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Three Great Articles On Poverty, And Why I Disagree With All Of Them

QZ: The universal basic income is an idea whose time will never come. Okay, maybe this one isn’t so great. It argues that work is ennobling (or whatever), that robots probably aren’t stealing our jobs, that even if we’re going through a period of economic disruption we’ll probably adapt, and that “if the goal is eliminating poverty, it is better to direct public funds to [failing schools and substandard public services]” then to try a guaranteed income scheme. It ends by saying that “I can’t understand why we’d consider creating and then calcifying a perpetually under-employed underclass by promoting the stagnation of their skills and severing their links to broader communities.”

(imagine a world where we had created and calcified a perpetually under-employed stagnant underclass. It sounds awful.)

More Crows Than Eagles: Unnecessariat. This one is great. A blogger from the Rust Belt reports on the increasing economic despair and frustration all around her, in the context of the recent spikes in heroin overdoses and suicides. There’s an important caveat here, in that at least national-level economic data paint a rosy picture: the unemployment rate is very low, consumer confidence is high, and the studies of technological unemployment suggest it’s not happening yet. Still, a lot of people on the ground – the anonymous blogger, the pathologists she worked with, and me from my position as a psychiatrist in the Midwest – feel like there’s a lot more misery and despair than the statistics suggest. MCTE replaces the old idea of the “precariat” – people who just barely have jobs and are worried about losing them – with her own coinage “unnecessariat” – people who don’t have jobs, are useless to the economy, and nobody cares what happens to them. It reminds me of the old argument of sweatshop-supporting economists – sure, we’re exploiting you, but you’d miss us if we left. She hates Silicon Valley for building its glittering megaplexes while ignoring everyone else, but she hates even more the people saying “Learn to code! Become part of the bright new exciting knowledge economy!” because realistically there’s no way an opioid-depended 55-year-old ex-trucker from Kentucky is going to learn to code. The only thing such people have left is a howl of impotent rage, and it has a silly hairstyle and is named Donald J. Trump.

Freddie deBoer: Our Nightmare. Also pretty great. The same things deBoer has been warning about for years, but expressed unusually clearly. By taking on the superficial mantle of center-leftism, elites sublimate the revolutionary impulse into a competition for social virtue points which ends up reinforcing and legitimizing existing power structures. Constant tally-keeping over what percent of obscenely rich exploitative Wall Street executives are people of color replaces the question of whether there should be obscenely rich exploitative Wall Street executives at all. As such tendencies completely capture the Democratic Party and the country’s mainstream left, genuine economic anger becomes more likely to be funneled into the right wing, where the elites can dismiss it as probably-racist (often with justification) and ignore it. “I cannot stress enough to you how vulnerable the case for economic justice is in this country right now. Elites agitate against it constantly…this is a movement, coordinated from above, and its intent is to solidify the already-vast control of economic elites over our political system…[Liberalism] is an attempt to ameliorate the inequality and immiseration of capitalism, when inequality and immiseration are the very purpose of capitalism.”

These articles all look at poverty in different ways, and I think that I look at poverty in a different way still. In the spirit of all the crazy political compasses out there, maybe we can learn something by categorizing them:


Including only people who think society should be in the business of collectively helping the poor at all (ie no extreme libertarians or social Darwinists) and people who are interested in something beyond deBoer’s nightmare scenario (ie not just making sure every identity group has an equal shot at the Wall Street positions).

People seem to split into a competitive versus a cooperative view of poverty. To massively oversimplify: competitives agree with deBoer that “inequality and immiseration are the very purpose of capitalism” and conceive of ending poverty in terms of stopping exploitation and giving the poor their “just due” that the rich have taken away from them. The cooperatives argue that everyone is working together to create a nice economy that enriches everybody who participates in it, but some people haven’t figured out exactly how to plug into the magic wealth-generating machine, and we should give them a helping hand (“here’s government-subsidized tuition to a school where you can learn to code!”). Probably nobody’s 100% competitive or 100% cooperative, but I think a lot of people have a tendency to view the problem more one way than the other.

So the northwest corner of the grid is people who think the problem is primarily one of exploitation, but it’s at least somewhat tractable to reform. No surprises here – these are the types who think that the big corporations are exploiting people, but if average citizens try hard enough they can make the Man pay a $15 minimum wage and give them free college tuition, and then with enough small victories like these they can level the balance enough to give everybody a chance.

(These are all going to be straw men, but hopefully useful straw men)

The southwest corner is people who think the problem is primarily one of exploitation, but nothing within the system will possibly help. I put “full communism” in the little box, but I guess this could also be anarcho-syndicalism, or anarcho-capitalism, or theocracy, or Trumpism, or [insert your preferred poorly-planned form of government which inevitably fails here].

The northeast corner is people who think we’re all in this together and there are lots of opportunities to help. This is the QZ writer who said we should be focusing on “education and public services”. The economy is a benevolent force that wants to help everybody, but some people through bad luck – poor educational opportunities, not enough childcare, racial prejudice – haven’t gotten the opportunity they need yet, so we should lend them a helping hand so they can get back on their feet and one day learn to code. I named this quadrant “Free School Lunches” after all those studies that show that giving poor kids free school lunches improves their grades by X percent, which changes their chances of getting into a good college by Y percent, which increases their future income by Z percent, so all we have to do is have lots of social programs like free school lunches and then poverty is solved. But aside from the lunch people people, this category must also include libertarians who think that all we need to do is remove regulations that prevent the poor from succeeding, Reaganites who think that a rising tide will lift all boats, and conservatives who think the poor just need to be taught Traditional Hard-Working Values. Actually, probably 90% of the Overton Window is in this corner.

The southeast corner is people who think that we’re all in this together, but that helping the poor is really hard. They agree with the free school lunch crowd that capitalism is more the solution than the problem, and that we should think of this in terms of complicated impersonal social and educational factors preventing poor people from fitting into the economy. But the southeasterners worry school lunches won’t be enough. Maybe even hiring great teachers, giving everybody free health care, ending racism, and giving generous vocational training to people in need wouldn’t be enough. If we held a communist revolution, it wouldn’t do a thing: you can’t hold a revolution against skill mismatch. This is a very gloomy quadrant, and I don’t blame people for not wanting to be in it. But it’s where I spend most of my time.

The exploitation narrative seems fundamentally wrong to me – I’m not saying exploitation doesn’t happen, nor even that it isn’t common, just that isn’t not the major factor causing poverty and social decay. The unnecessariat article, for all its rage against Silicon Valley hogging the wealth, half-admits this – the people profiled have become unnecessary to the functioning of the economy, no longer having a function even as exploited proletarians. Silicon Valley isn’t exploiting these people, just ignoring them. Fears of technological unemployment are also relevant here: they’re just the doomsday scenario where all of us are relegated to the unnecessariat, the economy having passed us by.

But I also can’t be optimistic about programs to end poverty. Whether it’s finding out that schools and teachers have relatively little effect on student achievement, that good parenting has even less, or that differences in income are up to fifty-eight percent heritable and a lot of what isn’t outright genetic is weird biology or noise, most of the research I read is very doubtful of easy (or even hard) solutions. Even the most extensive early interventions have underwhelming effects. We can spend the collective energy of our society beating our head against a problem for decades and make no headway. While there may still be low-hanging fruit – maybe an scaled-up Perry Preschool Project, lots of prenatal vitamins, or some scientist discovering a new version of the unleaded-gasoline movement – we don’t seem very good at finding it, and I worry it would be at most a drop in the bucket. Right now I think that a lot of variation in class and income is due to genetics and really deep cultural factors that nobody knows how to change en masse.

I can’t even really believe that a rising tide will lift all boats anymore. Not only has GDP uncoupled from median wages over the past forty years, but there seems to be a Red Queen’s Race where every time the GDP goes up the cost of living goes up the same amount. US real GDP has dectupled since 1900, yet a lot of people have no savings and are one paycheck away from the street. In theory, a 1900s poor person who suddenly got 10x his normal salary should be able to save 90% of it, build up a fund for rainy days, and end up in a much better position. In practice, even if the minimum wage in 2100 is $200 2016 dollar an hour, I expect the average 2100 poor person will be one paycheck away from the street. I can’t explain this, I just accept it at this point. And I think that aside from our superior technology, I would rather be a poor farmer in 1900 than a poor kid in the projects today. More southeast corner gloom.

The only public figure I can think of in the southeast quadrant with me is Charles Murray. Neither he nor I would dare reduce all class differences to heredity, and he in particular has some very sophisticated theories about class and culture. But he shares my skepticism that the 55 year old Kentucky trucker can be taught to code, and I don’t think he’s too sanguine about the trucker’s kids either. His solution is a basic income guarantee, and I guess that’s mine too. Not because I have great answers to all of the QZ article’s problems. But just because I don’t have any better ideas1,2.

The QZ article warns that it might create a calcified “perpetually under-employed stagnant underclass”. But of course we already have such an underclass, and it’s terrible. I can neither imagine them all learning to code, nor a sudden revival of the non-coding jobs they used to enjoy. Throwing money at them is a pretty subpar solution, but it’s better than leaving everything the way it is and not throwing money at them.

This is why I can’t entirely sympathize with any of the essays I read on poverty, eloquent though they are.

Footnotes

1. And then there’s the rest of the world. Given the success of export capitalism in Korea, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, et cetera, and the pattern where multinationals move to some undeveloped country with cheap labor, boost the local economy until the country is developed and labor there isn’t so cheap anymore, and then move on to the next beneficiary – solving international poverty seems a lot easier than solving local poverty. All we have to do is keep wanting shoes and plastic toys. And part of me wonders – if setting up a social safety net would slow domestic economic growth – or even divert money that would otherwise go to foreign aid – does that make it a net negative? Maybe we should be optimizing for maximum economic growth until we’ve maxed out the good we can do by industrializing Third World countries? My guess is that enough of the basic income debate is about how to use existing welfare payments that this wouldn’t be too big a factor. And I would hope (for complicated reasons), that basic income would be more likely to help than hurt the economy3.

2. Obviously invent genetic engineering and create a post-scarcity society, but until then we have to deal with this stuff.

3. And then there’s the whole open borders idea, which probably isn’t very compatible with basic income at all. Right now I think – I’ll explain at more length later – fully open borders is a bad idea, because the risk of it destabilizing the country and ruining the economic motor that lifts Third World countries out of poverty is too high.

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1,723 Responses to Three Great Articles On Poverty, And Why I Disagree With All Of Them

  1. Dumky says:

    “It reminds me of the old argument of sweatshop-supporting economists – sure, we’re exploiting you, but you’d miss us if we left.”

    I expected better from you, something like accurate and fair representation of the reasoned arguments economists make.
    I guess I need to lower my expectations (which were high due to your many insightful and intellectually honest essays in the past).

  2. Carl Stoll says:

    The trope of associating any increase in state power with totalitarian communism is based on misunderstandings and propaganda. Give me an example of an elected socialist government that then became a brutal dictatorship. Apart from countries occupied by the Red Army after 1944 there are no instances of such a phenomenon.
    If you cannot provide a single historical example, that means that your theory is worth squat.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Give me an example of an elected socialist government that then became a brutal dictatorship.

      Nazi Germany.

      If Hitler had gotten hit by a bus prior to kicking off the invasion of Poland he would have gone down in history as one of the most popular German politicians of all time, Time magazine’s 1938 “Man of the year”, instead we got Hitler.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Sounds good. Can we also put a stop to the trope where any decrease in state power means Somalia?

  3. YouAreInsane says:

    Anyone who seriously considers adopting a basic universal income necessarily believes that evolution is not a real biological phenomenon.

    • Hume's guillotine says:

      is =/= ought

      Maybe get that as a hand tattoo since it seems you people seem to have a lot of trouble remembering that.

  4. Jill says:

    It’s amazing how varied human beings are and how we, to some degree, each live in our own worlds. My own focus is on what’s going on today and how and why. To whatever extent I focus on philosophy or ideology, I am interested in it primarily in how it affects current events and circumstances– not in exactly and precisely quoting the “Bibles” of those ideologies.

    E.g. I don’t think I’d be interested in Ayn Rand at all, if not for her strong influence on Alan Greenspan and Paul Ryan. I’m more interested in how their interpretations of Rand influence our economic and political policies, circumstances and conversation today, than in precise quotes from Rand’s books, or figuring out what Rand herself believed.

    I see that some others are more interested in academic philosophy, and I don’t begrudge you that. It’s just not where I’m at. Takes all kinds to make a world.

    Primarily I am concerned with being aware of the propaganda we are immersed in, in the U.S. and where it’s leading us. Because it’s there, it’s working, and it’s leading us to specific places. I know that many people don’t see it at all. But then it wouldn’t be successful propaganda if most people saw it for what it is.

    Part of the propaganda is about the undeserving and distasteful poor. Not that some of them might not be undeserving. But that as a way of categorizing a whole group. I see it as a Divide and Conquer strategy–dividing the 99.99% into groups too small to unite and cooperate for our own best interest. The 2 party system Divide and Conquer strategy.

    Our largest problems, and our so far inability to deal with them, are not all just caused by Moloch.

    Thank the Shining Garden God or whoever you have here, that there are still many people who try to find common ground and/or to learn from one another. Because there are rather huge forces pushing people in the opposite direction.

    • Anonymous says:

      in support of Jill’s many fine comments, the well-respected historian Jonathan Israel has thoroughly and verifiably documented, that for the past three centuries and more, very many agents of the Radical Enlightenment have embraced Jill’s values and objectives (insofar as I appreciate these values and objectives correctly).

      And of course, very many agents of the Moderate and Counter Enlightenments have adamantly and vehemently rejected these same ideas, in every generation including the present one.

      Indeed, these forces commonly seek for radically Enlightened ideas not even to be spoken, much less rationally debated (and Professor Israel’s works scrupulously document these suppressive efforts).

      That’s why it’s no bad thing — is it? — for the SSC commentariat to become more aware, that a great portion of the issues raised here on SSC, have been argued before, across many centuries and many cultures.

      Mainly the Radical Enlightenment has been winning. But its victories, so far, are neither complete, nor completed, nor uncontested. Which if we think about it, is OK. And so the struggles continue (as they should).

      What’s objectively unique in our century, compared to previous centuries, are Enlightened hopes that radical advances in medical science, combined with radically free and universal access to those advances, will radically accelerate the radical agenda of the Radical Enlightenment.

      And doesn’t this rationally explain why the various Counter Enlightenments are united in vehement opposition to universal access to healthcare as a basic human right?

      And isn’t this this radically expanded human right, implemented with the foreseeably radical medical advances of coming decades, foreseeably destined to radically accelerate the achievement of the Enlightenment’s most radically transformational objectives?

      These are rationally good reasons — aren’t they? — why ours is a radically good generation for humanity in general, and young people in particular, to become radically more rationally radical in embracing a transformationally radical 21st century Enlightenment! 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        ^^
        I’d be interested in your thoughts on the ethics of a banned commentator evading that ban by posting under a pseudonym.

        • Anonymous says:

          Thank you for your interest, “anonymous”.

          Don’t Jonathan Israel’s writings remind us that Tom Paine tried it both ways?

          Common Sense was published anonymously; Paine avoided jail but realized no income. Converse, The Rights of Man was published openly; Paine realized a modest revenue from it, but was exiled from his English birthland:

          The publication of Rights of Man caused a furore in England; Paine was tried in absentia, and convicted for seditious libel against the Crown, but was unavailable for hanging.

          The end result of these difficult choices was that Tom Paine died alone, poor and largely forgotten, with only six persons attendant at his funeral, including one Quaker preacher and two freed slaves.

          Isn’t the crucial fact simply that Paine did think and did wrote — and thereby inspired many others to think and write — not how Paine wrote nor whom Paine pleased? And therefore, isn’t it a net good that SSC accommodates explicitly Paine-style expressions of explicitly Paine-style values? 🙂

          (obligatory xkcd reference)

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          You need to frame it in a more SSC way:

          If a banned user uploads their mind to a computer, is the created consciousness still banned?

      • Jill says:

        Thank you for your comments and for those links, Anonymous. I like historian Jonathan Israel.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Propaganda is everywhere. For instance, spreading the idea that anyone who does not support certain policies vis-a-vis poverty finds “the poor” (as a whole) to be undeserving and distasteful, and that such views disqualify them from having their opinions on policies on the poor considered at all, that’s pure propaganda.

  5. Jill says:

    And here’s one more riddle. This one is easy. I’m going to give you a quote from Donald Trump and I want you to think about it and come up with the answer to this question: How many times in your entire life have you ever heard anyone say this before?

    The quote is: “I love the poorly educated.”

    • The Nybbler says:

      I don’t think I’ve heard anyone put it quite Trump’s way, but I’m fairly sure P.T. Barnum expressed similar sentiments.

    • J says:

      I hear it all the time from liberals. They love them so much that they can’t stop coming up with paternalistic programs to save them from themselves! See, it works both ways.

      Seriously, though, this isn’t a good place to show us how smart you are by trashing on a candidate that most people here don’t even support. If we wanted to hear about TRUMP GETS DESTROYED BY NEWSCASTER IN 37 SECONDS, we’d spend more time on facebook and not here.

      • Jill says:

        As I mentioned before, and as the article you cited itself points out, most liberals have no more love for the poorly educated than conservatives do.

        I neither trashed on the candidate nor said that many people here support him. I simply pointed out that he speaks to a group that most politicians, and most people, ignore.

        There are certain people here who seem to desire to have an angry argument. I don’t desire that myself.

        I can understand though why you thought I was bashing someone. On Internet comment boards, a not small percentage of comments are ways of bashing people. So if you don’t understand what someone is saying, then “bashing someone” is often a good guess.

        • J says:

          In your original post, you’re not saying anything as straightforward as “he speaks to a group that most politicians, and most people, ignore”.

          When you asked us to consider how many times we’d heard someone say “I love the poorly educated” in our lives, was that because it’s a worthwhile thing to say, and it’s a shame people don’t say it more often? Or were you saying that “I love the poorly educated” is the kind of thing a gloating demagogue says as he takes advantage of rubes? Because the other reply compared it to P.T. Barnum and you didn’t contradict them.

          • Jill says:

            I wasn’t saying either of those things. I was just starting off a train of thought about how people seldom, if ever, say such things. Perhaps P.T. Barnum did say something similar. If so, I would not necessarily think that he said it for the same reason that Trump did.

  6. Jill says:

    Here’s a riddle.

    Q What do you get when most people in your country think the poor are distasteful, and so almost no one pays any attention to them, to their needs, to their fears, or to their desires?

    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .

    A: Donald Trump, of course.

    • J says:

      Huh, weird, this guy would have said “liberals, of course”:
      The smug style in American liberalism

      It’s almost as if it’s not a one-sided, black-and-white issue where your guy is the unassailable hero and the other guy is the mustache-twirling villain.

      • Jill says:

        Have you read that article? I have, and the point it makes is that liberals usually express the opposite sentiment of loving the poorly educated.

        • J says:

          You’re referring to the other subthread. Your original post was “What do you get when most people in your country think the poor are distasteful, and so almost no one pays any attention to them, to their needs, to their fears, or to their desires?”

          Your answer was “Trump”, and the popular meme is that he’s popular because we the enlightened didn’t fuss enough with the needs, fears and desires of the poor, and so they’ve turned in their ignorance to this populist monster.

          So I offered the alternate view that maybe the reason Trump is popular is not that we didn’t give *enough* attention to the poor, but that the attention we pay is condescending, and that we’re so full of ourselves that we can’t comprehend that we might not actually be the savior of the poor we imagine ourselves to be.

          • Deiseach says:

            As an outsider I probably have no place proffering an opinion, but I think J is correct in that while the left (defining that in general terms) does like to speak about the poor and helping them, there is also a very specific definition of “poor person” whom they regard as The Deserving Poor: minorities, whether that’s on gender, racial, ethnic or sexual orientation grounds.

            There is also very plainly a class who are The Undeserving Poor.

            Before Trump came along, support for the Republicans amongst the poor or lower classes was categorised as “Why do they vote against their economic interest? Because they’re too stupid and brainwashed to see we are the ones who care about them”.

            Speaking about the perceived support for Trump, it has all been in terms of “those racist hillbilly uneducated homophobic xenophobic misogynistic Bible-bashing gun-clutching white trash” and nobody has demonstrated any signs of caring about lower class whites other than as examples of privilege who are now reaping deserved suffering (“if poor Chinese are getting better lives because of globalisation and outsourcing, everyone should be glad”).

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s easy enough to get that idea from tumblr or tv or whatever. But when you look at what we do as opposed to what we say it’s clear that the deserving / undeserving line is quite different.

            The deserving poor are in order of deservedness the elderly (even if they aren’t poor!), physically disabled vets, mentally disabled vets, children, physically disabled, and parents.

            The underserving poor are non-parent, non-elderly, non-veteran adults without physical disabilities.

          • Jill says:

            Well, that is another way of looking at it that is also true. Few people pay actual genuine attention to the real needs and circumstances of the poor. But a lot of people of all political stripes do pay a sort of condescending attention to them that does not turn out to be constructive at all.

          • Jill says:

            Deisach, thank you for your comments. I welcome anyone to this threat here who has something to say. Yes, I have often read the points of view you are talking about.

            People of all political stripes do find at least certain large swaths of the poor to be “distasteful.” And what you have described is a very common liberal viewpoint.

            I got a group together of mostly progressive people to read Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant, about working class white people. Some of the folks had their eyes opened and were amazed at the new information in the book. But some hated the book because they just didn’t want to look at that segment of the population at all.

  7. Jill says:

    I find myself wondering: Just how distasteful are the poor, to the people they are distasteful to? Are the poor so distasteful that most people in the U.S. would not even consider helping the poor in ways that cost no more money?

    E.g. what about using the current government budget for the poor in ways that one might expect to be more effective than what we are doing with that money now? Is even that consideration distasteful? E.g. suppose we use Social Security as a poverty remediation program only. So suppose we make people ineligible to receive Social Security if they have assets beyond a certain level? And then we use the saved money for social services or school lunches for poor children, or substance abuse programs for addicts who can’t afford treatment on their own?

    Or maybe we do some study of what the most pressing needs are, or what poor people think the most pressing needs are, and see whether we want to apply saved resources to whatever the survey said the pressing needs are.

    Are the poor too distasteful to most people, that even possible re-arrangement of services for the poor for purposes of greater efficiency, is not even interesting? Does it not even seem worth focusing on?

    • Anonymous says:

      The Rusanovs [a Communist apparatchik couple] loved the People, their great People. They served the People and were ready to give their lives for the People. But as the years went by they found themselves less and less able to tolerate actual human beings, those obstinate creatures who were always resistant, refusing to do what they were told to and, besides, demanding something for themselves.

      Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward (1966)

      Is unempathic doctrinaire libertarianism all that different, in practice, from unempathic doctrinaire Communism? Not essentially, according to Solzhenitsyn.

      These considerations are what Wendell Berry’s pro-empathy Jefferson Medal lecture “It All Turns on Affection” (2012) is all about.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      What’s your own experience with the poor?

      • Jill says:

        I grew up in a poor city. Finances were pretty tight for our family growing up. As an adult, I’ve worked in poor public school systems, and also in prisons, and with homeless people.

        I see the biggest problem most poor people have as lack of training, resources and social service kinds of help that could help them to help themselves. Free handouts might not be the right thing, if people would not be doing any constructive activity.

        That’s a big thing– for people to be steered toward constructive activity. Maybe a jobs program like WPA would help. Maybe job training, or cooperative businesses and training in how to work in them.

        I think this below is a good program. I was actually surprised that it is still in existence. At one time it was larger than it is now. It’s for psychiatric diagnosis patients, but perhaps it could be expanded to help other kinds of people who need to learn life and work skills.

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

        I think helping poor people to help themselves and each other is a good way to go.

        I am actually quite concerned about the issue and would be willing to pay more taxes– or to shift around the federal budget from one place to another.– to do something about this problem.

        Money is an illusion so it is hardly the crux of the issue. The crux of the issue is that you have some people in dire straits, without needed resources that could indeed be bought by money.

        But money wouldn’t be the only way. If they could hunt, they could get food that way. If they knew how to build structures and had some land, they could get shelter that way. They need means to help themselves, and ways to get themselves into constructive activity.

        I think that you can’t really stand still in life. You are either going forward or backward, being constructive or destructive. And many– certainly not all– of the poor are going backward, or downhill, or whatever metaphor one wants to use– but nowhere good. And that’s a problem. As more and more people fall into poverty, we get more and more people going downhill together. If we do nothing, eventually we get some big crisis, I would think.

        If I did not think I was my brother’s keeper, I guess these issues wouldn’t concern to me. And I wouldn’t think of doing anything until/unless these issues affected me personally in some jarring way. It seems like that’s where most other people are on this issue.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Means-test Social Security, and you’ll see support for it evaporate. The whole basis of Social Security’s untouchable status is that it is equivalent to a savings program for retirement. This isn’t actually true, but it is a commonly-shared illusion.

      • Anonymous says:

        I agree. But that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. It’s a dumb program.

      • Deiseach says:

        Do you not means test social welfare in the US? Because it is means tested over here.

        There are two classes of pension: contributory (where you’ve been paying in your PRSI from work) which is not means tested but is taxable, and non-contributory (where you don’t have enough payments to qualify for the contributory pension) and which is means tested.

        My late father had an occupational pension (from being in the Army) and was entitled to the contributory pension, which took his army pension into account and taxed him on the state pension. He was not a rich retiree by any means.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Most social welfare programs in the US are means-tested, but Social Security retirement benefits are not. They are contributory; workers pay in through a tax, which is matched by their employers (this being an accounting detail of course), for a total of 12.4% of your nominal salary (or 11.5% of your salary plus the “employer portion” of both that tax and the separate Medicare tax). Benefits are taxable in some circumstances, usually for those with significant other income.

        • Anonymous says:

          It should be noted that the contribution level and the benefits received are connected, but rather loosely. It isn’t a savings account or even an annuitized one.

    • Loquat says:

      helping the poor in ways that cost no more money

      So suppose we make people ineligible to receive Social Security if they have assets beyond a certain level? And then we use the saved money for [x,y,z]

      Diverting money from Social Security to other assistance programs may be budget-neutral as far as the government is concerned, but methinks the retirees facing a sudden cut to their income, and the younger relatives they might then need help from, would have a few things to say about it. Not to mention, workers earning enough income to likely end up above the cutoff post-retirement would then have a much greater incentive to lobby for reduced Social Security taxes.

      • Jill says:

        Good points. I suppose we could make the cutoff rather high, so that only a small number of people would fall into that category– probably many of the same people who’d like to get rid of Social Security already, because they have sizable income or assets from a business, and they want to be able to stop paying the employer’s contribution to it. It shouldn’t be such a low cutoff that the retirees would need help from their younger relatives to get by.

        • ” I suppose we could make the cutoff rather high, so that only a small number of people would fall into that category”

          And your proposal then frees up only a small amount of money.

  8. Jill says:

    We seem to have an issue in the U.S. with charitable foundations not being willing to focus very much on helping the poor in the U.S. They far more often help the poor in other places. Helping the poor seems to have a lot of political and public relations pitfalls and obstacles. I notice in my reading about this, that the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill Gates Foundation etc. do most of their work in other countries, probably to avoid those obstacles.

    So the U.S. government is into not spending money on the poor currently, or on much of anything except wars and drones. And the charitable foundationsm that people theorize will pick up the slack, do not.

    I guess we are finding what happens in this situation, and will continue to find out more.

    • Anonymous says:

      So you begrudge people living on a dollar a day charitable aid you think it’s better spent on people living on $25/day because the latter fell out of their mothers on the same side of an invisible line as you.

      What a humanitarian you are!

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s more about the lack of demand for malaria nets in the USA.

    • JayT says:

      Or, the reason charitable foundations focus on those other places is because the US poor would be considered quite wealthy, by quality of life, in comparison to the poor of those countries.

      Also, while you could argue that the government should spend more on the poor, you can’t argue that the US Government is not spending money on the poor. it spends billions.

      • Jill says:

        It does spend money on the poor. And there is great resistance by the public to the idea of spending more. And great willingness to spend less.

        I guess the “free market”, such as it is, plus what safety net we do have, is determining how much food, shelter, clothing, medical care etc. each person deserves. And most people in our society and on this board seem satisfied with that.

        I wonder why Scott decided to write a blog post about such a non-issue?

    • Nornagest says:

      or on much of anything except wars and drones

      The DoD received about 17% of total federal spending in 2014 (615 billion out of 3650), the second-largest budget category after Social Security at a cool 900 gigabucks. Other large line items include “income security” at 542 (funds a variety of welfare programs), Medicare at 519, and “health” at 450 (CDC, FDA, etc.); it goes down quickly after that but there’s a long tail. Then there’s state and local spending, which I’m not going to bother finding numbers on but which is even more skewed away from defense. Things may have changed a bit since then, but probably not by much, unless someone hid a major war where I wasn’t looking. (The ongoing ISIS intervention is not a major war.)

      You may have seen infographics floating around which show defense spending of ~60%. These, however, describe discretionary spending only, a budget category that’s mainly of internal significance to the government. It is essentially a historical accident that defense falls into this category, and looking at it alone is liable to shed more heat than light if you’re not deeply familiar with federal budgeting. Not that that’s ever stopped anyone from sharing stuff on Facebook.

      • Jill says:

        Oh, I see. That does look correct. I had indeed been looking at discretionary spending. I do think it’s an important category in that it’s a choice whether to start new wars, and it doesn’t involve defaulting on current obligations incurred, unlike what would be happening if the government stopped paying out Social Security.

        I wonder, when the government takes the Social Security money and spends it on other things, and then has to pay it back, whether the paying back what had been taken is considered an expense or not. People pay in a lot of money to Social Security and some do not even get back all of what they paid in. Perhaps on average they receive more than they put in though.

  9. Inachodladh says:

    Government spending is growing faster than GDP. The world’s population is growing. The people who are the least useful are having the most kids. I think you see where this is going. Let’s admit its not sustainable. This whole ideology of “we have to take care of everyone” is going to have to go away eventually, it’s just a matter of whether we want to do it in an orderly market based end welfare and promote abortion way, or a chaotic fascist genocide way. The choice is yours, humanist.

    • Anonymous says:

      Inachodladh proclaims: “I think you see where this is going.”

      Yes, in plenty of respects it’s a beneficent direction that gratifies the growing, thoughtful cohort of empathic libertarians! 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        You seem to think that calling someone immoral invalidates their argument?

        • Anonymous says:

          It was the mathematician / philosopher Alfred North Whitehead who presciently foresaw (in 1925):

          “It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties.”

          Whitehead’s essay appears in Richard Rhodes’ well-selected (as it seems to me) anthology Visions of Technology: A Century of Vital Debate About Machines, Systems, and the Human World (2012).

          One point is that Inachodladh is not the first person to peer into a cloudy crystal ball and proclaim that dystopia is inevitable. Rhodes provides multiple examples, and indeed Whitehead himself goes on to say:

          Middle class pessimism over the future of the world comes from a confusion between civilization and security.

          From Whitehead’s perspective, an essential, and gravely corrosive, aspect of underclass-membership is frustration of the shared opportunity, and the shared responsibility, and the shared hope, of creatively shaping our dangerous future.

          If at its best, libertarianism manifests itself as an empathic libertarianism that embraces, and seeks to shape, “our dangerous future” (in Whitehead’s phrase), then at its worst, doesn’t libertarianism all-too-commonly manifest itself as a self-justifying, and threfore self-sustaining, embitterment disorder that is associated to a (real or perceived) Shayvian moral injury?

          An embitterment disorder that perceives not the hopes of the future, but only the dangers? Surely libertarianism can do better than that! 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            He says that population is growing faster than GDP, and that the least productive people are having the most children. You respond by calling him immoral. I ask you if you think that’s the way to engage an argument, and your response is to double down and say he has an embitterment disorder?

            Oh nvm, you also added that because pessimists were wrong in the past, present pessimists are wrong as well. I see..

          • Anonymous says:

            A pretty fair number of comments on this thread use the word “immoral”, but the comment complained-of is not one of them.

            Perhaps there is a perceived association to (for example) the explicit critique of libertarian immorality by “Jill”? Or our host’s provocative endorsement of “bleeding heart libertarianism” (as pointed out in a cogent comment by WinterSoldier)?

            For a growing cohort (me included), the notion of “moral injury” — which is finding increasingly many psychometric applications outside of military psychology — lends itself to public discourse and scientific inquiry better than the notion of “immorality”, which is so commonly perceived as pejorative.

            As the scientific literature on moral injury increases, perhaps the time has arrived for the libertarian community to engage with it, without being accused of it?

            Gives me the goose-bumps! 🙂

          • Jiro says:

            “It’s okay for me to call him immoral because I didn’t use the exact word “immoral”” isn’t and shouldn’t be very convincing.

          • Anonymous says:

            Jiro, your comment inspired me to search Jonathan Shay’s major works — Dr. Shay is a much-honored MD/PhD psychiatrist — in regard to the relative usage of “immoral’ versus ‘moral’.

            Achilles in Vietnam (1994) 
                ‘immoral’ used one time, ‘moral’ used 53 times

            Odysseus in America (2002)
                ‘immoral’ used zero times, ‘moral’ used 47 times

            The Shayvian Ratio (as we will call it) of hundred-to-one weighting of ‘morality’-versus-‘immorality’ struck me (at least) like a thunderbolt, as while reading Shay’s works, I had been entirely unconscious of it.

            For inspiring this insight, I sincerely (albeit anonymously) thank you, Jiro.

            From a Shayvian perspective, if libertarian ideals do not reduce the incidence and prevalence of moral injury (in practice as opposed to theory), and are not conducive to the healing of moral injuries (again in practice as opposed to theory), then aren’t we justified in tackling the tough question: Of what practical good are libertarian ideals?

            More broadly, perhaps discourse among the SSC commentariat would be concretely improved, if there were fewer mentions of ‘immorality’, and more discussion of the causes of ‘moral injury’ and the methods of remediating it?

            Aren’t these amply good reasons for moral discourse to respect the Shayvian Ratio, and more generally, to respect the Shayvian focus upon moral injury and its remediation, as contrasted with immoral behavior and its punishment?

          • Randy M says:

            Aren’t these amply good reasons for moral discourse to respect the Shayvian Ratio,

            Aren’t what? The ability to question libertarianism and “perhaps” a concrete improvement in discourse on the site? I don’t see why they would be, even in the unlikely event we can’t work around a euphemism treadmill.

            Furthermore, is that really what you were objecting to? Couldn’t you have mentally rephrased the question as “You seem to think that calling someone “not facilitating moral healing” invalidates their argument?”

            Perhaps a concrete improvement in commentating around here could be achieved by prioritizing clarity over novel lexigraphical innovations for reasons of pretension empathy?

          • Anonymous says:

            My objection to the parent comment chiefly originated in the unsupported postulate

            “The people who are the least useful are having the most kids.

            followed by the inference

            I think you see where this is going. Let’s admit its not sustainable.

            Isn’t the postulate flatly contradicted by science? And isn’t the inference based upon the most unempathic (hence sterile) variants of fundamentalist libertarianism, namely, the variants that stipulate coercive economic punishments to citizens who dissent from reductionist libertarian rationalism?

            In contrast, aren’t the most empathic (bleeding-heart) varieties of libertarianism naturally compatible with a Shayvian focus upon moral injury and its remediation, as grounded nonreductively in Brain, mind, society, culture — each other’s environments with equal ontologic standing?

            For an increasing cohort of people (including me), and within increasingly influential institutions, this natural and nonreductive compatibility between empathic libertarianism and Shayvian moral action amounts to plain common sense, and provides a viable alternative to the dystopian visions that have become so regrettably prevalent among fundamentalist libertarians.

    • anonymous poster says:

      Why does everyone always suggest ending welfare as a way to get rid of superfluous poor people? Superfluous poor people predate the invention of welfare by thousands of years.

      • Corey says:

        Likewise, eliminating Social Security doesn’t cause old people to just start working or starving. For those who have families, some family member will take them in, possibly reducing their ability to work. For those who don’t have families and can’t work, they do indeed starve, but people rarely starve quietly.

        • John Schilling says:

          And when you take that one step further, proposing to eliminate Social Security causes tens of millions of registered voters to think, “wait, what, this means my mother-in-law is going to have to move in with me?”, and vote for Hell No We’re Not Doing That.

          The End.

      • Jill says:

        Many people suppose that if welfare is ended, jobs for unskilled people will magically appear. And then the supposer will end up paying less in taxes too. A win-win.

        The theory is that poor people are lazy and are sitting in front of the TV eating bon bons bought with food stamps, unwilling to apply for all the many living wage jobs somewhere right outside their door. End welfare and food stamps and the problem is (supposedly) solved.

        Theoretically, no social services are needed to prepare them for work, to help them to apply for jobs, to treat their medical or psychological or substance abuse issues etc. Because that would cost money. And in the U.S., money is to be spent on wars.

        • Anonymous says:

          What’s a living wage? Does that mean if you make less than that you drop dead (presumably from starvation)?

          There are still hundreds of millions of people on this planet living on $1.25 at PPP a day or less. So I fail to see how the “living wage” can be higher than that.

          Maybe pick a less bombastic term?

          • Jill says:

            The cost of food, lodging etc. is higher in the U.S. than in the countries where people live on $1.25 a day.

            Just because the term sounds bombastic to you doesn’t mean it does to me or anyone else.

          • Anonymous says:

            I suggest you look up PPP (purchasing power parity).

          • Jill says:

            You should have spelled it out beforehand. I do know what it is. I just don’t use abbreviations for everything, as some here do.

            If one looks up just ppp, they get all kinds of things e.g. piss poor planning.

            Talking about what it’s like to be poor from a theoretical standpoints, with no skin in the game, and having perhaps never even known anyone with skin in the game, has its limits.

            Here is a book by someone who tried to live on tiny amounts of money, describing what it was like.

            Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Paperback – August 2, 2011
            by Barbara Ehrenreich

            http://www.amazon.com/Nickel-Dimed-Not-Getting-America/dp/0312626681/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464368532&sr=1-2&keywords=barbara+ehrenreich+books

          • Anonymous says:

            Now that we are clear on PPP, would you like to revise your response regarding what a “living wage” is and whether or not the term is bombastic?

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            Those people live in places where food is much cheaper. Otherwise they really would starve to death.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Saint Fiasco
            See the third post above yours.

            @Jill

            Talking about what it’s like to be poor from a theoretical standpoints, with no skin in the game, and having perhaps never even known anyone with skin in the game, has its limits.

            What’s your point exactly? Is or is not one penny below a living wage fatal? If not, what is the word “living” doing in there? Other than serving as bombast that is.

            I thought you were opposed to propagandistic manipulation?

            FYI: my sister’s only sources of income are SSI & food stamps.

          • Jill says:

            No. I don’t find it bombastic. People have to have some way to get their basic survival needs met. Or if they don’t, it’s silly to pretend that they do have that.

            Why do you find the term bombastic? What terms do you prefer to describe poverty? Or do you prefer to think that it doesn’t exist or should not be anyone’s concern but the person who is poor?

            What is YOUR point here? My (and others’ though I haven’t noticed you demanding anything of others here who use the term) use of the term living wage is a problem for you. Why?

