingness to put things they can’t afford on their credit card? Their habit of saving and investing too much of their extra income?

          • The lower half still pay considerable taxes through sales taxes and regressive payroll taxes. Disenfranchising non-income tax payers is quite literally taxation without representation, and creates much, much worse incentives.

            80% payroll tax, 5% income tax on the top 1%. All settled then!

            My principal concern is low economic growth, protected cartels, and unnecessary regulation. My principal work concern is how we abrogate the contract with offshore Indian labor.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Do you seriously think that the chief objection to slavery is that the slaves do not receive 100% of their pre-tax earnings?

            If by “pre-tax earnings” you mean “compensation for their labor”. Yes that absolutely is the chief objection to slavery.

            Huh? How do you get from “you ought to have a say in how the government spends your taxes” to “old people should be disenfranchised”?

            Simple…
            Is “person X” paying taxes? If yes they get a say in how those taxes are spent. If not, they don’t.

            Edit:
            onyomi says: whole “government is something we do together” thing strikes me as a bit fascist.

            It’s not just “a bit fascist” it is explicitly fascist. Society is the State and the State is society.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Also, even if I were suggesting disenfranchising some large underclass of “parasites,” I’m not sure how that would make me any closer to being a fascist. Fascists are all about the “unity” of “das Volk” and the like. In fact, the whole “government is something we do together” thing strikes me as a bit fascist.

            Fascism always involved persecuting those segments of the population judged to be disposable parasites, typically including ethnic minorities, the disabled, the mentally ill, beggars, and the elderly and infirm. We, the Contributors, the able-bodied, mentally sound Italians/Aryans/Spaniards, are all in this together. They are not among us.

            Your proposal would restrict the franchise to pretty much the same group of people, mutatis mutandis for America versus continental Europe.

            do you really think that what is holding back Americans economically is their chronic tightfistedness?

            The economy’s in pretty good shape these days, so I’m not sure that anything in particular is holding us back. But the conventional wisdom I’ve heard about the last recession (and really, recessions in general) is that they are exacerbated by a collapse in demand which takes place when wary consumers opt to save their money or pay down debts rather than hit the mall, the so-called paradox of thrift.

          • onyomi says:

            “The lower half still pay considerable taxes through sales taxes and regressive payroll taxes. Disenfranchising non-income tax payers is quite literally taxation without representation, and creates much, much worse incentives.”

            Firstly, let’s stop discussing this as if I think it’s a good idea. I don’t. I just said it was one conceivable way, and not the best way, to make the “stuff we do together” rhetoric make more sense, which may not be worth doing (better instead to jettison the rhetoric).

            That said, I am curious as to what these much worse incentives you speak of are?

            Also, (and again, I’m not suggesting we do this), the fact that most people pay state sales taxes doesn’t in any way inherently invalidate the idea: you could theoretically get to vote in the state elections and not the federal.

            As for the payroll tax, only people who make at least some income are paying it, so those people are also paying at least a little income tax (though maybe almost none at the very bottom end). Not that I’m in favor of the payroll tax. And I certainly wouldn’t favor a national sales tax in exchange for anything short of total abolition of the federal income tax (and ideally all taxes to tied to income, including payroll, medicare, etc.).

            The idea that social security is a pension “we” all “pay into” is another rhetorical fiction we could do without. Social security and medicare are welfare for old people, plain and simple. That doesn’t mean welfare for old people is necessarily a bad idea, but call it what it is.

            And this is the meat of my complaint: if you’re going to have welfare for old people, call it welfare for old people. If you want to call it a pension then make it into a real pension like, I’ve heard exists in say, Argentina. Similarly, if you’re going to have a system where half the population don’t contribute to funding the government, then stop calling the government something “we” do “together.” Or, if you want to call it that, create a system where everyone actually contributes a little.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            If by “pre-tax earnings” you mean “compensation for their labor”. Yes that absolutely is the chief objection to slavery.

            Really? Imagine a society where everyone is obliged to work (on pain of imprisonment, let’s say) and no one ever gets paid, but everyone is free to do whatever they want and has a nice middle-class lifestyle furnished for them by the state (nevermind for the moment whether the society described is humanly possible). Would these people be slaves? Would you judge their situation to be a particularly bad, or morally objectionable one?

            Is “person X” paying taxes? If yes they get a say in how those taxes are spent. If not, they don’t.

            Okay. Say I pay $40 in taxes, and you pay $10. Do your opinion get the same weight as mine in how those dollars are appropriated, or only 1/4 as much as mine?

          • onyomi says:

            “when wary consumers opt to save their money or pay down debts rather than hit the mall, the so-called paradox of thrift.”

            I know the conventional wisdom. But I’m asking you (and anyone else who cares to answer): does this seem to you a real thing? Is this really plausible? Did everyone just cut up their credit cards and tighten their belts when the recession hit? Or did people continue living basically the same lifestyle but start putting more on their credit cards? My overwhelming impression is the latter.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Yup, that definitely sounds like slavery.

            You’re “free to do whatever [you] want” except for the part where, well, you aren’t. If you don’t show up at work on time every morning it’s off to jail for you.

            (Incidentally this isn’t entirely theoretical, this happens semi-frequently with alimony / child support payments. The amount you pay is constant whether you’re employed or not, so if for whatever reason you lose your job it’s not too hard to end up in prison over it. My dad almost had that happen when I was growing up.)

            As for being entitled to your pay, this seems like the weirdest use of entitlement rhetoric ever. You are in fact literally entitled to your full wages. That’s what they are: the compensation you are entitled to for your work.

          • onyomi says:

            “Fascism always involved persecuting those segments of the population judged to be disposable parasites”

            Though I don’t know about always (the Japanese case comes to mind), this does bring up an interesting issue: many libertarians, myself included, fundamentally object to being forced into an “implied” “social contract” with millions of people we don’t know just because we were born within the same arbitrary geographic borders.

            Thus many libertarian proposals seem to boil down to “leave us alone” giving the false impression that libertarianism is inherently anti-social (actually, I think the opposite is the case, but that’s a different debate). But the state won’t leave us alone, so we move to second and third and fourth-best solutions: “You can use our taxes for this and not that, you can pass laws constraining our freedom but only if they are in keeping with this “constitution” or “bill of rights,” you can redistribute our money but only this much or for these purposes, or, indeed, conceivably, “you can force us to pay into this system, but only if you reduce the bad incentive of people who don’t pay in getting an equal say on how the money is used and how much we’re forced to pay in.”

            I can see how, from the statist perspective, this looks like the libertarian trying to “kick out” the “undesirable” non-providers from the body politic. But from the libertarian perspective, we want to “kick out” everyone from the body politic, since we don’t believe politics is a legitimate and/or effective mode of social organization in the first place. But you tell us we can’t “kick out” everyone; okay, well then how can we at least limit the claims of “everyone” on us?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Did everyone just cut up their credit cards and tighten their belts when the recession hit?

            Yes, apparently:

            “More than six-in-ten (62%) Americans say that since the recession began, they’ve cut back on household spending. Half say they have reduced the amount they owe on mortgages, credit cards, car loans and other borrowing. Of those who have savings or retirement accounts, more than four-in-ten (42%) say they’ve adopted a more conservative approach to saving and investing, compared with just 8% who say they’ve taken a more aggressive approach. These new habits of thrift and caution could well outlive this recession. Asked to predict their financial behaviors once the economy recovers, 48% say they plan to save more, 31% say they plan to spend less and 30% say they plan to borrow less. Only small percentages say the reverse—that they plan to save less and borrow and spend more.”

            How does this apply to any historical examples of fascism other than the German case?

            Racial minorities in Italy (before the German occupation):

            “Signed by Mussolini, King Victor Emmanuel Ⅲ, the minister of justice and others, the Royal Decree Law of November 17, 1938 – titled “Laws for the Defense of the Race” – decreed that intermarriages between “Aryans” and “non-Aryans” were henceforth illegal (Art. 1), a law that applied equally to Jews and blacks, or any other non-Aryan people, regardless of nationality, thus forming part of a larger racial policy in the wake of Italy’s conquest of Ethiopia;9 Jews could no longer perform military service in peace or wartime (Art. 10a); Jews were banned from being guardians of non-Jewish minors (Art. 10b); Jews were henceforth barred from any state employment and from owning or managing any business with more than one hundred employees or which received defense contracts (Art. 10c); Jews could no longer own land that had a taxable value of more than 5,000 lire or urban buildings worth more than 20,000 lire (Art. 10d, 10e); Jews were banned from employing domestic servants “of the Aryan race” (Art. 12); and Jews could lose legal parental control over children “who belong to a religion different from the Jewish religion, if it is demonstrated that they give them an education which does not correspond to their religious principles or to the national purpose” (Art. 11).10 In addition, Italian citizenship granted to Jews after 1919 was henceforth revoked (Art. 23) and all foreign Jews – with the exception of those over sixty-five years of age or those married to Italian citizens – were ordered to leave the country within four months or be forcefully expelled (Art. 24 and 25).”

            Details of the fascist persecution of other categories of undesirables in Italy can be found in the book “Ordinary Violence in Mussolini’s Italy.” It is true that the Italians did not carry out mass-extermination campaigns like the Germans did. But contempt for those who were unsuited or unable to contribute to the prowess of the nation, or the race, was everywhere a central tenet of fascism.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Onyomi, there is a substantial population that pays payroll tax and not income tax. The 47% figure exists solely for the purpose of deceiving you and it succeeded.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Though I don’t know about always (the Japanese case comes to mind),”

            Okinawa and Koreans are pretty clear cases of the Japanese treating their minorities like shit.

          • Anonymous says:

            Assuming for the sake of argument that we are not, what exactly is the moral case against slavery?
            […]
            It all comes back to the old argument about whether the government belongs to the people or the people belong to the government.

            It’s possible to have a consistent moral philosophy which endorses a progressive income tax but doesn’t endorse slavery or the idea that “the people belong to the government.” I think you are failing the ideological Turing test if you can’t imagine consistent moral positions between “you are obligated to pay income tax” and “slavery is OK.” Probably your political opponents aren’t all completely confused and/or evil.

            For example, consider the position that all people in the country have obligations to each other, that people with more money have a greater obligation, and that taxes and government are the means by which these obligations are discharged. Under this moral position you are not entitled to all of your income. But this morality does not endorse slavery.

            The interesting thing to argue about is whether such obligations exist and/or whether government is a good way to discharge them.

          • onyomi says:

            “Okinawa and Koreans are pretty clear cases of the Japanese treating their minorities like shit.”

            But they didn’t consider them to be Japanese at all. That is a problem with imperialism, not fascism per se.

            But to expand on the earlier point: what if the people of India voted, one billion to 300 million, to redistribute the wealth of America to India? If we protested that this wasn’t fair, could they not by the same logic whereby libertarians are compared to fascists claim that we are unfairly disenfranchising them and excluding them just because they happen to have a different culture, ethnicity, etc.?

          • Anonymous says:

            If someone from the taxation is theft crowd comes in contact with a property is theft type is there a big explosion?

          • Artificirius says:

            We can only dream.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Usually just an exchange of insults no worse than “goddamn commie” and “capitalist pig”. Very disappointing.

          • BBA says:

            Big explosions are theft!

          • Artificirius says:

            Though I have to say I am intrigued by the thought of the question of whether a system in which you were required to work, but very nicely if not monetarily compensated, would ‘count’ as slavery.

          • onyomi says:

            “If someone from the taxation is theft crowd comes in contact with a property is theft type is there a big explosion?”

            The latter seem to be quite rare nowadays.

          • onyomi says:

            “Onyomi, there is a substantial population that pays payroll tax and not income tax. The 47% figure exists solely for the purpose of deceiving you and it succeeded.”

            Do you mean people who work but make less than the standard deduction? According to Google that’s only 2%. I guess the EIC would bring it a little higher.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @Dr Dealgood

            Yup, that definitely sounds like slavery.

            Really? It sounds like a pretty good deal to me. With a few adjustments, we can make it strictly better than the status quo for >75% of the population. Say you only get put in prison if you work (including child-raising) less than 100 days a year, and the prison is one of those cushy Scandinavian prisons with the Playstations and the blackberry bushes. The only difference is that the consequences of unemployment are enforced by the government, rather than by the markets, and by nature. Why should that matter?

            So I don’t think the wrongfulness of slavery consists in any significant degree in the fact that slaves don’t take home a paycheck. Better candidates: being denied autonomy over your own life, having harsh punishments inflicted on you, being treated like property, and being subject to the arbitrary whims of another person.

            As for being entitled to your pay, this seems like the weirdest use of entitlement rhetoric ever. You are in fact literally entitled to your full wages.

            You say this is a fact, but it seems like a substantive moral judgment to me. Why? What’s the rationale?

            @onyomi

            Though I don’t know about always (the Japanese case comes to mind), this does bring up an interesting issue: many libertarians, myself included, fundamentally object to being forced into an “implied” “social contract” with millions of people we don’t know just because we were born within the same arbitrary geographic borders.

            I don’t think you bought into the social contract when you were born, I think you opted in when you attained your majority but declined to exercise your ability to leave the country. There are 197 ± 3 countries in the world you could have elected to live in, but instead you chose to stay here. To me, anti-statists are pretty thoroughly hypocrites, happily parasitizing the goods of the federal government while at the same time denying its legitimacy out of the other side of their mouths.

            Onyomi, there is a substantial population that pays payroll tax and not income tax.

            Not to mention state and local sales taxes, which end up being fairly regressive.

          • onyomi says:

            “There are 197 ± 3 countries in the world you could have elected to live in, but instead you chose to stay here.”

            All of which also have governments. And while we’re talking about the less affluent: I may have the education and resources to move to and function in another country, but lots of people don’t.

            To quote David Friedman from http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Libertarian/response_to_huben.html

            (Huben): [Extortion by the state is no different than extortion by the mafia] is a prize piece of libertarian rhetoric, because it slides in the accusation that taxation is extortion. … The key difference is who owns what. The Mafia doesn’t own anything to contract about. The landowner owns the land (in a limited sense.) And the US government owns rights to govern its territory.

            (Friedman): The Mafia don replies that of course he owns the territory–if you don’t believe him, go ask the current capo di capi. If you don’t like it, you are free to move to the territory of a different don; if you remain, you are implicitly agreeing to accept his “taxes.” Why is his claim any less justifiable than the government’s? He provides you with protection against other dons, just as the government provides protection against other governments.

          • Firstly, let’s stop discussing this as if I think it’s a good idea. I don’t. I just said it was one conceivable way, and not the best way, to make the “stuff we do together” rhetoric make more sense, which may not be worth doing (better instead to jettison the rhetoric).

            My error. I see this argument occasionally from both libertarians and right-leaning types.

            That said, I am curious as to what these much worse incentives you speak of are?

            The state can fund itself in fashion that is not subject to political scrutiny, at all. The State can fund itself in all sorts of measures: payroll taxes, property taxes, and sales taxes, of course. But also items like use fees or (historically) tariffs.
            People don’t like being taxed, so they organize politically to fight taxes.
            If you, however, disenfranchise a huge portion of the population, they can effectively be taxed at massive rates, because the political establishment will receive no blow-back.
            Actually, this very post has an excellent example of what’s allowed to happen when politically connected people rule over a group of disenfranchised people that no one gives a crap about.

            Now, I get the general idea: net-taxpayers should pay and we should account for all the rest of these taxes. However, the actual point of the 47% of the line is not implement certain policy, it’s to use as political rhetoric to advance a certain viewpoint.

            More broadly, I don’t think this is the actual problem in our system, from the libertarian POV. I would suggest the actual problem is that libertarianism is incompatible with human social structures that arise in urbanized societies, which tend to be more Progressive, in the late 19th century version of the word.

            This may only be Western, but I think most human cultures will tend towards this vision as they become more urbanized. If you want a libertarian world, you need Jefferson’s vision of a nation of small farmers.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            2% is not what google tells me.