          • suntzuanime says:

            The term “living wage” could in theory mean something, but to the extent that it means something, it is illegal to work in the US except for amounts vastly greater than the living wage. I would suggest that this is one of those cases where the left has refused to change their rhetoric to acknowledge their victories, but honestly it seems difficult for me to believe that working for less than a living wage was ever particularly common. It would seem like it would only take a month or so for all the remaining workers to be earning a living wage.

          • Jill says:

            So, Suntzuanime, what is your preferred term here? We’re talking about the poor. That’s what the post is on. What term do you use to distinguish someone who is poor and perhaps in need of help from society vs. someone who isn’t? Or do you just believe that no one ought to get help from government or society, no matter what?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Give me a break.

          • Anonymous says:

            Many people suppose that if welfare is ended, jobs for unskilled people will magically appear. And then the supposer will end up paying less in taxes too. A win-win.

            The theory is that poor people are lazy and are sitting in front of the TV eating bon bons bought with food stamps, unwilling to apply for all the many living wage jobs somewhere right outside their door. End welfare and food stamps and the problem is (supposedly) solved.

            Theoretically, no social services are needed to prepare them for work, to help them to apply for jobs, to treat their medical or psychological or substance abuse issues etc. Because that would cost money. And in the U.S., money is to be spent on wars.

            For deciding how little poor people should have before you and others in society can feel fine about ignoring them entirely, regardless of their other cicumstances?

            Or do you just believe that no one ought to get help from government or society, no matter what?

            Or do you prefer to think that it doesn’t exist or should not be anyone’s concern but the person who is poor?

            Maybe strawman should be the next thing you look up.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            That $1.25 figure already accounted for the differences in purchasing power?

            I honestly don’t believe you. Doesn’t that mean it should be possible for me to find enough to eat, drink and have shelter for a day with $1.25?

            I live in Paraguay, and even here $1.25 a day is considered extreme poverty. As in, if they are alive, they are probably getting more money that the statistics don’t account for (crime?), or are being helped by someone.

            Edit: Forgot to mention that in Paraguay minimum wage is about $11 a day. That is admittedly more than living wage, but $1.25 is definitely less than living wage.

          • Jill says:

            Saint Fiasco, thank you for some information from the real world. So good to see that up in the nether world of abstractions.

          • Anonymous says:

            Apparently Africa isn’t a part of the real world. Data is meaningless. The only thing that matters are anecdotes offered by articulate English speaking people with access to the Internet or better yet prestigious NY publishers of light non-fiction for newsweekly crowd.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Saint Fiasco
            Do people in your country rarely, sometimes, or often eat bush meat? How about in urban areas (rats, pigeons, squirrels, feral dogs and cats, etc.)?

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            @Anonymous
            Birds are eaten sometimes. Never cats and dogs, because they are pets. And rats are icky.

            But in that case, shouldn’t the price of the bird be included in how much they “earn” per day? Just because hunting, gathering and scavenging isn’t a “real” job doesn’t mean the “income” isn’t real.

            So if the person earns $1 a day, and the bird is worth $0.50, then they really are earning 1.50$ a day. One dollar from their day job, one half for hunting.

          • Anonymous says:

            In a countries where bush meat is commonly eaten it has a market price and is included in consumption. In richer countries even poor people have better options and there’s not much of a market for it. If you had to survive on $1.25 a day at PPP the lack of competition for rats and feral cats and the like would a major advantage versus someone that had to go to market for it or range further afield. There’s a similar story for clean water.

            It turns out that human beings are pretty tough and can LIVE in fairly terrible circumstances.

        • Jill says:

          Well, then perhaps you should ask your sister how much it costs her to live per month, in her area, including all money and goods she receives from family. And maybe you can ask her how much money she needs to keep from starving to death, because you need that figure for what? For deciding how little poor people should have before you and others in society can feel fine about ignoring them entirely, regardless of their other cicumstances?

          Living wage is a common term, used by many here. What term would you prefer, to differentiate between the amount of money it costs for food, lodging and other necessary expenses vs. an amount of money below that?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Nobody advocating for a “living wage” is advocating for the amount of money it costs for food, lodging and other necessary expenses. They’d be fighting to reduce the minimum wage, in that case. (Barring a few pathological urban areas.)

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m familiar with how much it costs her to live, and it is well below the number cited as the “living wage” for our area.

            My problem with the term living wage is that it is dishonest propaganda. What advocates mean is that it is in some way undignified or “not right” for a person to to earn less than a certain amount per hour, not that it is impossible to live on a particular income.

            That may well be a good argument, I’d like to see it made openly and honestly so I can evaluate it.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            Upon introspection, I think “living wage” refers to the wage where you can live without major nutritional deficiencies. Where I live, ‘very poor’ kids are anemic, underweight, shorter and less intelligent than ‘normal poor’ kids. By less intelligent I mean they can’t focus well in school and often fall asleep in class.

            They don’t die, usually, but they don’t fully live either.

            I understand that kind of poverty is uncommon in developed countries, and it’s conceivable that a reduction in minimum wages will move many people from ‘very poor’ to ‘normal poor’.

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            without major nutritional deficiencies

            You can probably achieve that with one multivitamin plus 2000-3000 kcal’s worth of rice and beans per day.

        • Jill says:

          Anonymous, so if that’s a straw man, then what is the real man? What do you actually believe about the poor and their needs and helping them or not helping them? Or do you only criticize others ideas, rather than being clear about your own?

          Are you saying that if someone has $1.25 per day, we should all forget about them. Poor problem solved?

          BTW, a working individual needs work clothes, transportation costs etc. that your sister does not need if she doesn’t work.

          • Anonymous says:

            Is generating strawman some kind of addiction? Your middle paragraph fits right in with all the other quotes.

        • Jill says:

          So you are unconcerned about poverty in the U.S. Why use Africa as your standard? Are you saying that no one here in the U.S. is poor enough to be deserving of assistance?

          • Jill says:

            Anonymous, you keep accusing me of generating a straw man, but you won’t answer questions from me, and refuse to be clear about what your own position actually is.

            I’m giving up on guessing what you believe and think about poverty, since you refuse to be clear on that. And since every time I ask you to be, you use your straw man accusation on me.

          • Anonymous says:

            Oh I could tell you why the ocean’s near the shore. I’d be thinkin thoughts I’d never thought before. Then I’d stop and think some more. I would not be just a nothin, my head all full of stuffin, my heart of pain!

          • Jill says:

            I will learn from this experience. Never seriously try to have a conversation with someone who actually believes that someone in the U.S. could live on $1.25 per day. They are too far out of touch with reality to have a conversation with.

            Also, I need to stop sooner any conversations with people who demand lots of things from me, but never answer my questions or go to any trouble whatsoever to be clear about what they are saying. And to stop conversations with people whose favorite conversational habit is making accusations about straw men etc.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Jill
            Also, I need to stop sooner any conversations with people who demand lots of things from me, but never answer my questions or go to any trouble whatsoever to be clear about what they are saying. And to stop conversations with people whose favorite conversational habit is making accusations about straw men etc.

            Jill, I think that’s a very wise decision, and I think you should also apply it to people who seem rude to you in any way. (Remember that a lot of people here don’t know when they’re sounding rude to outsiders; see ‘lack of social skills’, autism etc. But still, dropping such conversations is wise.)

            There are so many worthwhile comments these days, that by the time I’ve caught up reading them all, either someone else has already made the point I would make, or said something so clearly and politely that I can answer theirs without problems.

          • Jill says:

            Thanks, Houseboat.

          • Anonymous says:

            Jill, people will stop accusing you of strawmanning when you stop assuming that Republicans only donate to charity because they fear hell and that the person you’re arguing with wants the American poor to live like Africans (just your two most recent examples). Do finish that reading about the principle of charity.

            In this particular chain, you weren’t rude to a specific person, you just implied that anyone opposing welfare believes a bunch of outrageous things, and then waited for either the claim to go unopposed or for someone to come argue in favor of welfare..in the frame that you’ve already established, as a person who believes that “jobs will magically appear” and “money is to be spent on wars, not poor people”.

            You’ve done this multiple times, and sometimes you get called out, and you never learn the lesson. I have tried spelling it out for you, take it or assume I’m yet another rude person, I’ll keep enjoying your posts either way.

          • workedness says:

            Best not, Jill. You can say anything terrible about liberals. There’s really no ceiling for how outrageously unfair a remark about liberals may be on SSC.

            But it doesnt work the other way at all.

            To see the problem in full check out the reaction to Scott’s “republican debate questions” post.

            https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/11/16/hardball-questions-for-the-next-debate/

          • Deiseach says:

            Republicans only donate to charity because they fear hell

            As a Republican, the only charity I donate to is the Easter Lily collection*.

            Oh – not the kind of Republican meant in this context? 🙂

            *As a child, I mortified my mother one Easter when we were in town by putting money into the collection tin and proudly wearing my Easter Lily sticker on my lapel, because I was unaware of the political connotations and thought it was simply for Easter 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            There’s really no ceiling for how outrageously unfair a remark about liberals may be on SSC.

            Let me test that one out, workedness.

            The Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells is a liberal!

            Let’s see if that gets me banned or not. If not, you are completely correct and we are a nest of crypto-fascists on here.

          • Jill says:

            Thanks again, workedness. Interesting post and reaction there.

          • Jill says:

            Deiseach, I expect workedness was referring to the types of reactions one gets from board participants after stating certain views or facts– not Scott’s banning policies.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ workedness
            You can say anything terrible about liberals. There’s really no ceiling for how outrageously unfair a remark about liberals may be on SSC.
            But it doesnt work the other way at all.

            Jill, I’m too much of an outsider here to properly understand where this de facto double standard comes from. But I think it’s not because of a real, single but nuanced position Scott holds on the issues. He has one (which I applaud as far as I understand it) but that’s not exactly reflected in how the comments here line up.

            If someone wanted to figure out what’s going on with the double standard and how it developed, I’d say read ssc from its beginning, and read some of Scott’s posts on his other social medias; tumblr etc. There’s a ‘ssc-sketchpad’ (which may be some of what critics here refer to as “Scott’s commie friends on tumblr”) and I don’t know what all else.

            My vague impression here, is that ssc began non-political, sort of taking up where Less Wrong left off. Then rightwingers started coming in with harsh political comments. So there went the neighborhood. So a lot of liberals made a Polite Flight to other (maybe less political) places. Scott has made some purges of especially harsh rightwingers, but new ones come in, so the comments here keep skewing hostile to liberal people and liberal policies.

          • k says:

            @workedness
            Most people here are liberals, so that is a really weird comment. If you are particularly hurt by the five or so Nrctnries we have, then I’m sorry.

          • Dahlen says:

            @houseboatonstyxb:

            LessWrong was never non-political. There was always this undercurrent of pent-up obsession with political topics that resurfaced with every opportunity, as evidenced by the threads of hundreds and hundreds of comments that resulted every time someone started a vaguely political or controversial discussion. I once wandered obliviously into a huge trainwreck of a political thread (might’ve been gender issues, and the year might’ve been 2013) and asked, “what are all y’all getting so worked up about?”, and got downvoted into the negatives.

            A lot of the overt and accepted political discussion was also absorbed by the sister site of OB, and that was also one big source of right-wing users, because it looks like the whole of George Mason University is ideologically libertarian — albeit not far-right, but in an academia rumoured to be mostly left-wing, these types fraternise more easily than it would happen across the left-right ideological border.

            What happened on SSC was that Scott carried over the previous tendency of the community to judge issues impartially into the political realm, which effectively created a bi-partisan space or, shall I say, omni-partisan, and when certain political factions meet, sparks fly. The moderation was aimed mostly at containing, or minimising the damage of the sparks. (I wrote more here, but it was mostly Recent History of SSC that all of us already know, plus potentially controversial claims that I don’t have the time to defend now.)

            Anyway, it’s not what it used to be, as evidenced by the fact that we can have this discussion with minimal to no amounts of dogpiling. (Then again, it’s an old thread already.)

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ k

            It’s not the number of commentors, it’s the length and number of insults (toward liberals in general; very few are toward me). Which have seemed to slack off in some recent shorter threads.

            @ dahlen

            Thanks for the background. It was reading ssc that sent me looking at LW, so I only saw the last of LW, and never OB.

        • “Theoretically, no social services are needed to prepare them for work,”

          You might find Murray’s Losing Ground relevant for its description of the failed attempt to use government programs to prepare people for work. That was part of the original theory of the War on Poverty. The fact that it turned out not to work was part of the reason the War on Poverty shifted from getting people out of poverty to making it more tolerable to be in poverty.

    • Ruprect says:

      Capital can’t talk. The extent to which capitalism is voluntary is the extent to which people accept the legal/political institutions relating to capital.
      What is the purpose of our social systems? What is the justification for our current rules?
      As the productive capacity of society increases, you would expect that the contribution made to production by individual talent or work would decrease. We’re not 100 times richer than the romans because we work 100 times harder or are a 100 times more intelligent. Where the justification for differences in wealth is differences in effort/talent, you would *expect* the legal system to take increasing amounts of production (owing to capital), as the productive machinery of society is developed.

      So, when we talk about equal (or somewhat equal) access to the production being undesirable, or unsustainable, and say that those who receive the least are the least capable, you are also saying that the justifications provided for our legal systems are insufficient, and, perhaps, that the voluntary society itself is undesirable.
      So, what is the basis of the good society? Would the most intelligent man in the world be entitled to all of the produce of a machine if we, as a society, decided that we wanted him to push the start button? When stakes get too high, people stop playing…
      How about if my grandfather built the machine? Or there was some elaborate chain of ownership leading back to the person who first stole it? I’m as much of a fan of inherited wealth as the next man, but there surely has to be a limit?
      The humanist answer – if the only solution to the problem is tyranny/genocide, then the solution is no better than the problem. All we’ll achieve is a quicker hell.

      • Jill says:

        Word.

        “when we talk about equal (or somewhat equal) access to the production being undesirable, or unsustainable, and say that those who receive the least are the least capable” we’re just saying “I richly benefit from the status quo, so the status quo rocks.”

        Throughout history, a lot of people have said or believed this. Like Marie Antoinette, for example.

        • Deiseach says:

          Jill, do you know what Marie Antoinette actually said or did, or are you swallowing the propaganda of the time which has been kept going ever since by pop history?

          I’m not defending the Hapsburgs or the French monarchy, they were out of touch and the economy and the people were suffering, but I’d love to throttle whomever thought that repeating the alleged “Let them eat cake” saying of hers was a bright idea. That’s the level the “let them eat cake” quote is coming from: one of those “somebody said” attributions that get pinned onto various famous people as having uttered it, that was then used as part of the pre-revolutionary anti-monarchial activism and propaganda.

          In case you are unaware, other neat propaganda tricks of the revolutionaries to make sure public support for the execution of the late queen was 100% (some wishy-washy types were a bit queasy about executing her) were to circulate reports that she had been committing incest with the Dauphin, as well as insinuations of adultery, lesbianism and other high-living aristocratic debauchery. This is one account, you can find plenty more to back it up by Googling. And remember that the Dauphin was only eight years old when separated from his mother, put into the care of guards who brutalised him and allegedly made him get drunk, sing dirty songs, and repeat the charges about his mother’s sexual misconduct with him. He died when he was ten. Ah, the pure righteousness of the glorious people’s revolution!

          Marie Antoinette’s personality had been assailed on almost every front – her wild extravagance was well known and unquestioned; her supposedly perverse and numberless sexual proclivities had been the stock in trade of pornographers and gossips for years; and at one and the same time she was dismissed as intellectually vapid and reviled as a cunning, Machiavellian enemy of the revolution. But through all this, one positive light had continued to shine on Marie Antoinette: the glow of motherhood. This aspect of her role was especially important to Marie Antoinette herself; in part because it had taken her so agonisingly long to become pregnant, in part, perhaps, because of the epic example of motherhood provided by her mother the Empress Maria Theresa, and in part simply because of her own naturally maternal personality. The image had been deliberately fostered through public events and in official portraits, especially those of preferred painter Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun.

          … If there was one thing Hébert knew it was how to whip up the people, and so he quickly arrived at a plan to destroy the one last vestige of humanity left in the public image of Marie Antoinette, and speed her on her way to the guillotine. At some point, it was mentioned to Hébert that when Louis Charles was frightened Marie Antoinette would comfort him and let him sleep in her bed. This planted the seeds of an idea. Hébert decided to frame a story that Marie Antoinette abused her son sexually, teaching him to masturbate and making him sexually dependant upon her. There has been some speculation that in order to provide this story with a foundation, Hébert ordered Louis Charles’ guard Simon to encourage him to masturbate, and even bring prostitutes into his cell. Certainly, Louis Charles was subject to all manner of physical abuse by his jailers, and there is no way of knowing how far this extended. However, it is clear that Hébert knew better than most men that truth was far less important than what people could be made to believe. He operated in the realm of words rather than action, and would have seen that subjecting the boy to actual sexual abuse was unnecessary for the plan to succeed. Louis Charles was, anyway, a vulnerable and easily-led boy.

          In early October 1793 Hébert visited Louis Charles in the Tuileries, and got him to sign a pre-drafted confession. Most cruelly, Louis Charles was also made to confront his sister and aunt (who had not seen him for 3 months) with the accusations, and they too were then interrogated. Though only 15 years old and unable to understand the full weight of the accusation, Marie-Thérèse knew enough to recognise it as an obscene lie, and was profoundly upset by the incident. Aunt Elisabeth refused even to respond to the questions.

          And this ends today’s History Rant.

        • Jill says:

          Hi, Deiseach. You certainly know a log more about the history of that period than I do. Thanks for sharing all the facts you know about that situation. Are you a historian?

          Although the quote about “Let them eat cake” may be non-factual, it is very true metaphorically speaking. Because the monarchy was very out of touch with the realities of people who did not and could not eat cake.

          The fact that the French monarchy was out of touch and the economy and the people were suffering– that was my main point there. And that defenders of the status quo often think that it’s fine to insulate themselves from other people who are suffering and to ignore them– until suddenly those powerless people get hold of some power and something like the French Revolution occurs.

          That’s the big issue with helping the poor– that it is so easy, and seem so right, to ignore people in dire straits who currently have no power to do anything about their situation or to affect your own life.

          • Jiro says:

            Although the quote about “Let them eat cake” may be non-factual, it is very true metaphorically speaking.

            I believe the term is “fake, but accurate“.

          • Deiseach says:

            Jill, it also is a lie. A propaganda phrase that was useful to give the public a view of the queen (a foreigner, a traitor – she was tried for treason and that was the ostensible excuse for her execution, and thus someone who cared nothing for the French people and was only out to exploit them) and create a negative opinion of her.

            Truthiness of that kind can end up with someone in the libel courts; if you said that I enjoyed boiling puppies alive, I would certainly not take that as a harmless phrase encapsulating the deeper truth that I do not support animal rights in the sense of giving animals equal or even superior moral weight to humans.

            I suppose Hébert was operating on the same principle of “[while] it may be non-factual, it is very true metaphorically speaking” when he created the accusation of the queen sexually abusing her eight year old son?

          • Jill says:

            Hi, Deiseach

            I’m not at all talking about what specific truths of evidence are, in courts of law or in history. I’m simply talking about the general situation of certain people being out of touch with the sort of people who can not and do not “eat cake.” My primary focus is on what’s happening today in the U.S.

            I haven’t uncritically swallowed propaganda here. To say that the French monarchy was out of touch with the needs of the poor is hardly propaganda. That’s all I am saying– and looking at today’s circumstances in light of that.

          • Jill says:

            I would not use the term fake but accurate to describe the French monarchy situation. I would say that they were out of touch with the circumstances of the peasants– which was my main point and which had parallels to today’s circumstances. And that some of the accusations against them were false.

            But I’m not mainly talking about French history here.

            It’s interesting how easy it is to put words into someone else’s mouth when you perceive that you disagree with them in some way– to mistakenly assume that you disagree with them in many huge ways where you actually do not.

        • notes says:

          Indeed, people sometimes do not mean what they say, and sometimes simply say things for the effect on the listener. Or they may speak for self-interested reasons, and may even believe what they say in such cases. Who, looking at the world today, could oppose reform of the status quo? The poor are indeed suffering, and action must be taken, whatever the cost. As a national hero once said, “We must confront the privileged elite who have destroyed a large part of the world.” That particular confrontation has not yet run its course, but it is already a vivid example to those who talk about how ‘equal access’ to production is ‘unsustainable.’

          Part of the duty of confrontation is calling out the propaganda of the privileged elite, whether it comes from a right-wing think tank or a libertarian robber-baron, or even from Reverend Fifield’s corporate-sponsored Christianity. It might be difficult indeed to understand why someone might believe the things that such as they claim they believe, to unravel their proffered reasons and counter their arguments; it is simpler and surer to note their direct or associated self-interest, and confront.

          • Jill says:

            Wow, great to meet you, Notes. Always glad to find someone who is aware of propaganda. We’re pretty well immersed in the stuff. Which is why most people don’t see it. It’s like trying to explain to a fish what water is.

          • Anonymous says:

            Oook my odds of Jill playing the long game just got a lot higher. Although she may looking to cash out already.

          • Anonymous says:

            notes says: “As a national hero once said, ‘We must confront the privileged elite who have destroyed a large part of the world.'”

            Hmmm … was it Jane Goodall? Or maybe Wendell Berry?

            Perhaps the quote is from Berry’s high-profile Jefferson Medal lecture “It All Turns on Affection” (2012)?

            Plenty of folks (well, me at least), and plenty of institutions too, rank citizen-thinkers like Jane Goodall and Wendell Berry among the foremost living spokespersons, either for an empathic brand of libertarianism, or for what empathic libertarianism is evolving to become.

            Note: Jane Goodall is presently 82 years old, and Wendell Berry is presently 86, but neither shows any signs of “cashing out already”.

            We are led to wonder, what do phrases like “cash out already” even mean, to citizen-thinkers like Goodall and Berry?

            Because citizen-thinkers like Jane Goodall and Wendell Berry aren’t “in the game” for any values that are commensurate with “cash”, isn’t that right? 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            Jill, I wish you’d examine the propaganda you are uncritically regurgitating. You seem like a sincere and well-meaning person but you do operate on the basis of “our guys tell the real if unpleasant facts about the other side, their guys spew out propaganda”.

            Then again, I incline to be a JacobITE, not a JacobIN 🙂

            And I am certainly not defending the French monarchy, it is more that I get offended when lazy “Everybody knows” stories that have been debunked as historically untrue and inventions continue to be repeated and ingrained into pop culture with no hope of them ever being eradicated. You know, “Everybody knows Columbus set sail to prove the world was round, Marie Antoinette said ‘let them eat cake’ and the Catholic Church burned Galileo at the stake” (yes, I’ve seen that last one being used as back-patting self-congratulation by one of the “I fucking love science!!!” types).

          • Anonymous says:

            Deiseach, to echo your own comment, “please examine critically the propaganda you are uncritically regurgitating.” Historian Jonathan Israel can assist this effort (and also, affirm that Jill is right).

            Israel’s Benjamin Franklin Medal lecture “Changing the world: Enlightenment and basic human rights ” (2010) affirms:

            We [moderns] have a very very big problem. The French revolutionaries were very clear: the whole idea of modern human rights comes from philosophy.

            But we don’t understand that. “What the hell does that mean? The whole idea of modern human rights comes from philosophy? Are you kidding?”

            For most people, that is absurd and ridiculous. And most historians just don’t know what to do about this. “What are you talking about?”

            If you read [any] French revoutionary journals from 1789, on almost every page it will say “The world is being totally transformed and the main agent of change is philosophy.”

            And we [moderns] don’t know what that means, we don’t understand that, and we’ve redefined philosophy: “We want to be neutral on important social questions. We want to stay in our corner! We’re philosophers

            And so nowadays we think that’s what philosophy is. Of course, this isn’t the Socratic idea of philosophy; it’s the modern idea of philosophy, that way philosophy was made to be neutral, by governments and states and universities.

            So we absolutely can’t understand what they’re talking about, when they [the 18th century philosophes] say “A new world, modern democracy, basic human rights, comes from philosophy.”

            I think this is a complete mystery to a culture like ours. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for your attention.”

            For Israel, the radical tenets of the Enlightenment are eight in number:

            Radical Enlightenment conceived as a package of basic concepts and values may be summarized in eight cardinal points:

            (1) adoption of philosophical (mathematical-historical) reason as the only and exclusive criterion of what is true;

            (2) rejection of all supernatural agency, magic, disembodied spirits, and divine providence;

            (3) equality of all mankind (racial and sexual);

            (4) secular ‘universalism’ in ethics anchored in equality and chiefly stressing equity, justice, and charity;

            (5) comprehensive toleration and freedom of thought based on independent critical thinking;

            (6) personal liberty of lifestyle and sexual conduct between consenting adults;

            (7) freedom of expression, political criticism, and the press, in the public sphere.

            (8) democratic republicanism as the most legitimate form of politics.

            As for the most toxic forms of libertarianism, which are grounded in prejudicial elitism and faux-scientific cognitive determinism, Israel quotes Carlantonio Pilati:

            Any faith affording such scope for the most bigoted to be hailed as the wisest of men cannot conceivably be the true one.

            It’s my pleasure to verifiably assure history-minded SSC readers that for the past three centuries and more, both the ideas and the ideals of the Enlightenment have been solidly on Jill’s side! 🙂

  10. Beelzebob says:

    I still do not understand why people are sceptical that ongoing automation is a problem. Even if certain most jobs are not entirely replaced for now, every bit of technology that “saves time” shortens the time an employee is needed, i.e. less employees will be needed. This affects all levels of qualifications and almost every job. An increase in production is also not really feasible since we are already a tad generous with the natural resources we have at hand. I also do not buy into the argument that we will just come up with enough entirely new job concepts to counter this effect (except for bullshit jobs of course, you can have as many as you want of those, but they do not make anyone happy/feel fulfilled). The only solution I can think of is a basic income for everyone. This would also solve the problem, that we otherwise run out of people who can afford anything.
    We should all find a hobby to keep us busy and sane. This hobby might as well be something that was part of an automated job.

    • Corey says:

      There’s an econ-101ist argument that there will always be enough jobs to go around, because aggregate demand will always rise to provide enough work for everyone. It obviously fails in the case of human-level AI (unless the human-level AIs are also consumers and have human-level rights, but that’s a whole nother discussion) and fails in other cases (distributional issues, bad macro policy hurting AD, technology moving faster than humans can learn new careers, etc.)

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        There’s an econ-101ist argument that there will always be enough jobs to go around, because aggregate demand will always rise to provide enough work for everyone. It obviously fails in the case of human-level AI (unless the human-level AIs are also consumers and have human-level rights, but that’s a whole nother discussion)

        That’s nonsense. Along with the idea that we “run out of people who can afford anything.”

        The economy has no “need” for additional consumers. It only has need for producers. In other words, the number of consumers is not a constraint on economic growth; the less we consume, the faster the economy is able to grow. Even one individual’s potential demand is infinite; the only thing constraining it is the wealth available to him, which is determined by the supply of wealth.

        It may be true that in the short run, Say’s Law does not apply. Since economic equilibrium is not achieved immediately, if there is a drop in consumer demand, it may be some time before the labor and capital is redirected into an equivalent rise in demand for capital goods.

        But in the long run, it does apply. “Supply creates its own demand”: there is no point where we have “enough” wealth and any further increase in wealth is “too much” and therefore goes unbought, causing the economy to be in a state of “general overproduction”. Any finite amount of wealth is not enough to meet the infinite desires even of one individual.

        The demand is constrained by and equivalent to the supply. If the demand for one thing goes down, the demand for something else goes up. If consumption goes down, then production is redirected toward capital goods, increasing growth and lowering the cost of consumption in the future until it is judged to be worthwhile.

        And yet you hear this fallacy all the time, that countries somehow benefit from “expanding markets”—not for the purpose of acquiring productive resources, which would make sense—but explicitly for the purpose of finding “buyers” for their manufactured goods. Implying that the greatest form of benefit would be sending them the goods for free—or simply destroying them—without getting anything in return.

        ***

        This is separate from the question of whether automation can cause the value of human labor to go down. I don’t think this will happen either, but the only possible route for this is essentially the Malthusian situation.

        The Malthusian problem in regard to population is supposed to be that population grows more quickly than the means for sustaining it, causing numbers to level off at the level where they can be sustained at subsistence only.

        In regard to machinery / AI, it’s really no different. If the machines can reproduce themselves faster than they can expand the quantity of available resources, then the value of any labor capable of being done by machines will fall to the cost of that machine’s “subsistence” (below which no more machines will be produced).

        This, first of all, assumes that there is no labor incapable of being done by machines. Including even ceremonial/sentimental labor.

        But even if this is so and there is nothing capital-owning humans are interested in purchasing that machines can’t produce for far less (again, this seems to me a very implausible assumption given that people often prefer “handmade” products even when they are functionally inferior to those made by machines), the very fact that there is such a virtually limitless supply of machine labor must mean that even a tiny amount of capital would be capable of keeping people in luxury for a very long time. So far from there being some essential need to institute a government-run basic income system, it would be the case under this scenario person who had amassed any quantity of savings would be able to provide the indefinite subsistence of all the people who (for whatever reason) had no savings at all.

        • Corey says:

          Of course a world of abundant labor allows everyone to survive and even thrive, with no changes to today’s economic system, if we assume away distributional issues!

    • NN says:

      1). Because technology eliminating the need for vast numbers of jobs has already happened multiple times (for the most obvious example, before the Industrial Revolution 90% of the population worked in agriculture, now in the West less than 2% of the population is directly employed in agriculture) and people have been predicting that this will lead to mass unemployment for literally centuries now, and every single time these predictions have been proven false. That alone should be enough to make anyone skeptical of these claims, in the same way that we should be skeptical of claims that the world will end due to the countless failed apocalyptic predictions that have come before.

      2). As far as we can tell, today’s automation isn’t leading to a net loss of jobs. In fact, some professions that have had some of their tasks automated, such as bank tellers, paralegals and checkout clerks, have seen an increase in the number of jobs, and in general fields that involve more computer use have seen larger growth than jobs involving less computer use.

      3). I have yet to find a single trained economist who does not think that these automation apocalypse predictions are a load of hooey. So if you are arguing for these theories, then you are effectively arguing for a field-wide science failure in the same way that global warming skeptics are.

      • Psmith says:

        every single time these predictions have been proven false.

        http://www.g w e r n.net/Mistakes#neo-luddism

        The rest of my comment keeps getting filtered, but I’ll just add that quite a few trained economists take the possibility of technological unemployment seriously–see G w e r n’s citations, or the link in your own Atlantic piece.

      • Saint Fiasco says:

        I live in a third world country that is just beginning to move from subsistence-agriculture to industrialized-agriculture. Traditional farmers are not learning new skills or anything. Mostly they complain that nobody wants to buy their products anymore and request more subsidies and protectionism. A terrorist group is now finding recruits among the traditional former-peasants.

        I expect the population will adapt eventually, just like they did in other countries. In the meantime people are literally dying, though.

    • Anonymous says:

      I still do not understand why people are sceptical that ongoing automation is a problem.

      Scoreboard.
      https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/fredgraph.png?g=4zD0

  11. Graeme says:

    Posting this as late as I am, I suspect this will get lost in the noise, but I’ll try to make the point regardless. Here’s the thing: helping the poor, long term, is very hard. I’m right there with Scott, and I’m not sure that free lunches is going to solve the problem, because the fundamental problem seems to be one of limited hardware.

    The comment that an opiate addicted Kentucky trucker won’t (and can’t) learn to code is absolutely true. Ditto with all his friends and family (to near statistical certainty). But then, most of the posters here are pretty smart and come from pretty smart families and it’s hard to sympathise. Hands up everyone who is on the cutting edge of computer hardware and completely understands every aspect of building an i7 processor, and also has a good knowledge of molecular biology, chemical engineering, and a working understanding of corporate/copywrite law (to the level expected of a typical corperate lawyer)? No takers? Right. So what happens when the minimum baseline for employability is someone who DOES?

    Because at some point the requirement for continued growth in the economy is going to bump up against the limits of hardware; the Flynn effect is all well and good, but outside of IQ tests I don’t see people getting smarter so much as being more specialized. And the really successful are the ones who do many things well (Elon Musk, looking at you buddy).

    There is no hope for our opiate addicted Kentuckian; and if the heritability of intelligence indicates anything, there’s precious little for his kids or kin. So when we’re talking about poverty, understand that we are talking a losing battle with an expanding pool of impoverished, because once we finish industrializing the third world how exactly does anyone in the west expect to make money without having capital or brilliance? And if you only have the former, someone with both will drive you out of business.

    And the weird part is, this is *fine*, for the most part, because quality of life makes up for quite a lot of disenfranchisement. Scott says ignoring technology, he’d rather be a farmer in the 1900s than a kid in the projects, but that is ignoring a *lot*. Especially if “technology” includes “cheaply made consumer goods and food that can be afforded even on a pittance out of the public purse”. A purse which incidentally did not exist in 1900 because there wasn’t enough productive capacity to support it. Societies tend to the morality they can afford, after all.

    But the point of this losing battle is that it is a rearguard action. We cannot, as we are now, survive indefinitely. It isn’t clear whether humanity in it’s current form would lose first to nuclear war or rogue asteroid, but at some point it *will* lose. What appears clear to me is that those who lack the ability to participate in the benefits of a civilization typically end up trying to annihilate them. In a globalized economy with nuclear weapons, this strikes me as a pretty dire concern.

    Yes, helping the poor and disenfranchised is hard, and statistics suggest that the overwhelming majority will not stop being poor and disenfranchised in the long run, and that more people will join them every generation. I suggest we adopt whatever means necessary to ensure they don’t annihilate civilization before a better long term solution is found.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t think saying 1900> Projects is “ignoring a lot”. Quite the opposite, believing that tech can somehow make up for all that was sacrificed is naive and fetishistic. It might if you are wealthy and you value “comfort” and security over other things, even then some people are going to argue that view is pathologic.

      • JayT says:

        For one thing, it’s ignoring the fact that there would be something like a one in three chance that he wouldn’t have made it past the age of one. I would guess that the vast majority of people would prefer to be alive in the projects rather than dead on a 1900s farm.

        • Loquat says:

          And on the flip side of that, most people who want to become parents at some point in their lives would vastly prefer the scenario where any potential baby has a >95% chance of surviving to adulthood to the one where every family is expected to lose a few.

    • Psmith says:

      once we finish industrializing the third world how exactly does anyone in the west expect to make money without having capital or brilliance?

      The industrialized Third Worlders exchange their newfound riches for Western goods and services, presumably.
      I can see worrying about automation. Bots don’t buy boats. And I can see worrying about trade wars too, for that matter. But an industrialized Third World as such doesn’t strike me as bad news.

      • Anonymous says:

        Must be fun always being on the consuming side of industrialization. It looks pretty much inverse from the other side.

    • Jill says:

      People over 65 suddenly stopped being so poor when FDR got Social Security started and the group as a whole still is better off to this day. We could come up with a program that would help younger disadvantaged people too– maybe something like the WPA.

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

      We need to repair our crumbling infrastructure anyway.

      http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/

      The only reason that helping the poor is hard is the political reason. The population has been propagandized to believe that government spending is a fate worse than death– unless the spending IS on death, and war. Someone like FDR could not win the presidency in current times– someone who knows that helping the poor is quite possible, once one sets their mind to it.

      He knew that we had nothing to fear but fear itself. And he wasn’t afraid.

      • Anonymous says:

        Supposing that one largely agrees what Jill said (as I do), and agrees too with Graeme’s original comment (as I do) to the effect that

        Graeme says “Yes, helping the poor and disenfranchised is hard.”

        then one rational course of action for libertarians who are empathic yet government-opposing is to volunteer for foster-care; a role for which volunteers are in desperately short supply in every US state.

        What’s that? You’re among the people who adamantly oppose empathic government roles (aka Rawlsian roles) *and* you prefer to decline personal responsibility for sustaining at least a modicum of communal empathy?

        Especially for children whose inborn cognitive capacity is (as you conceive these things) inherently inferior to your own?

        Then please reflect that if empathy-nonparticipators (like you) become a majority of the global polity, on a planet with 7-10 billion people on it, then Graeme’s dystopian prophesy assuredly will be fulfilled: “We cannot survive indefinitely.”

        That’s what some folks think, anyway.

      • Anonymous says:

        Man I’m surprised the world is so simple, we just have a bunch of evil politicians stopping us from ending poverty once and for all. Once they die of old age and a brave fearless dude takes over, that problem will finally be solved for good.

        I was starting to think it’s a complex issue that can’t be solved even with everyone doing their best, it was scary. Glad to know it’s just a matter of electing the right leaders.

        • Jill says:

          I didn’t say evil politicians. Yes, the people could elect other leaders, but we’re don’t. It’s the citizenry that’s choosing not to help the poor much.
          If that’s doing their best, well, I guess you are right that it’s hard. Helping the poor is as hard as we make it.

      • Heresiarch says:

        I suspect people over 65 weren’t that poor to begin with in the 1930s, because they’d been saving on the assumption that they alone were going to be responsible for their retirement.

        The country could do what it did because medicine was such that 65 was then like 75 or 80 is now, because our economy was very different in the industrial age, and because they had way over 100 workers for every retiree back then. They’re still better off because a.) goods have gotten way cheaper and b.) they’ve been pushing off the bill for their generous benefits onto Gen X and Millennials.

        There isn’t much of a basis for comparison between then and now, even with a pollyannaish attitude.

      • JayT says:

        You’re assuming that the poor people of today could be used to rebuild the infrastructure, and I’m not so sure that’s the case. Construction isn’t just about having a strong back anymore, many parts of it now require extensive training. What would you do with the people that fail at that training, which would probably be a significant number?

    • Ruprect says:

      Run society as a confederation of neo-paternalist dining clubs.

      Those who aren’t especially witty can play ping-pong.

  12. Heresiarch says:

    I would argue that a UBI is a ridiculous idea on at least two counts. First, as has been pointed out by many people, income just isn’t a substitute for a job. You won’t starve, but you won’t develop skills, you won’t get out of the house, you won’t feel like a part of something, and you won’t feel useful. A UBI might even trap some people into it, rather the way Social Security Disability rules tend to do. We even have had forms of the same idea behind UBI– for example, in the form of Social Security and welfare, both of which have metastasized enormously from their minor origins, sometimes to unaffordable degrees– and poor people have, as Mr. Murray pointed out in Coming Apart, if anything gotten even more screwed up.

    Second, I would argue that injecting money into a system frequently doesn’t alter its economics, just as making homeownership more affordable with low-cost home loans contributed to the housing bubble (we can argue about how much it contributed, but it seems clear to me that it did have some effect) without necessarily making poor people richer overall. With the link between creditworthiness rates and homeownership rates broken, people began bidding more and more on the same houses. Some version of that would likely follow a UBI. Inject X amount of money into paying to meet basic needs, and the profitability of the companies that provide those goods rises, enriching the companies’ owners. And with UBI money to bid on the same houses and apartments, their prices will rise.

    I guess what I’m saying is that these things being offered as solutions will only change the terms upon which people compete without affecting the spread of the spectrum of results.

    The solution I would propose is a difficult, and (fatally) politically unprofitable one. Force people to save money, not for retirement or education or whatever, but in index-fund investment accounts which can’t be withdrawn from except under extreme circumstances, but the dividends from which can be spent on living expenses. Make ’em tax-free in those accounts, if you want, for people in the bottom two tax brackets. No, the dividends won’t cover living expenses, but they’ll sure help, and they’ll help give people a sense of ownership of America’s economy the way citizenship and government transfers do not.

    • Jill says:

      How do you force people to save money who have not been able to get a job? Or whose job does not cover their living expenses?

      • Tom Womack says:

        By arranging that any employer registered with the IRS must pay some proportion of any salary paid into the employee’s forced-savings fund: arrange that the people never get the choice of what to do with the money.

        Lots of people do this automatically anyway – first of the month, my mortgage payment goes to the bank and about the same amount goes into savings, so I never notice it in the account.

        • Heresiarch says:

          Right, and the same sort of dynamic– preventing people from ruining it by panicking at the wrong time– is why I suggested that it should be an index fund.

          • brad says:

            It’s a bad idea for the government to define something like “index fund” and then use it as the basis of other laws and regulations. Just witness all the problems that have arisen from the Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations and regulations thereof.

          • Heresiarch says:

            Brad, I don’t see how the problems at Moody’s, Fitch and S&P have anything to do with it. An index fund has a very, very simple definition– it owns a cross section of stocks in the index– and it does not seem to me to be very subject to manipulation.

          • John Schilling says:

            Which stocks are in the index again, when do we decide that e.g. buggy-whip makers don’t belong any more, and if the person responsible makes the “wrong” decision, does he get a fiscal colonoscopy from the IRS every year for the remainder of the current Presidential term?

            You’re basically dictating that some significant fraction of the GDP be invested in a particular set of designated Superior Corporations, at a specific distribution, and you don’t think the selection of these investment targets will be politically gamed?

          • Heresiarch says:

            John, I think that they’re not subject to political control. Also, there are so many regular index fund investors that any attempt to play games would be met with a large amount of pushback by powerful people in Wall Street, Vanguard, Morningstar, et cetera. (Sort of like a Wall Street civil war.) Checks and balances aren’t just for the Constitution.

            I also think that stocks aren’t easy to manipulate, that it’s frequently illegal to do so, that if one could manipulate them it would be a.) very crude and ineffective and b.) really obvious.

            Finally, there are plenty of folks like Warren Buffett who are honest and interested in creative poverty-fighting solutions, who could, if you were that concerned about corruption, come up with their own list for an index. Certainly I think this idea has fewer flaws than the ancient old tax-and-redistribute model, which is so subject to political risk.

          • John Schilling says:

            John, I think that they’re not subject to political control

            Everything is subject to political control. I think you are saying that political control is not presently exercised over stock indexes, which is a different and weaker thing. You are proposing a massive shift in the relevant incentives.

            Also, there are so many regular index fund investors

            And you’re proposing a massive shift here as well. If a significant portion of everyone’s paycheck is being sent straight to the index funds at the direction of the IRS, then the “regular index fund investors” are suddenly the small fry.

          • Heresiarch says:

            John, whether or not something can be brought under political control, I think you’re ignoring the fact that other strong pressures within Wall Street would make playing games with the composition of index funds very difficult, especially relative to the likely effectiveness (low) of such manipulations.

            I think you have some sort of emotional reaction to my suggestion that is making you cast about yourself to find things to cavil about.

          • brad says:

            John elaborates the concern I had well — which index, using which metrics, decided by who? In the case of NRSRO not only were the ratings manipulated so as to make them counter-productive for the regulatory purposes to which they were put, but by using them in regulations they also ceased to be useful for their original purpose.

            If you want to do something like this, do it something like the 401k rule — require someone with a fiduciary duty to offer one or more investment options. Yes it means higher expenses but it’s worth it to avoid the entanglement that the other method would cause.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think you’re ignoring the fact that other strong pressures within Wall Street would make playing games with the composition of index funds very difficult

            That is an assertion, not a fact, and one that I dispute. For starters, I do not believe that Wall Street is more powerful than the United States Government. If it occasionally wins political battles, it is because they are over issues more important to Wall Street than to the Feds. You propose to make the composition of index funds a matter of critical Federal policy. This will greatly change the balance of power in ways I do not think you have accounted for.

            But more importantly, I think you are grossly and laughably overestimating the integrity of Wall Street. They’re in it for the money, full stop. You propose to firehose on the order of a trillion dollars a year into Wall Street according to a formula that’s going to give maybe ten billion dollars to every company on the Dow(*), and a billion to everyone on the S&P 500, and you think their response is going to be “We insist on the independence, impartiality, and moral purity of our Holy Indices”? Hell, no. Their response is going to be “GimmeGimmeGimmeThat’sMineNotYoursMineMineMineAllMine!”. And the politicians in charge will be happy to steer it to whoever best serves their particular interests.

            This is a recipe for regulatory capture on a grand scale.

            especially relative to the likely effectiveness (low) of such manipulations.

            That makes it worse, not better. The likely effectiveness of market manipulation may be low, but the expected effectiveness as perceived by the people just given a fun new tool to manipulate, will be unrealistically high. They’ll manipulate, Oh yes they will, when have politicians ever not?, and it won’t work like they want it to, so they’ll manipulate some more. When have they ever not?

            I think you have some sort of emotional reaction to my suggestion that is making you cast about yourself to find things to cavil about

            That is false, irrelevant, and needlessly insulting. As would be an accurate description of my present emotions.

            * Or the investors therein, depending on whether the company issues a new offering – another decision that will not be made with dispassionate nonpartisan independence.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campbell%27s_law

            See also Lucas Critique or Goodhardt’s Law.

            John Schilling is doing the long-form explanation about why you can’t put powerful things in the control of simple measures.

          • Heresiarch says:

            John, you’re coming at the whole thing wrong. You appear to me to be imagining that what I’ve proposed is a specific, controlled system. What I’ve proposed is much more like Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”. You can dispute the counterpressures in Wall Street to mass market manipulation all you like, but you can’t argue that I’m overestimating the integrity of Wall Street, because you’ve missed that I’m entirely ignoring it. One cannot overestimate, or even estimate, what one is ignoring. It’s all of their self-interests pulling in different directions on the overall market that makes it damn near impossible to manipulate, particularly over the long term. (It’s for the exact same reason that it’s difficult to regulate, too.)

            “You propose to make the composition of index funds a matter of critical Federal policy.”

            Are you using a Quick-Quotes Quill, or something? I said nothing of the sort.

            My overarching (and final) point is, this sort of thing would be far more difficult to manipulate than you imagine. You seem to think Wall Street can do anything. It can’t. And for actual investors– that is, people who keep their money in for years and decades– all the day-by-day manipulative stuff is irrelevant. Buffett’s mentor Benjamin Graham said, “In the short term the market is a voting machine, but in the long term it’s a weighing machine.” Talk about voting fraud all you want. It won’t change the returns to investors of the long-term business results of American industry.

        • Jill says:

          This would be an extra hardship on people whose salaries do not cover their living expenses, and no benefit at all to the unemployed.

          Have you folks ever even met anyone who was poor?

          • ReluctantEngineer says:

            What Tom Womack proposes is almost exactly the same as the U.S.’s existing social security program. The only difference is that in his proposal, the money is sent to a private account belonging to the employee (something like an IRA I imagine), whereas with social security the money is sent to the federal government (which promises to give the employee some money back when he or she turns 65).

          • brad says:

            If the payor keeps title that’s a huge difference. Among other things it means if he dies before collecting his heirs get the money.

            Social security is not and has never been a savings program.

          • ReluctantEngineer says:

            Sure, but from the perspective of “people whose salaries do not cover their living expenses”, it’s the same — some portion of their pay is being diverted, whether they like it or not, and this makes it harder for them to cover their living expenses.

            Edit: My point was less, “we already have this, it’s called Social Security” and more “this same objection applies equally to Social Security”.

    • John Schilling says:

      @Heresiarch: I’m definitely hoping for some better option than a UBI myself, but want to keep it on the table as a least-bad fallback option for mass technological unemployment. But how do you get to this?

      A UBI might even trap some people into it, rather the way Social Security Disability rules tend to do.

      The essence of a UBI is that everyone gets it, whether they need it or not. Hence the ‘U’. There’s no means-testing, no eligibility-testing, no way to lose your UBI by getting a job or recovering from your disability. So where are you seeing a trap?

      • Heresiarch says:

        The effect is even more so if everyone gets it. Imagine that everyone in the world suddenly, poof, has $1 million more than they did. Would poor people become wealthier, or would it simply devalue what a dollar can buy tremendously? In other words, if your competitors for goods, such as a nice apartment, also have UBI, how does it advantage you? I don’t think a lack of consumer goods is the main problem in most poor people’s lives, judging by trash day in their neighborhoods.

        I’m seeing a trap in dependence, in deciding that this lazy ol’ UBI life is actually pretty good, and not trying any more. (Looking at the SSD example now, with fresh eyes, it doesn’t seem as good a comparison as it did before, though a UBI even for the worst people kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth.)

    • JBeshir says:

      It’s an error to think that adding money doesn’t lose some of its returns to shift in prices, but it’s also an error to think that the loss is 100%. Markets don’t permit you to simply up prices to capture all your customer’s additional available money. You just get complicated effects where the number of people who will buy at various points changes that let you capture some of it.

      This is akin to how, e.g. food stamps haven’t caused hyperinflation to the point that food stamps are worthless. Their existence probably does increase the price at which basics are best sold- but not by nearly enough to make them useless for feeding people.

      Housing is relatively competitive and supply-limited, and university subsidies would have a high rate of effective loss, but it’s unlikely that people on the poverty line are going to be sufficiently competitive about housing for it to eat all their money, or to spend all their money on university.

      • Heresiarch says:

        Thanks for the reply. I think your food stamps example is not a great one. First, yes, food can be mass-produced. It costs little more to make extra. But so long as the list of things people need include things with a heavy labor component, like housing, medical care and education, those are going to be the holes the UBI money flows out of. Second, food stamps are not universal, going to only about 14% of the country. By contrast, a UBI of, say, $10,000 per person per year would be $3.25 trillion per year– which would, I hope you agree, affect markets rather more than $75 billion or so annually in food stamps. (That even a relatively minor UBI like that would cost the equivalent of 85% or so of the entire Federal budget is yet another argument against it.)

        I wish the poor would spend their money on university. The failure of the poor to spend their money on university, or really on anything even arguable to make them more money in turn, is kind of what I’m talking about. The rich won’t need the UBI and will spend it on income-producing assets– including rental housing in poor neighborhoods. Over time, the extra cash flow will simply be absorbed into asset values, and the differing competition for them between rich and poor will mean that it’s just one more component in the definition of wealth and poverty.

        More money flowing through the lives of the poor will not help them (not least since America never puts one party in power that long, and the Republicans have at minimum no commitment to wealth redistribution, and usually a commitment the other way). What will help poor people is more money sticking in their lives. To get that to happen, government wealth redistribution has to be at most a minority of the whole thing, like the EITC. If people could get those index-fund accounts I was mentioning and have their EITC go directly into it and begin generating passive income, I firmly believe things would begin to turn around. (And a mere three years’ worth of $2000 annual EITC would be generating like $25 a month– a whole water bill, some places– in passive income at 5%.)

    • Corey says:

      A big problem with trying to force savings is that one person’s savings must be another person’s liability (across a closed economy, the world economy if nothing else).

      That is, if a group wants to defer, say, $1 trillion of consumption for a year, then that needs to be balanced by another group who wants to pull $1 trillion of consumption from next year to this one.

      Usually this market clears via discount/interest rates, but (at least the US) is hitting a zero lower bound there, where putting money under a mattress (if you have one large and secure enough) is a viable option.

  13. Jill says:

    Now that I am starting to understand the board better, here are some books people here might like.

    Here is one that hard core Libertarians love. And a lot of it is interesting for other people too, as long as they aren’t expecting it to be a book without political bias. I think he is partially correct that language, culture, technology etc. emerge to a large degree from the bottom up, not from the top down– by human action but not by human design.

    The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge Hardcover – October 27, 2015
    by Matt Ridley

    http://www.amazon.com/Evolution-Everything-How-Ideas-Emerge/dp/0062296000/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464279817&sr=1-1&keywords=the+evolution+of+everything

    An alternate title for the book might have been The Bright Side of Moloch.

    I just loved Scott’s post about Moloch. Fascinating stuff. I think the concept could really help humanity to get past the stage of “I have a brilliant idea. Throw garlands of roses in front of me. This problem would be solved, if only people would ____________ (do something good for the system, even though they are punished for doing so as an individual, and incentivized heavily to do the opposite.)” I see a lot of time wasted on such discussions.

    Here’s another book.

    The R_t_y Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin Reprint Edition
    by Corey Robin

    I abbreviated the 2nd word, in case this may be a banned word here. I guess I won’t put the url in because the word is in the url also.

    Anyway, these 2 books seem made for this audience.

    Now, if any Libertarian here wants to expand their horizons, this one below would be the one to read.

    Someone asked me earlier in the thread how the lower classes are exploited. They have a hard time getting a job that pays enough to live on, and they can be pretty abused at their jobs, by landlords etc. Also, because of few economic alternatives, many of them ended up fighting in our Middle Eastern wars, Vietnam etc. Many ending up sacrificing their lives for the military industrial complex, while too ignorant and young to know what they were doing.

    Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War Paperback – June 24, 2008
    by Joe Bageant

    http://www.amazon.com/Deer-Hunting-Jesus-Dispatches-Americas/dp/0307339378/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464280436&sr=1-1&keywords=deer+hunting+with+jesus

    • Murphy says:

      On the note of libertarianism there’s a variant which I find quite charming : Geolibertarianism, summary and tag line: “You have the right to the fruits of your labor but your labor didn’t make the land”

      It’s a variant which discards the convenient assumption that simply by hammering some fence posts into the corners of a chunk of land that you magically make all the mineral reserves underneath it part of the “fruits of your labor”

      I don’t think the georgism/geoism involved is actually terribly workable as a real political system but it does leave a space for the state and in such a system welfare(ish) payments aren’t an allowance or charity granted by the rich but instead are simply the fraction of income from renting out access to land/resources that belong to you as a person with as much right to them as anyone else.

      As you’d imagine it’s spectacularly unpopular with many of the traditional libertarian types who like the get-what-you-grab approach.

      It’s also quite charming that it ticks various communist boxes and makes me wonder if there might be something to horseshoe theory.

      • Jill says:

        Thanks, Murphy. I am looking up Geolibertarianism now to learn even more about it. This web site is doing wonders for my vocabulary.

        I always wonder what the effect of self interest is on political viewpoints. Of course we know what that is for people like the Koch brothers. But for others, we don’t know– unless the person becomes an author or a public figure, like the author Matt Ridley, above. People dug into Ridley’s background and found that he is a member of the House of Lords and so likely has a great deal of inherited wealth, and that he also gets considerable revenues from oil and gas investments, as well as from coal mining on property he owns.

        England is not blind to class distinctions, as the U.S. is, so sometimes it’s easier to find such information there, because there is not as much attempt to hide it or be blind to it.

        Of course, there are many people whose political orientation may be directly opposed to their individual economic self interests, sometimes due to their ignorance and vulnerability to propaganda. It’s the big players/campaign contributors who are most likely to be aiming directly to put more money in their own pockets, either by feeding at the public trough or else by making it legal for them to pollute and destroy the commons (water, air, food supply and farm land) without having to pay to clean it up.

        But then some big players do seem to sincerely want a better world for all and feel no need to keep neurotically accumulating more money than they and their descendants could ever spend, even if it destroys the earth to do so. They pull their heads out of the sand, and see their self interest differently than those who continue trying to prove themselves in a competition, even after they are billionaires.

        • keranih says:

          I always wonder what the effect of self interest is on political viewpoints. Of course we know what that is for people like the Koch brothers.

          Do we? What is the effect of self interest at play there?

          Of course, there are many people whose political orientation may be directly opposed to their individual economic self interests, sometimes due to their ignorance and vulnerability to propaganda. It’s the big players/campaign contributors who are most likely to be aiming directly to put more money in their own pockets,

          What about small players who want more money in their pockets? Or people who could benefit from a redistribution scheme, but vote against it because they feel it is unethical?

          • Jill says:

            Yes, small and large players vote various ways for various reasons. Some of it is covered up though, due to American blindness to class.

            However, much of the underclass doesn’t vote.

  14. eponymous says:

    Here’s a question I’ve been thinking about lately: what are the moral implications of the southeastern quadrant for having kids?

    I’ll assume here that a national eugenics policy is immoral. I’m thinking of the personal side. Suppose that one is intelligent, well-educated, from a high-achieving culture, non-criminal, etc. Does this person have a moral obligation to have kids? To have *lots* of kids?

    • Jill says:

      I wouldn’t think so. People having kids that they don’t want, or more kids than they want, is already a cause of a lot of the problems and trauma in the world. Birth control and family planning are great gifts for those who have access to them.

      • eponymous says:

        Those seem like arguments that wouldn’t be made by someone in the southeastern quadrant.

        I’m not talking about having unwanted kids anyway. I’m talking about including additional moral considerations in the decision leading one to decide to have kids.

        By analogy, I don’t want to have less money, but I could still be persuaded to give money to charity on the grounds that it is moral to do so.

    • Anonymous says:

      It depends on whether or not you buy into the whole weird “rationalist” no time discounting thing. Most people privilege the present over the far future in terms of their moral concerns.

  15. Albatross says:

    Nixon, who was apparently a time traveler from the future, had it right. Give the poor GNI and Medicare and rely on greed to get them to work beyond that.

    I too find myself in the ??? Quadrant a lot. I do push optimism when people want to cut EITC, a precursor to GNI, but when people rip Hillary Clinton or Paul Ryan for not having a great poverty fighting plan I sympathize with leaders who realize that $15 min wage is a band aid on a broken leg.

  16. TrivialGravitas says:

    “The exploitation narrative seems fundamentally wrong to me – I’m not saying exploitation doesn’t happen, nor even that it isn’t common, just that isn’t not the major factor causing poverty and social decay.”

    As used by the people you’re critiquing exploitation is not paying a living wage when it’s an option to do so. Wal-Mart could pay>30k a year without raising prices, so could McDonalds (individual stores may not be so profitable). As far as I can tell all large employers make enough profit per employee to pay every employee a decent if not stellar wage, it’s just nobody (except Ford) ever does that in a capitalist system short of the government forcing them to.

    • Jill says:

      True, ‘dat.

    • Heresiarch says:

      Wal-Mart could not do so, because if they did, their profitability would plunge, they’d be much more vulnerable to competitors, lenders would require much higher interest rates to lend to them, and investors would flee, starving them of capital. In which case, Wal-Mart’s place would be taken by smaller retailers with much less of an ability to bargain hard with manufacturers, resulting in higher prices. McDonald’s is a different matter anyway, as most of their franchises are not owned or operated by them, but by small businesspeople trying to make it. McDonald’s business is mostly to own the buildings themselves and manage the menu, advertising, supply chain, et cetera to keep the value of that real estate up.

      In any case, even if they could pay more, they shouldn’t, because economic policies passed for emotional reasons just about never work out well. “Living wage” has basically no non-emotional meaning. The places with such policies (and others beloved of workers), like Japan or Greece, are some of the most economically sclerotic. “Living wage” is a coded demand for price-fixing of the price of labor.

      Companies aren’t required to pay anything more than the minimum they need to in order to get workers skilled enough to do the job. Sometimes, as with Ford, Costco (and Wal-Mart, now) they choose to, in order to attract better workers. (Ford was not being generous, despite the fact that he took enormous credit for being so. He just wanted to reduce the turnover in his plants, which was staggeringly high, so that he didn’t have to spend so much constantly retraining new people to do the incredibly boring jobs they did.) It’s certainly not Wal-Mart’s fault that their employees have no particular skills or ability to save money, such as would make them better able to be choosier about employer or compensation.

      • Jill says:

        There’s still the issue that taxpayers are subsidizing a highly profitable enterprise like Wal-Mart because their workers make so little that they are eligible for public assistance.

        • Heresiarch says:

          They aren’t. It’s just not the case that if a plan affects the bargaining position of the people it’s trying to help, other people or entities have some sort of duty to validate the planners’ assumptions by not adjusting their behavior accordingly.

          If the employer is offering less money and people are taking it because they’re getting this other help, you could say that the government is in effect handing Wal-Mart money, but it would not be accurate to say that the government is subsidizing them. Wal-Mart owes the government nothing for doing that. If the government wants to take it away and Wal-Mart is facing having to pay more money in wages, and Wal-Mart wants to bargain with the government to continue it, then it owes the government something.

          Not until then, though.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Wal-Mart could pay>30k a year without raising prices,

      This is plain silly. Walmart has thin profit margins. Even if they magically converted to a non-profit and had all profits were distributed evenly to employees, this wouldn’t be enough to raise the average pay from 15K to 30K.

      I know to some people, “WalMart” is this magic pinata that we just need to hit to get more money out. But there’s not as much there as you imagine, especially when you divide it over the massive scale of the company’s million-plus employees. The retail industry is competitive and consumers have captured what might otherwise be retailer surplus.

  17. Sir Gawain says:

    1. It seems like this discussion would benefit from some cross-country comparisons. Other Anglosphere countries, Scandinavian countries, continental European countries, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan all face the political-economic challenges of poverty and inequality and often deal with them differently/more aggressively than the U.S. Which industrialized nation does the best job of reducing the material/psychological burdens of poverty? What aspects of the social safety net in other countries work better/worse than their equivalents in the U.S.? Are there compelling reasons that the specific public policies of non-U.S. governments couldn’t be replicated in the U.S.?

    2. Scott, could you write a post on your thoughts about Charles’ Murray’s work? Incidentally, my (perhaps incorrect) understanding is that he doesn’t see UBI as a solution to the problem of poverty—he sees it as a solution to the problem of the welfare state. (Much like Milton Friedman saw the negative income tax.) Murray’s preferred solution, at least as I exegete it from Coming Apart, is an elite-driven shift in cultural norms surrounding work, family, faith and community. (In addition to general libertarian political economy stuff like school vouchers and eliminating the minimum wage.)

    3. Speaking of tangential post requests (because I’m sure Mr. Alexander has absolutely copious free time), a comprehensive one on the black-white achievement gap (broadly defined) would be awesome. It seems to me at least that racial inequality is a much more serious problem for American democracy than economic inequality, though obviously dealing with one doesn’t preclude dealing with the other. One would think it should be an obvious, explicit, basic goal of U.S. society to bring African-American median IQ, per capita income, crime perpetration/victimization rates, education levels, etc. to the rate of native-born whites. But, as far as I’m aware, no one really has very good ideas about how to do this, or why it didn’t happen naturally after the removal of de jure legal barriers in the 1960s.

    • Corey says:

      You could get a long way there with explicit reparations (and Ta-Nehisi Coates has already addressed everyone’s first-pass objections, like “how do we determine who’s eligible?”).

      I liked the now-obsolete idea Matt Yglesias had, back when TNC’s “The Case for Reparations” came out. At the time the Fed was doing a big QE program, creating money and buying bonds with it. The amounts involved were such that, if they’d have mailed checks to black Americans instead, they could have erased the black/white wealth gap in a few months, at no incremental cost. (That would have required Congressional approval, and at the time Congress couldn’t so much as name a post office, so so much for that idea, and now QE’s done, so there would be incremental cost).

      • keranih says:

        The amounts involved were such that, if they’d have mailed checks to black Americans instead, they could have erased the black/white wealth gap in a few months, at no incremental cost.

        Except…that would have left Hispanic Americans, and Indians, out in the cold. And increased the intra-nation racial tensions.

        It might have resulted in a better world. I’m not convinced.

        • Corey says:

          Native Americans (I assume you meant this; I’m a programmer so Indian has a salient meaning to me) are a whole nother case, true.

          Hispanic-Americans don’t have the kind of strong case for reparations that blacks do; our exploitation of them was much more subtle.

          TNC thinks it would *help* black/white racial tensions but I’m skeptical that anything can, and it might well make white resentment of blacks (already a powerful force) significantly worse.

          • Jaskologist says:

            It would make it worse. Demands for reparations are seen simply as another demand piled on top of the rest, and one that will simply be repeated if acceded to.

            For reparations to improve interracial relations, they would need to be as part of a package that included “ok, we are now even-stevens on the whole slavery and Jim Crow thing. All whites are absolved of any associated blood-guilt from this day forward.” I don’t see that happening, and I can’t think of anyone who could even credibly offer it.

      • John Schilling says:

        What makes you think that this idea won’t fall foul of the lottery-winner problem?

        • Corey says:

          Above we were attributing lottery-winner problems to family/social-network drain. Since these tend to be monoracial, a racial reparations scheme would be also benefitting one’s family and social network simultaneously.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t believe anyone was attributing lottery-winner problems entirely to social-network drain, and if they were I do believe they are wrong.

            Would be an interesting experiment, but also a damned expensive one to try on a national scale. What have you got for a proof-of-concept that doesn’t cost trillions of dollars, and what are the success criteria?

      • Sir Gawain says:

        I think there are a lot of problems with the idea of reparations, from political, distributive justice and efficiency standpoints, but it would take too long to lay them out in detail here, so suffice it to observe:

        Note first that closing the wealth gap (as Yglesias himself noted in the relevant article, I believe) isn’t enough. The wealth gap comes from the income gap, and the income gap comes from the human capital gap.

        So your contention as to the cause of the various black-white gaps is that it results from differences in starting endowments, and it would be fixed with cash transfers of sufficient magnitude to African-American households? How do you reconcile that with the fact that for nearly 200 years immigrant groups to the U.S. with extremely low starting endowments (the Irish, Germans, Italians, Scandinavians, Jews, Japanese, Chinese and Koreans, for example) have managed to approximately match, and sometimes exceed, the socio-economic outcomes of the native-born white population after a comparable length of time? Note that I’m not (necessarily) saying this gap in convergence is due to cultural/genetic factors as opposed to structural factors like various levels of discrimination and selective immigration, but rather disputing the idea that household wealth mechanically generates good socio-economic outcomes as opposed to vice versa.

        Additionally, consider that non-trivial racial gaps in crime rates and standardized achievement tests persist for households at a wide range of income levels. (For example, the median Hispanic income, household wealth, etc. are very, very similar to their African-American equivalents, but the Hispanic crime rate is somewhere between 1/4-1/2 the African-American crime rate IIRC.)

        These are genuine questions, not gotchas; I’d like to hear a good explanation of how mechanically these unconditional cash transfers will lead to higher achievement as opposed to already existing cash transfers.

        Don’t get me started on Yggy’s “accomplish x through MOAR Q.E.” ideas. Suffice it to say, once you’ve used Q.E. to abolish the white-black household wealth gap, maybe you can use it to abolish the Bill Gates-everyone else wealth gap…

        • Corey says:

          TNC covers this as “housing segregation”. Control for neighborhood and black-white differences at the same income level tend to melt away. E.g. the average neighborhood a black family with $100000/year income lives in is SES-equivalent to the average neighborhood a white family with $30000/year income. To be fair, this may be another way of saying “culture”. In fact he proposes people who lost out to “contract buying” etc. as the first easily-identifiable group to be reparated.

          Since housing is a major builder of wealth and the wealth gap is mostly the answer to Why Don’t the “Good” Blacks Just Move Someplace Better, closing the wealth gap would definitely help this. And housing discrimination is more recent than we think – de jure banned in the 1970s, banks have lost redlining suits in the 2000s, and subprime mortgages (not that much less exploitative than contract lending) was pushed *hard* in the black community. The *existence* of Ferguson, MO and all the too-small-to-survive-on-tax-base burgs around St. Louis is an explicit attempt to keep the coloreds out via zoning, after de-jure bans on housing discrimination.

          IIRC Matty’s QE link was existing QE we were already doing for macro reasons, not *more* QE, but admittedly my memory’s crappy.

          I would think that if actually existing cash transfers were sufficient to close/significantly narrow the wealth gap then they would be fine. Explicit reparations would have a major psychological component that would be missing, but *shrug*.

          As for immigrants who start with nothing: the conventional explanation is that immigrants are selected for people with the “grit” to move to a new country in search of a better life and try to achieve it, whereas native-born citizens are not. The relevant data there would be how well immigrants with dark skin and wide noses do (and I am totally unfamiliar with that data).

          • eponymous says:

            I doubt neighborhood effects explain much of the black-white wealth gap. Studies that try to estimate the causal effect of changing neighborhoods tend to find tiny results. This is why the Chetty study got so much attention, since it found a significant effect. But even it doesn’t change the overall picture that much.

            And I’m not sure why housing is such a great way to build wealth relative to other forms of saving. Except for preferential tax treatment I guess. But how much difference does that make?

            Basically your views are heavily in the northeast quadrant, where poor blacks are caught in a “poverty trap”, where they have low wealth due to past discrimination, and they need a minimum amount of wealth to jump start the human capital machine (due to borrowing constraints).

            This is possible, but it’s far from certain, particularly since this view underlies decades of interventions across many countries that have generally produced dismal results.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Given the effective segregation in most parts of the country, I think controlling for neighborhood is controlling for a good proxy for race, which gives you meaningless results if you’re looking for racial differences.

            Differences between black immigrants, children of black immigrants, and US-born blacks (3rd generation or more) would be interesting; I don’t have any good links, though a quick search seems to point in the direction of the immigrants doing significantly better economically.

          • keranih says:

            And I’m not sure why housing is such a great way to build wealth relative to other forms of saving. Except for preferential tax treatment I guess. But how much difference does that make?

            It’s not the tax treatment. It’s forced savings that can not be easily liquidated and can be readily borrowed against. (And which (almost always) stays stable in value, and which frequently goes up in value.)

            The ability to borrow against ones home is how a large number of small businesses get bankrolled. The lack of access to this funding source is, for me, one of the most persuasive arguments against unwarranted-by-financial-status racial bias in housing.

          • eponymous says:

            @keranih

            What do you mean by “forced savings”? Are you making a behavioral argument?

            I disagree that houses are particularly safe assets. The first principle of investing is diversification, and a house is a pretty undiversified investment. Lots of people get in financial trouble when something bad happens to their home.

            Besides, any safety or expected appreciation should be priced in.

            You’re probably right about collateral value, but somehow I don’t think that was what the original comment was referring to.

          • keranih says:

            “Forced savings” – yes. Most people will not put a housepayment into a savings account month after month.

            The first principle of investing is diversification, and a house is a pretty undiversified investment.

            Agreed – in an ideal world (and to some degree, in the past) housepayments would be balanced by other more stable investments.

            Lots of people get in financial trouble when something bad happens to their home.

            Even more people fall into worse finanicial trouble without house equity to fall back on.

            I think it’s important to remember that we’re talking about averages, lifetime outcomes, and relative distances between homeowners and non-home owners. And that our perception of housing as a risky investment has been deeply colored by the 2008 crash, which was driven by what can best be described as unwise investment activity.

            Besides, any safety or expected appreciation should be priced in.

          • Sir Gawain says:

            TNC covers this as “housing segregation”. Control for neighborhood and black-white differences at the same income level tend to melt away. E.g. the average neighborhood a black family with $100000/year income lives in is SES-equivalent to the average neighborhood a white family with $30000/year income. To be fair, this may be another way of saying “culture”. In fact he proposes people who lost out to “contract buying” etc. as the first easily-identifiable group to be reparated.

            First, see: https://randomcriticalanalysis.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/on-concentrated-poverty-and-its-effects-on-academic-outcomes/

            I’ve always been skeptical of this “housing segregation” argument. Again, let’s draw this out mechanically: housing segregation means that instead of living next to whites, blacks live next to blacks. Why exactly does living next to other African-Americans make African-Americans have lower IQs, higher propensities to commit violent crime, reduced educational achievement, etc.? Every immigrant group has (initially) clustered away from the native-born white population, in conditions frequently more impoverished, overcrowded and unsanitary (though probably generally less violent) as African-American neighborhoods today. Somehow, despite that, they were able to hold down jobs, have stable families, ensure that that their kids got good educations and maintain safety and order in their neighborhoods.

            Additionally, consider that this process seems to be reversing with gentrification. But it seems like the people who are strongly against gentrification are also people who think white flight is responsible for the poor socio-economic outcomes of African-Americans. If housing segregation causes the problem, shouldn’t gentrification close the black-white achievement gap in the urban areas where it occurs?

            Since housing is a major builder of wealth and the wealth gap is mostly the answer to Why Don’t the “Good” Blacks Just Move Someplace Better, closing the wealth gap would definitely help this. And housing discrimination is more recent than we think – de jure banned in the 1970s, banks have lost redlining suits in the 2000s, and subprime mortgages (not that much less exploitative than contract lending) was pushed *hard* in the black community. The *existence* of Ferguson, MO and all the too-small-to-survive-on-tax-base burgs around St. Louis is an explicit attempt to keep the coloreds out via zoning, after de-jure bans on housing discrimination.

            I was under the impression that after the 1960s, middle-class blacks did move out of African-American neighborhoods, but I might well be wrong about that. Again, how mechanically does housing build wealth? The overcrowded, completely devoid of amenities, segregated tenements in early 20th century NYC were hardly optimal environments, and yet somehow the immigrant groups living in them managed to succeed. Also, consider the weak effects shown in the Moving to Opportunity study and the project demolitions in Chicago. (This is Justin Wolfers’ optimistic take: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/27/upshot/growing-up-in-a-bad-neighborhood-does-more-harm-than-we-thought.html?_r=0
            http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/05/upshot/why-the-new-research-on-mobility-matters-an-economists-view.html?version=meter+at+0&module=meter-Links&pgtype=article&contentId=&mediaId=&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F&priority=true&action=click&contentCollection=meter-links-click)

            As for immigrants who start with nothing: the conventional explanation is that immigrants are selected for people with the “grit” to move to a new country in search of a better life and try to achieve it, whereas native-born citizens are not. The relevant data there would be how well immigrants with dark skin and wide noses do (and I am totally unfamiliar with that data).

            I’ve always found this an unsatisfying explanation. The U.S. had completely open borders with Europe up until 1924; how strong can the self-selection effects for huge ginormous waves of immigrants when there were basically zero legal barriers to entry really be? Likewise, though we are far from open borders with Mexico today, there’s not really a ton of legal oversight of people crossing the border illegally. It also doesn’t really explain well why different groups of immigrants and their descendants have different socio-economic outcomes, despite facing seemingly very similar barriers to entry.

            Regarding dark skinned immigrants, my understanding is that both African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants do quite well. (At least the economic migrants; refugee groups may be different.)

          • Jaskologist says:

            The other aspect of “housing as investment” is that you are going to be paying for housing regardless. If you are renting, that is money you simply lose. If you own the property, you can probably get a good chunk of that money back when you sell it, and maybe even turn a profit. Either way, you have to live somewhere.

            If we had a way to reconstitute our food after we’d eaten it and sell that off, we’d talk about investing in your diet. Space just happens to be one of the few things that we constantly consume which remains perfectly usable once we’re done with it.

          • Anonymous says:

            The folksy wisdom about renting being tantamount to throwing money away and buying always being the virtuous grasshopper thing to do has a kernel of truth. In the last 70 years governments at all levels have exerted their not inconsiderable powers to ensure to the maximum extent possible that home prices never fall and where ever possible they increase faster than the rate of general inflation. In such an environment the folksy wisdom is good advice. It bears keeping in mind though, that you are making decisions on the basis of the expectation of ever more heroic government interventions on your behalf. Given that homeowners are an even more powerful group than retirees, that’s not a bad bet, but no exponential process can last forever.

          • Jiro says:

            If you are renting, that is money you simply lose. If you own the property, you can probably get a good chunk of that money back when you sell it, and maybe even turn a profit.

            In a free market, if the landlord doesn’t reduce the rent to make up for the fact that his property will bring future returnse, that is equivalent to the landlord just charging a high rent because he really likes money. He’ll be outcompeted by other landlords who charge a little less and know that because of the future returns, they can still make a profit. The market will cause the future returns to the landlord to be passed along to the renters in reduced rent price, at which point the renters can save it in the bank just like the homeowners have it saved in their house.

          • Nornagest says:

            TL;DR of this is pretty simple: if you rent, you’re renting a dwelling. If you buy, you’re renting a pile of money from the bank that you use to pay for your dwelling. Which one is a better idea depends on the lending terms you can get, on your planning horizon (mortgage payments are weighted towards interest early in the loan), and on what you expect to happen to the market.

            Home ownership is heavily subsidized, so it’s often a good move if you can make it work, but not always. I wouldn’t, for example, buy a house in the SF Bay Area right now.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Jiro, I don’t think that’s true. It appears to be an application of the zero-profit theorem, and the conditions for that don’t exist in the real-estate market.

        • Jill says:

          Reparations seems like a very unlikely idea to be carried out, when you consider that right now, we can’t seem to stop police from frequently killing unarmed black men who are not threatening anyone.

          I’m in favor of dealing with the clearest simplest issues first.

          • keranih says:

            @ Jill

            we can’t seem to stop police from frequently killing unarmed black men who are not threatening anyone.

            Care to put a number on that “frequently”?

          • E. Harding says:

            “we can’t seem to stop police from frequently killing unarmed black men who are not threatening anyone”

            https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/25/race-and-justice-much-more-than-you-wanted-to-know/

            https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/01/06/guns-and-states/

          • Jill says:

            Thanks for those posts, E. Harding. It looks like the data from overall statistics are more mixed than I thought they were. But still it doesn’t show that there is no problem here.

            “It would be nice to say that this shows the criminal justice system is not disproportionately harming blacks, but unfortunately it doesn’t come anywhere close to showing anything of the sort.”

            And we have a number of videotapes of police shooting unarmed black people. That’s good if it is not the standard operating procedure in every police department. But it still is a problem.

          • John Schilling says:

            If the problem is that police are shooting unarmed poor people, and you think that the problem is police shooting unarmed black people, your solutions are never going to be more than halfway effective. But you probably won’t notice that, and will likely wind up at odds with the people who are trying to solve the real problem.

          • suntzuanime says:

            You’re going to have trouble breaking 25% effective – the majority of the poor in the US are white.

            I suppose it’s possible there’s an armedness discrepancy that makes up the difference, I haven’t seen statistics on that.

          • Jill says:

            I don’t know if the problem is police killing unarmed poor people in general. The videos that keep turning up seem to show them killing poor black people. However, if that’s the problem, then I certainly don’t want police killing unarmed non-threatening poor people, no matter what the victim’s race is.

            So let’s solve the problem, whether through better police training, better selection processes for hiring police, or whatever else might help.

          • Jiro says:

            The videos that keep turning up seem to show them killing poor black people.

            And of course, the videos that you get to see are a representative sample.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t know if the problem is police killing unarmed poor people in general. The videos that keep turning up seem to show them killing poor black people.

            The problem is, one, the police kind of like to kill poor people and are accustomed to getting away with it and, two, the media knows that (thanks to the tastes of the sort of people on your social media feeds) videos of police killing poor black people get lots of clicks in ways that videos with poor white people don’t.

            So let’s solve the problem, whether through better police training, better selection processes for hiring police, or whatever else might help.

            The way this works is, the diversity training coordinator sets up a bunch of extra lessons that nobody actually pays attention to – seriously, have you ever had to sit through mandatory diversity training? – but being Not Stupid they learn the real lesson. Which is, if you’re a cop so pissed off that you need to kill someone, make sure it’s a poor white person, otherwise you’ll have to sit through more lame diversity training. Problem solved!