            Try this.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @onyomi

            You’re saying that the social contract is unjust because, despite the fact that you had ~197 contracts to entertain, you found none of them appealing and so were “coerced” into taking the least bad option? Think about this for a second. Is this a sensible thing for a libertarian to say?

            (It is also not really true that every country in the world has a government. Somalia and Western Sahara barely do, for starters. There are men with guns there, but you don’t object to men with guns, do you?)

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            onyomi
            “But they didn’t consider them to be Japanese at all. That is a problem with imperialism, not fascism per se.”

            You are going to need to define your words here because Okinawa was part of Japan since the 19th century and received the right to vote in 1912. Imperialism notably doesn’t hand out voting rights.

            “But to expand on the earlier point: what if the people of India voted, one billion to 300 million, to redistribute the wealth of America to India? If we protested that this wasn’t fair, could they not by the same logic whereby libertarians are compared to fascists claim that we are unfairly disenfranchising them and excluding them just because they happen to have a different culture, ethnicity, etc.?”

            Shockingly almost no one is actually utilitarian. And yes, the best option would be “redistribute in order to improve poor people’s quality of life” with the major caveat that the redistribution needs to actually show improvements; a major objection to this sort of thing is the amount of corruption and waste that is expected to pop up.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Really? It sounds like a pretty good deal to me. With a few adjustments, we can make it strictly better than the status quo for >75% of the population. Say you only get put in prison if you work (including child-raising) less than 100 days a year, and the prison is one of those cushy Scandinavian prisons with the Playstations and the blackberry bushes. The only difference is that the consequences of unemployment are enforced by the government, rather than by the markets, and by nature. Why should that matter?

            You say [wages being the compensation you are entitled to for your work] is a fact, but it seems like a substantive moral judgment to me. Why? What’s the rationale?

            I think we’ve hit a bit of a wall in terms of values and/or worldviews. It’s difficult to articulate a response because your perspective seems to be very alien to mine, and I’m not sure if what I say will make any more sense to you than what you said did to me.

            Anyway, my best attempt at an answer is that the two are connected. The reason you’re still a slave under that kind of system, regardless of how good your material conditions are, and the reason why you’re entitled to be compensated for your work is the same. Because a free man can choose not to work, and so has to be compensated for his work, while a slave must work regardless of whether or not he is given any compensation.

            TL;DR: “A man chooses, a slave obeys.”

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Earthly Knight:

            The difference is that the 197 states were set up by coercive processes, not by consent, not even by consent under the duress of nature. Not even for the original founders was the government set up by unanimous consent.

            What’s the difference between a system set up by consent and a system set up by force, if they work just the same? Nothing. But it’s like David Friedman on “capitalist trucks” vs. “communist trucks”: they’re unlikely to work just the same.

            The underlying claim here is that, by having a minimal state or no state, we could have a more prosperous, more efficient system for everybody, or nearly everybody. If you disagree with that empirical claim, fine.

            If I thought that, instead of having everyone “coerced” by natural needs to work for money, we could pass a law that would give unlimited prosperity to everyone without offsetting negative consequences, I would be in favor of that, too.

            But enough with the “if you don’t like it, move to Somalia” crap. The US government could be a lot worse. It could also be a lot better. Potentially, we could even have a certain, specific system of private agencies (i.e. not the system prevailing in Somalia) that provide even better results than that. The fact that I participate in this system doesn’t mean I can’t criticize it or even call for it to be abolished.

            Suppose the whole capitalist system really were an unjust system of exploitation. Would it be reasonable to criticize a communist agitator for accepting a job at a factory? “If you don’t like it, why don’t you move to the forest?” The obvious answers would be: “The capitalists own all the damn forests! Besides, as bad as capitalism is, it’s better than living in the forest. But communism will be much better even than this.” Your line of criticism would be just as inane in that case.

            The fact is: I think the system of private ownership of the means of production produces good results compared to any practicable alternative, while I think the system of wide-ranging governmental authority produces bad results compared to certain practicable alternatives. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to dislike about the system of private ownership, or that there’s nothing to like about statism.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            It looks like the pre-war period was pretty brutal for the Burakumin and Ainu, too. But so was the rest of Japanese history, so it’s hard to know how much of a role the imperialist ideology played.

          • onyomi says:

            “despite the fact that you had ~197 contracts to entertain”

            And all these other countries offered me citizenship?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @Dr Dealgood

            Because a free man can choose not to work

            For all but the wealthiest Americans, choosing not to work for extended periods of time leaves you hungry, bedraggled, and at the mercy of the elements. In the society we’re contemplating, choosing not to work for an extended period of time puts you in a cozy room with a playstation, the internet, and all of the blackberries you can pick. Is having choices forced on you by other men really so much worse than having choices forced on you by nature? This strikes me as more a matter of childish defiance than a well-thought-out ethical scheme.

            @ Vox

            The difference is that the 197 states were set up by coercive processes, not by consent, not even by consent under the duress of nature. Not even for the original founders was the government set up by unanimous consent.

            I’m not quite sure what you’re saying here, but this almost certainly begs the question. You are trying to show that the social contract is unjust, that people do not become bound by the laws of a state just by freely choosing to dwell therein. You cannot do that by pointing at past instances of people freely choosing to live in the state and claiming that this makes it historically unjust. If the social contract is legitimate today, it was legitimate when the country was founded, too.

            The fact that I participate in this system doesn’t mean I can’t criticize it or even call for it to be abolished.

            No. But it does mean that you can’t rightly deny its legitimacy, or claim that its laws are unjust across the board just by virtue of being enforced by the state.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            And all these other countries offered me citizenship?

            No, but you have a lot of options. More options than many poor people do when applying for a job. What makes your accepting the least bad contract of the many offered you unjust, while their choosing the least bad option is an above-board exercise of their right to forge binding contracts?

            If you like, you may think of nations as enormous corporations with their territory as property and their police forces as security guards. This puts the analogy in sharper relief. Liberal democracies make for better masters than ordinary corporations in almost every respect. They must publicly promulgate their laws, while corporations may be as secretive as they like. They abide by principles of due process, while corporations may, unless you have strong union protections, punish you arbitrarily and at will. They give you an equal say in how the country will be governed, while employees have no right to participate in running the company. They guarantee you freedom of speech and assembly, while corporations can fire you for expressing the wrong political sentiment or socializing with the wrong crowd. And so on. If you think about it, the social contract may be the fairest contract you (n)ever sign.

          • hlynkacg says:

            You say this is a fact, but it seems like a substantive moral judgment to me. Why? What’s the rationale?

            Again, assuming for the sake of argument that people are not entitled to compensation for their labor what exactly is the moral argument against slavery?

            If you like, you may think of nations as enormous corporations with their territory as property

            …and this would appear be the position I illustrated earlier where people use their tax dollars to “buy” services from the government. However your position as described seems to take the opposite tack, it is not the territory but the people who are the property.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I said earlier: being denied autonomy over your own life, having harsh punishments inflicted on you, being treated like property, and being subject to the arbitrary whims of another person.

            It is really fantastic that you see no middle ground between being entitled to every penny of your pretax income and being an out-and-out slave.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Taxation is slavery; therefore, some slavery is actually good. It’s best just to yield, there’s no point talking to a big-L Libertarian when they get like this about taxes. The non-central fallacy cannot be defeated head-on.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Earthly Knight:

            I’m not quite sure what you’re saying here, but this almost certainly begs the question. You are trying to show that the social contract is unjust, that people do not become bound by the laws of a state just by freely choosing to dwell therein. You cannot do that by pointing at past instances of people freely choosing to live in the state and claiming that this makes it historically unjust. If the social contract is legitimate today, it was legitimate when the country was founded, too.

            What I am saying is that our ancestors didn’t all get together and sign some social contract, setting up a government with the unanimous consent of all present. In that situation, we would still have the problem of why children would be bound by that contract, and whether people can rightfully agree to bind themselves to the arbitrary whims of other people in the future—I don’t think people can rightfully sell themselves into slavery—but you can argue that agreement to the social contract is a condition of being allowed to inherit property, etc.

            I got into a debate a while ago here about how even systems actually founded upon unanimous consent can be unjust. For instance, if a group of people got together and set up a theocratic commune where they all agreed to execute adulterers, I would not allow them to enforce that agreement upon an adulterer who got caught and regretted agreeing to that stipulation. It’s an unconscionable agreement. So I agree that if libertarians take contractarianism too far, beyond the bounds of what actually promotes human life and happiness, they wind up in virtually the same position as the worst statists.

            However, we don’t even have that. The actual way all governments were founded is that some group of powerful people took over and forced their will upon the minority whether they liked it or not. In other words, they were not founded upon consent or any kind of actual social contract.

            That’s the point of the capitalist vs. communist trucks analogy. There is no difference between a condominium association and a local government if they engage in the exact same actions. But if the one is founded upon unanimous consent and the other founded upon force, they are unlikely to behave exactly the same.

            No. But it does mean that you can’t rightly deny its legitimacy, or claim that its laws are unjust across the board just by virtue of being enforced by the state.

            I deny its claim to being founded upon consent, in precisely the same way I would deny the claim by the mafia to being founded upon consent, if they were impertinent enough to make it.

            What you’re saying is that the mafia can take over some territory including your property, and that if you don’t want to pay protection money, you can leave. Apparently, that’s a consensual system.

            I don’t know what other sense of “legitimacy” you might be referring to. I also deny its claim to being founded on the basis of natural right or expediency, separately from the claim of being founded upon consent.

            As for your other claim, I’m not saying that the laws are unjust because they’re enforced by the state. I’m saying the state is bad because it enforces unjust laws. And not contingently here and there; it’s set up in such a way as to virtually guarantee that unjust laws will be passed.

            No, but you have a lot of options. More options than many poor people do when applying for a job. What makes your accepting the least bad contract of the many offered you unjust, while their choosing the least bad option is an above-board exercise of their right to forge binding contracts?

            What makes the system, whereby the means of production are privately owned by a relative few and the rest agree to work for money, just is that it’s actually the best system for producing wealth and raising the standards of living of everyone. There is no superior arrangement.

            The employers are not responsible for the fact that some people are poor; poverty is a natural fact to which capitalism and industrialization is the solution.

            If there were a superior arrangement, such as communism, but employers doggedly stuck to capitalism because it served their short-term interest, then capitalism would be unjust.

            What makes the welfare-regulatory state unjust is that it does a lot of unnecessary harm, and we could have a lot better system. If it were the best system possible, it wouldn’t be unjust. As it is, though, the state is responsible for the damage inflicted upon the people it harms.

          • onyomi says:

            “No, but you have a lot of options. More options than many poor people do when applying for a job.”

            Do you know how many foreign countries offered me citizenship when I reached 18? 0. I had to work, effectively, under the table much of the time when I lived in Taiwan, and do all kinds of visa finagling because it was too hard even to get a long-term residence permit with the right to work a real job.

            And anyway, even if, with more resources and education than the average US poor person, I could probably secure a job and, if not citizenship with full voting rights, then, at least some kind of long-term residence permit in a country other than the US, how many such opportunities exist for those poor US citizens who can hardly find a job here? They are really going to learn a foreign language and/or culture, leave their family and friends behind, navigate foreign immigration systems and even achieve citizenship/voting rights in a foreign country? Does the “social contract” apply equally to them, given they didn’t have the multitude of choices I supposedly have?

          • Jiro says:

            It is also not really true that every country in the world has a government. Somalia and Western Sahara barely do, for starters.

            Of course they have governments. “Warlord” is just another way of saying “non-internationally recognized government that rules a smaller area than the area recognized internationally as the country”.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It is really fantastic that you see no middle ground between being entitled to every penny of your pretax income and being an out-and-out slave.

            It is equally fantastic to me that you do not see the connection between a “a person’s time and labor is the property of the state” and the “the person themselves is the property of the state”.

            You want to argue that we need to pay for the services we are provided? I’ll agree. However that is not the case you’ve made.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            @Earthly Knight “The economy’s in pretty good shape these days”

            I’ll be sure to let all my friends who’ve been unable to find jobs for literally months or years know that things are going great and it’s all in their imaginations. Maybe I should also let all the hobos sleeping on my street in on the secret.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Vox

            What I am saying is that our ancestors didn’t all get together and sign some social contract, setting up a government with the unanimous consent of all present.

            I don’t see why you think this is relevant. The view I’m defending is that acceptance of the social contract is signaled by having the opportunity to leave the country while over 18 but electing not to do so. So a guy living in backwoods Pennsylvania in 1787 consented to the social contract by virtue of continuing to live in the US after the Constitution was passed. I agree that if, for instance, the Constitution had not enjoyed majority support among the US population at the time it was ratified that this would cast serious doubt on its legitimacy. But I don’t think this was the case.

            (Note that I am prescinding away here from the fact that the franchise at the time was restricted to landowning white men. But I don’t think this is your reason for thinking that US constitution was historically unjust?)

            For instance, if a group of people got together and set up a theocratic commune where they all agreed to execute adulterers, I would not allow them to enforce that agreement upon an adulterer who got caught and regretted agreeing to that stipulation.

            Sure, but the problem there is that the law has unjust content, not that the government is by its nature illegitimate. These are distinct defects and we should keep them so.

            What makes the system, whereby the means of production are privately owned by a relative few and the rest agree to work for money, just is that it’s actually the best system for producing wealth and raising the standards of living of everyone.

            But what if 99% of the population finds the constitution unjust and wishes it to be rewritten? Does the fact that our current political system is the best conceivable form of government outweigh the collective wishes of the governed?

            @onyomi

            Do you know how many foreign countries offered me citizenship when I reached 18? 0. I had to work, effectively, under the table much of the time when I lived in Taiwan, and do all kinds of visa finagling because it was too hard even to get a long-term residence permit with the right to work a real job.

            Do you know how many people have offered me jobs out of the blue, or how hard I will have to work to attain the career I’m training for? If you’re trying to find a way that the citizenship market is worse than the employment market, you’re not succeeding. Getting exactly the job you want most in the world will in almost all cases be harder than immigrating to your country of choice.

            They are really going to learn a foreign language and/or culture, leave their family and friends behind, navigate foreign immigration systems and even achieve citizenship/voting rights in a foreign country?

            Libertarians generally insist that a scarcity of viable alternatives to signing an employment contract in no way undermines the fairness of the contract. And you are at all times free to leave the country, if by no other means than by heading to the gulf and paddling out on some driftwood. You really need to be looking for respects in which employment contracts and social contracts differ which could plausibly ground the moral distinction you draw between the two. You haven’t really found any yet.

            @Jiro

            Of course they have governments. “Warlord” is just another way of saying “non-internationally recognized government that rules a smaller area than the area recognized internationally as the country”.

            If this is so, then basically no region has at once been inhabited by man and free of government, in which case the libertarian complaint that “I don’t have anywhere without a government to flee to” rings pretty hollow.

            Western Sahara is mostly desert, though, so if you were careful about it you could probably sneak in and be totally free anarchy yay! until you expire of heatstroke a few hours later. If libertarians are demanding not only that the region they immigrate to be uninhabited, but that it also contain arable land, well, that’s more unreasonable yet. Channeling libertarian thought on economics: why should you deserve a valuable piece of land which you have done nothing to earn and which has already been claimed by someone else?

            @hlynkacg

            It is equally fantastic to me that you do not see the connection between a “a person’s time and labor is the property of the state” and the “the person themselves is the property of the state”.

            Time and labor are not literally pieces of property, so let’s try and cash this out in non-metaphorical terms. What it amounts to, I think, is the claim that:

            A person should be free to spend all of their time and energy as they like, or else that person is a piece of chattel.

            I do not see that this follows. If anything, you are just reiterating the wildly implausible thesis that we started with, the thesis that anyone who is not entitled to 100% of their pretax income is a slave.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “In that situation, we would still have the problem of why children would be bound by that contract, and whether people can rightfully agree to bind themselves to the arbitrary whims of other people in the future”

            Children get their lives run by their parents despite consenting to that as much as they have consented to past political decisions. Unless libertarianism includes state run crèches, you have to admit past decisions can bind individual who cannot have played a part in legitimizing them.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I’ll be sure to let all my friends who’ve been unable to find jobs for literally months or years know that things are going great and it’s all in their imaginations. Maybe I should also let all the hobos sleeping on my street in on the secret.