            Until poor white people start to realize, through word of mouth, that lots of their friends are getting shot and nobody seems to care. So they all vote for Donald Trump, and then the police get new training that says they’re supposed to be shooting at poor Mexicans.

            I certainly don’t want police killing unarmed non-threatening poor people, no matter what the victim’s race is

            Is there any real difference between “I don’t want this” and “I don’t want to know about this”? Because if you don’t know about it, you’ll be happy. And for the person in charge of finding a “solution”, arranging for you to not know about it may be easier than arranging for it to not happen.

            If there is a solution to this problem that doesn’t involve just reshuffling which group of poor people gets shot this year, it has to start with people who don’t form their understanding of the problem from videos in the media.

            Be part of the solution.

    • Psmith says:

      to bring African-American median IQ, per capita income, crime perpetration/victimization rates, education levels, etc. to the rate of native-born whites…. no one really has very good ideas … why it didn’t happen naturally after the removal of de jure legal barriers in the 1960s.

      https://jaymans.wordpress.com/jaymans-race-inheritance-and-iq-f-a-q-f-r-b/
      https://jaymans.wordpress.com/hbd-fundamentals/

    • The Nybbler says:

      One would think it should be an obvious, explicit, basic goal of U.S. society to bring African-American median IQ, per capita income, crime perpetration/victimization rates, education levels, etc. to the rate of native-born whites.

      One might think that. Another one (like, say, me) might not think that. Anyway, how do you raise IQ? If you can’t figure that out, you probably can’t equalize income and education levels (both of which depend on IQ, and the latter is likely to lose its value if you somehow decouple it from IQ).

      • NN says:

        Anyway, how do you raise IQ?

        No one knows for sure, but we’ve been raising IQ without even trying for the past century or so (see the Flynn effect), so we know that it is possible.

      • Sir Gawain says:

        Let me rephrase: one would think that given the assumption that these differences result from some sort of socialization, if there exist highly negative inter-group differences, it is important for society to address them. I’m willing to hear that assumption challenged (though I personally don’t think HBD is the most convincing explanation for these differences), but at least in public it’s an unquestionable assumption in media/academia/politics—fields which are concerned with the question of racial inequalities. So it’s odd that given that this assumption is unquestioned it isn’t an obvious, basic, etc. goal.

        And mostly agreed regarding IQ.

        • The Nybbler says:

          So it’s odd that given that this assumption is unquestioned it isn’t an obvious, basic, etc. goal.

          The assumption that the differences aren’t genetic is unquestionable, but that doesn’t mean that it’s actually believed.

          The main two speakable viewpoints on the subject seem to be that it’s due to poor values among a large part of the black community, and that it’s due to continued discrimination. The latter group IS making it a priority to reduce the differences, but given (IMO) that they’re just plain wrong and as a result their remedies cannot possibly work, they’re not getting very far. Most of those in the former group see it as a problem which can only be solved within the black communities, not by society at large; one cannot impose good values on a community. Others in the first group would like to do something about it, but in general any ideas end up getting buried in cries of racism.

          • Jill says:

            Some black intellectuals, writing or speaking about their childhoods, do say that their peers put them down for “acting white” because they studied hard, and that this was a problem for them.

            Certainly white people can be active in helping to end racism, e.g. ending racist behaviors by police, and ending imprisonment for nonviolent drug offenses. Blacks have similar rates of offenses of that type to whites, but blacks are far more likely to be imprisoned for them. It’s likely that getting imprisoned, or having one’s father or other relatives imprisoned, for the same offenses white people don’t get imprisoned for, affects a child’s or adolescent’s life badly.

            But it will take black communities themselves to change things like attitudes toward school work.

          • Sir Gawain says:

            Certainly white people can be active in helping to end racism, e.g. ending racist behaviors by police, and ending imprisonment for nonviolent drug offenses. Blacks have similar rates of offenses of that type to whites, but blacks are far more likely to be imprisoned for them. It’s likely that getting imprisoned, or having one’s father or other relatives imprisoned, for the same offenses white people don’t get imprisoned for, affects a child’s or adolescent’s life badly.

            Can you give some citations for this? I hear the vague claim that “blacks and whites commit drug offenses at the same rate but blacks are imprisoned at a much higher rate for these offenses” very often, but very rarely do I hear the claim “blacks and whites sell the same drugs in the same quantities at the same locations with the same frequency and with the same criminal records, but blacks are imprisoned at a much higher rate for these offenses”.

            Then there’s the fact that drug offenders of all kinds make up ~22% of the total prison population. (Not all of whom are black and not all of whom are low-level offenders.) That’s not nothing, but you could release literally every low-level, non-violent drug offense convicted African-American from prison tomorrow (which may or may not be a good idea) and you’d make a very small dent in the total U.S. and African-American incarceration rate.

            I find the ways that the progressive narrative on criminal justice has shifted, in large part thanks to Michelle Alexander’s the New Jim Crow, unsettling. Lefties used to recognize that African-Americans committed crimes at higher rates than whites, but argued (in my view correctly) that structural factors caused these disparities, and by fixing “root causes” crime rates would fall. Michelle Alexander very explicitly rejects this in NJC, and shifts the narrative to: blacks and whites behave about the same on average, but the criminal justice system unfairly targets blacks. (With the corollary that the War on Drugs is primarily responsible for mass incarceration.)

            As Scott argues here, if there is bias, it’s earlier in the causal chain than the criminal justice system.

            Regarding imprisonment and families, sure. But it seems to me that there are two ways to deal with the problem of mass incarceration:

            1) Stop punishing criminal behavior, so people who commit crimes don’t get incarcerated.

            2) Stop people from committing crimes in the first place, so people don’t get incarcerated.

            On the whole, I think the second strategy is better. (I’m not necessarily against well designed “supply side” criminal justice reform, but I think the highest return would come from reducing crime.)

          • Corey says:

            The usual liberal response to “it’s culture” is that culture doesn’t form in a vacuum but responds to incentives.

            For example, the terribly destructive black norm of meeting slights with violence is adaptive in violent environments. (Not that I have any good ideas for breaking that cycle).

            Black people tend to find the attitude from whites of “why haven’t you fixed yourselves yet?” equivalent to “I stopped stabbing you an hour ago; what’s wrong with you that you’re still bleeding?” and I don’t blame them.

          • Jill says:

            Gawain, I am more in favor of 1) Stop punishing criminal behavior, so people who commit crimes don’t get incarcerated, in the particular case of nonviolent drug crimes. Because we have already long ago done this for white people. So it’s only fair to do this for all races.

            Not everything to help blacks has to be done by whites, of course. But I agree with Corey that when blacks are discriminated against so severely– to the point of getting often killed by police when they are not armed and not threatening anyone– whites and the overall society certainly are in that position– of saying “I stopped stabbing you an hour ago; what’s wrong with you that you’re still bleeding?”

          • Sir Gawain says:

            Corey says:
            May 26, 2016 at 10:32 am ~new~
            The usual liberal response to “it’s culture” is that culture doesn’t form in a vacuum but responds to incentives.

            For example, the terribly destructive black norm of meeting slights with violence is adaptive in violent environments. (Not that I have any good ideas for breaking that cycle).

            Strongly agreed. I think ending the War on Drugs through legalization would do a lot to reduce the incentives to use violence. (Because drugs are sold in a stateless environment without a government with a monopoly on force operating a dispute-adjudicating legal system, it’s no surprise that the black market is violent.) If you haven’t read it already, Steven Pinker’s the Better Angels of our Natureis excellent on this.

            Jill says:
            May 26, 2016 at 11:01 am ~new~
            Gawain, I am more in favor of 1) Stop punishing criminal behavior, so people who commit crimes don’t get incarcerated, in the particular case of nonviolent drug crimes. Because we have already long ago done this for white people. So it’s only fair to do this for all races.

            Not everything to help blacks has to be done by whites, of course. But I agree with Corey that when blacks are discriminated against so severely– to the point of getting often killed by police when they are not armed and not threatening anyone– whites and the overall society certainly are in that position– of saying “I stopped stabbing you an hour ago; what’s wrong with you that you’re still bleeding?”

            Regarding drug crime, I agree and I’d even go a few steps further and say controlled legalization is the best policy. But like I said, the low level non violent drug crimes you’re referring to are a very small share of the total prison population, and the extent to which the discrepancy between blacks and whites in them is a result of pure arbitrary enforcement bias is at a minimum highly debatable. For crimes like homicide (where the black rate is consistently 7-8x the white rate), the difference in incarceration rates almost entirely reflect differences in crime rates. Seems to me that reducing the black homicide rate to the white homicide rate is a better long-term strategy than not punishing homicide.

            Regarding the “bloody knife” thing, yeah agreed; I want it to be clear I don’t think African-American communities are somehow morally “worse” than other communities. I think the people in them, like people everywhere else, respond rationally to their incentives, and changing their incentives would result in better outcomes.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            (can you edit this post to get rid of the ∾new∾ labels? they throw off people searching for ∾new∾ posts)

          • Dahlen says:

            @Edward Scizorhands: Seconded. Only sane way of making sense of this beast of a comments section, and we occasionally get this.

  18. Dahlen says:

    Random thoughts.

    1) What you call “a competitive view of poverty” is called in academia “conflict theory”, while the “cooperative view” seems to be dubbed “structural functionalism”. Maybe you knew already, maybe not. Just stuff I’ve found out while taking one of my regular wiki walks. Not trying to shame you into using mainstream academic terms or whatever. Not a postmodernist scholar. All other disclaimers apply.

    2) No idea how you come to treat anarcho-capitalism and “Full Communism” as interchangeable manifestations of the southwestern quadrant, because they’re both proposals of radical system change or whatever. I’m not even sure anarcho-capitalists are included in the category of people for whom the graph applies, that of people who have reducing poverty as a priority.

    3) It’s kind of horrendous how half the comment section immediately proceeded to propose various ideas on how to (and not why) sterilize poor people, assume a whole bunch of unflattering things about how poor people are like (lazy, dumb, impulsive, irredeemably flawed, going all the way to all-around yucky, and one extremist commenter even called them “the enemy”), and approach the whole discussion as if they were the overlords of poor people, here to decide their fates. Y’all have a lot of moral blind spots. I know I keep harping on and on about it, but for a bunch of people who is supposed to be scrupulous, well-read in matters of ethics, and interested in topics such as effective altruism, the general display is one of over-the-top, cackling-villain callousness. Seriously. Go outside your bubble, learn some compassion for your fellow man, try to meet some of those unicorns smart conscientious poor people, and maybe in the future refrain from treating their reproductive rights as dismissable and the number of their offspring a mere variable to be decided upon by rulers. Either you do that or your lose your moral license to call anything “authoritarianism” or “tyranny”.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, it’s true that the worst of the SSC comments are “kind of horrendous”, and it’s true too that horrendous comments are not few in number.

      But on the other hand, the best of the SSC comments are really excellent (as was Scott Alexander’s original post), and by “really excellent” I mean “these people’s reflections made me smile and helped me think with reason and compassion.”

      Overall, my hopes for humanity have increased. But as a prophylactic measure, I’ve decided to write-in “Al Franken” for (USA) President, on the grounds that Senator Franken would be an assuredly human presidential candidate … perhaps the only one? 🙂

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        /removing duplicate/

      • Dahlen says:

        Okay. What does that have to do with my point?

        • Jill says:

          You made some good points, Dahleen.

          It seems like a large percentage of people here are Ayn Rand hard core Libertarian types. You know– “Selfishness is the greatest virtue.” Scott says that he himself could be described as a Libertarian– but not a hard core one. Hard core Libertarians are not interested in effective (or ineffective) altruism except to rail against it being immoral, as Ayn Rand told them they should.

          Here is a FAQ about hard core Libertarians, which may help you to understand them better. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that your characterization of their positions is quite accurate.

          http://raikoth.net/libertarian.html

          • The Nybbler says:

            The non-Libertarian FAQ? Oh, that’s too much… you really are running a long troll, right?

          • Jill says:

            Nybbler, this helped me to understand some of the people on this board. I thought it might help Dahlen too, if he/she is not Libertarian. Libertarians are difficult to understand if you are not one.

          • multiheaded says:

            Jill, that FAQ’s author is, in fact, our sometimes-gracious host.

          • Anonymous says:

            Barry Deutsch’s humorous-yet-thoughtfull cartoons on topics like “libertarianism” and “anti-feminism” serve to classify, reasonably accurately, some of the less attractive cognitive traits that are evident in a considerable portion of the SSC commentariat.

            Deutsch’s cartoons are recommended solely to SSC readers who are possessed of at least a moderate sense of humor

            “There,” says he [Twain’s character ‘The Duke’], “if that line don’t fetch them, I don’t know Arkansaw!”

          • Nornagest says:

            If you’re interested in understanding the libertarian-leaning people on this board, you’re better off talking to the libertarian-leaning people on this board. Scott’s Non-Libertarian FAQ is a more sympathetic take than average, but it’s still basically an outsider perspective: anytime you start trying to understand people by talking to their opponents, you’re bound to miss all sorts of important stuff about their assumptions and priorities. It’s perniciously easy to round off to your own worldview, and even a writer as talented and as compassionate as Scott can’t quite avoid this.

            And Barry Deutsch, incidentally, is no Scott.

          • Jill says:

            Thanks, Anonymous. Funny cartoons there.

            Nornagest, I’ve been talking to the Libertarians on this board too. But the viewpoint from someone outside them who knows them well, like Scott, is helpful too. How a group looks from the inside is very different from how it looks on the outside.

            You can’t see something completely clearly if you are inside it.

            Multiheaded, that’s great that our host wrote that. He’s a talented writer & intellectual.

          • Anonymous says:

            But don’t many people find, Nornagest, that as libertarian practices are distilled into broader-and-broader principles, and simpler-and-simpler social narratives, that Barry Deutch’s caricatures seem (to plenty of folks) to become more-and-more accurate?

            Is “empathic libertarianism” a thing? If not, why not? If so, where does it reside? And what are its principles?

          • Nornagest says:

            Though I don’t think libertarian theory or practice is any simpler today than it was in the Seventies, Deutsch’s caricatures do look on point to a lot of people; but that doesn’t make them, or him, right. In any case I think you’re always better off not reading political comics; there are ways to get your humor on that don’t make you dumber and more cruel.

            As to your second question: if you’re just asking if there are people who have empathic reasons for their libertarianism, then the answer is obviously yes. There are a few people who favor policies they don’t think will lead to better lives for most people, but they’re a lot rarer than you’d think from the rhetoric floating around.

            If you’re looking for specific strains of libertarianism with particular emphasis on empathy, the answer is still yes: “bleeding-heart libertarian” is a good search term to start with.

          • Anonymous says:

            Thank you, Nornagest: the website Bleeding Heart Libertarians provides plenty of well-considered empathy-relevant material.

            As yet, there’s not much material there relating to medical issues — where transformational changes are underway (as its seems to me) — but hey, give these bleeding heart folks time!

            Also, the sobriquet “bleeding heart libertarian” is irrationally self-deprecating, isn’t it? A more vigorous, historically grounded, foreward-looking slogan would be “Say it loud!  We’re empathic libertarians, and we’re proud!” 🙂

          • Jill says:

            Nornagest, that is a problem with political comics– that they are often only funny to people of the particular in group.

            Wow, I didn’t know there were bleeding heart Libertarians. Interesting. Thanks for that info, Nornagest, and for the web sites, Anonymous.

          • Randy M says:

            Star Slate Codex commenters might consider whether there is some utility in “owning-insult.” Perhaps there is some cache in the phrase which will psychologically strengthen their cause?

            Perhaps even to overcome the machinations of their more empathy-deprived brethren such as paleocons and libertarians? One can hope!

          • Anonymous says:

            Jill observes (correctly) “That is a problem with political comics — that they are often only funny to people of the particular in-group.”

            At their best, Barry Deutsch’s works seek to expand the “in-group” to include everyone (see for example Deutsch’s recent meditation on the subject of “Neckbeards“).

            That is why, in the event that “empathic / bleeding-heart libertarianism” gathers strength as a coherent philosophy / social movement, it would be unsurprising (to me at least) for self-proclaimed “lefties” like Deutsch to make common-cause with them. This would be fun! 🙂

            And thank you again, Nornagest, for a really good comment.

          • Jill says:

            Yes, I do hope that empathic Libertarianism expands. A lot of groups would find common cause with them.

            I do think that responsibility is an important issue too, and I understand why people have concerns about it. We don’t want to reward people for being irresponsible. OTOH, we don’t want to be so obsessed with responsibility that we’re thinking it’s a big issue where it isn’t e.g. passing voter ID laws to stop voter fraud that is so infrequent an occurrence that it’s almost non-existent.

            I hope to see more place for pragmatism and for evaluation of the facts of various situations without trying to force them into a certain ideological framework.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Randy — I see what you’re doing there. 95% that you’re right, and now I feel kind of dumb for not picking up on it earlier. The empathy thing should have been a tell.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Jill:

            Wow, I didn’t know there were bleeding heart Libertarians.

            I don’t know if you are systematically binge-reading the archives here, in which case you’ll come across this eventually anyway, but you might be interested to read our host’s own endorsement of that sort of political philosophy.

    • Nita says:

      I think the scrupulous folks and the sterilization-happy folks are two distinct groups. (Also, some of us are neither.)

      But, yeah. Some commenters here have remarked that poor people in the USA can have a better quality of life than medieval kings, implying that the only problem left is irrational status envy. Not sure how irrational it is when apparently being low-status means that people treat your existence as a problem to be solved.

    • Sir Gawain says:

      3) It’s kind of horrendous how half the comment section immediately proceeded to propose various ideas on how to (and not why) sterilize poor people, assume a whole bunch of unflattering things about how poor people are like (lazy, dumb, impulsive, irredeemably flawed, going all the way to all-around yucky, and one extremist commenter even called them “the enemy”), and approach the whole discussion as if they were the overlords of poor people, here to decide their fates.

      Not defending this view, so much as playing devil’s advocate, but I think what a proponent of it might say is that:

      1) As long as we live in a society with a tax-funded social safety net, the people paying more in taxes than they consume in benefits have some non-zero legitimate interest in the traits and behavior of those who consume more in benefits than they pay in taxes. This is of course not an absolute interest, but nonetheless one that can be reasonably balanced against others (including the moral obligations society has towards the recipients of public benefits.)

      2) It is reasonable for citizens concerned about the future of our society to examine the composition of the future population of that society. (Demography is destiny.) The fact that, globally and domestically, the poorest, least educated, most violent, etc. regions are expanding in population at a considerably faster rate than the wealthiest, most educated, least violent etc. regions is quite potentially a cause for concern. If I were a European, I’d be real concerned about the possibility that the Middle East/North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa will have >replacement fertility rates for the next few decades while most West/North European countries have <replacement ones. Imagine a migrant crisis with 2-4x as many migrants as today in 2050.

      • Anonymous says:

        Isn’t it objectively true, that in pretty much any society, at pretty much all all social levels, more than one-half of the children descent from less than one-quarter of the women and men? So aren’t genetic selection mechanisms — which of course are biologically necessary — already humanely and effectively well-accounted?

        Rationally speaking, isn’t it good policy to ensure that globally there’s plenty of intermarriage across all races and all cultures, so as to ensure that women and men have plenty of partner-choice? And isn’t a crucial bonus of this genetic mixing, that the concomitant societal mixing substantially diminishes the incentives to warfare?

        With intermarriage rates increasing monotonically, isn’t it evident that humanity is entering a golden era of highly efficient genetic selection from the largest feasible genetic pool? And thanks to widspread immigration and intermarriage, aren’t the next 2000 years of human social and genetic evolution likely to prove even more vital than the last 2,000 years?

        Rationally and scientifically — and practically and morally too — aren’t SSC readers well-placed to contribute to humanity’s emerging reproductive utopia, by dating and marrying across the broadest range of partners feasible?

        From a rational perspective, aren’t the common-sense answers to these questions simply “yes”? And in the romantic words of James T. Kirk: doesn’t maximal social interchange, cross-cultural dating, and intermarriage “sound like fun“? 🙂

        • Sir Gawain says:

          Isn’t it true, that in pretty much any society, at pretty much all all social levels, more than one-half of the children descent from less than one-quarter of the women and men? So aren’t genetic selection pressures — which of course are biologically necessary — already humanely well-accounted?

          I don’t claim to know enough about genetics to evaluate the second sentence, and I’ll take your word for the truth of the first sentence. But my (devil’s advocate) argument wasn’t about the origins of behavioral differences across populations (which I personally suspect are largely the result of differences in socialization and political institutions). As long as those differences still exist in 2050, which doesn’t seem terribly unlikely, they’re important objects of policy and study. (Though I agree that genetics intersects with these questions in really important ways.)

          Rationally speaking, it is good policy to ensure that globally there’s plenty of intermarriage across all races and all cultures, so as to ensure that women and men have plenty of partner-choice. And isn’t a crucial bonus of this genetic mixing, that the concomitant societal mixing substantially diminishes the incentives to warfare?

          Sure, though it seems to me intermarriage follows rather than causes assimilation (due to assortative mating). The significance being that policy to equalize group outcomes seems more likely to lead to intermarriage than vice versa. Also, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to want their children to have certain physical features, as long as they do that voluntarily without lobbying for use of state coercion.

          With intermarriage rates increasing monotonically, isn’t it evident that humanity is entering a golden era of highly efficient genetic selection from the largest feasible genetic pool?

          Are intermarriage rates really increasing? Here’s Tyler Cowen on the subject: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/27/upshot/marriages-of-power-couples-reinforce-income-inequality.html

          It seems like, on the contrary, marriage (like other aspects of American social life) is becoming more and more stratified by class/IQ/education. (Which is related to the problem I described in the original comment.)

          Rationally and scientifically speaking — as well as practically and morally speaking too — aren’t SSC readers well-placed to contribute to humanity’s emerging reproductive utopia, by dating and marrying across the broadest range of partners feasible?

          It seems like the kind of people who read SSC are the kind of people who will marry high-IQ, well educated, >=middle class, people from a small set of European, Anglosphere or East Asian countries. As opposed to, say, marrying poor subsistence farmers from Sub-Saharan Africa. Given the relevant geographic, cultural, linguistic, economic, educational, etc. differences, I’m not sure how much opprobrium one can really attach to that.

          I think it’s really, really important to improve the lot of the global poor (and disadvantaged groups within industrialized societies), but I think the solution is going to be a lot more complex than encouraging intermarriage.

          • Anonymous says:

            To the degree that a sensor of humor is heritable, and intermarriage requires a sense of humor, shouldn’t that count that as one more reason — an exceptionally good reason — to encourage intermarriage?

            Because wouldn’t more abundant, more effective, more empathic expressions of good humor be welcomed by many, both broadly in global societies, and specifically here on SSC, and especially among marriage-minded folks?

            Folks who imagine that the practice of humor is trivial or easy, are invited to leaven both their SSC comments and their dating / marital / parenting practices with it! 🙂

          • Sir Gawain says:

            I’ll have you know that my sense of humor was surgically removed as a child :^)

          • Anonymous says:

            Sir Gawain says “The kind of people who read SSC are the kind of people who [don’t marry] poor subsistence farmers from Sub-Saharan Africa.”

            Well, there’s your problem right there!

          • Sir Gawain says:

            Breaking news!!! Must credit SSC comments section!!! Man bites dog!!!

          • Anonymous says:

            SSC receives credit (from me) for exposing its readers to the hermetic bubble of quasi-rational paleoconservative cognition (e.g., the Unz Review, VDARE, American Conservative, etc.) Many folks don’t even realize that these forums exist, do they?

            Perhaps this paleoisolation arises of cognitive necessity? In that the paleocommunity doesn’t have answers — rational or otherwise — to the empathy-centric “James T Kirk” points raised above, do they? Points that for many folks are plain common sense?

            Because human reproductive preferences value empathy highly, it’s unsurprising — isn’t it? — that paleoconservative cognition is (apparently) slated for slow cultural and even slower genomic extinction by evolutionary antiselection?

            Don’t the global exchange of ideas via the internet, and the global exchange of genes by immigration and intermarriage, act as ratchets that are inexorably strengthening antipaleoselection?

            Isn’t Trumpism driven, very largely, by a desire to deny these (scary) social and cognitive realities?

            So doesn’t the paleoblogosphere amount to an isolated social and cognitive ecosystem, in which endangered paleocommunities are taking refuge, from a world that decreasingly values paleocognition?

          • Randy M says:

            This anon does an excellent John Sidles impersonation.

          • Anonymous says:

            Needs more boldface.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Need’s more random text formatting, and off-topic linking. I give him 3.5/5

    • Corey says:

      This particular “marketplace of ideas” is more open than most, and I think it’s a net positive. The eugenicists / racialists / Randians / etc. here tend to know their assumptions, and argue in good faith, which I think is better than the more-typical responses of just talking past each other or chasing such people away.

      There are also lots of people, I think, who believe rationality is incompatible with empathy.

      • Urstoff says:

        I agree. I’d rather have a big tent than a slow slide into ossified dogma.

      • multiheaded says:

        I can like the (relative[1]) openness as such without having to smile and nod and let slide any particular awful/evil thing here.

        [1] any straight-up Maoists here, ever? Even once? Not half-hearted revisionists like me, or even bolder ones like Oligopsony, but at a rate at least 1/10th that of the n*r*ct*n*ries/alt-r*ght? Okay, don’t bother answering, but observe your reaction of contempt/incredulity.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Finding a straight-up Maoist would be like finding a straight-up Nazi. The http://pastebin.com/kfFYyQXF (who I’ll note have mostly been purged from this comments section in favor of tedious libertarians) are much more analogous to your sort of commie, the sort of commie who recognizes that the worst atrocities probably weren’t a good idea and wants to get the valuable parts of the ideology without dipping over into crazy-town.

          Honestly I think you have beef with the tedious libertarians more than the actual http://pastebin.com/kfFYyQXF. The orthodox http://pastebin.com/QAEdnYwK position is that the US government has an obligation to care for the poor; it’s part of Moldbug’s formalist analysis of the US.

        • Jill says:

          I think Maoists in the U.S. exist mainly in certain people’s imaginations, as straw men to argue against. Have you actually ever met one?

          • uxp100 says:

            Are RevComs straight up Maoists? I think they at least say Mao was right for China, even if for the US to embrace communism, they will have to be open to US style freedom of speech (except slander of Bob Avakian of course) for one example. But I’m really not sure of the details of their beliefs.

            Cause I run into them flyering now and then.

          • Nornagest says:

            Are we talking orthodox Maoists, in the sense of their ideas having a tangible close relationship to the Chairman’s, or would you be cool with anyone that calls themselves Maoist? Because I’ve met the latter (in academia, and in urban activist circles).

            It’s almost a shame; Mao was clearly a bright guy, and he — at least in his earlier phase — had a degree of self-awareness that I don’t usually associate with revolutionaries. Of course, there is that killing-forty-million-people thing.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          any straight-up Maoists here, ever?

          As far as the internet goes, most of them are smug assholes that don’t want anything to do with >us.

          Even if they did, they’d probably get banned for acting like smug assholes, so there’s that. If you have some to recommend, I’m sure people here would be more than glad to have them around.

          • multiheaded says:

            “As far as the internet goes, most of them are smug assholes that don’t want anything to do with >us.”

            I have met quite a few on facebook. This describes them well, but they also could argue semi-respectfully among themselves/bring up interesting points/generally were above the bar for “worthwhile contrarianism” that this comment section sets for the far right. I couldn’t stand most of them, mind; I’m just pointing out how skewed SSC ~contrarianism~ really is.

        • Dahlen says:

          But Multi, it’s statistically improbable for there to be Maoists on SSC; maybe the hardcore lefties identify as something else! The left is very ideologically diverse.

          • Jill says:

            Maybe everyone to the Left of Attila the Hun seems Maoist to extreme Right Wingers. Wherever you are standing yourself makes a difference.

          • Nornagest says:

            If someone’s right-wing enough to have that kind of perspective and unsophisticated enough to actually do it, they won’t distinguish between Maoism and other flavors of far leftism. They may still call stuff Maoist, but they’ll also call it Stalinist and whatever else sounds bad to them.

            Not that it matters, since no one here has actually claimed to find Maoists in these comments.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I don’t think “extreme right wingers” (another really diverse group, by the way) make a distinction between Maoists and other kind of commies.

            EDIT: Ninja’d

          • Jill says:

            My point is that Extreme Right Wingers make no distinction between Maoists and people who are slightly Left of Center.

          • Nornagest says:

            Where are you going with this?

          • Anonymous says:

            My point is that Extreme Right Wingers make no distinction between Maoists and people who are slightly Left of Center.

            Example? Pretty sure I’ve seen far-right-authored cladistics of the left that didn’t imply homogeneity.

          • “My point is that Extreme Right Wingers make no distinction between Maoists and people who are slightly Left of Center.”

            Does anarcho-capitalist qualify as extreme right wing? I not only distinguish Maoists, I’ve argued with Maoists (long ago in college).

            It looks to me as though you are taking the most unreasonable people you can find who hold a position (Randian for one example, “extreme right wing” for another) and then projecting them onto everyone with that position. There are unreasonable people in pretty nearly every part of the political spectrum.

            I was earlier struck by the fact that you express general statements about libertarians, but were sufficiently unfamiliar with the movement not to know that Bleeding Heart Libertarians existed–and have been part of a live controversy for a while. See, for example, a Cato Unbound discussion from a few years back.

    • Randy M says:

      As perhaps the author of some of those posts you are referring to, I’d like to point out that saying “If you do X, you may need to do Y as well” is not an endorsement of either.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ Dahlen
      3) It’s kind of horrendous how half the comment section immediately proceeded to propose various ideas on how to (and not why) sterilize poor people

      I wish we could taboo the word ‘sterilize’ — because it suggests permanence. Even vasectomy can usually be reversed. Female long-term contraception does wear off after some months (or possibly a few years), or most forms can be removed upon request.

      • keranih says:

        Even vasectomy can usually be reversed.

        Vasectomies done more than 10 years later (say, perhaps, at age 26 after a procedure at 16 years old) result in a pregnancy less than 30% of the time. Vasectomy is a permanent sterilization technique and saying otherwise does not match the data.

        Female long-term contraception does wear off after some months (or possibly a few years), or most forms can be removed upon request.

        Norplant’s effectiveness was generally beyond 5 years, and involved a painful outpatient procedure to reverse. Which is why it is off the market.

        Again, as previously mentioned, women are designed to have kids in teens and twenties. Delaying this increases the health risk to both mother and child. If we are deliberately putting those decades off limits for childbearing, we need to acknowledge this.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @ Keranih

          I’ll try to dig out my cites from previous threads and put them all somewhere handy (like my own LJ). In the meantime, could you please somewhat clarify your overall position, which is apparently two-era, now vs decade/s later?

          I don’t think you want 16 year old low income girls having babies now. For a low income girl today (probably unmarried), what would you think is a good age? And how many babies do you want her to have, spaced how far apart?

          For the future decade when you would want them to start at 16 (or at what age?), what social and economic changes would be necessary between now and then to make that comfortable?

          • keranih says:

            @houseboatonstyx –

            I’m going to answer your specific questions, because I’m not sure what you mean by “clarify my overall position.”

            I don’t think you want 16 year old low income girls having babies now.

            With the exception of the top of the top of the 1%, all 16 year olds are low income. I think you mean the daughters of poor people, and I think they – and all humans – should not have kids until they are married, and I think that if they get pregnant they should marry.

            I think that we have attempted to separate sex from reproduction, which is akin to separating speaking from breathing, and to separate sex from marriage. The result has been to separate reproduction from marriage, which I think more and more people are seeing as Not Great.

            It’s part of the conflict between short term and long term payoffs, and between individual good outcomes and social good outcomes. I think part of the path to finding an acceptable solution will be to acknowledge that we do have to make trade-offs.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            In haste, going out.

            all humans – should not have kids until they are married, and I think that if they get pregnant they should marry.

            Right now … if two 16 year olds get married, how does this make them able to support a baby?

            (Aside from getting higher on Deiseach’s housing list etc.) If subsiding unwed teen babies is bad, is subsidising married teen babies okay? When I hear ‘get married’, sure it calls a picture of the old idea that marriage means a house with a picket fence to carry the bride across and the groom having a good job to support a family with. But that’s not real life now — unless they’ve waited till they’ve earned the house and job, by which time they’re no longer teens, and have missed your ideal health window for babies.

          • Randy M says:

            Having a married couple raising a child is dramatically better than doing so alone, all other things being equal.
            Having children younger (than the current norm of late 20’s to early 40’s) brings numerous advantages, all other things being equal.
            However, due to things like technological progress, increased labor competition (including the 2/4/5/6 years of college required signalling spiral that came with those), increased isolation, and increased consumer aspirations, there isn’t a lot of chance for a young man to support a family.

            Presumably someone with Keranih’s position will want to reverse some of those trends as well. In the meantime (or even then) it’s all about trade-offs and individual optimums.

          • John Schilling says:

            Right now … if two 16 year olds get married, how does this make them able to support a baby?

            It enables them to (probably) apply a full-time caregiver and a full-time minimum wage paycheck to the task, doubles the number of grandparents who can be hit up for assistance, and makes the whole enterprise somewhat more sympathetic to charitably-minded outsiders.

            This is probably enough to support a baby to minimally acceptable standards. Barely. It is certainly much better than trying to do the job with half the resources. Under almost all circumstances not involving e.g. the father being a rapist, the child’s outlook is much better if the parents are married. What have you got against that, to counter keranih’s traditional “now get married already” prescription?

          • Anonymous says:

            How about abortion. Not-father and not-mother move on with their lives, go to college, have careers, marry other people in their late 20s and have a kids in their early 30s. Sure the resulting kids might not be as “healthy” as the aborted one would have been but they are their parents will have better, more fuffiling lives. But maybe keranih doesn’t care about that.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ John Schilling
            >>Right now … if two 16 year olds get married, how does this make them able to support a baby?

            >It enables them to (probably) apply a full-time caregiver and a full-time minimum wage paycheck to the task,

            Why? How does this suddenly give him a job? A job that can support three?

            > doubles the number of grandparents who can be hit up for assistance,

            Depends on how the grandparents feel and how much money they have. Some grandparents do not like the prospect of supporting teenage school drop out parents indefinitely. (And/or would not want them to be parents at all.)

            > and makes the whole enterprise somewhat more sympathetic to charitably-minded outsiders.

            How much more? Which outsiders? ‘Single mom’ draws default sympathy that ‘kid who got his girlfriend pregnant’ does not. “She’s got a husband, let him take care of her.”

            >What have you got against that, to counter keranih’s traditional “now get married already” prescription?

            The responsible thing: abort or adopt. Better: use contraceptives.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Anonymous
            cc: Keranih

            How about abortion. Not-father and not-mother move on with their lives, go to college, have careers, marry other people in their late 20s and have a kids in their early 30s.

            Or adoption. Have the baby, then sell/give it to some woman in her 30s who has got her life together ready for a baby, and would like a more healthy one, that she doesn’t have to produce herself.

            Goto: Not-father and not-mother move on with their lives, go to college, have careers … and when ready, adopt some other teen mother’s healthy baby.

            Win/win/win, win/win/win.

          • John Schilling says:

            Or adoption. Have the baby, then sell/give it to some woman in her 30s who has got her life together ready for a baby, and would like a more healthy one, that she doesn’t have to produce herself…. win/win/win

            That turns out to have been the usual practice for about thirty years. Turns out it was more often lose/win/win, or even lose/lose/win, on account of human brains not actually being wired to treat babies and parental love as fungible commodities.

            But it’s definitely a winner if you’re a middle-aged woman who ran out the biological clock building your career, or a moralist who’d rather lecture pregnant teenagers than actually help them.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why? How does this suddenly give him a job? A job that can support three?

            I did say “probably”. But I believe most teenagers can swing a minimum-wage job if they need to, and minimum wage can in most places be stretched to support three people at social-services-won’t-take-the-baby levels.

            More generally, this specific teenage boy can clearly afford dinner and a movie or the local equivalent. Whatever revenue stream is keeping him somewhere above starvation poor, can be added to the household that includes his baby. Economies of scale suggest that this will almost always be an improvement for the baby, and likely for the father.

            Depends on how the grandparents feel and how much money they have. Some grandparents do not like the prospect of supporting teenage school drop out parents indefinitely

            Hence the phrasing, “can be hit up for assistance”, rather than “will reliably provide assistance”. But the paternal grandparents are almost always going to be relatively more generous to their legitimate grandchild, than to their son’s ex-girlfriend’s baby.

            The claim isn’t so much that marriage is a guaranteed happy ending, than that it is an improvement. And if the child isn’t going to be aborted or put up for adoption – which might happen but which anyone around here certainly ought to understand can’t be counted on – then marriage almost always increases the support available for the mother and child.

            The exceptions are mostly cases where marriage should be rendered moot by e.g. the father’s being locked up for rape or abuse before the child is even born.

          • Anonymous says:

            Turns out it was more often lose/win/win, or even lose/lose/win,

            Care to quantify, or at least substantiate, this?

            The claim isn’t so much that marriage is a guaranteed happy ending, than that it is an improvement. And if the child isn’t going to be aborted or put up for adoption – which might happen but which anyone around here certainly ought to understand can’t be counted on – then marriage almost always increases the support available for the mother and child.

            The question isn’t what the second or third best choice is. We have someone advocating that the best choice is early marriage and reproduction.

          • Nita says:

            a moralist who’d rather lecture pregnant teenagers than actually help them

            Wait, what’s the substantial difference between “give it up for adoption” lecturing and “marry that unemployed teenage boy” lecturing?

          • Anonymous says:

            Or “this one centimeter in diameter fetus is a baby with a soul, you despicable murderer”?

        • Tracy W says:

          If women are ‘designed’ to have kids in their teens and twenties, why does menopause kick in in our forties?

          • Anonymous says:

            Having 10 children was considered normal in the past.

            10/(40-20), one child per two years, sounds about right.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Tracy

            Childbearing delays menopause. If a woman has a kid every one or two years, then supposing she doesn’t die to some freak pregnancy complication, she might well continue to have children in her fifties.

            Additionally, historically, a middle-aged woman had a good chance of dying due to a pregnancy (hell, even young mothers did). It was probably only of very marginal fitness that menopause came very late (since those women probably wouldn’t survive more kids anyway).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I have the opposite experience from you. It’s easy to cheer on “reproductive rights” in the abstract. But I do some free clinic work in inner city Detroit, and I’m constantly talking to people who – well, last week I met somebody whose father tried to kill her and her entire family when she was like five, and then ended up in a mental hospital for his entire life, and this had been super predictable ever since the father was a teenager because he’d always been doing this sort of thing. I’ve talked to people who were beaten every single day of their childhood, whose parents set them on fire, whose parents had nine or ten kids, never took care of any of them, just kept popping out kids and leaving them alone to rot until Child Protective Services would take each one away in turn. And if you think reproductive rights are more important than basic human compassion, I want you to look all of these people in the eye and tell them so.

      Obviously this is really different than “sterilize all the poor right now”, but I blame the sort of people who start calling “Nazi” if anyone even discusses how some people shouldn’t be having children for all of the horrible stories of child abuse I have to listen to every day. And I have a really low threshold for being willing to put up with this kind of thing. I’d be willing to give out a lot of free birth control to prevent one childhood of constant daily sexual abuse.

      • keranih says:

        And if you think reproductive rights are more important than basic human compassion, I want you to look all of these people in the eye and tell them so.

        Eh. I think this is getting back into positive vs negative rights. And I don’t think you’d find many people who said that children should be abused. Just that solution XYZ to children being abused is going to lead to worse consequences.

        I’d be willing to give out a lot of free birth control to prevent one childhood of constant daily sexual abuse.

        …including that you give to a girl, whose father is making her go on the pill, so she won’t get pregnant from him?

        And yes, that is an extreme edge case, but we’ve already gone in depths over how lack of “free birth control” isn’t the issue stopping people we don’t want to have babies from having babies. They’re all edge cases.

        If we really want “low income 16 year old girls” from having babies – and their 26 year old sisters as well – we’ll have to take stronger steps. And that’s not a tool I want in my government’s hands.

        • drethelin says:

          To answer your rhetorical question, YES OBVIOUSLY. That situation is NOT made better by her having kids.

      • Nita says:

        That sounds like a case for sterilizing shitty parents. Or, alternatively, sterilizing everyone and de-sterilizing potentially good parents. But first you’ll have to convince a lot of people that beating children is wrong.

        IMO, the same ‘we feed them, we own them’ attitude seems to underlie both some of the ‘poor people management’ proposals and some of the bad parenting practices.

      • Jill says:

        Well, at the very least, people who want access to birth control should have access. Many states are going backwards in this area, which is unconscionable.

        • keranih says:

          Many states are going backwards in this area, which is unconscionable.

          Examples, please, of how some states are making it illegal to buy or sell OTC birth control.

          • Jill says:

            Many states are shutting down women’s clinics all over the place.

          • keranih says:

            Yes, Jill, the number of abortion clinics is falling across the USA, including places like California, New York State, and Mass. The primary driver appears to be lack of demand.

            This is related to being able to buy or sell a $9 pack of birth control pills how?

          • John Schilling says:

            Many (well, some) states are shutting down women’s abortion clinics. If those clinics happen to also sell contraceptives, I don’t see anyone stopping them from staying open as pure contraceptive suppliers.

            If Joe-Bob’s Self-Defense Emporium offers martial arts training, pepper spray, and belt-fed heavy machine guns, lots of states states are going to shut them down, and if they don’t the BATF is going to take a very close look at the paperwork and probably still shut them down. This does not mean that they are engaged in an unconscionable effort to deny people the means of self-defense and leave them at the mercy of violent criminals, and it would be disingenuous to claim so.

            Around here we call that a Motte-and-Bailey argument. The highly defensible Motte: “Everyone has the right to contraception and/or self-defense”, nobody argues with that. The weak Bailey: “We want abortion on demand and/or machine guns for everyone”; lots of good, decent, intelligent people are going to mobilize against you. If you shift between the two positions faster than they can pin you down, that’s an effective debating tactic.

            One that usually doesn’t work here.

          • Jill says:

            Sometimes the teenage girl did not forsee that she was going to be raped and so did not go out and buy birth control ahead of time.

            And how many states have OTC birth control pills available? One or two?

          • John Schilling says:

            Sometimes the teenage girl did not forsee that she was going to be raped and so did not go out and buy birth control ahead of time.

            That is a very good argument for making abortion readily available, at least to rape victims. One that most people agree with, including myself.

            It does not make it any less dishonest to point to the people shutting down abortion clinics because of the abortions (however motivated), and denounce them for “denying access to birth control”. If the NRA denounced restrictions on private ownership of belt-fed heavy machine guns as “denying the right of self-defense”, would you not see that as slightly dishonest?

          • Jill says:

            Your OTC birth control pills do not even exist except in a very few states. And shutting down clinics deprives women of inexpensive medical assistance and advice that they would otherwise have.

          • John Schilling says:

            And shutting down clinics deprives women of inexpensive medical assistance and advice that they would otherwise have

            Which is not the same thing as depriving them of birth control, as “birth control” and “inexpensive medical assistance” are not synonyms. Any more evasions you’d like to try?

      • Dahlen says:

        I understand where you’re coming from. But… these are two discussions that very nearly run parallel to each other, only intersecting insofar as we can all agree that such parents, whatever their income levels, are very shitty people who must be prevented from causing further damage to any actual or hypothetical children. The range of people whose fertility must be lowered from the point of view of many of the folks here is much wider than people who abuse their children. There’s this mentality going around that “poor”, “low-IQ”, “unproductive”, “lacking in conscientiousness”, “all-around inferior human being” can be treated as interchangeable for the purposes of this discussion, and the natural conclusion is that we should give basic income or welfare in exchange for wombs or something. Only a fraction of these people, in the actual world, are that terrible to those around them.

        Typically, the Child Protection Services are there to help however they can in such cases without anybody calling “Nazi”. The really dark implications start coming in once people start suspecting that those who are now victims of their parents are genetically fated/predisposed to become, in turn, aggressors of their children, and that they were better off not existing for non-sympathetic as well as sympathetic reasons. Maybe there’s a point in there. Maybe not. In any case, it should not be associated this tightly with the problem of poverty in people’s minds, because they aren’t this tightly associated in real life, and to mistake this is to open the door to all sorts of shady assumptions about people who already have it pretty hard. Even from around here, I know what inner city Detroit means, I can imagine the horribleness of the cases you’ve seen, but this is not the main face of poverty by a long shot. The situation you’re presenting is the motte to hardline eugenicists’ bailey, and, for anyone who was paying attention, not what I was arguing against.

        What I see here, instead, is people having a rudimentary understanding of the link between poverty and IQ, between parents’ and children’s IQ, between IQ and criminality, between average population IQ and GDP, between IQ and, well, virtue; an even worse understanding of variability and genetic recombination, and how sometimes unexceptional parents can have bright children; and a lack of sympathy for what it’s like to be subject to population control policies, on grounds as shoddy as being poor and/or lower-class. And putting all of it together in policies that sound a lot like the top-down version of class warfare.

        If you were expecting someone who holds reproductive rights as paramount, above any other consideration however humane, sorry to disappoint. But I do think that reproductive rights have primacy over policy goals in the particular situation of whether to attempt to solve poverty by decreeing the next generation of poor people out of existence.

        As for the situation you’re talking about, I can’t claim to know of any good solution out of it. There’s no sort of authority out there for handing out free parenting lessons to potential future parents, for nipping such cases of abuse in the bud, for forbidding marriage and reproduction between people who can’t even be responsible for themselves. And I can’t think of any such thing that wouldn’t be Orwellian. Maybe a church of sorts, but this is the wrong era for that.

        • Jill says:

          Free access to voluntary birth control for people who don’t want to have kids would be good, and not Orwellian at all.

          • Randy M says:

            Jill, did you take away anything from the recent discussions at you regarding whether the poor actually want children (they often do, even in difficult circumstances) and how this therefore may not have a significant impact on poverty or abuse?

          • Dahlen says:

            It’s not that easy. Birth control pills require some degree of conscientiousness to take, can be rendered ineffective by vomiting or diarrhea through lack of absorption (which is not so fun given that they induce nausea), and may or may not interact with or be inactivated by some other medications (don’t remember), not to mention unrelated unpleasantries such as increased risk of thrombosis, and lowered sex drive as a common side-effect (in an ironic twist of fate), which may put some women off the idea of using them. Condom use requires the compliance of the male partner (who’s not always on board with the idea and would rather just… outsource the risk of pregnancy). Other methods require surgical interventions. Etc.

            Yes, in theory it’s nice and easy, free birth control for anyone who wants it, but there’s a whole chunk of people who don’t follow through with that, and who rely on abortions as their primary method of birth control.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Would we see differences if birth-control was opt-out?

            Say in 100 years every baby gets an injection rendering them sterile, but when they want to have kids each parent goes to a doctor for a quick un-sterile pill. (If you want to derail by saying your political and cultural enemies would hate this, please stop.)

          • brad says:

            Certainly we’d see different outcomes from opt-in vs opt-out. I’d be hard pressed to think of any human activity that is so inelastic that you wouldn’t see differences. Heck even breathing is opt-out.

        • Jill says:

          If it wouldn’t have any significant impact, then I don’t see why so many states have recently rushed to shut down family planning clinics.

          And at least it’s a start– to have access to family planning if a family desires it. We’re going backward there.

          Another issue is that poorer less educated people do want to have more kids. And when they become less poor and more educated they have fewer kids. So why not also help them to become less poor and more educated? That could be an added benefit to assistance to the poor.

          • Randy M says:

            If it wouldn’t have any significant impact, then I don’t see why so many states have recently rushed to shut down family planning clinics.

            As it is arranged, your reply indicates you believe that your political opponents are intentionally optimizing for poverty and abuse.

            Is this an honest if quite naive failure of modeling, or a rhetorical device?

          • Jill says:

            No failure here. It’s just the case that poor ignorant people are easy to persuade to vote GOP. Why wouldn’t Fox News, Right Wing radio networks etc. want to keep people “barefoot and pregnant?” The GOP thrives on a culture of crisis and ignorance.

            Books have been written about this. Here is one, which discusses, among other topics, the Right Wing child psychologist who advises parents to hit their kids. He is so popular that he has his own zip code. The subtitle of the book was erroneous. It didn’t shatter the party. It shattered the nation.

            Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party Paperback – July 13, 2010
            by Max Blumenthal

            http://www.amazon.com/Republican-Gomorrah-Inside-Movement-Shattered/dp/1568584172/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1464306471&sr=8-1&keywords=Republican+Gomorrah

          • Corey says:

            I actually think the shutdowns are simpler to explain: people who actually believe abortion is murder are gaining political power. E.g. Todd “legitimate rape” Akin is part of the transition from anti-abortion-as-punishment-for-sex to actually-anti-abortion.

            Also, improvements in IUD technology (and, in the US, coverage for them, thanks Obama) are actually proving effective (there are other explanations/reasons for the big plunge in teen births, and it’s not clear which are correct)

          • Jiro says:

            “Legitimate rape” in context means “something that really is rape”. It does not mean “rape is okay”. Granted, he was still speaking nonsense even considering this, but this is a classic example of a quote out of context that gets spread because it confirms what the blues think about the reds.

          • Nita says:

            @ Jiro

            No one claimed that he meant “rape is okay”. “Legitimate rape” is just a shorthand phrase to refer to the incident. On the other hand, there’s something of a history of people saying unfortunate things from a position of ignorance while using euphemisms for “really rape” — e.g., Whoopi Goldberg’s “rape-rape” moment.

          • Corey says:

            @Jiro, @Nira: I don’t focus on the distinction between “legitimate” and “other” rape, sorry for the distraction, I just mentioned it because that’s why he’s famous.

            AFAIK Akin’s properly-contextualized position was that pregnancies by rape are rare to nonexistent (not actually true), so we need not allow rape victims to abort their babies. This brings his position (for the “wrong” reasons) into line with that of people who actually believe abortion is murder.

            Historically, anti-abortion activism in the US focused on ideas consistent with punishing sexual availability rather than protecting fetuses as persons. The best example of this was widespread support for allowing abortion in cases of rape/incest. On one hand nobody wants to force a woman to have a biological reminder of her rape and contact with the rapist (via parental rights). On the other hand, those are significantly lesser sins than murder, and if abortion is murder, the circumstances of the conception don’t make it less murder-y.

            My bigger point is that anti-abortion activism is shifting more towards total outright bans (or at least as close as one can get given SCOTUS precedent) and my theory is that, because yesterday’s voting base are tomorrow’s politicians, we’re actually seeing politicians who take the “abortion=murder” position to heart.

          • Randy M says:

            The best example of this was widespread support for allowing abortion in cases of rape/incest.

            Do you think this is an ideological or tactical change? Is it a result of a change in assumptions, or of a working out of inconsistencies that were there all along?

            From my perspective, pro-lifers have always been rather conflicted about the edge cases.

            For another angle on the question of whether they actually believe that abortion is murder, look at the reaction to Trump suggesting that the ex-mother might actually bear some legal culpability. Again, though, that’s largely tactical, imo, and otherwise probably unprincipled exceptions.

            Jill, one of these days you might want to check out some of the posts on “Principle of charity.”

          • Corey says:

            @Randy M: Good point, it may be a belief-in-belief thing, so maybe pro-lifers are getting better at de-compartmentalizing.

            Trump’s gaffe came I think from a lack of familiarity with traditional pro-life ideology. He says if abortion is illegal of course the mother should be punished, by definition of what it means for something to be illegal. But the pro-life stance was always that the mother should not be punished, and squared the circle by assuming that mothers are usually “tricked” into abortions (I wish I was making that up).

            Reading through all this it seems the most charitable assumption was that the pro-lifers’ OLD ideology was adopted tactically (if you tried to put moms in jail or force rape babies to be born, that’s horribly unpopular and people will settle on abortion-on-demand instead), and that now that they have more political power they can drop these tactical bits.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It reminds me of Michael Dukakis not knowing the stock answer of how to deal with “your wife has been raped and murdered, don’t you want the death penalty?”

            Of course, Dukakis had over 20 years of political experience, so I don’t know what his excuse was.

          • Jill says:

            Randy, thanks for telling me about Principle of Charity. I looked up posts on that. Very interesting.

            I remember reading the NYT article that Scott cited when it first came out. I remember thinking that the main reason Republicans are more “charitable” is that they are more likely to be fundamentalist. Which means that their “charitable” tithing of 15% of their income is not really voluntary. They seriously believe that they are going to burn in hell if they don’t contribute.

            I haven’t read all the principle of charity stuff yet but intend to finish it in the future. Good stuff.

          • Jill says:

            Scizorhands, what is the stock answer to that question? I know of answers one can give, but don’t know which one you are thinking of.

            BTW I think Dukakis did have an excuse probably, even though he had over 20 years of political experience. Everybody– even everybody in one field like politics– acquires different knowledge, even different standard basic type knowledge. Then people gets to run around accusing people of being ignorant, when they are really not.

            There is no standard text of how to be a politician that has the answer to that question. It’s not like chemistry where everyone knows the same basic material from their Chemistry 1 class in college.

            I notice SunTzu laughing below, I can only guess because he knows the answer to this one and I don’t. If I were a fan of this game, I would laugh back at him when the time comes, probably quite soon, that I know some fact that he doesn’t know. But I am not a fan of this game.

          • Loquat says:

            Jill,

            I’m not Scizorhands, but I can read the wikipedia page on Michael Dukakis, particularly the section on crime as an issue in the 1988 election. One of Bush’s major criticisms of Dukakis was that he was soft on crime, and the Bush campaign made a particular issue of Willie Horton, the convicted murderer who committed rape after being furloughed from prison. So in the context of “my opponent is going around saying I coddle criminals and don’t care about the suffering of their victims”, a good response would have been to show some emotion about the prospect of his spouse being murdered, and maybe admit he’d feel personal animosity towards the murderer – but instead, he just dispassionately explained his stance on the death penalty.

          • Jill says:

            Thanks much, Loquat. I didn’t think that the particular incident would be on his wikipedia page, so didn’t think to look there.

        • Corey says:

          One failure case I see is that everyone seems to agree that people who “can’t afford kids” shouldn’t have them. While there are obvious cases, like Scott’s patient population, it seems to me that the precariat is only going to get bigger, so we can expect the number of people who can be expected to have a secure means of support to continually decrease. Think lawyers, or British junior doctors, for in-our-lifetimes examples. (In the technological-unemployment scenario the number of people with secure means of support approaches zero).

          • Anonymous says:

            I think a more important issue with that line of thought is that regardless of whether they should or shouldn’t have the kids, they will have them unless you go full China on them, and probably even then.

            If people love breaking their legs, saying that people shouldn’t break their legs does nothing by itself.

  19. Bernd Lauert says:

    This wall of text and not one word of it reads ‘birth control’.
    You are avoiding the elephant in the room, just like everyone else.

    • meyerkev248 says:

      Does birth control matter enough?

      If the endgame here is preventing large numbers of slightly below-average Hispanics from having oodles and oodles of expensive children right in the middle of the Baby Boomer Bubble, kicking 11 Million Hispanics (and any future ones) who average 3 kids apiece out of the country matters. (And below average is actually a problem because the only quintile who net-pay-in are the 5th).

      And yes, it’d be ideal if they could have above-average kids, but in practice, we don’t know how to make that happen.

      Beyond that, if we’re still using these bodies in 2100, something has gone horribly wrong.

      So if they’re having 2.2 kids and the suburban professionals are having 1.8, eh… not really sure it matters to a degree that I care about.

      • Dahlen says:

        And yes, it’d be ideal if they could have above-average kids, but in practice, we don’t know how to make that happen.

        Move to Lake Wobegon. Duh.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes, you’re right. If I put that in, everyone would focus on it and there would be a lot of drama and none of my other points would get through at all.

  20. Justin says:

    I was reading through this and as soon as you started to describe the southeast corner, I knew that was my quadrant, though I’m a bit more pessimistic in the sense that I don’t think a basic income is feasible, at least not yet. There are just too many competing considerations.

    1. What level do we set the basic income at? If it is fairly low (say, $7,500) a lot of people will remain in poverty. If we set it very high (say $20,000), a lot of people who could work productively (and who we still need to work for the time being) quit, and yet in places like San Francisco and Manhattan we could conceivably still have people who can’t meet their basic needs.

    2. Do undocumented immigrants receive a basic income? If not, we will likely still see a lot of poverty in that group. If they do, won’t that be a colossal incentive for future waves of illegal immigration (not to mention put the whole basic income program in political peril)?

    3. Do kids receive benefits? If not then certain families might still fall below the poverty line, but if they do, then the cost goes up and there might be an incentive for people to have lots of children to maximize their income grant.

    4. Does the basic income program replace or supplement the existing welfare state? If it replaces it, then benefits will need to be set extraordinarily high so that the people under the existing system aren’t materially worse off. Between Social Security and Medicare, a typical elderly person living alone might receive something like $25,000/yr in government benefits, and a poor mother with 3 kids on Medicaid might well receive a similar amount, but giving all adults $25,000/yr pushes the total cost of the program to an eye watering $6 trillion and runs into the incentive problem discussed earlier. But if (at the very least) the poor, disabled and elderly aren’t taken care of, you’ll never get the political support to get basic income off the ground. Also, individual needs vary greatly (in large part though not exclusively due to medical costs), which can be more easily accommodated through inkind benefits. However, if the basic income is a supplement which leaves the existing welfare state more or less intact, then we still face the issues of a complex welfare state and very high total costs.

    5. What about long term effects? Say I’m 18 and we set the basic income to $18,000/yr. I might rather prefer to get a roommate and play video games and drink beer for a few years rather than go and start college/career. But it’s a lot harder to change one’s direction in life at age 28 after a decade of drifting than to start out on a good path while young. You’ll also have kids who grow up in communities where work just really isn’t a thing, and while they could offer their productivity to society, culturally they won’t be well placed for the working world.

    Now maybe if GDP per capita was twice as high, and employment rates were falling even as GDP was rising, a basic income would make sense. Lately, though, what we’ve seen is the opposite of technological job loss – over the past 6 years we’ve seen high job growth and middling GDP growth, meaning essentially no productivity growth. There might be a day when a basic income makes sense, but somehow I feel it is still at least 10 to 20 years away.

    • meyerkev248 says:

      1) I pay you to go be poor somewhere else, and move in a stockbroker making a quarter mill a year, paying ~6 figures in taxes to cover paying you to be poor somewhere else.

      Keep in mind that that’s what’s happening NOW TODAY in 2016, before we add in a bunch of people barely getting paid enough to not starve (by 21st-century Western standards, which as mentioned are quite high. But it will not be 18 thousand). Rich people force poor people out.

      Alternatively, you can… build more housing.

      2) Hopefully not. You cannot have open borders and a functional welfare state.

      3) Possibly. Feel free to play games with your assumptions here, and what that does to affordability. In practice, probably.

      4) Generally, I see it in the context of largely replaces. I’d want to keep Medicaid around, but other than that… we spend a lot of money on welfare as-is.

      5) The upper-middle class kids will go on to be upper-middle class. This is what they do. The lower-middle-class has already fallen into drugs and decay, and would be pretty boned anyways.

      On the margin? Sure.
      To a degree that matters? Maybe not.

      And even then, as long as you don’t get arrested for anything, you’re probably good. Those UMC kids take gap years. And now you can too.

      5b) Making GDP/capita twice as high might not fix the problem. Positional goods and rising standards of poverty after all.

    • The Nybbler says:

      #4 is a big problem. Most proponents say replace… at which point I laugh. Another set says we’ll pay for it by reducing other spending they don’t like (usually defense), at which point I laugh even harder. I see basic income as just another redistributive program, and when it doesn’t work (the poor will always be with us), there will be calls both to raise it and for more welfare programs to supplement it (won’t someone thing of the children/elderly/ill/handicapped)

  21. Jill says:

    I just read this Moloch thing and it’s fascinating. It occurs to me that there could be a Moloch trap or Moloch excuse. Moloch seems to overlap partially with the Invisible Hand of the Free Market, as Scott mentions.

    FDR could have looked at poor old people and said “Well, the Invisible Hand of the Free Market made them poor, or Moloch made them poor. What can I do about it?” He didn’t do that. He got Social Security started, and now there is tons less poverty among older people in the U.S. than there was before he did that.

    It also occurs to me that a lot of the Invisible Hands of the Free Market, the culture, or the political system are not invisible at all. E.g. most of us can clearly see that our political system needs campaign finance reform– and we know who’s been keeping that from happening. Maybe one day we’ll make that more of a priority than we’ve been making it so far.

    • Anonymous says:

      We have fewer poor old people, but we are also saddled with a program we can never get rid of that transfers enormous amounts of money every year from the less well off to the more well off. I wouldn’t call that a shining successes.

      • Jill says:

        “transfers enormous amounts of money every year from the less well off to the more well off’

        Specifically, what are you referring to here?

        • Nornagest says:

          Probably Social Security. It’s billed as a savings/investment vehicle, but it’s actually structured in terms of transfer payments from workers to retirees, scaled according to the latter’s contributions during their working life. The latter are wealthier on average, though not necessarily wealthier individually.

          On the other hand, that’s equivalent to a savings model in its inputs and outputs unless the system breaks down in certain ways, so whether or not you should care probably depends on how likely you think that is.

          • Jill says:

            Well, income or asset limits on people being eligible to receive Social Security could be implemented, if that’s a concern.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’ll still end up being a regressive transfer below the cutoff, and since it’s been billed as a savings vehicle, you’re going to have a lot of unhappy retirees on your hands above it. They will be wrong, in some sense, but they’re not likely to care.

            There is already a cap on the absolute value of pay that can go into Social Security hands, which is about the least-bad way you can structure a program like this. Its problems really come out of transferring from the young to the old, not from the fact that some of the old happen to also be rich.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Jill
            One could do that, but FDR et al didn’t. The system we have doesn’t deserve the praise you are heaping on it, even if a somewhat different one might.

          • Jill says:

            I do agree that Social Security has its problems that might be dealt with. But there are still a lot fewer impoverished older people because of it. To a non-Libertarian like me– i.e. someone who does not disapprove on principle of every government intervention ever done or possible– that’s a reasonably good outcome.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not a libertarian. If I were the regressive nature of social security — on both the tax and spend side — wouldn’t matter much to me. It’s the liberal in me that objects to a program that takes from poorer cohorts to give to richer ones.

    • Urstoff says:

      most of us can clearly see that our political system needs campaign finance reform

      I don’t see that at all. I tend to think that people who think Citizens United was decided incorrectly have never actually read the case or that they simply don’t value freedom of association that much.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I just read this Moloch thing and it’s fascinating. It occurs to me that there could be a Moloch trap or Moloch excuse.

      The hazing is complete. Welcome in 😛

      But to your point – I think a lot of the idea of that post is that we can and should fight Moloch, it’s just that it’s difficult, requires coordination, and constant maintenance of that coordination, because vast, formless things like that cannot die. But if you conceptualise an abstract, structural problem as if it were a sentient, malevolent agent, it can make it a little easier to motivate people to fight it. You might also enjoy Jai Dhyani’s related blogpost Foes Without Faces, which applies the same idea to other problems.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Social Security is a transfer program – ie southeast quadrant. It’s basic income for old people. It works, but that doesn’t mean things other than basic income work.

  22. The cost of housing is driven by building codes that keep getting more restrictive and expensive. We can build houses for $20,000, but the cost of regulations adds $70,000 to the price of the average single-family detached him. So low-end housing is basically illegal, and developers just keep building more high-end stuff in the exurbs.

    Also the cost of living is majorly driven by the cost of driving and commutes. Since the above-mentioned building codes often require a minimum lot-size and impose maximum density, the only way cities can grow is “out”, not “up”, and so commuting costs (both time and gas) just keep rising.

    The good news is that both of those are fixable.

    I’m generally with Scott though. Culture doesn’t change, and you can measure (for instance) how differences in culture in Northwest vs. Southeast Europe persist over centuries despite multiple World Wars and Soviet occupation. If those sorts of exogenous shocks cannot change the culture, what can?

    • Jill says:

      Trump very quickly changed the policies that a Republican candidate can propose, and still remain popular with Republican voters. And it was a rather remarkable shift. Pundits did not predict that shift because it “couldn’t happen.”

      Advertisers and political propagandists frequently change people’s opinions and beliefs. Happens all the time.

    • meyerkev248 says:

      Though to be fair, if you’re building *enough* housing, then the new poor people can just inherit the 30-year-old fixer-uppers from the rich people who bought them new. Rich people aren’t living in century-old brownstones because they have a choice, they’re living in century-old brownstones because that’s the only way to get to work in under 90 minutes.

      It’d be like the used car market in that respect. I run 5-10 years behind the guys with BMW’s until the tech trickles down low, and the guys buying my used cars run 5-10 years behind me.

      /Except s/5-10/20-30.

    • Anonymous says:

      The order you put those two things in is odd. Anti-density rules are a much bigger problem than rules about the type of wiring or lumber that can be used in new construction.

    • Psmith says:

      The good news is that both of those are fixable.

      I don’t think this is true, at least in the absence of some mighty aggressive resettlement. Do away with zoning laws and communities will pass them again. Do away with democracy and you’ll have private HOAs with restrictive covenants. Do away with freedom of association and the cure is worse than the disease.

      The Bay Area is zoned for something like 150,000 new units of housing this year. It’s not going to get built, even though the law as written permits it. (And Houston, which has a good deal less zoning than pretty much every other first-world city, still doesn’t build arcologies.).

      • Anonymous says:

        As I understand it Houston doesn’t have zoning per se, but they have equivalents like lot size and parking rules.

  23. Jill says:

    I don’t see this Overton window at all, unless you mean it’s a window about public discourse that almost NEVER sees any action or follow through– at least in recent decades. The kind of “discourse” that people mean when they say “Talk is cheap.”

    Our nation’s actions in recent decades show clearly– that in terms of discourse that is serious enough for us to follow it up with action in the real world– that most of us think as Scott does, that “helping poor people is very hard”– and too expensive. We also think that doing regime change & reworking the entire Middle East in the image of what we would like it to be, so that “freedom is on the march”, is comparatively easy and quite affordable.

    Also, if that pre-schooler doesn’t get immediate and long lasting results from Head Start, without our having to continue to provide good teachers or extra services in the early grade school years too, well he’s someone we should give up on right away.

    OTOH, we have literally decades of patience for expensive military failures in the Middle East, because we’re going to “stay the course.” Perhaps the course we are staying though, is to funnel huge amounts of cash to the crony capitalist welfare queens in our military industrial complex. THOSE welfare recipients NEVER go without having their needs or desires fulfilled.

    Actions of a nation speak louder than words.

    • keranih says:

      @ Jill –

      People talked to you about the difference between positions that can impact one person and positions that can impact many people. The difference between (and tension among) policies which cost some people a lot and many a little, or benefit some a lot and cost others a little is a common theme in economics.

      IMO, if (and yes, that is is a huge if) the US interventions in the Middle East had brought Afghanistan (as a whole, not just Kabul) into the equivalent of Victorian London, or had helped form – at the end of 15 years engagement – an Iraqi secular national identity that superseded ethnic and religious divisions and set Iraq on the path of becoming the model for the rest of the region in emphasis on economic activity and reputation of corruption and family favoritism…

      If either of those had occurred, then 1) the outcome would have been cheap at twice the price in blood and dollars and 2) it would have so far overshadowed any domestic US policy – in terms of creating prosperity and respect for human worth – dating back to the American Civil War and quite possibly beyond.

      Equating the outcome of interventions on the part of an individual poorly educated child of poorly educated parents in the richest and most free nation on the planet against the destiny of an entire region is a bit rich, imo.

      • Anonymous says:

        They would have been even more worth it if they had permanently cured all disease. That was about as likely an outcome.

      • Jill says:

        “Equating the outcome of interventions on the part of an individual poorly educated child of poorly educated parents in the richest and most free nation on the planet against the destiny of an entire region is a bit rich, imo.”

        This seems like nit picking to me. But, okay, let’s assume that the intervention to fight poverty is done for a large number of disadvantaged children, as it actually would be– and that we are giving up on the education of this large number of children– and instead we are focusing on military interventions in the Middle East.

        The overall point here though is that we have a choice of what to spend tax money on. And we have decided who/what we value and believe in, and thus are willing to spend money on. And that our decision is absurd.

  24. Michael Vassar says:

    Can I hang in the lower left quadrant while agreeing that all the problems your discussing in the lower right are real and huge, just somewhat less pressing than the fact that there is an oven window at all and that it forces people (those who think at all) to pretend were in the upper right quadrant?

  25. Jack Hunter says:

    So what happens to money you “give” to people?

    They spend it. Spending money means taxes. If everyone would actually pay their taxes and not fake out of it via shemes, it would create a nice little circle of consumerism, not an overblown perpetual one but one that is there. People who have money can spend money. Money that is being activly reached around is good money. Money that sits in depots and phantasy finacial constructs of make believe profit is doing noone any good.

    Why did the Barber close shop? Because there was noone who could afford paying him to cut hair and trim beards. Its cheaper to do a halfassed job yoruself. With shrinking incomes, the amount of money that coudl be spend on “trivial” things shrinks too. Getting a haircut is such a thing.
    Same for all small businesses – they cannot go as cheap as large, strangleholding companys and as such disapear because noon can affort “wasting” money by buying in a small shop. There is a factual limit as to how many jobs big companys can create, so with the deletion of all the small shops and services, a lot of people are now jobless.
    Jobless people spend no money, no money spend means that even more people will lose their jobs. Its a snowball effect.

    Where there is no money, no money can be spend. No money changing hands no taxes, to jobs and no future.

    There is a fantastic amount of money, lying in the constructs and bubbles of wallstreet and cohorts and it DOES NOTHING.

    Schools crumble down, states are out of money to maintain the infrastructure. And yet, there is all that money, locked away in the pockets of the 1%.

    There is no point in being the country with the top 50 richest people in the world.

    If you give people money, they will spend it. Money that changes hands is good. Money must flow. Siphoning it off from the many to the few does nothing positive.

    Those few reach their consumerism limit fast and after that, its off to wall street bubbles with the money.

    Give people money, take it from the vast reserves circulating the banking dream wonderland. There is no downside. Because funnily enough: That money will return to there, it will only make some detours and do a lot of good in the meantime…

    • The Nybbler says:

      Every dollar of money you took to give to people, you took from someone else so THEY couldn’t spend it. This is just broken window economics.

      • Corey says:

        Every dollar given to Google was taken from someone else (their advertisers), so THEY couldn’t spend it. Therefore Google creates no wealth. (And in fact wealth creation is impossible). Thanks for proving that!

        • Civilis says:

          Every dollar given to Google was freely given by their advertisers, not taken.

          There’s a mistake in thinking all government spending is equal, which the ‘the government should spend money to put money in peoples hands’ logic requires. If you’re spending money on something for yourself, presumably you get more in value than what you spent. What you received is worth more than what you paid, or else you wouldn’t have made the transaction. If you’re not spending your money, that cost/benefit analysis doesn’t hold.

          If I have and spend a million dollars, I’m doing so because the value of what I receive, be it material goods or just goodwill from charity, is worth more to me than the million dollars I spend. When the government takes tax dollars, first, there’s the deadweight loss associated with the tax collection process and the deadweight loss associated with the process of figuring out where to spend the money. So if I pay a million in taxes, we’ve lost money before it gets spent or redistributed. If the government’s spending that money, we then run into the fact that the government doesn’t care to make sure they get as much value as they can for the money they give away because the politicians and bureaucrats spending the money aren’t spending their own money.

          • Corey says:

            Google’s bureaucrats and executives aren’t spending their own money either, and they have nontrivial bureaucracy, as any organization of nontrivial size does. Likewise there is “loss” involved in paying Google’s administrative overhead of employing managers, HR, legal, etc.

            Are you evil-mutant-ing the government here? Because they’re elected? Or because to disassociate yourself you need to sleep each night outside of a particular patch of land?

          • The Nybbler says:

            The point is that you can’t create wealth through zero-sum transactions. If you take a dollar from Peter (providing him nothing in return) and give it to Paul (taking nothing from him for it), you can’t validly say this is good because now Paul will spend his dollar in the larger economy.

          • Civilis says:

            Google’s employees have a rational limit on the spending they can do, and the company has checks on how money is spent. Companies have support staff, HR, Finance, janitors, etc., for one of two reasons: because the company believes that they add value (it’s better to hire someone to do the hiring than relying on production staff such as Google’s programming team to do the hiring and their normal jobs), or because they are required by laws or regulations. Having staff doing work, like making sure that all the myriad HR regulations are applied, that doesn’t add value proportionate to its cost is a waste, and that waste comes from the government.

            Are you evil-mutant-ing the government here? Because they’re elected? Or because to disassociate yourself you need to sleep each night outside of a particular patch of land?

            I don’t get your insults here. I recognize that there are collective action problems that are difficult if not impossible without coercive government, and that makes government likely necessary. It also should be obvious that government has a monopoly on force, meaning that it alone has the power to take things from you involuntarily (even if it does occasionally proxy that out, the power comes from the government). You’re the one that implied that Google somehow has the power to force people to spend money to advertise with them.

            Wealth is created by the voluntary exchange of goods and services. If people are voluntarily exchanging goods and services with Google, it creates wealth. The root posts mistake is in not acknowledging the destruction of wealth involved in the first part of his poorly thought out plan, as The Nybbler pointed out, or the inefficiencies and losses associated with carrying out the plan.

          • Corey says:

            @The Nybbler: The “nothing in return” and “taking nothing from him” are why I think there’s special-case evil-mutant-ing of governments in these discussions.

            @Civilis: What I don’t get is the sense that government taxation and spending is philosophically involuntary. Maybe it’s because I run a polling place, so I’m somewhat invested in believing that citizens have nonzero influence on their governments. Nor is emigration necessarily more difficult than advertising online without using Google (and as network effects create more natural monopolies the distinction will only get blurrier).

            So, for a concrete example, if the Federal government takes a trillion or so dollars from us all this year, that’s because we 300 million citizens, via our elected representatives, have decided that what we get in return (an army and navy, Medicaid, weather forecasts, Section 8 housing, etc.) are as or more valuable than that.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Corey
            That’s not “evil mutanting”. That’s an ideal redistributive program. I don’t think this thread is about the government taking from some people in order to spend on infrastructure or defense or scientific research or weather forecasts; it’s about the government giving to some people for no return at all and no reason other than those people fit some criteria of need.

            It doesn’t matter that it’s the government doing it, except that no one else can because the government would stop them. If there were some thief very effectively evading the government and siphoning money from some people’s bank accounts and giving that money to other people, that, too, would create no wealth.

          • Civilis says:

            Of the trillion dollars the government is spending, how much is necessary? Any dollar that the government spends which is not necessary is waste.

            We can debate a bit over what’s necessary. At some level, there is tacit acknowledgement among many that there are some collective problems that only the government can handle, therefore spending tax dollars on those problems is, while not perfect, a necessary waste. Further, money that the government forces other people to spend that is not necessary is likewise waste.

            Take the most efficient, effective and altrusitic charitable cause you can think of, like a charitable program that spends 100% of donations on medical aid response to natural disasters in the third world. For every government program, imagine the government taking away the money you were going to donate to that maximally charitable cause and giving it to that government program. Is that rock climbing wall at the state college or that study on how feminism impacts climatology or the artwork for the walls of the sixth new headquarters of that government agency in the past decade a better use of your money than those disease-suffering third world villagers? On the other hand, we know your dinner out, or new clothes, or new TV is a better use of your money because that’s what you chose to do with your money. (If there is anything the government needs to do, it’s things which allow you to determine what you do with your property, like maintain a functioning legal system and national defense).

            What the root post of this thread lacks is any understanding that what the poster is calling for is the government to waste resources that could be used productively (the money spent to administer the program) for the benefit of some citizens at the expense of others. It’s spending some money from other people to take other money from other people and give to different people.

          • Corey says:

            @The Nybbler: But the government is us (admittedly an imperfect representation of our collective will). Why is “the government” deciding to give money to people philosophically different than me buying a USB cable? (The electorate/me) decides that (Social Security/a USB cable) is a better use of (a few hundred million/5) dollars than other alternative uses. Maybe it’s objectively a bad deal from a gods-eye view (perhaps I already have plenty of USB cables under my bed) but that’s a different problem.

        • Tracy W says:

          Wealth creation comes from figuring out how to do things better and cheaper (eg the “spinning jenny” for cloth, Google for Internet search).

          Money helps lubricate wealth creation (like many other things such as freedom of speech and double-entry bookkeeping), but what you are talking about above (the circulation of money) is not the same as wealth creation. Societies without money can have wealth creation.

          • Corey says:

            Nowadays food-allergy and diet-restriction concerns have taken away the best tool ever for schoolchildren to learn this: lunch-table trading.

    • Urstoff says:

      The 1% don’t store their wealth under their bed.

      Addendum: “1% don’t” or “1% doesn’t”?

      • Corey says:

        “The 1%” is plural, for now.

        Actually in recent decades most (in the US) do; hence the market for T-Bills at ridiculously low rates. Probably because most new industries in the US don’t need lots of capital, so there’s a shortage of useful things to invest in even at zero savings rates.

        The theory that wealth can’t be “parked”, only invested, assumes full employment. Macrofoundations!

        • Tracy W says:

          T-billa are not storing money under the bed. They are lendiing money to the government, which the government then spends.

          If people’s desire to store money under the bed was increasing, T-bill rates would have to rise to provide more incentive to overcome people’s increasing reluctance to invest their money.

          Your evidence points to exactly the opposite of your claim.

          • Corey says:

            No, T-Bills have a fixed supply (fixed by the amount of budget deficits) and so their price (which is inversely proportional to their rate of return) is determined by demand.

            They’re a benchmark because they’re the baseline safe asset – it has the least chance of not getting paid back of anything on Earth (various recent political debt-ceiling clusterfucks notwithstanding). As such they offer the lowest rates of return (offered rates are more or less proportional to risk, everywhere).

            For various reasons (depending on which macroeconomist you ask), nothing’s arising that can offer the market better risk-adjusted return than approximately zero. Or rich people/companies are just leaving lots of money on the table by investing in Treasuries instead of something better, in which case everything we know about economics is wrong and we don’t have any idea what could help.