            Look, man, the economy has been growing for 5 years straight and the unemployment rate is at 5% (the highest by state is 6.6%, in Alaska). I know that there are a lot of people who gave up looking for work during the recession and haven’t really tried much since, but if your friends have been diligently looking for jobs these past few years, they’re just not representative of the overall employment situation in the US. There will always be unemployed people, and there will always be at least a few homeless. Doesn’t mean the economy’s in bad shape.

          • Jiro says:

            Libertarians generally insist that a scarcity of viable alternatives to signing an employment contract in no way undermines the fairness of the contract.

            What undermines the fairness of the contract is that it can be imposed on you without you having to sign it. Requiring an explicit agreement to consider a contract a contract prevents you from just being able to arbitrarily declare a contract with someone whenever you want to take something from him. Which is pretty much what you’re doing.

            Of course if you ignore the biggest difference between “social contracts” and actual contracts you’ll find it hard to find differences between them.

            Also, “leaving” like you suggest doesn’t allow you withdraw your land from government sovereignty, and it certainly doesn’t excuse you from paying taxes.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            What undermines the fairness of the contract is that it can be imposed on you without you having to sign it. Requiring an explicit agreement to consider a contract a contract prevents you from just being able to arbitrarily declare a contract with someone whenever you want to take something from him.

            Think about all of the commercial transactions you participated in during the last year. How many involved you signing an actual contract? Almost all of our everyday purchases (with the obvious exception of software) are principally governed by conventional or implicit contracts, rather than written rules. When I pay for a ticket to a movie, the manager will throw me out if I start shouting racial slurs at the other customers, even though I never signed any contract to that effect. If I enter a Subway, purchase a bag of chips, and then proceed to slowly and conspicuously steal all of their napkins and straws, I’m liable to wind up having an uncomfortable conversation with a police officer, even though there was never any sign in the store regulating straw and napkin use. And so on. Capitalism would be pretty much unworkable without a heavy reliance on implicit contracts, because we’d spend most of our lives buried in paperwork.

            If the objection is to implicit contracts in general, no capitalist economy could be just. So that can’t be it, either.

            Also, “leaving” like you suggest doesn’t allow you withdraw your land from government sovereignty, and it certainly doesn’t excuse you from paying taxes.

            You are free to sell your land, of course. It does look like some minors will have to pay expatriation taxes, but unless they’ve inherited a fortune the tax will be trivial. I’m happy to agree that expatriation taxes are unjust to whatever extent they pose an obstacle to would-be social-contract opt-outers, though.

          • Outis says:

            I just want to correct something that was mentioned in this thread. The racial laws in fascist Italy were introduced in 1938 to appease Germany, and represented a reversal of fascism’s earlier position on that point. Keep in mind that by that time Fascism has existed in Italy as a political movement for more than 20 years, and had been in power for more than 15 years, which is longer than the entire existence of Nazi Germany. This contradicts the idea that the oppression of Jews is intrinsic to fascism.

          • Jiro says:

            In those cases society dictates (some of) the terms of the contract, but the contract itself is still explicit (even if it may not involve a literal signature). Dictating terms can’t be exploited in the same way as dictating the existence of a contract.

            If society tried to dictate arbitrary contract terms that the seller didn’t like, the seller would just explicitly disclaim the societal terms, since he and society would be working at cross purposes.

            If the seller himself tried to dictate arbitrary terms, he’d find that nobody would make any more explicit agreements with him.

            (Also, if you sell your land, you are forced to pay taxes on the sale. And the government gets to impose restrictions that affect the sale price of the land anyway.)

          • Earthly Knight says:

            In those cases society dictates (some of) the terms of the contract, but the contract itself is still explicit (even if it may not involve a literal signature). Dictating terms can’t be exploited in the same way as dictating the existence of a contract.

            Remember that we are treating the territory of the nation as its property. Merely by walking onto a parcel of land, you become subject to the whims of the owner, even if you never agreed to any sort of contract, even, indeed, if you mistakenly believed the land was public. She may blast Iron Maiden at top volume until your ears start ringing. She may forcibly escort you off of the premises. If you refuse to leave, she may summon the police to have you arrested.

            I do not see how the social contract is any different in thsi regard. So, I repeat: no libertarian could object to implicit contracts in general.

          • onyomi says:

            “you really need to be looking for respects in which employment contracts and social contracts differ”

            One is an actively chosen, attested, voluntary agreement between parties and the other is a post hoc academic fantasy used to justify the status quo.

            The differences between voluntary employment and citizenship of a state you were born in are numerous, but one obvious one: employment doesn’t depend on your geographic location for being allowed to quit. There are no private employers or companies which can tell me “so long as you own that house over there, you work for us and nobody else,” or “so long as you own that house over there, you owe us money.”

            Private employers can demand you do x, y, or z as a condition for remaining employed, but they can’t tell you you’re not allowed to quit unless you move hundreds of miles away. They could theoretically say, “we don’t like our employees doing long commutes, so you must live within 50 miles of the company if you want to work here,” but they can’t say “you’re not allowed to quit this job so long as you live within 50 miles of the company.”

            You might claim that, unlike a private corporation, the state has some claim to any land within its borders I might live on, and therefore gets to set the terms of my living there. I don’t think most Americans conceive of their private property in that way (as if the state is just allowing them to steward what actually belongs to it), but even if we accept that, that just makes the difference between residence in a state and private contract that much bigger: when dealing with private individuals and companies, you own you and your stuff and they own themselves and their stuff and you trade your labor and stuff as you see fit.

            In negotiation with the state, on your interpretation, they own themselves and their stuff and they also own you and your stuff, at least partially. Negotiation with a party who already has a theoretically unlimited claim on your person and property is very, very different than negotiation with someone with no such claim.

            Ironically, the closest an individual-state negotiation comes to a private negotiation is when the individual is not a citizen of that state. So in this sense states are like companies, I guess, if everyone were always born already an employee of some company and there was no reasonable option to ever quit other than to work for another company with similar claims on its employees.

            I do find it interesting, however, that, in a thread where you’ve implied that libertarians want to disenfranchise the poor, infirm, and oppressed, you’ve actually proven why liberals’ favorite justification for the state (the “social contract”) doesn’t work for the poor, infirm, and oppressed.

          • One of the interesting things about governments is that they claim the right to forbid people in their territory to work at all. While businesses can have non-compete agreements, they don’t go that far.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            One is an actively chosen, attested, voluntary agreement between parties

            I’m not really sure what you mean by “active choosing” and “attestation”, actually, but it seems to me that your remaining in the country is perfectly voluntary and a choice you actively make. You can see in my exchanges with Jiro above that active choosing and attestation can’t be restrictions on social interactions or exchanges in general for libertarians, anyway– too many contracts or pseudo-contracts that you’re committed to regarding as perfectly fair are neither actively chosen nor attested, whatever those words might signify.

            There are no private employers or companies which can tell me “so long as you own that house over there, you work for us and nobody else,” or “so long as you own that house over there, you owe us money.”

            Remember that on the view I’m defending you’re really just leasing your land from the federal government. The correct analogy, then, would be something like a farmhand living in a shack on a large ranch. Clearly, the rancher can require him to vacate the premises if the farmhand stops working or won’t sign his employment contract, even if the farmhand has nowhere else to go. By parity of reasoning, the federal government is entirely within its rights to require you to abide by its laws or prepare to doggy paddle to Cuba.

            I do find it interesting, however, that, in a thread where you’ve implied that libertarians want to disenfranchise the poor, infirm, and oppressed, you’ve actually proven why liberals’ favorite justification for the state (the “social contract”) doesn’t work for the poor, infirm, and oppressed.