          • Tracy W says:

            May I remind you that you started off by claiming that “in recent decades most (in the US) do [want to store their money under the bed.]”.

            If that hypothesis was correct then why would ‘investors’ care about other money-making opportunities relative to T-bill rates? If your assertion was true, about the only thing that could drive down t-Bill rates would be a shortage of beds to stash the cash under.

            In other words, your own argument here believes even you don’t believe your own claim.

          • Corey says:

            @Tracy W: No, I must be being unclear, so I’ll try to explicate what I’m *trying* to claim, and you can tell me where I’m wrong 🙂

            There’s a prevalent econ-101ist view that wealth concentration can never be a problem, because wealth that isn’t spent is necessarily invested, and investment helps the economy (usually with dismissive remarks about Scrooge McDuck-style vaults). I believe this to not be true in today’s USA (though it has been true before).

            The model that the savings=investment result comes from depends on, maong other things, full employment (so there is no shortage of real ventures into which to invest).

            My assertion is that, today, a significant amount of wealth is in fact “parked” Scrooge McDuck-style. The evidence for this is a shortage of safe assets, and the evidence for *that* is robust demand for T-Bills at zero-ish rates.

            I’m not saying that investors *want* to store money under the bed instead of investing it, because that violates a core assumption of capitalism (that people like making money). Anytime someone actually does put money under a mattress, or in T-Bills at zero rates, they’re saying, via revealed preference, that there’s nothing they can invest in that returns more than zero, that fits their risk/liquidity/other preferences.

            Maybe the rich all have the opposite of irrational exuberance and are irrationally missing out on money-making opportunities (markets can stay irrational longer than any person can stay solvent, after all). But no matter the cause, the result is that, today, there is nontrivial wealth that is not doing anything but sitting around.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Corey: but you haven’t supplied any evidence that there is wealth sitting around.

            As I observed before, T-bills are spent by the government be that on consumption or investment. T-bills are not wealth sitting around. That people can’t find higher interest (risk-adjusted) investments than T-bills may say serious things about the health of the economy. But it does nothing to support your claim that people are leaving money sitting around.

            (And what does saving->investment have to do with full employment? You seem to be touching on Keynesian economics here but I’ve never heard any Keynesian claim that people are more likely to invest their savings under full employment. And what does full employment have to do with opportunities to invest? Skill mis-match theory anyone?)

          • Corey says:

            @Tracy W: T-Bills are spent, but the supply is *fixed* by purely political factors. There’s some long-term feedback (if we can’t borrow at less than 10% it will probably put a damper on deficits) but it’s not symmetric; when the market rate was negative the government did *not* do the econ-rational thing of stopping tax collection and borrowing everything.

            As for more-direct evidence: Apple. 8 figures of cash on hand, not being returned to investors nor invested into new ventures. And a good portion of that is already domestic (hoarding cash overseas as tax avoidance is understandable and a different phenomenon). Apple can’t figure out what to do with tens of billions of USD short of zero-return savings vehicles.

    • Jill says:

      Excellent points, Jack. If only our REAL Overton window (rather than our imaginary one) didn’t say that “It’s very hard to help poor people. Let’s spend our money on killing people with drones, and on middle men who add nothing of value to our society (like Wall Street and private medical insurers) instead.

      All we need to do is expand that Overton window full of Military Industrial complex interests, medical insurance interests, Wall Streeters etc.– to include the disadvantaged poor kid’s interests, and we’re good. But oh wait… where is the poor kid’s lobbyist to Congress? I can’t seem to locate such people in our “best system money can buy.”

      You see, we have a free market in Congress members, who bought and sold on the open market, to Special Interests. Getting help for a poor kid seems to be outside the limits of our “free market” in Congress members.

      • Civilis says:

        National security (dismissed as ‘killing people with drones’) is a massive collective action problem, and one most people believe is best handled by the government (and those that don’t generally think nothing should be handled by the government).

        People choose to give money to private insurers and financiers, so they add something of value to someone. Until the recent legislation, you weren’t forced by law to do business with an insurance company. On the other hand, who would voluntarily spend money to comply with the ever increasing bevy of regulations that plague businesses both large and small if it didn’t mean the survival of your business? People buy congressmen and lobbyists because they have to to survive the regulatory and bureaucratic powers of the government, and giving the government more power just makes the ability to influence congress more valuable.

        • Jill says:

          There’s not much of a “choice” of whether to give money to insurers, when insurance companies have contracted rates with hospitals and clinics, such that people without insurance pay sky high prices. Without private insurance, we would all pay less. Bailing out Wall Street in 2008 was something our government did without asking citizens whether we wanted that.

          I am aware of the Libertarian assumptions that
          1) all businesses are as pure and benevolent as the driven snow, and that they only buy Congress members because they have to, to survive regulations and bureaucracy from the always evil government.
          and 2) giving the government more power just makes the ability to influence congress more valuable, so apparently campaign finance reform is supposed to be impossible.

          But I just don’t buy those assumptions.

          • Civilis says:

            Insurance is, fundamentally, a collective action issue itself. Medical care is expensive, more expensive than most people can afford straight up, so they pool their resources to hedge bets against emergencies. This incurs some costs to handle the pooling, but it’s a situation where there are no perfect options. The more people pooled, the larger the waste and the bigger the disconnect between the people paying in and the overall money available in the pool. Without insurance pools, we’d pay less on average, but those that suffer from a medical emergency would still be unable to afford the charges.

            As far as bailing out Wall Street, I thought the government was ‘us’? (admittedly, that’s specifically Corey’s argument). I don’t think anyone on the libertarian side believes business owners and people in finance are any better than politicians (or union leaders, celebrities, or bureaucrats), that is, some are good and some are bad, and it’s hard to tell which are which, and we might not even agree on what makes one good or bad. People with the right combination of intelligence / drive / charisma / luck will always be at the top; the only way to limit the damage they can do if bad, especially if we can’t agree on what bad is, is to decentralize power as much as possible.

            I haven’t seen a single campaign finance reform proposed that wasn’t a transparent attempt to merely move power from one of the groups that already have power to another. For example, the media and celebrities like campaign finance reform, because it benefits them: [celebrity] or [news source] endorses [candidate] is more valuable than [celebrity] or [news source owner] donates money to [candidate], therefore, [candidate] has an incentive to make nice to [celebrity] and [news source owner]; the public doesn’t have any more influence in politics, but celebrities and media owners do. In all cases, politicians make loopholes for their friends, because politicians aren’t going to reduce their own power.

          • Corey says:

            @Civilis: Besides the traditional insurance function of risk pooling, US health insurance also protects against many market failures, some general to healthcare, some specific to the US.

            The big one is price control – prices are totally opaque in US healthcare (so much for any kind of meaningful competition or market), and insurer PPO price negotiation provides the only legal or logical limit on charges. (Never ever go out-of-network for anything unless immediate death is the consequence; the balance-bill will make you wish for death).

            There are certainly better solutions, but for now that’s what we’re stuck with.

          • Civilis says:

            One of those risks is the risk to the health care provider. Because, like college, you can’t return the health care provided if people fail to pay for it later, there’s a risk in providing service to someone that isn’t covered by insurance that needs to be priced in to the cost. On the other hand, even if an individual with insurance never comes back to the provider, their insurance carrier will likely be back, so the insurance carrier has a reason to pay, and the provider has a reason to negotiate down the price so the insurance carrier doesn’t choose a different provider.

            Health care is a serious problem with no good solutions because people and their health care problems aren’t interchangeable and have a unique value. I can shop around for services for my car (emergency repairs, routine maintenance and insurance) because my car is mass produced, so the parts and services needed can be standardized, and the damage that can be done is limited to the car itself, with a fixed upper bound. The guy that does the oil change doesn’t need more than standard business insurance and a quick training in the procedure for the car.

          • John Schilling says:

            Health insurance also protects against [risks such as] price control – prices are totally opaque in US healthcare

            Prices are generally quite transparent in US dentistry, optometry including laser eye surgery, and cosmetic surgery. Also OTC drug prices. Transparent, and within the means of middle-class families.

            Not coincidentally, these are the segments of the American health care industry that are generally not covered by insurance. Insurance doesn’t protect against price opacity, it causes price opacity. Coarsely speaking, providers want to negotiate the best deal with each new insurer no matter how much the last one beat them down to, insurers don’t want anyone else to free-ride on their negotiating efforts, and people paying cash are too small a market to bother with.

          • Bruce Beegle says:

            @Jill:

            I am aware of the Libertarian assumptions that
            1) all businesses are as pure and benevolent as the driven snow, and that they only buy Congress members because they have to, to survive regulations and bureaucracy from the always evil government.
            and 2) giving the government more power just makes the ability to influence congress more valuable, so apparently campaign finance reform is supposed to be impossible.

            But I just don’t buy those assumptions.

            I don’t buy your assumption #1 either. I am a libertarian.

            Over the years, I’ve talked with several dozen libertarians well enough to know how they would respond to those assumptions. Not one would agree with the first part of your assumption #1. Not one would agree with the second part of your assumption #1.

            Perhaps you’ve gotten to know a lot more libertarians than I have. I suppose among them might have been a few that would agree with your assumption #1, but I doubt very much that it was a significant fraction.

            The first part of your assumption #2 is obviously correct. Whether that makes “campaign finance reform” impossible depends on what you mean by “campaign finance reform”. Bills called “campaign finance reform” (that makes it harder to defeat an incumbent) have passed.

        • Jill says:

          Interesting, Bruce. I am getting these ideas from articles and books I have read by Libertarians. Some of these writings are written for the purpose of business propaganda, as many articles and books are today. So that may be the reason for the attitude that businesses are as pure as the driven snow. I have found these sorts of ideas to often be argued in articles and books.

          There’s kind of a disconnect between earnest people following a philosophy vs. the people who write about it for money. Propaganda writing pays better than attempting to write objectively. So lots of writers have found a job in that area. And we are pretty well immersed in, and highly influenced by, propaganda

          • Bruce Beegle says:

            Could you give us a quote from one of those articles or books supporting your libertarian assumption #1?

            I guess I don’t read the right articles or books. The libertarian authors I’ve read have been pro-free-market, which is very very different from being pro-business.

    • Tracy W says:

      Your analysis is based on the assumption that Wall Street takes large swathes of money and does nothing with it, presumably because they believe they have enough profits already.

      • Corey says:

        Both of the following cannot simultaneously be true:
        – The US financial system approximates an efficient market
        – Financial intermediation is 8% of GDP (true)

        To be fair, a lot of that 8% seems to come from hedge fund clients paying 2-and-20 despite such funds neither hedging nor outperforming indexes. Though that in itself is a serious EMH violation (or an assumption that hedge fund clients believe they have enough money already)

        • Urstoff says:

          Why can both of those not simultaneously be true? What would the size of the financial industry be if markets were efficient?

          • Corey says:

            In an efficient market profits are competed away to zero. In the hedge fund example, no regulation requires them to charge 2-and-20, but nobody seems to have started one that charged 1.5-and-15 (which would make a *huge* difference over any nontrivial time scale), or if they did they didn’t eat the industry for unknown reasons. And hedge funds are pretty lightly regulated.

            Your local libertarian will reply “Government Regulations(tm) are setting the barriers to entry such that this much profit is there to be made” but there’s no particular evidence for that.

            In retail banking the answer is clearly oligopoly (lack of competition). In insurance, it’s probably lack of market efficiency from barriers to entry, because it’s impossible to have useful insurance without scads of regulation. For other parts of FIRE, you have a point, I have no idea what the “efficient” size would be.

          • Anonymous says:

            There’s fee competition in the hedge fund world. Two and twenty is far from a hard and fast rule. The big reason it doesn’t get too hot is because the perceived best hedge funds have would-be investors begging them to invest. They aren’t considered very fungible.

  26. Bram Cohen says:

    On the cost of living going up: So much of that is rent that aggressively building more housing in densely populated urban areas would go a really long way to fixing the problem.

    On labor moving overseas: That is certainly a major driver, if not the major driver, of slowed economic growth among poor people in the United States. But poor people here are still much better off than the average person in China, even after all of their economic growth. Eventually we’ll have dragged up enough of the world that there’s nowhere else left to turn. There’s still Africa though, so this trend might continue for a while.

    I too am in favor of guaranteed income. And open borders. And acknowledge that the two don’t work so well together. But until either of them has a realistic chance of happening the conflict doesn’t bother me.

    • Corey says:

      I actually think the damage from US trade with China is a one-off. China is slowing down / imploding right now. There are other, poorer countries, but they’re not China (neither in sheer numbers, nor the political will to undervalue currency and drive exports by fiat at domestic expense).

      (Disclaimer: I thought India would eat all knowledge work years ago, and lost a decade of career to that belief, so I’m heavily invested in Krugman’s New Trade Theory as a counteracting belief).

  27. 27chaos says:

    While real wages have decoupled from real GDP in the past forty years, if you look at real total compensation, including things like healthcare insurance etc, it has only decoupled in the past five to ten years, possibly due to the recession.

  28. LPSP says:

    The southest quadrant is the opposite of gloomy. It is stark, and searingly bright, and it scares people like the indiluted light of God. People like gloom and doom because it’s vaguery and that provides cover, at least, for them to retreat. The southest quadrant opposes this instinct most of all; it seeks to drive people from denial and make them confront the realities of our situation. No cheap revolutionist jingo, no tribalism, no happy-clappy free milk, just designing a system that incentivises efficient, consistent productivity sans neglect.

  29. Jules Morrison says:

    Throwing money at the problem of poverty, ironically, is actually being treated as a serious answer by international NGOs these days, where for ages people tried everything else on the assumption that the feckless poor would spend it on drink. Build infrastructure for them, food aid, subsidized goods, food stamps, workfare, every which way but “here have some cash”. But when they actually tried the cash, it worked. That’s one reason I’m optimistic about a basic income. Another, is that I feel that a whole lot of creativity has been stomped flat by, basically, living one paycheck from the street. With an inflation-pegged basic income that’s enough to subsist on, and protected against creditors, effectively that fear would be gone. Bad news for employers wanting cheap poor people to do awful jobs. Good news, for all those individual people. I have a feeling they’d rebuild their local economy. I have a feeling, too, a lot of people stuck in the city by the necessity of the next paycheck, would move out and join them.

    • Corey says:

      Cash-based poverty aid has a market-based logic to it that you’d think libertarians would appreciate. Rather than provide, say, $1000 worth of food, housing, or whatever to a poor person, you provide them with $1000 of whatever they need most (as determined by the person best situated to make that determination – themselves).

      An argument can be made for paternalism when helping the poor (as in the “they’ll just spend it on drink” conventional wisdom you mention), but since lots of people are poor, that’s also an argument that markets don’t work. (Which might not be crazy – anything advertised on daytime TV is a terrible deal for whoever’s buying it, for example).

      • Jiro says:

        “They’ll just spend it on drink” is a subcase of a more general case: the point of providing things to the poor isn’t to increase their utility. The point is to ensure that they have food, housing, etc. Just because a poor person gets more utility from alcohol than food and housing doesn’t mean that we want to provide him with it.

        (Of course, it’s only a matter of semantics whether you say “I don’t want to provide them what they need” or “I want to provide them with what they need, but increasing utility is not what I mean by need”.)

        • Jules Morrison says:

          It’s a very reductionist approach to the problem. They don’t have a house, make sure they have a house. They don’t have food, make sure they have food. Even in the best case, it ends up creating warehouses of fed, fed-up people. Human life exists for more reason than to have a continuing heartbeat. Houses, food, and so forth are the basic security necessities for reaching higher on the Maslow pyramid, and you’re not really living a human, humane life until you can reach all the way up to the top, self actualization, living your vocation.

          It’s stupid, IMO, to ignore the utility of poor people. That utility is exactly what guides them to climb the pyramid. A person who is no longer in pain abandons palliatives.

          • Jiro says:

            Just like nobody is interested in giving poor people booze, and nobody is interested in increasing poor people’s utility, nobody is interested in paying to move them all the way up to the top of the Maslow pyramid. Furthermore, a poor person who “needs” booze more than he needs food and housing is, by your own standards, not following the Maslow pyramid anyway.

            In fact, I’d say that that’s why we don’t want to give him booze. We are interested in moving people so that they are at least at a certain distance from the bottom of the Maslow pyramid (but not on the top). Making sure the poor person has food helps accomplish that; making sure the poor person has booze, even if he prefers booze to food, does not, because access to booze doesn’t move him up.

          • Dahlen says:

            @Jiro: “Nobody” being who?

          • Jiro says:

            “Nobody” means “very few people and certainly very few of the people we’re talking about here”. Pointing out that there’s probably someone somewhere who wants it so it isn’t literally nobody is needless Internet pedantry.

        • John Schilling says:

          …the point of providing things to the poor isn’t to increase their utility. The point is to ensure that they have food, housing, etc

          I think the actual point of providing things to the poor is mostly that we feel bad when we see some squalid person lying in the gutter and/or on TV with Sally Struthers narrating, and if we provide them with a certain sort of things then we don’t have to see that any more. But if they take the things we provide them and trade them for booze and drugs, then even if they perceive the greatest possible improvement in their condition given the available resources, we see a squalid drunken bum lying in the gutter. Mission Not Accomplished.

          • multiheaded says:

            I, for one, recognize the hypocrisy here, and am happier to see a rowdy/drunk-but-not-miserable underclass person than a quietly miserable one. Of course, sadly, the former is often just a temporary reprieve from the latter.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Jiro
          “They’ll just spend it on drink” is a subcase of a more general case: the point of providing things to the poor isn’t to increase their utility. The point is to ensure that they have food, housing, etc.

          What I see most often mentioned are

          1. the proposed simple cash for everyone, or
          2. the current special programs (food stamps etc) for those who can qualify by going through hoops that are expensive for the government to maintain.

          What about keeping the dedicated help (food stamps etc) but getting rid of the hoops? Food stamps for everyone; Medicare for everyone (no co-pays).

          (Food bank privileges for everyone, like free bus tokens for everyone, are self-limiting: rich people won’t use them anyway. Rent vouchers would probably be unworkable.)

          • Corey says:

            That’s a pretty good idea! At a first pass I think we could replace housing vouchers with free dorms but there are probably lots of details to work out.

          • Anonymous says:

            They are called projects and it turned out to be a terrible idea. It’s fine for the housing to be undesirable because it is small or lacks amenities, but you don’t want it to be crime ridden or to require enormous resources to prevent it from being crime ridden.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I called for an experiment for universal food stamps elsewhere in this thread.

            In that comment, I talked about the work of getting two families I know on food stamps. Since that comment, I’ve come to find out another family I know spent their food stamp money on drugs. This makes me slightly more skeptical, but I still want to try it.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Edward S.
            I talked about the work of getting two families I know on food stamps. Since that comment, I’ve come to find out another family I know spent their food stamp money on drugs. This makes me slightly more skeptical, but I still want to try it.

            There are (at least) two ways to approach that problem.

            1. Do a lot of expensive screening of applicants to make sure no/few drug users get any food stamps.

            2. Tweak the redemption rules on food stamps so they can’t be used for toilet paper and cat food (done I think) — or for drugs. IE, close whatever loophole is the mechanism for getting drugs by foodstamps.

          • keranih says:

            Those steps won’t prevent the most common fraud, which is where I sell my FS card to Pete for 50 cents on the dollar cash, and Pete sells the card to someone else – like a restaraunt or a food supplier or another small business – for 75 cents on the dollar.

            This is actually how the fraud works.

          • brad says:

            You trade food stamps for money either by finding a corrupt grocer or by buying food and then reselling it. Either way usually results in a big loss over face value.

            Universal food stamps strikes me as a fairly gentle introduction to the concept of UBI, but I don’t think the politics of it are particularly favorable.

          • Jill says:

            If trading food stamps for money, for a big loss over face value, is the most common fraud, then so what? If the person is legitimately eligible for FS, then let them do whatever they want with the card, no matter how stupid it is. Or let that be illegal, but don’t put any extra resources into tracking it down.

            I don’t see why this is a concern at all. It’s stupid, but it does not cause the recipient to receive anything they are not eligible for.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Instead of giving some money to the citizen and some money to the corrupt merchant, why not give all the money to the citizen? Corrupt merchants are not a class we want to subsidize.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            In this specific case, the person gave her EBT card to the drug dealer, who went and bought $200 worth of groceries, and then gave her $100 worth of drugs.

            Like I said, it makes me more skeptical, but I still want to see the effects of trying it out. Maybe the fraud is so small we just ignore it. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it doesn’t work because kids still starve due to the parent spending EBT money on drugs. But if we can’t manage the small step of universal food stamps, then we know that universal basic income will never happen.

          • Jill says:

            Some people are very obsessed with fraud in programs for the poor, even in programs where it almost never happens.

            There’s always some specific case to talk about. One case. Or a few cases. Maybe not much more than that.

          • Anonymous says:

            Almost no one starves in the US. Instead we get to hear all about “food insecurity” which is basically people trying to borrow the negative emotional associations we have for people starving for some other barely related phenomenon.

            How much of that massive victory in the war on poverty can be laid at the feet of food stamps vs charity vs food just being so cheap that you can feed yourself on on collecting soda cans, I’m not sure.

          • keranih says:

            It should be noted that FS are a way to help poor people who can’t afford food for themselves and their kids.

            In the USA, most people object to people starving or kids going to school hungry. It’s fairly commonly accepted that even if the parents are idiots, or so lazy they get fired from their jobs, that kids should have food. Even heartless types with no sympathy for adults will agree to tax dollars being spent on feeding kids.

            An adult who takes the foodstamps given to them so that their kids will have food to eat and sells the card for drugs is not only stealing from the taxpayer, they are also stealing from their own childern.

            And that is why UBI is never going to work – because we are never going to let kids starve because the parents spent the whole UBI on drugs/alcohol/tobacco/whores/lottery tickets/anything else. And we are never going to be without parents who will spend UBI on those things unless we institute draconian measures to take kids away from parents who can’t provide for them.

            And that’s another tool I don’t want my government to have.

            Edit: And regarding the idea that this kind of fs fraud is “rare” or just one or two cases…ya’ll really need to get out more, and interact with poor people.

          • Anonymous says:

            And we are never going to be without parents who will spend UBI on those things unless we institute draconian measures to take kids away from parents who can’t provide for them.

            And that’s another tool I don’t want my government to have.

            It’s not can’t, it’s won’t. And the government already has that tool. Governments have had it in what’s now the US since before there was a US.

          • JBeshir says:

            Other countries use cash-based benefit systems, rather than food-restricted stuff, and haven’t had their systems collapse for want of political support in the face of starving children. Mostly it seems to behave exactly the same as the US system, except minus a bunch of bureaucracy and inefficiency as people buy food they don’t need instead of tools they do.

            This is another of those “it’s helpful to check if anyone has actually tried to enact it and what happened” things. I think cash-based benefits might actually be the more internationally common thing.

            The process for dealing with parents who don’t feed their children is the same one you use for parents who beat their children: You take the children away.

            In practice, threat of this seems to be enough.

          • John Schilling says:

            And that is why UBI is never going to work – because we are never going to let kids starve because the parents spent the whole UBI on drugs/alcohol/tobacco/whores/lottery tickets/anything else. And we are never going to be without parents who will spend UBI on those things unless we institute draconian measures to take kids away from parents who can’t provide for them

            And that is why “jobs” are never going to work – because we are never going to let kids starve because the parents spent their whole “wages” on drugs/alcohol/tobacco/whores/lottery tickets/anything else. And we are never going to be without parents who will spend “wages” on those things unless we institute draconian measures to take kids away from parents who can’t provide for them.

            I’m not seeing the difference. Whatever solution we feel is appropriate for the latter case, ought to apply just as well to the former.

          • Jiro says:

            Other countries probably have a smaller base level of drug addicts and other people with similar attitudes.

          • Corey says:

            @whole thread: Maybe we have to treat or cure drug addiction, then. OTOH other behavior-mod technologies will arise, and this presents thorny philosophical problems (drug addiction is a special case thereof).

            In any event if drug addiction or other irrational behavior-mod techniques are that widespread, then markets don’t work and everything we know about econ goes out the window.

  30. Jill says:

    This cartoon explains how the rich got rich and the poor got poor.

    Here is a great list of graphics that illustrates well a lot of facts about income and socioeconomic class, such as what percent of the income of various classes comes from investments they own vs. their work. And how badly the lower classes have gotten squeezed financially in recent decades.

    http://www.vox.com/2016/5/23/11704246/wealth-inequality-cartoon

    • meyerkev248 says:

      And… saving those for the next time I hear someone complaining about how we have a regressive tax system in this country.

      /And I love the “We’ve never taxed capital gains lower” chart.

      • Jill says:

        Yeah, that’s how this board is. Link to an article with 27 points in it, and most people here will fish out the 1 or 2 points that can be used, or at least interpreted, to support a hard core Libertarian screw-over-the-poor-with no-regrets point of view. Am getting used to that now.

        • E. Harding says:

          What’s your bigger problem? Poverty or inequality?

          • Anonymous says:

            This is actually a great question for a lot of people. “Let’s say I could increase your real income by 10x, but it would correspond with an increase of real income of 1000x going to some random rich person. Would you go for it?”

          • keranih says:

            I think both the two cows economics lecture and The Iron Lady need to be mentioned here.

            (My answer is that I can’t see how making a rich person more rich impacts me at all. Except that if I knew who they were I could go lobby them for more money to my pet causes.)

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Anonymous: One random person 1000x richer? Absolutely. Everyone else 1000x richer? No way.

          • Randy M says:

            I have Jaime’s response too, but only due to the practical effects of what that would do to my buying power after inflation, etc.

          • meyerkev248 says:

            Positional goods.

            If a rich person owns TEN cars, no skin off my back, when he’s outbidding me for the limited supply of housing and I have to leave and move to ??? driving me away from friends and family, very much skin off my back.

            There’s a reason places with lots of positional goods get really concerned about income inequality, and places without don’t.

          • Anonymous says:

            the practical effects of what that would do to my buying power after inflation

            The qualifier real income obviates this concern.

    • alaska3636 says:

      Many people fail to consider the flow of capital as a result of monetary inflation, which by and large, tends to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and poor. Regulatory capture also allows the wealthy to, if not completely control the direction of government, steer the government towards policies favorable to them as a class.

  31. Duncan Bayne says:

    FWIW, you’ve conflated “society” with “the State” in your stated reason for excluding Libertarians. I don’t personally know any Libertarian who are against helping the poor; we just don’t think that’s a job for the State.

    • Jill says:

      So who is it that is falling down on the job of helping the poor, since the poor have gotten so much worse off in recent decades? Who is it who should have been keeping this from happening, if not the state?

      Or are you saying you believe, in theory, that helping the poor is good? But if the poor all get worse and worse off and suffer miserably in every way– well, if no one feels like helping them, then no problem?

      • Skivverus says:

        The standard libertarian belief is that helping “the poor” – helping anyone, really – is something best done without resorting to coercion, and that government is inherently coercive. You have an obligation not to run over the beggar in the street, but not to hand him a $20, and certainly not to order someone else to hand him a $20.

        A further, darker implication is that if someone has no friends, that might well be because no one they’ve met thinks they’re worth keeping around (i.e.: they’ve been outgroup’ed). This inference works better – if it works at all, and it might, at that – with smaller communities that can track the finer details of their inhabitants’ reputations.

        This in turn means that government welfare, if it is utterly dispassionate, will go in greater proportions to people the local community finds distasteful than that same community would – and there’s no universal answer to whether the government or the community is in the right.

        • Jill says:

          Yes, I am aware of how distasteful the poor are to some people.

          What about the government having laws that companies and individuals abide by their written contracts? That’s coercion. Shall we stop doing that?

          • Skivverus says:

            At a guess, “the poor” are distasteful to those people because the phrase conjures a different mental image for them than it does for you – of “trust-fund babies enabled by taxpayers’ money rather than their parents'”, rather than “people down on their luck”.
            To convince those people, or perhaps in an attempt to sift the former from the latter, increasing numbers of checks and conditions get loaded onto any governmental aid – they’ve got just as much a vote as you do, after all – until the bureaucracy turns welfare collection into a job in its own right: “proving to strangers that you’re more unlucky than lazy, by standing in line and filling out forms”.

            As for your second point, that’s the difference (as I understand it) between the libertarian and the anarchist: the former concedes that sometimes coercion is the lesser of two evils… though again, in persistent communities (such as this one), reputation becomes an enforcement mechanism in its own right.

          • You… haven’t talked this through with any libertarians or anarchists, have you? I don’t think either of your statements could sneak past a blind man looking for grass-based humanoids nor would they succeed at an ideological turing test for what libertarians actually believe.

            Libertarians are against the initiation of force and coercion at the very most basic. Under that rule, you cannot morally threaten someone with a gun or lie to defraud them of money but you can certainly do those things to stop coercion and fraud.
            The ideas of how to do this proportionally really clicked for me after reading about the principle of estoppel, which you can read a nice essay, if interested, here:
            https://mises.org/library/punishment-and-proportionality-estoppel-approach-0
            EDIT: Estoppel summary: Estoppel is the idea that somehow who both makes a claim and also takes an action towards that claim is prevented from in the future saying they are against that claim. A person can’t claim a moral imperative against someone starting a fight with them if they themselves have started a fight. Thieves can’t complain about having their property confiscated to pay back their victims because they’ve proven they don’t believe in a right not to be stolen from.

          • Jill says:

            Dice, yes I’ve talked with Libertarians. But I find them to be inconsistent in approving of some forms of coercion but not others.

        • Jack Hunter says:

          Well… you somehow forgot:

          If said poor people would get some money, they might actually turn back into normal people.

          Poverty is something you can slide into blazingly fast – and its not something easily climbed out of. What certainly does not help climbing out of poverty is a lack of money to maintain a small lifestyle, to get cleaned up and start trying to broaden ones skill set.

      • “since the poor have gotten so much worse off in recent decades?”

        Evidence?

      • alaska3636 says:

        The people worst effected by government spending are the poor and middle class. Government spending ultimately causes monetary inflation (i.e. the devaluation of each individual unit of currency relative to each new unit of currency added.)

        Government control over the currency spigot – to pay for war, benefits, welfare, infrastructure – hurt savers who see the value of their savings decline in a greater proportion to the rising costs of living caused by inflation. The people who benefit most are those rich and connected people who benefit by government contracts (Lockheed) and by asset inflation (Lehman).

        I have simplified, for sure, a complex phenomena of transferring wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest, but you can not analyze the increasing gap between wealthy and the middle class without understanding the monetary system in place.

  32. Jill says:

    If you don’t believe that the lower classes are exploited, then read this book by the late Joe Bageant, a redneck who left his hometown, got educated and became a journalist, and then came back to interview the people of the redneck town he grew up in and explain the conditions of their lives to readers. The guy was brilliant. Wished he hadn’t passed away so soon.

    Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War by Joe Bageant

    http://www.amazon.com/Deer-Hunting-Jesus-Dispatches-Americas/dp/0307339378/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464131811&sr=1-1&keywords=Deer+hunting+with+Jesus

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Can you summarize the argument regarding exploitation? The description seems to speak to a generally low quality of life but not really the ‘useless vs. exploited’ thing.

  33. Eli says:

    So, hold on, I want to ask a couple questions about how you claim not to believe in exploitation.

    1) If you don’t believe in exploitation, what do you think is going to happen with #FightFor15 and other efforts to organize workers and raise wages among the so-called “precariat”? If you really don’t believe in exploitation (in the sense of a person deliberately trying to make someone else work without their fair share of the gains, not in the orthodox Marxist sense that generalizes it), shouldn’t Fighting For “$15 and a union” lead directly to unemployment?

    2) If we admit the existence of some form of exploitation, shouldn’t we quantify it in order to figure out how to reason about the “unnecessariat”? I mean, the biggest nastiest fact about this whole travesty is that unemployment rates really are low and dropping. This means people really are actually working, right? And if they’re working, and it’s not just their employer’s fault for exploiting them by paying unlivably low wages, then it must be the lack of capital in the supply chain, they must be performing some 21st-century equivalent of dirt-farming: lots of work for very little useful value (for anyone at all, not just the worker).

    My closest and honest best hypothesis for all this is that in the process of deliberately suppressing the price of labor to glorify “entrepreneurs”, neoliberalism has ended up providing a “Food Stamps subsidy” to loads and loads of shitty business models that don’t add much real value to the economy. Like asset bubbles, app startups, and frozen-yogurt cafes: we might like these things when we’re enjoying them, but if we actually had to pay enough for them to really keep the whole thing running, would we really want to keep buying?

    (And I really do like frozen-yogurt shops. I just wonder how something that amounts to a few soft-serve machines and bowls of candy can constitute a value-generating business with a completely separate niche from fuller-service ice-cream stores. What’s the game?)

    • suntzuanime says:

      1) It seems plausible that a $15 minimum wage would lead to more unemployment, or at least less employment (see below). I expect it might do so, in the medium term, in parts of the country with a low cost of living. But it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of non-wage aspects to a job that cost employers money, that workers seek out, and that employers can cut back on. Things like climate control and comfortable work environments are the most obvious, but employers can also vary the level of whip-cracking they do. A man who likes to slack a little might be worth employing at somewhat indifferent level of work-ethic at $10 an hour, but if the minimum wage is $15 he’s going to have to work at a level he finds highly unpleasant if he wants to be employed at all. (This case is rarely made, because it’s so hard for people to find compassion in their hearts for the lazy.)

      2) Unemployment is calculated in a particular way, which many people feel does not fully capture whether people “really are actually working”. My understanding is that the employment/population ratio looks a lot less rosy than the calculated statistic we call “unemployment”.

    • satanistgoblin says:

      “in the sense of a person deliberately trying to make someone else work without their fair share of the gains”

      Who defines what is the fair share? ???

      “My closest and honest best hypothesis for all this is that in the process of deliberately suppressing the price of labor to glorify “entrepreneurs””

      Who is doing that and how?

      ” neoliberalism has ended up providing a “Food Stamps subsidy” to loads and loads of shitty business models that don’t add much real value to the economy. Like asset bubbles, app startups, and frozen-yogurt cafes: we might like these things when we’re enjoying them, but if we actually had to pay enough for them to really keep the whole thing running, would we really want to keep buying?”

      Please elaborate?

    • Jill says:

      Some statistics on CEO pay compared to average worker pay. Somehow Wal-Mart can’t afford to pay low level workers enough to live on. But they can afford to pay Walmart chief Doug McMillon $25.6 million per year, about 1,133 times the median employee’s $22,591.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ceo-worker-pay-gap_us_55ddc3c7e4b0a40aa3acd1c9

      Somehow, in American culture, people just accept that McMillon’s work is somehow objectively worth 1,133 times the median Wal-Mart employee’s salary.

      Yeah, I know, it is, because the “invisible hand of the free market” determined it that way. But in reality, CEOs wrap company board members around their little fingers and get paid tons more than they are worth to the company. And one reason the company can afford to pay them that is that they don’t pay their lower level workers enough to live on.

      In reality, people who are able to grab a lot of power, whether in industry or in government, will “tilt the game board” of government, or their company, or whatever else they are involved in, so that huge outsized rewards will fall into their laps– rewards that are much larger than what anyone sane could consider them to have “earned” in the “free market.”

      That’s the problem with capitalism and free markets. It may start out somewhat fair. But once you have monopolies and oligopolies and various people accumulating and concentrating huge amounts of money and power, the rule is “Them that has, gits.” Which is hugely unfair to them that don’t have. And if it is “free”, it sure is a heck of a lot freer for the folks on the top rungs of the ladder than it is for anyone else.

      Libertarians assume that dangerous harmful accumulations and concentrations of money and power always take place only within government. But many multi-national corporations are much more wealthy and powerful than almost any country on earth. So obviously there can be dangerous harmful accumulations and concentrations of money and power in companies, not just in government.

      • Eli says:

        I agree with everything you said, but you don’t seem to have said anything particularly novel or useful about the specific points under discussion.

      • meyerkev248 says:

        Walmart has 1.8 Million employees. $25 Million/1.8 Million is $14.

        So congrats, you’re making… 7/10ths of a cent more per hour (On the admittedly dubious assumption the average worker works full time).

        The people who really, really make bank? They create many-to-one relationships.

        Why was Steve Jobs rich? Because he made $1 for every iPhone sold.
        Why is AC/DC rich? Because they got 30,000 middle-aged people to pay $200/seat to come see them last night. And the night before. And the night before.
        Why is…

        If every single person on the planet gave me a penny, I’d never work again.

      • Nornagest says:

        Wikipedia lists Walmart as having 2.2 million employees worldwide. I figure most of them are part-timers, probably at around 35 hours a week each since you minimize employee-related expenses by giving part-time workers as many hours as you can get away with before the government considers them full-time. (This would not apply identically to non-US employees, but most are in the US.) That works out to 2,200,000 * 35 * 52 = 4,004,000,000 man-hours of work across Walmart per year.

        If Walmart paid its CEO zero dollars a year, that would allow each of those other employees to be paid 25,600,000 / 4,004,000,000 = 0.006 dollars an hour, or a bit more than half a cent. I rather doubt that’ll make or break a living wage.

        • Jill says:

          Well, the rest of the upper level management is probably almost as overpaid as the CEO. If so, you’d be able to add a good bit more than half a cent to each person’s pay check.

          In any case, I can’t see any reason why the chief of Wal-Mart could possibly be worth that amount of money to the business. I think there are tons of people you could put in charge and pay a whole lot less, and they’d do just as well. I don’t know whether he’s a family friend of the Waltons or what. But that salary is not the result of the “free market” of supply and demand.

          • suntzuanime says:

            You’re a very unimaginative person.

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure! You might even be able to add five cents.

            In any case Wal-Mart’s board of directors — or whoever sets CEO salaries — disagrees about the value of the position, and I think they’re in a better position to say what it’s worth to Wal-Mart than you are. They do have an incentive to get their best value for CEO pay, you know; even if the Waltons wanted to make a family friend rich, they’d be better off giving them some stock and then hiring the best CEO they could, given that a bad one could easily damage stock prices to the tune of way more than $25 million a year.

          • meyerkev248 says:

            Who’s more important, the individual soldier in the trenches or the general who decides where the attack goes in and arranges for air support?

            In practice, I wish the guys who fail didn’t make quite as much money, but does anyone really want to say that Steve Jobs wasn’t actually worth at least a billion dollars?

          • Jill says:

            Nornagest, boards of directors — or whoever sets CEO salaries — is not necessarily in a better position to say what a CEO is worth to the company than I am. We just have a custom in the U.S. of over-rewarding CEOs. That doesn’t make them worth what they are paid.

            A lot of things are done because they’ve always been done that way for years, decades, or centuries. That doesn’t necessarily mean that doing those things makes any sense at all. For centuries people were ruled by kings. Did that make that system the best one? Some people with guillotines ultimately decided No.

            The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats

            http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-pitchforks-are-coming-for-us-plutocrats-108014

          • The Nybbler says:

            So far, no pitchforks. The people supporting socialism (or at least Sanders) are the intelligentsia, not the proletariat. The working classes are lining up behind a plutocrat, giving him adulation rather than pitchforks. And the underclass… eh, they’ll vote for the Democrat like they always do, and if they get too riled up they’ll burn their own houses down. No pitchforks.

          • onyomi says:

            The amount of money potentially gained or lost by having a competent or incompetent CEO at the head of Wal Mart is much, much more than $25 million.

          • Chalid says:

            We all understand that a “normal” worker typically gets paid a lot less than the value they produce, and indeed that their pay can have very little connection to that value. But when it comes to debating CEO pay everyone rushes to point to the value they produce or fail to produce, (depending on what side you’re on).

            I do think it’s very hard to look at the actual ways CEO pay is decided and conclude that the process is a good one. The board of directors that generally decides CEO pay is usually far from independent of the CEO himself, and shareholders have difficulty coordinating enough to oppose abuses.

            (Does not apply as much to the specific case of Walmart, I think, since it is majority-owned by the Waltons.)

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not actually that confident that CEO pay is in the optimal range; I seem to recall that it’s highly variable, and that it’s recently spiked, neither of which inspire confidence in me. It’s plausible that there’s a strong signaling component to it.

            But I do feel confident in saying, first, that the leadership of a company is in a much better position to make these decisions than random Internet commentators are, and if they want to waste their money, that’s their business; and second, that it’s totally irrelevant to issues of fair pay at the rank-and-file level (there just aren’t enough CEOs for it to matter).

            If you want to use it as an object lesson in inequality, fine (though I don’t care much about inequality per se), but even there you should be aware that way, way more people get rich off equity, one way or another, than do through their nominal salary.

          • Chalid says:

            But I do feel confident in saying, first, that the leadership of a company is in a much better position to make these decisions than random Internet commentators are, and if they want to waste their money, that’s their business

            Dunno, how do you decide when ignorance better than bias? And they’re wasting someone else’s money, which as we all know is very easy to do.

            Totally agreed on your second point.

          • onyomi says:

            “We all understand that a “normal” worker typically gets paid a lot less than the value they produce, and indeed that their pay can have very little connection to that value. But when it comes to debating CEO pay everyone rushes to point to the value they produce or fail to produce…”

            Wait, what? I don’t understand that worker pay has little connection to the value they produce, nor do I fail to discuss worker productivity when discussing worker compensation…

          • Corey says:

            @onyomi: worker compensation would equal their contributions to the company in a perfectly efficient job market. The actually existing job market barely even approximates a market.

          • Chalid says:

            If we had a good labor market, you’d be paid based on how much it will take to convince you to do the work, and on how much it would cost to replace you. These don’t map precisely onto “value you create” for a variety of reasons.

            But it’s even worse than that – in real-life the relevant variable to career advancement is closely related to your value to your *manager,* not your value to the company; these can be very different things, as “value to manager” includes things like “laughs at the manager’s crappy jokes” and “pretends to be interested in stories about the manager’s kids.”

            I’ve got to go and create value for my manager now but there is lots more that can be written about this.

          • onyomi says:

            @Corey

            Are you claiming there’s little or no connection between worker productivity and compensation?

          • “@onyomi: worker compensation would equal their contributions to the company in a perfectly efficient job market.”

            And in an imperfect job market, it is sometimes less and sometimes more.

            But if it is always much less, as at least one person in this thread seems to believe, then it should be easy to get rich by hiring people. The more you hire, the richer you get. Hard to see why, in that world, there would be any unemployment.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Jill

            Nobody ever makes this argument about highly-paid entertainers. Nobody every says, “Jon Stewart was overpaid. We should have taken a bunch of money from him and paid his studio cleaning crew a little more.” Nobody ever says, “Aaron Rodgers is overpaid. We should take a bunch of money from him and pay the waterboys a little more. In those cases, most people in the general public see how that person’s talents affect them. They know that they value watching Jon Stewart on TV or rooting for Aaron Rodgers to throw another touchdown.

            Now the thing is… you’re not the intended audience for the talents of Wal-Mart’s CEO. You don’t see the benefits that said CEO brings to the people who hire/pay said CEO. Of course you think the CEO is overpaid! From your perspective, the CEO isn’t worth more than minimum wage, because you don’t see the benefits.

            Similarly, someone who never watches TV and generally despises the whole endeavor would ask you, “Don’t you think Jon Stewart was overpaid?!” …and the only thing you could possibly respond with is, “Uh… but I like watching him.” You’d be equally powerless to respond to their (similarly ridiculous) claim.

          • Corey says:

            @onyomi: My (mostly intuitive) sense is that there’s a relationship between employee production and compensation, but not a strong one.

            The value the business thinks the employee brings puts an upper bound on their compensation. (Various factors can make this different than the actual value brought, since All Metrics Suck). The lower bound is set by fiat. Within that range it’s purely a matter of supply and demand, only loosely related to characteristics of the individual employer and employee.

          • Chalid says:

            @David Friedman

            The existence of profits is largely from employees producing more value than they capture as wages. Aggregate profits are almost always positive. Therefore, on average, employees produce more value than they capture as wages, no?

            I don’t remember my GDP accounting well, but very crudely, wages are ~55% of GDP, corporate profits are ~15-20% of GDP (from here), so from that alone you get about a 20/(55+20)~25% of the value produced not being captured by the workers. I’m not sure how much of that 55% goes to nonprofit/government workers but correcting for that would lower the denominator quite a bit.

            Your “if employees did not capture their value as wages on average, companies would just hire more workers” argument mixes up the average and marginal value, and also assumes the characteristics of employed and unemployed people are the same.

          • Subbak says:

            Nobody ever makes this argument about highly-paid entertainers. Nobody every says, “Jon Stewart was overpaid. We should have taken a bunch of money from him and paid his studio cleaning crew a little more.” Nobody ever says, “Aaron Rodgers is overpaid. We should take a bunch of money from him and pay the waterboys a little more. In those cases, most people in the general public see how that person’s talents affect them. They know that they value watching Jon Stewart on TV or rooting for Aaron Rodgers to throw another touchdown.

            Actually, people do say those things. There are plenty of articles about how the money paid to footballers is indecent. Type “overpaid footballer” into Google and see plenty of articles and opinion pieces cropping up. The same thing happens with comedians.

          • alaska3636 says:

            @chalid
            “The existence of profits is largely from employees producing more value than they capture as wages. Aggregate profits are almost always positive. Therefore, on average, employees produce more value than they capture as wages, no?”

            No. This is a persistent erroneous view of value and of profits with a basis in a labor theory of value.

            Basic labor and raw material are lower order goods. Their relative scarcity roughly predicts the amount of other goods people are willing to trade for them.

            Higher order goods take longer to bring to the point of trade like skilled labor or aluminum sheeting. Again, the relative scarcity of these things and the demand for them drive their prices higher than lower order goods.

            The highest order goods like individual homes and Iphones require time, risk and capital to bring to market. The more time, risk and capital require greater profit margins to incentivize business people to take their capital and make those risks.

            Another way to think about wages is that they represent a discount on the risk foregone to be paid after the products they help make are sold. That risk is absorbed by partners who invest the capital to pay the wages and reap both profit and loss at the time those goods go to market.

            Value is subjective; it is not based on labor.

            Here is Menger, one of the father’s of marginal utility, on the value of higher order goods.
            https://mises.org/library/value-goods-higher-order

          • Anonymous says:

            Type “overpaid footballer” into Google and see plenty of articles and opinion pieces cropping up.

            These tend to be more the type of, “He’s a 7mil/year QB, not a 10mil/year QB.” It assumes that there is such a thing as a 10mil/year QB, and it’s jut that that particular player isn’t performing sufficiently. Almost nobody comes out and says, “We need to reduce the salary cap so that we can reduce all QB pay so that we can distribute that money to water boys.”

            Most people will agree with the players’ union that the players deserve a major chunk of the league’s revenue… which means the salary cap for the players isn’t going to drop like a rock. They’ll instead try to interject, “But the league actually pays people for performance! It’s much more competitive! CEOs are just a good-ol’ boys club!” Nevermind that we can google (in the way you suggest) hundreds of examples of players who are paid in excess of their performance (because no matter what straw man you like to beat up on, competitive markets often don’t have perfect predictive capabilities).

            The difference is that people play Madden. It has a franchise mode. They can imagine themselves signing players that sometimes don’t work out. They’ve come to grips with the idea that the competitive market demands high compensation for elite QBs. Pretty much no one plays a Corporate Board version of Madden.

          • Subbak says:

            @Anonymous above: Literally the first result I get when I do this is
            http://www.debate.org/opinions/are-football-players-paid-too-much

            It disgusts me! People that run around the pitch kicking a pointless ball get paid £2,000,000 a week on the other hand Doctors ONLY and I repeat only get paid £4250, this statistics just suggest that stupid footballers are getting a amazing amount for money for kicking a ball, where’s the logic! This is disgraceful.

            Obviously this isn’t the best way to express this idea, and this does not contain that much in the way of arguments. My point is that this is not an alien thought that doesn’t cross people’s mind. It’s not just less-than-articulate angry people on the internet either:
            – First in the link I posted apparently about two thirds of people agreed with the OP despite the poor argumentation. I don’t know how much and which kind of traffic that site gets though. It was, as I said, the first Google result.
            – Second, you can also find plenty of opinion pieces in respectable news sites saying the same sort of thing. 2 seconds of Googling get me this for example: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/jul/08/justify-footballers-wages-moral-outcry

            Now I’m not trying an argument of authority and saying “because these people say footballers are overpaid, they are overpaid”. I’m just pointing out that the debate on overpaying doesn’t strangely stop at professional sports like you claim it does. You were, if I understand correctly, going for a “this proves too much” argument, but for many people it does not prove too much.

            Now you might say I haven’t said anything on the matter of whether I myself actually believe that footballers are overpaid. I do believe it, for the exact same reason I believe CEOs are overpaid:
            – One, it is extremely hard to believe that their intrinsic value is really tens of thousands times more than ordinary people,
            -Two, inequality has direct negative effects in that knowing people have it so incredibly better than you leads to a decreased happiness(*).

            Now of course the counterarguments that works better for footballers than CEOs is “but people pay to see them! Don’t they deserve that money?” The thing is, teams shouldn’t have so much money to pay for footballers in the first place. It’s very common, in every country in the world, to have cities pay for a stadium and teams use it for free, even though the city has very little oversight on what the team does (a lot less than it normally would on anything it subsidies so heavily). John Oliver even did a piece on teams threatening to leave if city officials don’t give them more money. Them leaving would probably not affect the city much economically, but it would make voters angry, so no mayor is going to take that risk.

            *: I don’t have a handy meta-analysis for this. If you want a source for this claim I can cite this, which does note that the effect is more pronounced in Europe than in the US, but it’s only one study and we all know what to think about one study. If someone has a reference for something better, I’ll take it. I know this is a thing that gets thrown around a lot, so it’s not just ONE study, and Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF and member of the French right-wing party, hardly susceptible of being a lefty loony, also believes in cutting down inequality according to this, although apparently this has more to do with equality being harmful for growth than with unhappiness. I remember an interview where she mentioned unhappiness, but can’t find it again.

          • Anonymous says:

            It disgusts me! People that run around the pitch kicking a pointless ball

            In my comment above, I said:

            Similarly, someone who never watches TV and generally despises the whole endeavor would ask you, “Don’t you think Jon Stewart was overpaid?!” …and the only thing you could possibly respond with is, “Uh… but I like watching him.” You’d be equally powerless to respond to their (similarly ridiculous) claim.

            We can say the exact same thing here. This person thinks the entire endeavor of football is pointless. They don’t see the value at all. This is what most people sound like when they’re decrying CEO pay.

            it is extremely hard to believe that their intrinsic value is really tens of thousands times more than ordinary people

            What do you mean by “intrinsic value”? If you’re referring to something like moral worth, then literally no one disagrees with you. You’re just talking about something different than compensation for services rendered.

            inequality has direct negative effects in that knowing people have it so incredibly better than you leads to a decreased happiness

            So the crazy right-wingers were right when they said that you were just jelly? Lemme ask, if I could increase your real income by 10x, but I’d only do it in combination with increasing Aaron Rodgers’ real income by 1000x, would you go for it?

            The thing is, teams shouldn’t have so much money to pay for footballers in the first place.

            Bickering over stadiums bores me, and it doesn’t have nearly the effect that you think it does. The most expensive new stadiums cost about a billion, about half of which may be provided by the city/state. The median stadium age right now is around 20 years, with at least four teams in approximately that period being new stadiums because they were brand new expansion teams. The NFL’s revenue is close to 10bil/year. Ok, sure, bickering over stadiums can move some numbers around a bit… but we’re not talking about making them cut Aaron Rodger’s contract from 22mil/year down to even the average CEO pay in order to pay water boys more. You’re going to have to do a whole lot more work. Primarily, you’re going to need to either (1) Just change the demand function of the general public to make them not want to give the NFL money, or (2) argue that the salary cap shouldn’t be set so that 54% of league revenue goes to the players. Good luck.

            (But yea, I was being hyperbolic when I said “nobody” in my original comment. That was pretty obvious since I proceeded to explain the conditions under which some people do make the argument… and how it’s due to the exact same mental failure as the people who tend to decry CEO pay.)

          • Subbak says:

            We can say the exact same thing here. This person thinks the entire endeavor of football is pointless. They don’t see the value at all. This is what most people sound like when they’re decrying CEO pay.

            Okay, I guess you have a point here, I did misunderstand your original comment (in hindsight, I shouldn’t have, it seems obvious now), and didn’t provide appropriate examples.
            I still do think you can appreciate sport entertainment, or movies, or talk-shows, and still think in general players/actors/anchors are overpaid. I would definitely say the last two are true for me, but I have very little appreciation for the first. However you are unlikely to openly admit that someone you appreciate is overpaid. Similarly to how I think it would be better if succession taxes were close to 100%, even if I don’t like admitting that means I would never be able to afford my parent’s house after they die.

            Also, you can both enjoy something, be ready to pay money to enjoy it, and be infuriated that the money you are paying goes to people who are way past needing it. And yet you pay because you enjoy. If this wasn’t the case, every time someone declared a boycott on some brand (which is stronger than “they don’t need our money”, it’s “they don’t deserve money because they do such and such immoral thing”, it would be a success bringing that brand to its knees). It almost never works.

            What do you mean by “intrinsic value”? If you’re referring to something like moral worth, then literally no one disagrees with you. You’re just talking about something different than compensation for services rendered.

            Okay but then how do you measure the fair compensation for service rendered? If you choose the replacement value, you haven’t answered the question, you’re just saying that people should be paid what other people doing the same job are already paid. If you compare to what people could stand to gain if they sold their skills elsewhere, you might have a point in some cases (like why economics professor are often paid much more than other professors), but what other lucrative careers do professional athletes have, apart from maybe model (would not be that lucrative for most if they weren’t also a famous athlete)? And if you look at the value created, well as people already said without people filming them, tending to the grass in the stadium, checking the spectators’ tickets, and so on, they wouldn’t create nearly as much value.

            So the crazy right-wingers were right when they said that you were just jelly? Lemme ask, if I could increase your real income by 10x, but I’d only do it in combination with increasing Aaron Rodgers’ real income by 1000x, would you go for it?

            I don’t know what you mean by that first sentence.

            In your hypothetical, I wouldn’t, but it is likely that it says more about me than about what we’re tlaking about. I also very likely wouldn’t take the 10x salary increase, because of personal issues I’d rather not talk about anymore.

            Bickering over stadiums bores me, and it doesn’t have nearly the effect that you think it does. The most expensive new stadiums cost about a billion, about half of which may be provided by the city/state. The median stadium age right now is around 20 years, with at least four teams in approximately that period being new stadiums because they were brand new expansion teams. The NFL’s revenue is close to 10bil/year. Ok, sure, bickering over stadiums can move some numbers around a bit… but we’re not talking about making them cut Aaron Rodger’s contract from 22mil/year down to even the average CEO pay in order to pay water boys more. You’re going to have to do a whole lot more work. Primarily, you’re going to need to either (1) Just change the demand function of the general public to make them not want to give the NFL money, or (2) argue that the salary cap shouldn’t be set so that 54% of league revenue goes to the players. Good luck.

            I don’t know how many teams are in the NFL, but fine I beleive you if you say the effect from the team’s point of view is not so big. Obviously it’s much bigger from the city’s point of view, which is the problem John Oliver was talking about in the first place, and I shouldn’t have assumed it worked the other way as well.

          • Anonymous says:

            how do you measure the fair compensation for service rendered?

            Generally, the same way we measure whether you paying $X to Starbucks is fair compensation for the product/service you received – you decided that it was worth it to you. As much as people want to focus on, “Businesses will set prices as high as they can (given competitive forces and such),” they usually forget that if it wasn’t still a net positive transaction for you, you wouldn’t do it. I personally think that Starbucks’ prices are too high for the product/service they sell… so I don’t buy it. I don’t have to go prevent other people from buying it in order to protect them from what I think doesn’t give them enough value.

            If you choose the replacement value, you haven’t answered the question, you’re just saying that people should be paid what other people doing the same job are already paid.

            Replacement value is part of the story, but it’s not just “What other people doing the same job are already paid”. It’s what you will have to pay in order to replace the same capabilities. Unique capabilities demand a premium. When you’re hiring for Aaron Rodgers’ replacement, it’s nearly impossible to replace those capabilities. This percolates out toward the population that is able to provide roughly similar capabilities. In this thinking, it is then a conclusion that people working the same job end up getting paid about the same, not a premise.

            I’ll note that there are some time-dependencies available here and probably not a One True Equilibrium Price. A coach realizes, “Wow, I can get a surprisingly different amount of value out of similarly-priced running backs.” So, he exploits a market inefficiency, using cheap running backs to give him an advantage. Those backs stand out; everyone notices. More kids grow up trying to build the same skill set; more teams try to design schemes to exploit those skills. The prices goes up/down depending upon the time history of those factors. We had no way of calculating The One True Intrinsic Value at either of these points in time, either. Anyone searching for a method to compute The One True Intrinsic Value will be searching for an extremely long time.

            If you compare to what people could stand to gain if they sold their skills elsewhere, you might have a point in some cases (like why economics professor are often paid much more than other professors), but what other lucrative careers do professional athletes have, apart from maybe model (would not be that lucrative for most if they weren’t also a famous athlete)?

            Only if you flatly banned all professional sports (or, again, magically changed the nation’s demand function for them). Otherwise, the alternate for most athletes isn’t modeling… it’s going and playing for a different league. Remember to apply the same reasoning to show business. What could Jon Stewart do if comedy/acting/show business (however you want to conceptualize his skill) was just banned? Do we really think that this is a good argument for how his pay should be set? I have a reasonably lucrative STEM PhD. Should my pay be determined by a hypothetical where my entire field is just banned?!

            Clearly, we have to consider alternatives somewhat (as your example of econ profs shows), but we have to consider intrafield competition as a part of this unless we’re banning entire fields. Part of why Aaron Rodgers makes so much is because if the Packers didn’t pay him $22M, he might be tempted by a high-dollar offer by the Cowboys.

            if you look at the value created, well as people already said without people filming them, tending to the grass in the stadium, checking the spectators’ tickets, and so on, they wouldn’t create nearly as much value.

            Right. No one thinks that all of those people don’t generate value. Obviously they do (otherwise, they wouldn’t be hired!). But how big of a difference do you think there would be in the value created by the enterprise if they had hired Joe instead of Jim to run the camera? Do you think it’s remotely similar to the value produced by Aaron Rodgers over the available replacements?

      • Corey says:

        My pet theory on astronomical CEO compensation is that it’s mostly Lake Wobegon effect. That is, every company wants above-average leadership, so they offer above-average comp packages. But once enough do this, the above-average comp packages become average, so now everyone’s offering more than that. Repeat enough and you get a big upward spiral.

        This doesn’t happen to “ordinary” workers because (approximately) nobody wants to pay above average.

        Not that there’s not capture effects and path dependency going on; interlocking boards and old-boy networks help perpetuate that system. And as people are posting about Wal-Mart in particular, the amount “wasted”, amortized over a large company, rounds down to zero; everyone knows of a boondoggle at their jobs that has worse cost/benefit ratio than, say, paying Carly Fiorina to leave.

        In all this I’m talking about hired-in executives/CEOs; founders with equity are a different animal, because they have skin and sweat in the game. AFAIK nobody but hardcore commies object to founders reaping huge rewards.

        • Anonymous says:

          Is there any reason to believe that it’s not just simple competition? CEOs have high-visibility. Company X decides, “We’re not going to pay obscene amounts for a CEO like other companies do. Instead, we’ll promote someone from inside and give them a small raise.”

          Two years goes by. Companies Y, Z, and Q all notice that Company X is doing pretty good. They all know that CEO X gets paid less than their CEOs. “Well, she clearly has the experience of running a large company successfully. Let’s see if we can poach her.” So they offer her a bunch more money than she was getting at Company X. Sure, she came up in the culture of Company X and she likes it there… but doze Tubmans, dough.

          …Company X learns their lesson. If they’re going to be able to retain a CEO for more than a couple years, they need to be competitive with other companies. This could just be direct compensation… or it could include just trying to make that job suck enough less than being CEO Y/Z/Q to make up for whatever pay differential they settle on.

          We saw this type of poaching competition drive up tech salaries for a while (and then saw collusion scandals for anti-poaching agreements). Without anti-CEO-poaching agreements, Company X won’t be making the “easy” choice of just not playing Lake Wobegon. They’ll have the hard choice of, “Well, do we want to pay more money than we’d really like… or do we want to promote a new CEO every two years…”

    • Luke the CIA stooge says:

      Does anyone here have a economic, cost/benefits, argument that CEOS are overpaid in that they take in more money on average than their value added. Because I’ve never really seen that.

      I know Paul Graham has argued that, if anything, CEO’S are underpaid, looking at one data point alone, Steve JOBS, you can see that he took a company that in the late nineties was worthless/100% going to fail (every commentator agreed) and then turned it around and made it worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Even if no other CEO adds value that alone might be a larger amount of wealth created than total CEO compensation in America.

      This should make sense these are individuals who gave worked in a very complex field all there life, had to wear multiple, take great amounts of risk, in terms of their reputation, and just work insane hours in general (read somewhere Bill Gates was working 80 hours a week after he became a billionaire.

      Once a doctor completes residency they can go into private practice and lead a relatively relaxed life by 32. A CEO hasn’t even gotten to the hard part of their career by that point. And on top of all that they don’t get the social respect doctors get. A child who wants to be a CEO isn’t going to get the admiration and moral reinforcement of a child who wants to become a doctor.
      No one treats CEO’S like great philanthropists or paragon of what makes society best (even republicans save their praise for small business owners).
      So you have a shit job, where you get little respect relative to your peers (Rockstar surgeons, terre one politicians, actual rockstars, celebrities, top researchers) you have to work rediculously lousy hours at stuff even academics consider boring, people are going question your moral character for doing it and the marginal difference between you being #67 in the world vs. #82 is a matter of thousands of jobs and millions if not billions of dollars. And it’s all really stressful and the average exec has enough saved up they could just retire early instead.

      Again does anyone have an economic argument that they’re overpaid. An argument not driven by moral outrage or reference to the sixties (when business was simpler and you could treat the company coffers like a slush account).
      Why is this particular item of corporate spending inefficient, because this seems an unusually specific expense for the left to latch onto so viciously as a source of inefficiency, when they don’t seem to give a damn about wasteful spending by the government.
      That is unless their jealous.

      • Corey says:

        There are some common-sense econ arguments, e.g. golden parachutes and “performance-based” pay that has little relation to performance ($20M for running the company into the ground vs. $22M for becoming a monopoly; admittedly this is probably mostly a tax-avoidance strategy). You do raise interesting questions about why anyone wants to do it from a pure labor-econ point of view. And of course jealousy plays a part; I remember the big bank executive bonuses in 2008 post-crash being defended as “contractually obligated” where no mortal’s employer is contractually obligated to give them anything.

        There’s also (I don’t think anyone in this thread is doing this) lots of conflation of founders with equity vs. hired-in CEOs (the latter haven’t taken any personal risks in the way the former have).

        Conservatives tend to interpret disagreements about what’s wasteful as liberals not caring that government expenses aren’t wasteful.

        In the end, anyone’s salary (whether low-end or executive) is upper-bounded at *perceived* value to the business, not actual (calculating actual value is probably intractable though). You’d think that market competition would drive the perceived-actual difference to 0, but anyone who has worked in the private sector can name 5 negative-value boondoggles that their employer is currently participating in.

        • Jill says:

          “anyone who has worked in the private sector can name 5 negative-value boondoggles that their employer is currently participating in.”

          LOL, excellent point there. True, ‘dat.

          • TcrJuVjmSG says:

            LOL, excellent point there. True, ‘dat.

            First, the semantic content of this is nothing more than a “like” which we don’t have here for good and sufficient reasons. Second, it is filled with nonsense words.

            Please post better in the future.

          • Jill says:

            No. If Scott has a problem, okay, I’ll post differently. But, contrary to your beliefs you are not the boss of this board, much less of the world, and I am not here to please you. I don’t mind pleasing people, but I prefer to please people who are cooperative, and/or who please me or others.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Jill
            No. If Scott has a problem, okay, I’ll post differently.

            Scott has to spend too much time moderating already. A good middle way, would be to ignore rude criticism but give consideration to polite information about local customs.

  34. PGD says:

    From OP — The exploitation narrative seems fundamentally wrong to me – I’m not saying exploitation doesn’t happen, nor even that it isn’t common, just that isn’t not the major factor causing poverty and social decay.

    It all depends on how you define exploitation. All production is necessarily communal, involving the contributions of numerous different people. Capitalist property rights select out a few people, a tiny minority of all who played some contributing role, and gives them a vastly, enormously disproportionate share of the wealth resulting from production. Even if you think the few people selected out for such wealth are productive, hard working people, and you also think that everyone else who works hard will get at least something out of the system, that doesn’t mean that exploitation is not happening.

  35. vV_Vv says:

    Obviously invent genetic engineering and create a post-scarcity society, but until then we have to deal with this stuff.

    Genetic engineering doesn’t necessarily involve hi-tech DNA editing techniques. Good ole eugenics is also a form of population-level genetic engineering. And in principle developed countries could do it in a way that is not so much politically unacceptable by applying it on the immigrants. You don’t even have to directly test for genes, just test for things that are known to be quite heritable, such as IQ or similar.

    Certainly this in incompatible with an open border policy, though, and it creates the ethical issue that if developed countries are taking in all the best people from the shitty countries, then only the worst people will remain there, making the shitty countries even shittier.

    But anyway, this is never going to happen, isn’t? (Did anybody say H-1B visa?)

  36. Scott, I am in the process of researching friendly societies. I think this could be a way up/out for the poor.

    Somehow we’ve gotten it into our heads that
    a) collectivism is on the country level or not at all
    b) it’s all or nothing
    c) the only thing groups are good for is leveraging their bargaining power against their employers

    Co-ops—especially of buyers — are overlooked. My intuition (meaning: I have nothing to back this up except my gut) is that the primary obstacle is the prisoner’s dilemma.

    • Urstoff says:

      Disappointed that this was not about Quakers.

    • Jill says:

      I don’t see what the prisoner’s dilemma has to do with it. The PD wasn’t about voluntary associations initiated by free individuals. The main obstacle is that the poor generally do not have the resources or knowledge to do this. So it would take money and resources and organizational work from the outside, from people who have more resources, stability etc. in their lives, who could provide some boots to the poor.

      People are constantly telling the poor to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps when they are barefoot, so to speak.

      • Anonymous says:

        If you aren’t familiar with it, I suggest you look up MLK’s bootstrap quote. Very pithy.

        • Jill says:

          Yes, it’s very good. Thanks for reminding me. Couldn’t remember who said it originally.

    • Corey says:

      I like credit unions (=co-op banks) for both ideological and practical reasons related to this. In a credit union, there’s no incentive to screw over depositors for the benefit of shareholders, because they’re the same people. I’ve neither theoretical nor practical experience with other kinds of co-ops so I don’t know about them, but credit unions work very well in my experience.

  37. Subbak says:

    So… Is industrializing Third World countries even a good thing though? As you point out, you think you’d rather be a poor person in 1900 than a poor person today. By that same token, wouldn’t poor people in a Third World country prefer to stay poor in the country as is than being poor after the American companies have come (and gone)?

    Sure locally each person will appreciate having suddenly more money from American companies moving in, but that might come with increased cost of living, increased pollution (remember, companies are also moving in because there are no strong environmental regulations) and so on. This does not necessarily seem like a great bargain. iPhones are probably still the same price, so they can afford them, but they still have to live in shantytowns.

    OTOH, you can argue that since this is more or less already happening everywhere and ruining everybody’s life, we might as well finish the job and bring every country to the Western “standards” of “living”.
    This does beg the question of who’s going to work the sweatshops afterwards though.

  38. Jill says:

    This is a situation where power politics prevents good engineering solutions from occurring.

    Why not try UBI and see whether it works? Because there are plenty of people who agree with Grover Norquist that they should ever have to pay a penny more tax than they pay now. And those people are incentivized to invent all kinds of reasons why the poor are responsible for their own poverty and require no help from anyone else– or if they do, then private charitable organizations will take care of it just fine. In fact there are supposed ‘think tanks” that get donations to do “studies” that, for some reason, always come out with the same sorts of conclusions– or at least the studies that ever see the light of day do– conclusions that there is never any need for anyone to pay a penny more in taxes.

    In our society where so many people believe that their personal value and worth is the same as their net worth, how could it be otherwise? There are a number of reasons for Trump’s popularity. But can you imagine him getting this far in running for president if he were NOT a billionaire?

    It’s interesting to pretend that people are rational, and that we are able to look objectively at the needs and experiences of other people in our society. And some of us occasionally are rational and objective. But mostly, we are rather selfishly focused on our emotional needs.

    • Corey says:

      That (plus clinical depression) is why I anticipate the “eliminationism” from Four Futures (linked somewhere above). Eventually, automation will make a small handful of people rich beyond comprehension, they won’t need us to make or guard their stuff anymore, and automated guard labor prevents the traditional solution (redistribution via guillotine).

      All that needs to happen is they decide we deserve to starve, then we do. And it’s already common and easy to rationalize about how the poor made their own problems.

      If we got a decent-sized reservation (and the rich don’t get too itchy for lebensraum) we could just form our own separate economy and probably have OK lives, though.

      • onyomi says:

        This post makes me think of the movie, Elysium, which I didn’t see, but the basic premise of which I think I gleaned reasonably from previews, etc.

        Setting aside the specifics of that plot for a moment, imagine that a group of super rich people with robot servants decided to move into a floating pleasure palace in the sky. It is completely self-contained and they make everything they need there. They don’t interact with the rest of the world at all.

        I feel like this situation would enrage a lot of people, even though, strictly speaking these rich people wouldn’t be hurting anyone or stopping anyone else from having their own functioning economy or even building their own floating pleasure palaces. But it would be felt that they somehow owed the rest of us and, due to scifi, one can hardly imagine such a scenario without all the non-sky castle dwellers being in miserable, grinding poverty.

        If these rich people consistently recruited the most talented people among the earth-dwellers and thereby competed against us for their productivity, we might say they are, in some sense doing us harm. But even that in some sense assumes that the less productive are somehow entitled to participate in an economy with people more productive than them, which I’m not sure is justifiable.

        • Urstoff says:

          In the movie, the rich people refused to trade/sell/give their magic medical technologies to the poor people on earth (presumably out of the fear that the poor people would become less poor and those pose them a threat).

          • Jill says:

            Reminds me of the Ayn Rand books and movie.

          • onyomi says:

            Does that make them evil? I feel like we’re supposed to think “yes,” but my intuition is “no,” so long as they aren’t harming or interfering with the on-ground economy or medical technology.

          • Urstoff says:

            That seems fairly immoral to me. Refusing to sell antibiotics to a third-world country, for example, seems immoral. I don’t see how this would be any different.

          • onyomi says:

            If there are aliens out there who know we exist and about all the bad stuff that happens on earth would they be evil for not intervening?

            If the inhabitants of Galt’s Gulch know that they’d be worse off, in whatever sense, if they agreed to trade and interact with the rest of the world, but the rest of the world would be better off, do they owe it to the world to do so?

          • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

            If there are aliens out there who know we exist and about all the bad stuff that happens on earth would they be evil for not intervening?

            Yes. Screw the prime directive.

          • onyomi says:

            “Yes. Screw the prime directive.”

            Is the United States evil if it doesn’t intervene in any genocide or other horrible thing which happens in any corner of the world which the US military might conceivably stop?

          • Urstoff says:

            The consequences of stopping a foreign war is much less clear than the consequence of giving them antibiotics.

          • onyomi says:

            If there is someone in the world who could unambiguously benefit by you buying them antibiotics and you do not buy them antibiotics even though you could afford to, as evidenced by the fact you have a cell phone and tv, are you evil?

            The consequence of saying that the rich people in the floating palace are evil for not interacting with the rest of the world even though the rest of the world would be marginally enriched by them doing so is that anyone who doesn’t constantly do the maximum effort to get involved in any situation where he might help is evil.

          • Anonymous says:

            The consequence of saying that the rich people in the floating palace are evil for not interacting with the rest of the world even though the rest of the world would be marginally enriched by them doing so is that anyone who doesn’t constantly do the maximum effort to get involved in any situation where he might help is evil.

            What? No, that doesn’t follow.

            When there is a natural disaster somewhere in the world, we don’t say, “Tough luck, we see no obligation to intervene.” We do feel obligated to intervene. But we don’t say, “we must now spend 50% of our GDP on disaster relief.” We take a middle ground where we give a proportionate and affordable amount. Doesn’t seem inconsistent to me.

          • onyomi says:

            So any country which can afford to help out with any given disaster which happens in the world and doesn’t is evil?

            There seems to be a huge failure to distinguish morally obligatory and supererogatory here.

          • Anonymous says:

            So any country which can afford to help out with any given disaster which happens in the world and doesn’t is evil?

            Well, I’d say that there’s some level of disaster relief which is obligatory for a rich nation. We can argue about what that level is, but a nation giving far below that level–say, a nation giving zero–is failing their moral duty. I guess we could call it evil? Maybe we should reserve that strong word for more comprehensive moral failure, though.

            Just to check–wouldn’t you agree that some interventions are obligatory? Like Peter Singer’s drowning child, whom you can save by extending your arm? Isn’t that obligatory even if you don’t like getting wet?

            There seems to be a huge failure to distinguish morally obligatory and supererogatory here.

            I think you’re the one blurring this distinction? I tried to make exactly this distinction above. What I was trying to say above is: some disaster relief is obligatory; 50% of GDP on disaster relief is supererogatory.

            You seem to be saying: if I claim some interventions are obligatory, I must claim that it’s obligatory to spend maximal effort on interventions. No one believes that (maybe Peter Singer does?) and no one has argued for it in this thread.

            I’m putting forth what I think is a common-sense position: some interventions are obligatory, but complete self-abnegation is supererogatory. Your obligation to intervene increases the more good you can do and the less it costs you. I think this is a consistent position and close to what most people believe.

            If you agree that some interventions are obligatory, like saving a drowning child by extending your arm, then maybe everyone agrees at some level? Are we just haggling over which particular interventions are obligatory?

          • Jiro says:

            How about “being obligatory is a matter of degree”? Saving a child by doing nothing but getting wet would rank high on the scale.

            You seem to be saying: if I claim some interventions are obligatory, I must claim that it’s obligatory to spend maximal effort on interventions. No one believes that (maybe Peter Singer does?) and no one has argued for it in this thread.

            Nobody claims to believe it, but it may be a logical consequence of some people’s principles.

          • Urstoff says:

            If there is someone in the world who could unambiguously benefit by you buying them antibiotics and you do not buy them antibiotics even though you could afford to, as evidenced by the fact you have a cell phone and tv, are you evil?

            It’s not me buying them antibiotics. It’s me refusing to sell them antibiotics. If a doctor from some third-world country came to me and asked to purchase antibiotics at market price, and I refused them because even though selling them would greatly reduce suffering, then I would be doing something immoral. It’s not about a positive duty on me to give them antibiotics; it’s that I’m actively denying them something that they would legitimately like to purchase, and that purchase would greatly increase the welfare of lots of people.

          • onyomi says:

            “It’s me refusing to sell them antibiotics.”

            You don’t have a duty to sell anything to anyone if you don’t want to.

          • Urstoff says:

            You don’t have a duty to sell anything to anyone if you don’t want to.

            For consequentialist reasons, you need a pretty good reason justifying your refusal to sell given that you freely sell to other people. If you don’t think consequentialist reasons can ever override a duty, then this argument won’t be persuasive. I don’t think that’s a reasonable position to hold, though.

          • onyomi says:

            I’m not a consequentialist, but the consequences of accepting a principle that society gets to ethically judge whether or not people can refuse to sell their own property seem pretty bad.

          • Urstoff says:

            Society already judges the morality of plenty of actions; I’m not sure why selling would be off limits. If you refuse to sell someone something that would save thousands or millions of lives, I think you have done something immoral. Likewise, even if taxes are theft, they may still be justified for certain things. Principles are defeasible, and consequences are sometimes the defeaters.

            There is, of course, a distinction between something being immoral and something being a reason for coercion. Maybe the Space Republicans are evil for not selling their magic medical machines that could save millions of lives on earth, but I suppose you could hold that they shouldn’t be coerced to do it. I think coercion is justified in this case (but not for gay wedding cakes).

          • John Schilling says:

            Society already judges the morality of plenty of actions; I’m not sure why selling would be off limits.

            Onyomi isn’t talking about judging the morality of actions in general or of selling specifically. He is taking issue with judging the morality of inaction.

            That’s fundamentally different. If I can say “action X is immoral” and make it stick, you still get to chose between all of the actions that aren’t X, and doing nothing at all. Unless X is something huge, I have decreased your freedom of choice by an infinitesimal amount. If I can say “inaction not-X is immoral” and make it stick, I can command you to do X and you don’t have any freedom of choice until you are done with the task I have set for you.

            You can see how some people might have problems with that.

          • Jill says:

            Urstoof, Ayn Randians believe that the greatest virtue is selfishness. So from that point of view, the rich people should NEVER give the magic medical technologies to poor people– unless, for some selfish reason, the rich people really wanted to do it and would benefit greatly from it.

            Perhaps they could demand that they receive all the remaining money in the universe and that even more money be printed up for them, and/or that the poor people and their descendants will be the slaves of the rich medical technology owners in perpetuity? Sort of like the problem we have in society right now with medically caused bankruptcies, but somewhat worse than that.

            Just trying to carry this point of view out to its logical conclusion here.

          • Urstoff says:

            Onyomi isn’t talking about judging the morality of actions in general or of selling specifically. He is taking issue with judging the morality of inaction.

            I don’t think the line is very clear between what constitutes an action and inaction. If someone comes into your store and asks to buy something and you say “no”, is that inaction? I guess, of a sort. Likewise, I don’t see the distinction between commanding someone to do X and commanding someone to not do Y as entirely clear or morally significant. What category does paying taxes fall into? Requiring a drivers license to drive?

            I have a problem with coercion in general, whether it’s coercing a person to do something or coercing them to not do something. My point is that the principle of non-coercion, like most (maybe all) moral principles, is defeasible, and it seems to me, in this particular example, that the consequences are a defeater of the principle.

          • Urstoff says:

            @Jill

            That’s a bad caricature of Randian philosophy, as far as I can tell.