            You seem to be misunderstanding. I’m noting an inconsistency in your suite of views, typical of libertarians: it is impossible to at once maintain that all of the contracts we would see under maximum capitalism would be just while the boilerplate liberal-democracy social contract is not. I don’t believe that all of the contracts we would see under maximum capitalism would be just, so I can consistently impose stricter constraints on an acceptable social contract.

          • onyomi says:

            “Remember that on the view I’m defending you’re really just leasing your land from the federal government.”

            I noted that and pointed out how it isn’t the view most Americans hold of their private property. If most Americans actually conceived of their private property in such terms I think there’d be a revolution tomorrow.

            But even if we accept that idea, then the analogy becomes: states are like private corporations… if everyone were born already employed by and bound to a particular company with no possibility of starting a new company or quitting, except, perhaps to immediately start working for a different company.

            The fact that states “own” all habitable land in the world is not incidental. It’s crucial. To use the private company analogy, it would be like all land in the world being owned by 200 private companies, all of which had strongly enforced agreements to never sell any land to any entity other than one of the other 200. Also, if one of the 200 tries to form a splinter corporation, the original corporation is probably justified in killing them.

            Could such an unjust state of affairs theoretically arise privately? Theoretically, yes, but practically, no. Because of the profit opportunity in defection, gigantic, absolute monopolies on valuable resources (and what could be more valuable than “all the habitable land in the known universe?”) have proven impossible to maintain without use of force. And most people have very much higher standards for when private individuals and companies are allowed to use force as compared to states. Certainly we wouldn’t think Apple was justified in burning down Microsoft headquarters to enforce a cartel.

            How do we justify a system in which an individual can never “truly” own any land, but in which groups of individuals can, ideally if they killed someone to get it?

          • Anonymous says:

            I noted that and pointed out how it isn’t the view most Americans hold of their private property. If most Americans actually conceived of their private property in such terms I think there’d be a revolution tomorrow.

            Most Americans think that any benefit they get based on government provisioning (including e.g. rule of law) or other people’s positive externalities or the like is minor, not worth talking about, and in any event their birthright. Whereas any uncaptured postive externalties they create or tax they pay are a massive imposition on hero-creators that earned every penny by sheer effort with no help from anyone, in fact in the face of active attempts to thwart them.

            Just witness the backlash over “you didn’t create that”. Americans, particularly red tribe Americans, have breed deep in their bones the Marxist theory of value. If you are tired at the end of the day you perforce are carrying civilization on your back.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not really sure what you mean by “active choosing” and “attestation”, actually, but it seems to me that your remaining in the country is perfectly voluntary and a choice you actively make.

            Is there some previously-undiscovered force that causes people to be accelerated away from the territory of sovereign states unless actively resisted? You’d think Isaac Newton would have noticed, but since it has apparently escaped notice until now, I’m sure the Nobel committee will be recognizing your work Real Soon Now.

            Alternately, it might be a bit of a stretch to assert that remaining in a particular nation is an active choice.

          • Jiro says:

            Remember that we are treating the territory of the nation as its property. Merely by walking onto a parcel of land, you become subject to the whims of the owner, even if you never agreed to any sort of contract, even, indeed, if you mistakenly believed the land was public.

            If you walk onto a parcel of land that is like property, that would be the equivalent of immigration and I agree that we can impose restrictions on immigrants that would be wrong on citizens.

            A citizen is more like an owner than like someone who walks onto someone else’s land. Owners cannot demand arbitrary things from other owners in order for them to stay owners.

          • Salem says:

            Of all the bad arguments you use, probably the worst is:

            too many contracts or pseudo-contracts that you’re committed to regarding as perfectly fair are neither actively chosen nor attested

            Please name a contract to which people are bound, which they did not actively choose. Because you won’t find it.

            You’re right that many contracts are implied, but that isn’t the same thing. When I buy milk from Tesco, I don’t sign anything, and many of the terms are implicit. But I have to actively choose to buy the milk, and if I don’t, I’m not obliged to pay Tesco anything. And silence is not consent.

            How different the “social contract” looks. I’ve never received an offer, and my purported “acceptance” is that I haven’t taken extraordinary steps to disclaim the non-existent offer! But of course the arguments you proffer aren’t genuine, mere Harry-Frankfurt-stuff. You don’t even proffer a hypothetical way that someone could decline all “offers” of social contracts altogether! That’s lazy trolling.

            But you give the game away entirely when you claim that government imposition leads to fairer terms than the deals we freely make with companies. You’re not dull-witted enough to believe that.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @onyomi

            I noted that and pointed out how it isn’t the view most Americans hold of their private property. If most Americans actually conceived of their private property in such terms I think there’d be a revolution tomorrow.

            You said this, but I don’t think it’s really true, at least of educated Americans. Most (educated) Americans understand that all transaction and titles of ownership are only valid insofar as they comply with all applicable laws and receive the ongoing tacit approval of federal authorities. This is all settled fifth amendment jurisprudence, as I understand.

            The fact that states “own” all habitable land in the world is not incidental.

            You couch this in terms of land, but nothing requires you to do that. Say you live in a town in a remote desert and don’t have the money to leave, there are a dozen employment available to you, all of them are bad, you must take one or starve. If you agree to any of the contracts, pretty much every libertarian will sanction the deal as fair and binding. The social contract works pretty much the same.

            @John Schilling

            Alternately, it might be a bit of a stretch to assert that remaining in a particular nation is an active choice.

            Like I said, I really have no clue what an active choice is and how it differs from a passive choice. Is an active choice one where you consciously contemplate all of the available options? But there are too many options available to us at any given moment, so this will ensure that almost none of our transactions qualify as “active.” The best I can picture an active choice is one where you’re kind of frenetically hopping around while nodding your head and smiling.

            @Jiro

            If you walk onto a parcel of land that is like property, that would be the equivalent of immigration and I agree that we can impose restrictions on immigrants that would be wrong on citizens.

            But this is just the view of the relationship between citizens and the state that we’re discussing. The state is like a condo board, while all of us are condominium owners: we own our units, but we’re still bound by the board’s bylaws, and if we ignore them they reserve the right to kick us out of our condos.

            @ Salem

            And silence is not consent.

            Really? So when I purchase a ticket at a movie theater, I do have the right to shout racial slurs at the other patrons as much as I want without being kicked out? My silence cannot be interpreted as consent to the theater’s unwritten rules, after all.

            But of course the arguments you proffer aren’t genuine, mere Harry-Frankfurt-stuff.

            Not… really. Frankfurt cases involve my “choosing” to do x when it is not possible that I could have done otherwise because, had I done so, a rogue agent would have forced me by some kind of brain manipulation to do x anyway. The choices I’m talking about are perfectly normal, thisworldly choices: we have all contemplated, at some point in our lives, what it would be like to live in another country, but for whatever reason decided that we would rather stay, knowing full well that by doing so we would continue to be governed by the laws of the nation.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Earthly Knight:

            I don’t see why you think this is relevant. The view I’m defending is that acceptance of the social contract is signaled by having the opportunity to leave the country while over 18 but electing not to do so. So a guy living in backwoods Pennsylvania in 1787 consented to the social contract by virtue of continuing to live in the US after the Constitution was passed. I agree that if, for instance, the Constitution had not enjoyed majority support among the US population at the time it was ratified that this would cast serious doubt on its legitimacy. But I don’t think this was the case.

            The question is not whether it enjoyed majority support but whether it enjoyed unanimous support. And that does not matter in itself but only insofar as a system based on unanimous consent is likely to be better than a system imposed on people coercively. That is the point of the essay by David Friedman I linked that you apparently did not look at. There is no difference between a private government and a public government, so long as they do the same things. But they are unlikely to do the same things.

            Your contention that backwoods farmers in Pennsylvania “consented” to the social contract despite rebelling as soon as 1791 in the Whiskey Rebellion is absurd. If the system were unjust, they would have the right to rebel against it whether they consented to it or not. But in fact they did not consent at all and did everything in their power to try to throw it off.

            Why are you even trying to claim that government is imposed by consent? It obviously isn’t. And it need not be consensual to be justified; you may appeal to the consequences alone.

            I find it much more plausible to support a theory of “homesteading” in government: since in order to have civilization and a minimally decent society, mankind (allegedly) requires centralized government, any individual or group who finds a group of ungoverned people living in anarchy has the right to conquer them and rule them. And he continues to have the right to rule in virtue of providing the government which the people objectively require. Whether they consent to it really has little to do with it given that government on the basis of consent would be impossible.

            It’s the same as if you should find an abandoned child in the wilderness; I’d say you have the right to raise him. But of course you lose that right if you you abuse him in ways that violate the purpose of giving parents authority over children.

            (Note that I am prescinding away here from the fact that the franchise at the time was restricted to landowning white men. But I don’t think this is your reason for thinking that US constitution was historically unjust?)

            Sure, it’s a very large part of the reason. I don’t know why you act as if it wouldn’t be.

            By your lights, slaves consented to the social contract. If they didn’t consent to it, they could always pay their masters for the monetary value of their lives and then leave. Of course, they couldn’t steal their lives from their masters, no more than the owner of a house can expect to exempt himself from the state’s authority and continue owning it without paying property taxes.

            Sure, but the problem there is that the law has unjust content, not that the government is by its nature illegitimate. These are distinct defects and we should keep them so.

            The system tends to produce unjust laws because it is by nature illegitimate. These two things are not independent of one another. I do not believe in a moral-practical dichotomy. If I found that the system produced good results, I would have to revise my theory to conclude that it is legitimate after all.

            The purpose of the concept of legitimacy is to tell us which systems will work effectively and which will not, and therefore which ones people ought to submit to and which ones they ought to subvert. Otherwise, it’s nothing but a floating Platonic abstraction.

            But if I were to conclude that it is legitimate, it would not be on the basis of being consensual. It would be on the basis of the kind of natural right to rule I described above. And of course such a theory could be modified by saying that certain forms of government (such as monarchy or dictatorship) are by nature illegitimate because they tend to produce unjust laws, but other forms like liberal democracy are by nature legitimate because they do not. So you wouldn’t have to actually wait for the dictatorship to oppress you before you had the right to rebel against it.

            But what if 99% of the population finds the constitution unjust and wishes it to be rewritten? Does the fact that our current political system is the best conceivable form of government outweigh the collective wishes of the governed?

            Of course it does. The whims of the people are irrelevant. What’s relevant is what’s in their actual interests.

            Now, it turns out that a system where people are free to make their own decisions is much more in their interests than a system where they are dictated to. But freedom is not an end in itself; it’s valuable because it’s conducive to happiness. If totalitarianism were conducive to happiness, then totalitarianism would be valuable. But that would imply very different facts about human nature. That’s the whole point of natural law: human nature demands a certain sort of system in order to achieve given purposes.

            In any case, if you have a system of individual freedom and people mistakenly believe that they would be better served by a system of greater state control, that does not make them justified in imposing it, even if they are in the majority. Anyone who wanted to oppose it would have the right to oppose it.

            @ Samuel Skinner:

            Children get their lives run by their parents despite consenting to that as much as they have consented to past political decisions. Unless libertarianism includes state run crèches, you have to admit past decisions can bind individual who cannot have played a part in legitimizing them.

            Children are incapable of running their own lives and have to be ruled by someone else. Therefore, parents have the right to rule them because it’s in their best interests. But I don’t pretend they consented to it.

            If having an interventionist state were in people’s best interests, I would say such a state has the right to rule people regardless of whether they consent. I just don’t think it is in their interests.

          • Nornagest says:

            since in order to have civilization and a minimally decent society, mankind (allegedly) requires centralized government, any individual or group who finds a group of ungoverned people living in anarchy has the right to conquer them and rule them.

            The obvious problem here is that you’ve created an incentive to define anarchy as broadly as possible.

            It’s basically the logic of colonialism. Which I mean to say as neutrally as possible — I don’t have the hate-on for colonialism that a lot of people do. But it does suggest some failure modes.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            @Vox
            “Children are incapable of running their own lives and have to be ruled by someone else. Therefore, parents have the right to rule them because it’s in their best interests. But I don’t pretend they consented to it.

            If having an interventionist state were in people’s best interests, I would say such a state has the right to rule people regardless of whether they consent. I just don’t think it is in their interests.”

            This isn’t interventionist state argument, this is argument to show the social contract is valid. If it is okay for individuals who you’ve had no choice in choosing to raise you, why isn’t the same acceptable for states?

            “It doesn’t work well” is a different objection from “it is wrong”; notably it is testable. However that isn’t the argument Earthly Knight is dealing with.

          • Salem says:

            Really? So when I purchase a ticket at a movie theater, I do have the right to shout racial slurs at the other patrons as much as I want without being kicked out? My silence cannot be interpreted as consent to the theater’s unwritten rules, after all.

            Do you really need this spelling out, or is this just more distraction?

            You formed a contract with the cinema when you bought the ticket. The cinema can’t just deem me to have accepted a contract because I was standing in the vague vicinity of the cinema. No, silence/inaction is not consent. I have to take some positive action to communicate my agreement (which might be as simple as saying “two tickets for Hail Caesar, please”).

            On the other hand, once a contract is formed, you are right that some of the terms might be implicit (whether by law or by custom), rather than expressly spelled out by either party. So yelling in the cinema would (probably) break my side of the contract, even though neither party expressly specified that in advance. And, to take your analogy in a generous spirit, I agree that if I had assented to a social contract, then it might have additional implied terms (such as a duty of mutual good faith, for example) that were not explicitly specified. Such implied terms are often necessary to give effect to the agreement that was made.

            But if there’s no agreement in the first place, there’s nothing to give effect to.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nornagest:

            It’s exactly the logic of colonialism.

            And the fact that the people in charge have no incentive actually do what’s best for the governed is the main problem with colonialism and the state in general.

            But if it’s actually the case that an extensive government is required to stop the Hobbesian war of all against all, then I didn’t creative the incentive to define anarchy broadly and arrogate power to oneself. The facts of reality created that incentive, and all we could do is try to mitigate it as much as possible.

            Which we don’t do by telling lies about how the state is really consensual after all.

            @ Earthly Knight:

            You couch this in terms of land, but nothing requires you to do that. Say you live in a town in a remote desert and don’t have the money to leave, there are a dozen employment available to you, all of them are bad, you must take one or starve. If you agree to any of the contracts, pretty much every libertarian will sanction the deal as fair and binding. The social contract works pretty much the same.

            At best, you are arguing against a deontological sort of “stupid libertarianism” that doesn’t recognize any distinctions of degree.

            If you live in a company town and don’t have money to leave, you have very little actual freedom. If you live in the desert town, you have a little more freedom (it’s quite a bit easier to change jobs than to change countries or even cities), but still not much.

            The point, as I see it, is that libertarians believe as an empirical proposition that laissez-faire will create more and better opportunities for people, giving them greater freedom of action. If laissez-faire led to a giant monopoly that controlled everything and called itself “Not the State, Inc.”, I don’t think any libertarians would support it.

            Some of them have bad theories that make it sound like they ought to support it. But why waste time attacking that?

            If your actual view is that libertarian policy will lead to some kind of neo-feudalism where people are ruled cradle-to-grave by the condominium association from hell, then say that. Because I would certainly oppose any kind of policies leading to that.

            But I guess you’re right that there is a certain strand of libertarianism that says there is no moral difference between the United States and the Soviet Union; they are or were equally illegitimate. I think that is absurd. They’re certainly not equally unconsensual.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Samuel Skinner:

            This isn’t interventionist state argument, this is argument to show the social contract is valid. If it is okay for individuals who you’ve had no choice in choosing to raise you, why isn’t the same acceptable for states?

            It would be acceptable, if it were in people’s best interests.

            The reason it’s not in people’s best interests is not a contingent, random thing. It’s a matter of natural law. There are principled reasons, deriving from facts about human nature, that tell us whether such a system is compatible with it. It’s not a coincidence that, given the way people are, e.g. communism doesn’t work. Communism doesn’t work because of the way people are.

            If it were to work, people would have to be different. Just as people would have to be different in order for cyanide not to poison them.

            Natural law, natural rights, are not “supernatural law” or “supernatural rights”. They don’t pertain to some Platonic dimension. They are a methodology for helping to determine what social systems work best for people in the real world. That is entirely consistent with the usage of e.g. John Locke.

            Or as Randy Barnett lays it out in “Of Chickens and Eggs—The Compatibility of Moral Rights and Consequentialist Analyses

            “It doesn’t work well” is a different objection from “it is wrong”; notably it is testable. However that isn’t the argument Earthly Knight is dealing with.

            If there is a moral system in which something can produce the best consequences and yet be wrong, then that moral system is not founded upon what actually benefits human life and happiness, and I reject it.

            On the kind of analysis that I am applying (and that libertarians like Barnett apply), it is impossible for there to be a conflict between morality and practicality. Because they are two methods for answering the same question, useful because they can check each other.

            It’s like solving a math problem one way, then going back and solving it another way. If your answers conflict, you know you made a mistake somewhere.

          • Jiro says:

            The state is like a condo board

            People make agreements with condo boards using explicit contracts, not implicit ones. You’re trying to combine aspects of two different scenarios: condo boards (applies to owners but contract is explicit) with walking onto land you don’t own (applies to non-owners, have to comply with arbitrary terms) and building a Frankenstein of “applies to owners but the terms are arbitrary”.

            My silence cannot be interpreted as consent to the theater’s unwritten rules, after all.

            You are again confusing consent to the contract’s rules with consent to the existence of the contract.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            @ Vox
            “It’s a matter of natural law. ”

            You are going to have to elaborate because “It conflicts with human nature” and “it is used by everyone on Earth” are statements that do not mesh well.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Samuel Skinner:

            You are going to have to elaborate because “It conflicts with human nature” and “it is used by everyone on Earth” are statements that do not mesh well.

            It conflicts with human nature to a certain degree.

            It doesn’t totally conflict. That’s why it’s not totally nonfunctional.

            If I say cigarettes kill people and conflict with the requirements for human health, that doesn’t mean you’ll drop dead the moment you smoke one. Most people who smoke them live a pretty long time.

            Some libertarians do tend to be apocalyptic and say that if we don’t stick to the straight and narrow path, we’ll surely fall into communist hell. I don’t think so.

            I think that point of view is harmful for the same reasons that drug scaremongering is harmful. If you tell people their lives will be ruined if they smoke meth one time, and they smoke meth one time without having their lives ruined, they might conclude that meth isn’t so bad after all.

          • “Your language of “taking” and “giving” depends on the assumption that we are (at least pro tanto) entitled to every penny of our pretax income and that the federal government by imposing taxes is “taking” it from us. I do not see any reason to buy into this assumption.”

            I’m curious about your alternative theory of entitlement. What do you think determines how much someone is entitled to? Does simple existence entitled someone to stuff that someone else has to produce, even if the existing person does nothing that produces stuff (broadly defined to include services)? If that isn’t it, what does determine it?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @Salem

            Here’s a crisper example of a legitimate contract where no consent is solicited. Suppose you are walking past Mr. Ararat Hospital and have a brain aneurysm. An EMT notices, slaps you on a gurney, and pushes you, unconscious, inside. The doctors realize they only have about five minutes to operate and save your life: no time to get consent from your health care proxy. You awaken, five days later, completely cured and with a huge medical bill gauchely placed on your bedside table. We may even stipulate that, had you been conscious to voice an opinion, you would not have consented to the procedure. Not because you have a death wish or anything like that, but because you are a gambler and St. Mary’s across the street offers 95% the chance of survival at half the price.

            It seems pretty clear to me both that (1) it was permissible for the doctors to operate on you, and (2) you are obligated to pay the bill, and to follow all of the hospitals rules and regulations, even the unwritten ones, during the course of your stay. So it is not true that even perfectly ordinary contracts require explicit consent to bind.

            @Vox

            And that does not matter in itself but only insofar as a system based on unanimous consent is likely to be better than a system imposed on people coercively.

            I’m addressing the standard natural-rights-based forms of libertarianism that onyomi buys into. If you’re a libertarian by way of being a consequentialist with a dubious suite of empirical beliefs, that’s great, but it’s not really relevant here.

            If they didn’t consent to it, they could always pay their masters for the monetary value of their lives and then leave.

            The claim is that implicit consent is given when the individual has the ability to freely leave the country after her 18th birthday and chooses not to, not that implicit consent is given when an individual would have had the ability to leave the country after her 18th birthday were she rich and with the say-so of her master. Virtually all slaves would not be bound by the social contract, on this view, which seems like the right verdict.

            If laissez-faire led to a giant monopoly that controlled everything and called itself “Not the State, Inc.”, I don’t think any libertarians would support it.

            You… you haven’t met very many libertarians, have you?.

            People make agreements with condo boards using explicit contracts, not implicit ones. You’re trying to combine aspects of two different scenarios: condo boards (applies to owners but contract is explicit) with walking onto land you don’t own (applies to non-owners, have to comply with arbitrary terms) and building a Frankenstein of “applies to owners but the terms are arbitrary”.

            @ Jiro

            If you think you’re right about this, formulate a condition which says “the type of implicit consent to the social contract you’ve described is non-binding, while ordinary contracts are, because of the following key difference: _______.” I suspect the result will seem implausible and wildly ad hoc, but let’s see.

          • “The lower half still pay considerable taxes through sales taxes and regressive payroll taxes. ”

            Correct. But I think the proposal that set off this subthread involved replacing the federal income tax with an alternative.

            A further problem with almost all arguments along these lines is that they assume what matters is who actually hands over the money. The easiest way to see that that can’t be correct is to consider two alternative taxes–a sales tax and a purchase tax. If it’s a sales tax you hand ten dollars to the seller and he hands one of them to the tax collector. If it’s a purchase tax, you hand one dollar to the tax collector and nine to the seller. The two are obviously identical–but one results in all of the tax “paid by” sellers, the other by buyers.

            Putting a tax on something changes equilibrium prices. One can describe possible situations where almost all of a tax on high income people is paid by low income people, because in equilibrium the services the high income people provide to low income people increase in price by almost the amount of the tax.

            Figuring out who really pays taxes requires more information than the IRS can provide.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ David Friedman
            I’m curious about your alternative theory of entitlement. What do you think determines how much someone is entitled to?

            Why neglect the obvious? If you made your money growing potatoes and driving them to market, then the government which built the road before you were born is entitled to a share of your money to maintain the road. Etc.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Earthly Knight:

            It seems pretty clear to me both that (1) it was permissible for the doctors to operate on you, and (2) you are obligated to pay the bill, and to follow all of the hospitals rules and regulations, even the unwritten ones, during the course of your stay. So it is not true that even perfectly ordinary contracts require explicit consent to bind.

            I wouldn’t say you’re obligated to pay such a bill at all. It seems to me incredibly unjust that you would be. You never consented; it wasn’t what you wanted; and while it may be in your best interest, the doctors were in no position to determine that. And if they are allowed to rack up charges on people without their consent, they’ll abuse it.

            If I throw you a birthday party where I invite hundreds of strippers and you don’t want it and are completely disgusted by the whole thing, you’re not obligated to pay me back for it. Even if it cost me a million dollars.

            Even in the example I gave earlier of children, the children may be obligated to obey while they’re being cared for, but this doesn’t create some kind of binding obligation on the part of the children to pay the parents back for the full costs of parenting. Especially if they don’t like the quality of parenting they were given. The cost of raising children is presumed to be paid back by the children in terms of the emotional reward the parents get from it. They’re not slaves the parents can wring unchosen debts out of.

            I’m addressing the standard natural-rights-based forms of libertarianism that onyomi buys into. If you’re a libertarian by way of being a consequentialist with a dubious suite of empirical beliefs, that’s great, but it’s not really relevant here.

            The problem is that your idea of a “standard” natural-rights libertarian is a bad caricature of Murray Rothbard. Randy Barnett is a very influential, very “standard” natural-rights libertarian.

            And even Murray Rothbard believed as a matter of fact that libertarianis