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ayn-rand/#VirtViceEgoi

            However, some absolute principle of non-coercion does come out of Randian philosophy, it seems. So it’s probably wrong to say that, according to Rand, the rich should never give to the poor. Rather, it’s wrong to force the rich to give to the poor.

            From that article:

            Indeed, people who are “totally indifferent to anything living and would not lift a finger to help a man or a dog left mangled by a hit-and-run driver” are “psychopaths” (1963c: 43–45) Rand makes even more concessions to “common sense morality” when she states that it’s good to help a neighbor going through a hard time till he can get back on his own feet, if we can afford to and if we have no reason to think that he is undeserving. Charity understood thus is a virtue because it is an expression of the generalized good will and respect that all normal people have towards others as creatures who share with them the capacity to value.

          • Nornagest says:

            Ayn Randians believe that the greatest virtue is selfishness.

            I am not a Randian, but the Randian view of selfishness and altruism is really easy to misinterpret, not least because she was optimizing at least partly for shock value. It’s less about feeling free to enrich yourself by any means at the expense of others (a lot of Rand villains do this, one way or another), and more about entitlements: selfishness as in the-virtue-of is about creating as much value as you can, while altruism as in the-vice-of is about destroying value by feeling obliged to squander it, or, worse, to organize negative-sum transfers by coercive means. (If this sounds strange, remember that she grew up in Soviet Russia.) I don’t remember her talking about cartels, but I get the impression she’d be against them; she generally didn’t like rent-seeking.

            There are things you could object to in this worldview; it doesn’t deal well with externalities or asymmetrical information, for example, and I don’t think it’s really equipped to handle intellectual property past the “lone heroic inventor” trope she liked. But it’s far from the yay-robber-barons, boo-teh-poors caricature it’s often reduced to.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I agree with Urstoff in this case.

            You’re not obligated to do something for the poor that’s really burdensome. But if you could sell all the antibiotics people need for effectively no net cost to you, then I think it would be evil not to do it.

          • blacktrance says:

            I think the difference between action and inaction is generally clear. Refusing to serve someone you haven’t committed to serve is inaction. Commanding someone to pay taxes is action. Requiring someone to have a driver’s license to drive on public roads is inaction (because the government owns the roads), but also requiring it on private property is action.

            There is, of course, a distinction between something being immoral and something being a reason for coercion. Maybe the Space Republicans are evil for not selling their magic medical machines that could save millions of lives on earth, but I suppose you could hold that they shouldn’t be coerced to do it. I think coercion is justified in this case (but not for gay wedding cakes).

            There’s a further distinction to be made between agents from whom coercion is justifiable. If I really need the medicine, I ought to steal it or otherwise use force to obtain it if there’s no other way. If I’m the owner of the medicine, I should resist the theft. And if I’m a neutral third party, I should side with the owner of the medicine and punish the thief.

            (I’m a consequentialist but I don’t think you’re obligated to sell to anyone you don’t want to. The benefits of others by themselves aren’t the right kind of consequence to outweigh my own interests.)

          • “Just trying to carry this point of view out to its logical conclusion here.”

            To do that you first have to understand it. I’m not an Objectivist, but having spent lots of time arguing with them I can assure you that what you are carrying out is a parody of Rand’s view.

            What Ayn Rand books have you read?

        • multiheaded says:

          Hope you invest in point defense systems then.

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t see what you’re getting at.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Watching the movie I really felt like the first draft of it was more sympathetic to the bad guy fat cats, and it got changed in order to not confuse the political message. Like the only reason any of this was a problem in the movie was that the bad guy fat cats found that using their point defense systems on unarmed refugees offended their liberal sensibilities.

          • multiheaded says:

            Eventually they’d send warheads in place of unarmed boats then. (Also, hell, this was in Diamond Age.)

        • Jill says:

          Interesting. Except for 1 person on earth, everyone is less productive than someone. Are you not entitled to participate in an economy with people more productive than you? I’m not meaning to be rude here. Just trying to understand the Libertarian views that are so prevalent on the board here.

          • onyomi says:

            No, I don’t think I’m entitled to enjoy the benefits of living in an economy with Bill Gates or any other particular person.

            For sake of argument, let’s say Bill Gates is the most productive person in the world. Imagine he decides to go live in a log cabin in the woods and never work again. Is he harming the rest of us? I mean, he’s depriving us of the full potential of his productivity, but he doesn’t owe it to us to keep working if he’d rather live in a cabin in the woods, right?

          • Jill says:

            I see what you mean, if you are talking about one individual. But with a larger group, it might be a disaster. E.g. if the top 10% of productive people in the U.S. decided to go off by themselves and form their own economy, then that would be a serious brain drain on the country. I can’t imagine that that would literally happen though– because they would want servants waiting on them, and less intelligent people producing various objects they need.

            In a non-literal sense though– in the sense of the rich living in a different “world” due to what they can afford to do– perhaps it has already happened. And that’s why the middle class is shrinking and the lower class is traumatized. But it’s not the most productive people. It’s the richest people– many of whom inherited their wealth– and a lot of whom are unnecessary middle men like in health insurance or on Wall Street who do nonproductive and unnecessary”work.” Thus, in our current society, many people live high on the hog while being totally non-productive.

          • onyomi says:

            “if you are talking about one individual. But with a larger group, it might be a disaster.”

            If it’s not immoral or unreasonable for Bill Gates to live alone in a log cabin when the rest of the world would be better off if he worked long hours, how many Bill Gateses does it take before it becomes so?

            “But it’s not the most productive people.”

            The rich do work more hours, on average, than the poor or the middle class; though what work actually needs doing is, of course, debatable.

          • Jill says:

            another viewpoint on this issue

            The Rich Aren’t Rich Because They Work Harder. They Work Harder Because They’re Rich!

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anthony-w-orlando/the-rich-arent-rich-becau_b_4791626.html

          • Jill says:

            Urstoff, quoting Rand is a little like quoting the Bible. Her followers haven’t read her works in years, often decades. The utility of Randian philosophy, at least on Internet boards, seems to be to justify any selfish behavior imaginable, even ones that Rand herself might consider to be psychopathically selfish.

            And if you just focus on her statements about selfishness being the greatest virtue, as people often do, then that indeed is what you come up with. Randians do often approve of charity– as long as someone else does it, and does so voluntarily. And although not a lot of people call themselves Randians, a lot of people do act as though they are, in this respect, as you can see by looking at how strapped for money many charities are that are trying to help the poor.

        • Jill says:

          When I see Randian ideas put into practice, it does tend to be quite different than an objective analysis of what Rand said. The utility of Randian and Libertarian ideas in the world– the way they are most often used, in huge world affecting ways– is robber baron-ish, given who the most powerful Libertarians in the world are.

          The same with Christianity. As strange as it may seem, it’s become similar to Randian philosophy in practice, in terms of its effects on politics. And this has been so since the 1940s. See article below.

          How Corporate America Invented Christian America
          Inside one reverend’s big business-backed 1940s crusade to make the country conservative again.

          http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/04/corporate-america-invented-religious-right-conservative-roosevelt-princeton-117030

          • John Schilling says:

            Where do you see “Randian ideas” put into practice, and more to the point, how do you know? There aren’t very many explicit Randians in positions of real power that I know of, and I don’t think anyone is orating on the Senate floor about the glories of Ayn Rand and why we should vote for this bill or against that one because She said so.

            If you were to see someone implementing an idea that was very much in line with what Rand said or wrote, you could reasonably infer that it was a “Randian idea” even though the person just called himself a Republican or whatnot.

            But if you’re seeing something that even you acknowledge isn’t what Rand said or wrote, like plain old robber-baron industrialism, and the person doing it isn’t calling himself a Randian, how do you know it’s a (misinterpretation of) a Randian idea? As opposed to, say, a plain old apolitical robber baron practicing robber-barony in the way that people were doing for at least half a century before Ayn Rand was born?

      • Jill says:

        Regarding depression, it’s bizarre how people can get depressed, and they really need an anti-depressant, and/or psychotherapy, and/or a light box if their problem is Seasonal Affective Disorder. And yet no one can convince them of that. Because the’re absolutely sure that if they could make more money/have more friends/get people to leave then alone/find a partner/get a divorce/lose weight– whatever– then their life would be coming up roses. And sometimes that would help. And sometimes it wouldn’t.

        In our money focused culture, money is the big wish there that people most often think will solve all their problems– despite the fact that research shows that, beyond a certain not very large amount of money, getting additional money doesn’t improve one’s happiness that much.

        It’s our national religion to worship money. So a lot of people are working their buns off to get additional money that will not improve their lives much, if at all. Many of them are doing jobs they hate to obtain more money. And they are very sure that they should never have to pay a penny of taxes, and give up part of the meaning and value of their lives that they believe money is.

        If there were some way to get the richer people to stop being so neurotically obsessed with money, that might help the poor, and the whole of our society, a lot. Money is a measure of value. When the numbers become the primary value– the only way to value people, art, experiences etc., that’s neurotic. Utility, aesthetics etc. are all thrown out the window by both individuals and society.

        BTW, this professor gave 2 fascinating lectures on Money in American culture, on You Tube. Money 2 is the more interesting one.

        Myths of the American Mind: Money Part II

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9mbzn904o0

        • piercedmind says:

          I mostly agree with you, but I don’t think we are a money worshipping culture (i.e. the West), and even if we were, we would not even be the worst (just look at China). Most people I knowat least strive for work-life balance, and this is *not* just a bubble thing, surveys consistently show that among young people meaningful work and a healthy balance between work and other stuff is more important than financial compensation.

          More importantly, as you said yourself, it’s not just money or material goods we mistakenly chase, but also social status or sex. And we do so, even if it doesn’t make us as happy as merely spending time with friends or kids, for example.

          However, I have grown very skeptical of the claim that our culture is to blaim. Even though my system 2 is pretty convinced that material stuff and social status is not too important, my system 1 could not disagree more. Just imagining in my mind that I could suddenly become more attractive to many high status members of the opposite sex produces an adrenaline rush in my brain, while imagining myself with a nice girlfriend does not. All those material or superficial things deliver an instant reward, which makes it great for conditioning, while manufactured happiness on account of living your life well is a terrible conditioning tool, which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.

          It’s similar to how most people are completely aware that exercise is good for them, but just don’t muster the necessary 3*30 minutes a weak. The immediate effect of exercise is unnecessary pain and discomfort, so obviously our system 1 rejects the thought.
          Now, the majority does not exercise regularly, although they are aware that it will make them better off in the long term, and despite cultural pressure to look in shape. I fear that expecting people to make choices that will make them happier when they very often don’t even know that these decisions lead to greater happiness is unrealistic.

    • Swami says:

      Hmmm…. Does this imply that people are not in part responsible for their relative poverty?

      I think BIG is a terrible idea, but I am all for a controlled test of it.

      • Jill says:

        Of course, they are sometimes responsible in part. And sometimes not at all. When someone goes bankrupt due to unexpected illness and medical expenses, do you blame them for that? That’s one problem that ObamaCare was instituted to solve– especially the pre-existing condition issue that kept so many people from being able to buy medical insurance.

      • Corey says:

        GiveDirectly is starting one in Kenya as we type.

    • orangecat says:

      It’s odd that while liberals supposedly oppose our massive defense budget and the trillions we’re spending turning the Middle East into even more of a hellhole, they seem to be way more interested in raising taxes than reallocating existing funds.

      And some of us occasionally are rational and objective. But mostly, we are rather selfishly focused on our emotional needs.

      Emotional needs such as supporting feel-good programs like Head Start, regardless of the actual benefits or lack thereof?

      As a selfish libertarian I’m in favor of a UBI, or at least a controlled experiment. But a major factor that gives me pause is the expectation that the left will try very hard to keep both a UBI and the existing welfare bureaucracy, in support of what seems to be a terminal goal of increasing government size and power.

      • Corey says:

        I see this assertion a lot (liberals value big government for its own sake), but can’t figure out where it comes from. I can understand the converse (conservatives value small government for its own sake, to reduce the distortionary effects of taxes, or better align with the Invisible Hand, etc).

        Is it your impression that it’s all about personal power gain? If so, how would such gain come about? Or is it a subconscious assumption of symmetry (liberals must be the opposite of conservatives in every way)? Evil mutant-ing? I’m not trying to lead anywhere; I want to understand.

        • orangecat says:

          I actually don’t know. When I say “it’s odd”, that’s not a rhetorical device. Given the stated preferences of most liberals, it seems that they should strictly prefer cutting defense spending or corporate welfare by $100 billion to fund their desired programs rather than raising taxes. Not only would that prevent some of the alleged damage that the spending causes, it might get support (or at least less opposition) from libertarians and fiscal conservatives. But instead raising taxes is almost always step 0 in their plans, which really makes it look like a goal in and of itself.

          • Anonymous says:

            Cutting military spending is more unpopular than raising taxes, especially if you can sell the raising taxes as closing loopholes. You certainly aren’t going to get any kind of conservative, nominally fiscal or otherwise, on board and you will be extremely vulnerable to the “support the troops” attack vis a vis moderates.

            Corporate welfare–like waste, fraud, and abuse–is one of those things that everyone is all for cutting until the details come out and then you have knockdown dragout, dirty fight with people very very interested in those specific details. Just try mobilizing public interest in the details of the Fisheries Finance Program. Good luck!

            Libertarians like to think that there are a lot of them out there, but they are an insignificant factor on the national political stage. Sure, every gun toting, tax hating Republican likes to say he’s got libertarian leanings, but when push comes to shove and there’s a split between conservatives and libertarians he’s going to vote with the conservatives.

          • Luke the CIA stooge says:

            I kinda suspect your on to something.
            Think of liberals who say “I enjoy paying my taxes” or “taxes are the dues we pay for society” or just “tax the rich” without mentioning anything those taxes are paying for.

            It would seem once you get so far left the common sense view, that taxes are a necessary evil which funds goods we hope will exceed the evil , breaks down and taxes become thought of as a good in and of itself.

            Think of the liberal who says “I enjoy paying my taxes” if he held the common sense view then, in order to make that statement, he would have to believe that his tax dollars are spent so efficiently that for each dollar of evil (money lost) inflicted on him, an amount greater is created benefiting others.

            And yet we know that beyond the core competencies of government (military defence, maintaining law and order, (both of which the left is ambivalent about) large infrastructure, and to a lesser extent collective insurance schemes) this is simply not the case. The vast majority of government programs produce little result and (at least theoretically) should have a hard time doing so, since all gov programs require massive administration and oversight costs, meaning that any marginal benefit produced has to be pretty significant to overcome the amount of wealth that is necessarily destroyed by having a government program at all.

            And all this is assuming that governments are efficient and concerned about not wasting money, and are making cost benefit analyses as to whether applying the money to this social program will produce benefits to justify taxing it away from you (something no government actually does).
            And all of this is before making any libertarian or conservative assumption that maybe taking people’s money from them without there freely giving it isn’t a neutral act, that maybe taking $50 from Paul and giving $50 to John wouldn’t be neutral because the taking itself inflicts some damage beyond the money lost (disincentive to work, loss of liberty, punishing success, etc.).

            So given all of this a liberal would have to be pretty ambivalent about taxes. Sure a good chunk is necessary and another is benefitial but
            Another big chunk is just waste and evil and opacity (liberals admit this think of how they react to corporate welfare, or excess military spending, or the cost of mass incarceration or this or that program a Republican anounced).

            But then they want more spending on the poor and universal health care and universal higher ed. And god dammit those rich bastards don’t I hate them!!! (As opposed to right wingers who tend to congratulate the rich as paragons).

            So for political and moral expediency they have to make taxes goods in themselves, and Dedicate significant rhetoric to doing so. Put simply the idea that most of our taxes are wasted and the idea that we need more spending and thus more taxes, while not technically contradictory are morally contradictory, it just doesn’t feel right to hold both ideas. So one had to go or (if the idea that government is inefficient is merely too obvious to go) the tone of conversation has to be distorted considerably.

            And this is the difference between the really statist person who enjoys paying their taxes and the protestor screaming tax the rich. The first has convinced them self that their taxes are efficiently spent through some magic means (thus taxes are good in themself, since almost definitionally for this group they are well spent) and the second is convinced that all the taxes will only fall on the wicked rich people thus making tax a good in itself, even if the money is burned, because the rich won’t have it.

            Sorry if the above is really really strawmany, the point isn’t that anyone actually believes the above explicitly but that years of partisanship have twisted their moral instincts into something approaching the above, libertarians have the opposite instinct that spending, any spending, even the spending that produces crazy multipliers is necessarily evil. Because that money has to be taxed and taxes destroy freedom far in advance of the money actually taken, and it creates market destroying incentives and the multipliers are a lie!!!

            Ultimately it you want consensus you essentially need a master of both ideologies to talk the partisans down from their default moral position by aussuaging their concerns.
            As is its just to easy for a liberal to assume their opponent doesn’t care, a libertarian to assume their opponents to doesn’t understand basic economics and a conservative to assume their opponent is openly hostile social capital producing traditions and institutions, because more often than not that’s the case.

          • Corey says:

            @Luke the CIA stooge:

            The vast majority of government programs produce little result and (at least theoretically) should have a hard time doing so, since all gov programs require massive administration and oversight costs, meaning that any marginal benefit produced has to be pretty significant to overcome the amount of wealth that is necessarily destroyed by having a government program at all.

            And all this is assuming that governments are efficient and concerned about not wasting money, and are making cost benefit analyses as to whether applying the money to this social program will produce benefits to justify taxing it away from you (something no government actually does).
            And all of this is before making any libertarian or conservative assumption

            FYI: All of those things are libertarian/conservative assumptions (they may seem blindingly obvious to you, and/or be conventional wisdom, but that doesn’t make them true or applicable).

            That’s something else I’m trying to understand about the conservative mind in another sub-thread: how “governmenty” an expense has to be before it’s inherently Bad (HOA hiring landscapers? National government paying disability insurance?) and also where the voluntary/involuntary expense line lies that makes spending Bad (everyone’s quick to say taxes are “involuntarily” collected despite ~0 blog commenters living in dictatorships).

          • Psmith says:

            how “governmenty” an expense has to be before it’s inherently Bad

            if libertarians approve of such institutions when they are called condominium associations or proprietary communities, why do we disapprove of them when they are called governments?

            The answer will shock you!

    • Walter says:

      I see this a lot. I’ve invented a rule (probably someone else invented it), that the left can only see the right as a defective left. (The right, by contrast, sees the left as an anti-right).

      Divide all humans int 2 camps, useful and useless.

      The left is, at it’s core, composed of the people who think the useful folks have an obligation to help out the useless. The right is, again deep down, composed of the people who think that no such duty exists. The left continually mistakes the right as being composed of people who want to help the useless, but are crummy at it. The right continually mistakes the left as being composed of people who want to hurt the useful.

      So, the right-as-defective-left wants to help the poor, but it tricks itself into thinking that the best way to do that is to do nothing, or let private charity take care of it. This is what you are positing, but it’s all in your mind.

      The actual right doesn’t care about the useless. At all. It’s not that we think that they require no help, its that we don’t think about them. To make it sound as bad as possible, we only notice them when they track mud on our stuff.

      We aren’t assuming that they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. We aren’t making some sort of principled decision that the best help is no help because it builds work ethic or whatever. We are indifferent to their continued existence. Some of us help out (because we enjoy that), others don’t (because they don’t, or can’t). Neither is evil in our eyes. There exists no duty to help out useless folks (or, indeed, anyone).

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        Seems correct to me. Trickle Down and Charity, the rights usual answers, are only token gestures….conservatives don’t see them as robust solutions…..you can tell because they don’t make a serious effort to defend them.

        • Anonymous says:

          Doesn’t really account for the magic of the free market theme, which if not dominant is at least a significant part of American conservatism.

          Take the minimum wage for example, the argument is never that these people don’t deserve any help, it’s that a minimum wage is counterproductive.

          • William Newman says:

            “the argument is never that these people don’t deserve any help, it’s that a minimum wage is counterproductive”

            The argument is that a minimum wage tends to keep low-wage competition out. Whether that’s considered productive or counterproductive public policy tends to depend somewhat on whether you’ve dehumanized the competition in question, dunnit?

            “Of course, having on the market a rather large source of cheap labor depresses wages outside of that group, too – the wages of the white worker who has to compete. And when an employer can substitute a colored worker at a lower wage – and there are, as you pointed out, these hundreds of thousands looking for decent work – it affects the whole wage structure of an area, doesn’t it?” (http://cafehayek.com/2012/11/some-history-of-minimum-wage-legislation-in-america.html)

            (Also check out https://www.princeton.edu/~tleonard/papers/Eugenics.pdf if you’re suffering from stubborn sweeping good-feeling about human nature and human institutions that just won’t go away.)

            Nonleftists seeing exactly the same solution proposed for an ostensibly new problem … of helping the people that, back in the day, it was supposed to hurt … supported by substantially the same people that can continue to reasonably expect to benefit from how it excludes competition … sometimes … suffer … credulity … fatigue.

            Observations suggest that by taking shelter in bubbles sufficiently hardcore that we don’t need to consider discreditably right-wing sources like
            http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/12/los-angeles-15-dollar-minimum-wage-unions
            credulity can be preserved, but not all of us have the intellectual discipline to do this.

          • Anonymous says:

            Substantially the same people? Just how many people that were advocating any sort of public policies in 1957 do you think are still on the public stage today?

      • Luke the CIA stooge says:

        Your completely mistaken.

        The right, on the whole doesn’t think an assumption of material equality exists, or is a duty. But the right does believe In helping the poor, to the point that it is a duty (right wingers spend a hell of a lot on charity (Romney spent 10% annually)) in as far as the resources spent in such a way that is undeniably better for the poor than the loss is for the taxed (food and shelter to keep you alive yes, head-start, other nebulous education programs and lifestyle subsidies no).
        But more than that the right does genuinely believe in the liberation story of capitalism and in the power of people to bootstrap their way up. The problem as they see it is that welfare and other subsidies create disincentive to work and deny people the suffering that would motivate them towards signifigant lifestyle. Simply put if there is no risk of real suffering, most people (those who don’t have crazy middle class parents enforcing high standards) won’t endure the pain necessary to build a better life for themselves. Given the option between moving cross country to a city you’ve never been too and taking a community college course while working evening, or just taking disability/social assistance and staying in your home town, most of the poor will pick the later. Deny them the Second option however and you’ll be amazed the effort and creativity they put in. Remember America was built by people who didn’t have the second option

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          America was built by th e survivors of the people who didn’t had the second option. And they dd have the option of actual homesteading.

          • Luke the CIA stooge says:

            Everyone has the option of homesteading, just slip of into one of the underpopulated stretches of land that are found all over the world, disappear into the mountains and live all hills have eyes, disappear into the Canadian forest and make yourself a nice cabin.
            Hell study how Inuits used to live and then disappear into the arctic, no ones going to stop you, no ones going to follow you up and drag you back
            You have a better chance than the pioneers since you can save up and buy some modern supplies before going, and then you can make a clean break.
            But alas most people don’t want to do this because it would suck. Most people want the benefit that comes from being tapped into the international economy and that means having something to trade for modern goods and services.
            Trust me, i score like a 0 on Jonathan Haidt’s “Care” foundation, i wish the poor and disadvantaged would just go all survivor out in the wilderness, they might even find some interesting rocks or pelts to sell back in civilization. But alas none of them are taking the offer.

            (speaking of, are there any other self identified assholes that kinda want to start a charity to outfit the poor and grumpy with camping equipment, and then ditch them a thousand miles from civilization (consentually of course) i mean 10000 dollars in camping/settler equipment vs the lifetime cost of a welfare recipient, seems like a solid trade-off)

  39. Z says:

    Regarding foreign aid, the documentary “Poverty, Inc.” and this thread reveal some unintended consequences – https://www.reddit.com/r/Documentaries/comments/4gy7zp/poverty_inc_2014_the_hidden_side_of_doing_good/

    Maybe foreign aid is still a net benefit, but it’s something to keep in mind.

  40. AnthonyC says:

    Today in nominative determinism: the person that coined the term “precariat” was named Guy Standing

  41. TheTrotters says:

    I’m not for open borders either, mainly because it’s not feasible. Nativism and the “us vs. them” mentality is not something that can be rooted out of humans. But I’m for immigration (as much as possible) precisely because we are clueless about lifting up the poor, but we’re great at giving the smart and conscientious a chance to lift themselves.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Given that we’ve found a lot of evidence that the average IQ of a society has a major impact on its wealth, isn’t getting smart people to immigrate just as selfish and harmful to the global poor as cutting off free trade with other countries?

  42. anonymous poster says:

    I bet there is a guy living on North Sentinel Island who thinks he is hot shit right now with a nice hut and an intricately carved wooden bow and maybe he’s good at fishing and gets respect from the fellas and giggles from the ladies. Now, let’s make friendly contact and rock his tiny world.

    Oh, you paddle around the lagoon in an unseaworthy canoe? News flash: we’ve been to the fucking moon. Your village has 50 people in it? Guess what, the greater Tokyo metropolitan area has over 30. million. people. What’s that, you have no concept of million? Or indeed arithmetic, or writing, or other languages? Let me introduce you to Wikipedia, a construct based on technology and cultural concepts so alien to your way of life that you have no hope of ever getting it.

    Now reap the benefits of human civilization! Cotton cloth to replace the dirt rags you’re currently wearing! Food shipped fresh from across the world! Television so you can stay up to date on people considered important, influential, stylish, and relevant to humanity at large. Hint: not you.

    We’ve just taken this chap from top dog to jack squat just by being friendly and introducing ourselves. We didn’t even do anything unpleasant! We even gave him gifts and a new TV, which made it much worse.

    Two years later dude is a non-functional alcoholic who beats his wife, abuses his kids, and doesn’t go fishing any more because what’s the fucking point.

    Sure, he appreciates the antibiotics, they’re great. But did we really do him any favours, when we destroyed everything he ever knew without even touching it?

    -our lord and savior Argumate

  43. Subbak says:

    That letter after the C and before the first M of “Full Communism”. That’s a Phi, not an O. It’s not pronounced anything remotely like an O. And I’d say there is less than 1% chance you were not aware of this. Why do you do such things on purpose? And I’m not even Russian…

  44. Edward says:

    I’m confused by the fact that the concept of comparative advantage is not mentioned in this thread at all (and also by the fact that I haven’t noticed in any discussion of the unnecessariat problem. The theory of comparative advanage implies that there is no fundamental reason for the existence of huge unemployment due to automation of lot of jobs. Or am I missing something?

    Comparative advange works like this: there are two goods (“unit of food” and “unit of wine”) and there are two people in the economy: person A and person B.

    Person A can produce 4 units of food during one day or 2 units of wine during one day.

    And B can produce 400 units of food per day or 300 units of wine per day (so this person is super-efficient at producing both goods).

    Now if you think about the situation you will see that it makes sense for person A to produce only food and sell some of their output to B in exchange for wine (because A’s ratio of units of food per day to units of wine per day is higher than B’s). So both of them will gain from these trades.

    You can increase number of agents, number of goods, introduce utilities, but the result will hold: it makes sence for each agent to focus on production of goods/services in which they have comparative advantage.

    This theory is true – it is the best explanation why devision of labor exists – and it implies that even if there is huge unequality in productivity between agents, there will still be trading between them.

    **

    Regarding the fact that the 55 year old Kentucky trucker can’t be a programmer – to find employment, it will be enough for him to find any way at all to be useful to others in the sence that others would rather pay him money to get something done than do it themselves. It doesn’t have to be writing scripts or apps.

    **

    Now, suppose we find ourselves in situation where unnecessariat exists, when there is huge unemployment. So there are lots of people who are barely getting by. Why don’t they take advantage of devision of labor and start new small companies and just ignore the part of economy that doesn’t want to do business with them? That would make easier for them to get by. Also that would make them employed again. And the rest of the economy will want to to business with them.

    I think that this doesn’t happen because (1) there are no good coordination meachanisms (no good markets) and (2) because people are mad (there is a strong link between productivity and income but most people insist on ignoring it and instead of thinking about how can they provide useful services / improve existing processes / choose the most profitable job they can do – istead of this they choose to despair and get frustrated).

    I aso think that both problems are solvable: you can create good markets (search by keywords mechanism design theory, market design, auction theory) – it is about designing rules of the game in such way that optimal strategies lead to good outcomes. Good markets will lead to better coordination and will make the link between productivity and income more easy to notice.

    • multiheaded says:

      “You’re probably reading this thinking: “I wouldn’t live like that.” Maybe you’re thinking “I wouldn’t overdose” or “I wouldn’t try heroin,” or maybe “I wouldn’t let my vicodin get so out of control I couldn’t afford it anymore” or “I wouldn’t accept opioid pain killers for my crushed arm.” Maybe you’re thinking “I wouldn’t have tried to clear the baler myself” or “I wouldn’t be pulling a 40-year-old baler with a cracked bearing so the tie-arm wobbles and jams” or “I wouldn’t accept a job that had a risk profile like that” or “I wouldn’t have been unemployed for six months” or basically something else that means “I wouldn’t ever let things change and get so that I was no longer in total control of my life.” And maybe you haven’t. Yet.

      This isn’t the first time someone’s felt this way about the dying. In fact, many of the unnecessariat agree with you and blame themselves- that’s why they’re shooting drugs and not dynamiting the Google Barge. The bottom line, repeated just below the surface of every speech, is this: those people are in the way, and its all their fault. The world of self-driving cars and global outsourcing doesn’t want or need them. Someday it won’t want you either. They can either self-rescue with unicorns and rainbows or they can sell us their land and wait for death in an apartment somewhere. You’ll get there too.”

    • anonymous poster says:

      Why don’t they take advantage of devision of labor and start new small companies and just ignore the part of economy that doesn’t want to do business with them? That would make easier for them to get by.

      The new automated economy is also capable of producing goods and services at far lower cost than firms which still employ humans to do those jobs. Parallel economies don’t work for the same reason telling people to ‘buy local’ doesn’t stop Wal Mart from opening up shops, or ‘buy American’ doesn’t stop competition from overseas: people prefer lower prices for themselves to paying more but keeping their countrymen employed.

      • Edward says:

        If the aggregated automated economy sells thing to the unemployed, it means there is exchange. When we pay money for things it is a roundabout way of exchanging our labor for things. So it seems like a contradiction.

        If the automated economy sells me something it means one of three things: (1) a gift, (2) a credit or (3) I’m exchanging my labor for goods/services. If it happens systematically its neither gifts nor credits.

        My point is there are good reasons for such trades to take place (because of comp advantage).

        If such trades don’t happen, then automated economy is isolated from a group people, who can run their own economy. But to do it they need good institutions (that is good markets and good coord. mechanisms)

        • eponymous says:

          Edward,

          Comparative advantage still holds, but that doesn’t prevent the market value of your labor falling to arbitrarily low levels.

          This is exactly what happens in a standard economic model if there’s a sudden increase in the supply of the good you sell. That drives down the market price, and your welfare decreases.

          You can always withdraw from the market and take up subsistence farming. In fact, if your market wage falls enough, that’s what you do (unless you have income from other sources, in which case you might just stop working instead).

          • Edward says:

            Market value of any particular skill can indeed drop to epsilon, but person’s labor is a set of skills.

            When comparative advantage holds, it means two things: first, there exists some work which others would rather delegate to me than do themselves, and second, I’m better of focusing on one type of work and exchanging the output for the goods and services I need to get by and have fun (as opposed to subsistence farming).

            So there is a lower bound in the following sense: I choose my production plan as a set of good produced (with quantities attached) per unit of time, and when I change this plan by increasing production of some good at the expense of another, the traded off quantity reflects my values in non-monetary terms. Comparative advantage means that I’m better off when participating in the division of labor.

            Generally speaking, to properly analyze the problem we need a set of coherent assumptions, based on which we will be able to construct a simulation of an economy, run it and see what happens. And then try different assumptions.

            Among these assumptions are:
            – can people learn new skills?
            – will resources be limited?
            – how will owners of highly automated firms choose amounts of goods produced and how will they choose prices?
            – who will be their customers?
            – where do the customers get money to pay for these goods?
            – how are markets designed (from game-theoretical PoV)?

            I agree that its hard to imagine what sort of job can today’s unskilled uneployed people do in future highly automated world. But I’m betting that they will learn new useful skills and not switch to subsistence farming.

            Many of unskilled unemployed may seem unable and not wanting to learn, but I think that it is solvable. I think that that solution is arranging markets in such way that a link between skills ans income is visible. Like, ‘if I learn how to do X I will be able to earn somewhat about $Y with high probability’.

          • eponymous says:

            @Edward

            I agree that it depends on the assumptions we make. Here’s a simple model where it happens:

            Suppose there are two types of households: capitalists (who own a fixed stock of capital K and own the robots), and workers (who own a fixed stock of labor N).

            Suppose the production function is:

            F(K,N+Z)

            where Z is the effective labor supply of the robots.

            Suppose F is Cobb-Douglas. Now let Z go to infinity. Then the income of workers goes to zero.

      • Anonymous says:

        The new automated economy is also capable of producing goods and services at far lower cost than firms which still employ humans to do those jobs.

        So the cost of living goes to zero?

        • anonymous poster says:

          Why would it? Goods and services have gotten massively cheaper over the course of the last 100 years, yet the cost of living hasn’t declined significantly.

          • Anonymous says:

            This depends on what you mean by “cost of living”. If you mean, “The cost of subsistence,” then it would seem that this is going to zero in the hypothetical. If you mean, “The cost of living a comfortable middle-status life,” then of course that goes up, because people want more things, and the amount of things that are required for the new “middle-status” goes up. The only problem is that we then have to ask, “If the cost of new, fun things is going up, doesn’t that have to go to someone who is, uh, providing those products/services?”

            …and suddenly, we’re back to a regular-old economy. Disaster averted.

        • makomk says:

          Obviously the cost of living doesn’t go to zero, because there’s still the cost of raw materials, land, “intellectual property” etc. What happens is that all the cost goes towards the members of the capital-owning class who own all of the above and essentially none goes towards labour.

    • Corey says:

      One of the problems we’re trying to solve is when the non-satiation assumption buried in this model breaks down. That is, it doesn’t matter how good someone is at making wine when everyone has all the wine they want (“robots” is shorthand for this, though it doesn’t require literal mechanical men).

      That sounds ludicrous given economic history, but we’re already seeing persistent shortfalls of aggregate demand – the US has been unable to support full employment wihout some sort of bubble for decades now.

      • Edward says:

        Maybe I’m not getting the point, but, on one hand, if literally everyone has all the goods they want, then it looks like there is actually no problem.

        And on the other hand, if there are two groups of people – a group with super-high productivity and a group with low productivity, then, either they trade with each other (as compar. adv. predicts) or they are independent of each other: highly productive group have everything they want and dont engage in trade and low-productivity people run their own economy.

        • Corey says:

          Good point about the separate economies; I came to that conclusion when thinking about “eliminationism” in another sub-thread.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      The theory of comparative advanage implies that there is no fundamental reason for the existence of huge unemployment due to automation of lot of jobs. Or am I missing something?

      Yes.

      • Anonymous says:

        …did he really just handwave away the entire idea of comparative advantage by pointing to one party’s disadvantage in one category? I mean, does he really misunderstand comparative advantage that badly?!

    • Luke the CIA stooge says:

      The issue isn’t that that can’t have advantageous trade amongst themselves (they can) the issue is that there are no longer industries or means of producing goods or services that they can trade with the outside world. Thus without welfare or disability they would be forced to regress to a cut off almost tribal existence.

      The problem is these communities where set up when cattle rustling, manufacturing and farming required lots of people, and now there are lots of people in geographical locations where they cannot contribute too or benifit from the global economy. Luckily there is an easy way to solve this problem that has worked again and again throughout history.

      Fucking move!!!

      Unemployment in America is now 5%, unemployment in North Dakota Is 3.1%, there are countless opportunities for these people to find jobs and get retrained while working (truck driver becomes welder, factory worker become soil worker) the issue is they insist on staying in failing communities and accumulating social ills. And then they have the nerve to demand that those in the top 50%
      (ie people who have moved and given up the community of their childhood for an education and a better life) they demand they subsidize their not moving.

      We’ve had this problem in Canada for decades where east coast fishing villages and northern indigenous communities are not economically viable, have awful health outcomes and have crisis levels of addiction and suicide. The issue is not genetics (when they move to the economically productive west and south their standard of living doubles and all their welfare indicators go up) the issue is that their communities and cultures lock them into a geography and an isolation that can only end in dependence or disaster.

      Do not make the same mistakes Canada made. Do not subsidize these failed lifestyles. Create a subsidy for them to move to areas of over employment and then cut their benefits if they refuse. Everyone who does not live on the African savanna owes their current standard of living to ancestors who where willing to face uncertainty I search of a better life, everyone who makes above a median wage does so because they have been willing to move and change their lifestyle slat some point (getting an education, moving cities, working late) it is an insult to the human spirit that these people stay in communities and raise their children to a culture of dispair.

      the issue isn’t that they can’t code, the issue isn’t their genetics, the issue isn’t that robots are replacing them (the economic analysis says they aren’t) the issue is they continue to do what has failed and refuse to adapt.
      There are dozens of trades and professions where someone without a college education, who can’t code, can make a rediculously good living, but you have to do things others can’t or don’t want too. You have to give yourself a Comparative advantage. And one of the easiest things you can do to give yourself that advantage is move to where you are most useful

  45. multiheaded says:

    Someday those tears are gonna spill.

  46. multiheaded says:

    I would describe my view as “competitive/depends on how much competition exactly”. I.e. if certain interest groups could just comply quietly and maintain basic social democracy, they could effectively pacify would-be extremists like me. But, alas, they broke free of it and aren’t going to compromise again.

    • Anonymous says:

      Would-be extremists like you aren’t terribly scary. The poor rising up problem is solved by efficient enough meritocracies. When the desperate are all incompetent the worst they can do is sporadic, uncoordinated damage.

      • multiheaded says:

        So you’re saying that it’s ultimately the wiser option for us to sabotage efficient enough meritocracies? (Like shooting Alexander II, who did, after all, make things locally better.)

        • Anonymous says:

          The people that could have made up the backbone and leadership of ‘us’ are instead fat and happy and that trend is only accelerating. What you are suggesting would have been a good strategy for ‘us’ 100 years ago. Now it’s too late.

        • Multiheaded has a point. The more incompetent would-be extremists are, the more easily their movement can be hijacked by competent people, to turn them into purges against their personal enemies and loot the state with the incompetent revolutionaries’ enthusiastic cooperation.

          This is, admittedly, exactly the opposite of the point Multiheaded is trying to make, and suggests that we should be scared and should be aggressively culling the incompetent poor (ideally by encouraging division among them so they do it to themselves), but hey, credit where credit is due.

          • Anonymous says:

            Incompetent people don’t have movements to hijack in the first place. Such movements can still find would-be leadership because fat and happy people can still want to be revolutionary leaders, it’s an exciting job. And they could still find cannon fodder because they don’t need to be terribly competent. But the critically important middle management is going to be tough. That’s traditionally been drawn from the competent but poor, with fervor fueled by anger over the difference between their ability and outcomes. That’s the swamp that meritocracies have drained.

      • Eli says:

        But I’m highly meritorious and I don’t like actually-existing “meritocracy”. Living in a cloistered bubble while everyone outside my own job field finds their standards of living crumbling is distinctly un-fun.

        • The Nybbler says: