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OT57: Chopin Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread. There are hidden threads every few days here. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. One reason I love you guys is that you always know useful information about random things. Some of the comments on pharmacological tolerance really helped me understand it better; particularly comment-of-the-week-worthy were Erebus, George Dawson, and Raza. Related: r/nootropics recently had a good thread about Adderall tolerance.

2. Important Consumer Warning: I was recently on vacation and tried to get some money out of a Bank of America ATM. The ATM took my card and refused to give it back. When I called the bank’s number, they just told me that this just happened randomly sometimes, they wouldn’t help me, there was nothing anyone could do, and I’d have to get a new card from my bank. While I was on the phone, a passer-by overheard and told me that they’d had the same problem, also with a Bank of America ATM. Needless to say this seriously complicated my vacation. I wish I had known not to use Bank of America ATMs at any point when it would be inconvenient to permanently lose the card involved, so now I am telling you.

3. Worth highlighting: the last open thread’s discussion on people who willed themseves into having their first childhood memory.

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1,051 Responses to OT57: Chopin Thread

  1. Paul Brinkley says:

    Long time lurker, very infrequent commenter here (I never seem to have the time), but I’ve liked this crowd enough to wonder if there are any periodic events happening among SSC folk, such that one happens somewhere between Sep03-07 in the San Francisco area.

    Long story short: I found myself with vacation time, a need to fill it, and no company other than a couple of friends in SF who might not be able to hang out for all of it. Part of my time is going to be Yosemite, which has me staying somewhere in Darkest Mariposa for a few days while I hike.

    Meanwhile: I’ve never been to Yosemite, and I’ve only been to SF as a teenager and have almost no memory of it other than this one mediocre theme park, so rationalists’ recommendations on what to do or watch out for are also welcome. Depending on the recommendation utility, I might compensate with a drink or dinner.

  2. Dr Dealgood says:

    (Forked from Earthly Knight’s discussion of living wages here.)

    So the MIT living wage calculator, which breaks down cost of living by household size and number of dependents, and the idea of setting minimum wages at living wage in general raised an interesting set of questions for me.

    1. If a living wage rule was implemented, would it make more sense to set a one-size-fits-all living wage or have different living wages depending on the family and region? It seems like the former would lead to many people being paid much more than a living wage whereas the latter would discourage family formation by making breadwinners harder to hire.
    2. Would wages actually be inelastic enough that this could possibly work without causing massive unemployment? Ignore competition from cheaper foreign labor (the Yuge Wall of Trump has already been built in this hypothetical).
    3. Is there a way a reasonably tightly-knit community could in effect set their own living wage without involving the government? I mean that not just the sense of creating and enforcing a community norm, but also in the sense of “would the state step in to stop them?”

    FWIW, I’m sort of sympathetic to living wage rhetoric when it isn’t employed as part of the broader welfare-state package. I’m not a capitalist so much as an anti-anti-capitalist: socialist ideas for the most part sound so horrible that even a free market is preferable, but a saner more traditional system would be better than either.

    • The Nybbler says:

      1. Well, it’s a crazy idea to begin with, but you pretty much have to go with one-size-fits-all. If you go with to-each-according-to-his-need, the effect you mention would probably more than eliminate any benefit. That is, if I’m only willing to pay $10/hour and the legal “living” wage for someone supporting a 4 person household is $15/hour, well, I guess I’m hiring single people. You can try to prevent this by adding more and more regs to try to avoid it, but you’ll just end up with an expensive epipen monopoly that way.

      2. With one-size-fits-all, it’s the same as raising the minimum wage. I contend that there are three likely responses
      1) Increased unemployment, as employers make do with fewer low-skilled workers.
      2) Inflation
      3) Wage compression (the desired effect). Lower skill jobs result in higher wages while higher-skill jobs stay where they are or even drop.

      The immediate effect will be a combination of 1 and 3. I expect in the medium term it’ll be mostly 1 and 2. If when inflation happens you raise the standard, you’ll get sustained inflation (not necessarily a spiral).

      3. Maybe an unreasonably tight-knit community like the Amish. Anyone takes a job or offers a job at under the living wage, shun them. The state would likely not stop this.

    • I just want to note that the term “living wage” is dishonest rhetoric. Real wages in the developed world at present are twenty or thirty times what they averaged across the world through most of history.

      Any calculation of a so called living wage is really a calculation of the cost of a standard of living that is low by current standards but very high by historical standards and moderately high by the standards of a majority of the world at present. That may be a useful number, but implying that anything lower leads to death is wildly false.

      And it isn’t that everything is more expensive in modern day America–that’s already taken account of in real income calculations.

      I did a rough estimate [towards the bottom of the post] of what it would take to keep someone alive on my blog some years back. It was a very small fraction of any figures people offer for a living wage.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        I think it’s pretty clear that (reasonably informed) people don’t literally mean the phrase living wage as “you will die if you’re paid less than this.”

        For example, the linked MIT living wage calculator includes a lower “poverty wage” beneath their proposed living wage. That wouldn’t really make sense if living wages were the difference between life and death.

        Anyway, I agree with your characterization of the living wage as a low-but-historically-high standard of living. Which I think is the point. American greatness demands that real Americans aren’t living in barracks eating slop like Indian workers in the UAE. Taking care of our poorer brethren as a point of national pride makes sense.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          That makes it sound like a national obligation, not a Walmart obligation.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I don’t see why it can’t be both.

            We are the American nation: the USG is just the state in our nation-state. Americans, and American businesses, are responsible for one another and for the nation as a whole. Mass immigration and radical social changes have broken up that attitude of solidarity but neither is irreversible.

            As The Nybbler pointed out above, this is all much easier with a smaller community than the entire US. If the citizens of Anytown, USA see a businessman shortchanging his employees and (figuratively or literally) run him out of town on a rail then that neatly solves the problem.

      • anonymous says:

        The problem with your reasoning David Friedman, is that people need money not just to stay alive, nor merely to enjoy material “comforts”, even if they tell such a lie to themselves; no, people need money mostly in order to buy dignity. And dignity is a living necessity in itself. Without dignity people kill themselves.

        I may be wrong but wasn’t it you who remarked that men value access to women more than they value money, and one big reason that they make money is so that they get women? The flip side of this is that poverty dooms you to celibacy. And this just scratches the surface of the ways people need the dignity that comes with money.

        A person can find peace in the life of a hunter gatherer only if he is belongs to a hunter gatherer culture in which such lifestyle is normal and does not lead to social and sexual ostracism and an inner sense of indignity.

        In a first world culture, you need to live according to first world standards. Or your self-esteem will plummet, you’ll be a pathetic social reject, one people look down upon, surely you won’t get laid ever, and if you have children they will suffer too, and you will feel deeply guilty about what a bad parent you are, and what a bad person.

        Hunter gatherers don’t have to deal with any of this, nor do people in the third world, nor do our ancestors in the preindustrial past.
        And that’s why comparisons with the way most of humanity has lived and still lives are off the mark.

        • “I may be wrong but wasn’t it you who remarked that men value access to women more than they value money, and one big reason that they make money is so that they get women? ”

          I don’t think I said that.

          On your general point, I agree that being poor is worse, often much worse, than being not poor. But being low status isn’t the same thing as being dead, which is what the term “living wage” is obviously intended to imply.

          • anonymous says:

            I don’t think anyone literally means that by “living wage”.

          • Then why do they use that term when it isn’t what they actually mean? They could easily enough substitute something vaguer, such as “decent wage,” or something more specific.

            Using the term implies that it means something.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            Am I right in thinking that there is a strict construction where economists don’t think marketing can do anything except provide information about a product? Living wage doesn’t convey strict factual information. It’s a marketing term. And marketing is necessary.

            “Decent wage” has, I think, a union association, but, I don’t think it has a connotation much different than living wage. Adequate recompense for 40 hours so that you can live a decent life, as opposed to a cruddy one.

            There is also the question of a wage that puts you above the line for where government programs, like SNAP, kick in to help with the not firing part.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Gah. Help with the not starving part.

          • Anon. says:

            And marketing is necessary.

            Of course it is. How else could you possibly portray transfer payments to the world’s TOP 5% as an act of charity? The entire idea is fundamentally preposterous.

            I hope EA catches on.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            How else could you possibly portray transfer payments to the world’s TOP 5% as an act of charity?

            How can Scott justify a reign of terror at SSC when there are still “SJWs” on Twitter?

          • anonymous says:

            How else could you possibly portray transfer payments to the world’s TOP 5% as an act of charity?

            If you go up the subthread you’ll find my comment which explains why comparisons between first world poverty and the way most of humanity lives are fallacious.

        • Anonymous says:

          The flip side of this is that poverty dooms you to celibacy.

          Have you ever met a poor person?

          • anonymous says:

            I was speaking in extremes. Of course moderate poverty doesn’t doom you to celibacy.

            I don’t think it’s controversial to state that success in finding or keeping a woman depends among other things on your economic situation.
            This is something that comes up when you discuss with men whether one should retire early at the cost of adopting a very frugal lifestyle.

          • Anonymous says:

            You’re missing the forest for the trees. It’s true that members of the insane MMM cult that tells its followers to shit in a bag to save money aren’t very attractive to anyone. But you can far down the poverty ladder in the ordinary sense and still find couples and sex.

            It may not be a good argument, but it is a telling one.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            To be charitable, that statement makes sense from the point of view of the “beta” / provider mating strategy.

            The fact that poor men demonstrably are not celibate provides evidence that they are employing a different strategy. But by the same token that observation bodes poorly for “beta” men in the working class who anticipate poverty. It can still be true for them even as it is false for the population which has already adapted to poverty conditions.

          • Anonymous says:

            Fair enough. If he is so dumb that he needs to reduce the world into a simplistic all-encompassing dichotomy than maybe no one will want to sleep with him after all.

          • anonymous says:

            “It’s true that members of the insane MMM cult that tells its followers to shit in a bag to save money aren’t very attractive to anyone.”

            People into early retirement don’t shit in bags, in fact they usually live more luxuriously than ordinary poor people.
            In the case of Money Moustache, his yearly expenditures are considerably above the poverty threshold.
            The fact that you consider people who live above the poverty level “insane” and “unattractive” proves my points.

            I feel that I’m arguing that the pope is Catholic if I say that, all else being equal, money matters in sexual and romantic success for straight men. Everyone knows this. I’ve even seen studies which confirm this.
            Maybe my mistake was in phrasing it as “poverty dooms you to celibacy”. I said that in reference to the extreme, hunter-gatherer/street bum levels of poverty bought up by Friedman, not ordinary poverty, and anyhow my main contention is simply that there is a correlation, all else being equal.

            Even if this phenomenon was limited to “beta” providers, it would still be a valid point to make since provider types constitute the bulk of the male population.
            And anyhow this is not limited to those adopting a provider strategy; even badboy seducer types seem to find it much easier to maintain a successful, attractive “alpha” image if they have disposable income.

            You say that poor men have women. I suspect that your implication that the poor are very promiscuous is related to the multiethnic nature of the US. Could it be that by “poor” you mean black people? I live in a traditionally monoethnic, white country so I don’t know about those issues.
            Anyhow, regarding poor people in general, try asking a poor man if he thinks it would help him with women if he had more money. I’d be surprised if the answer was negative.

            Look at this old thread:
            https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/08/09/friendship-is-still-countersignaling/
            and look for Ialdabaoth discussing his life story in the comments.
            Excerpts (out of context and arranged to make a point, I admit):

            “Wait, what the hell? You went from living with a harem of women to being lonely and regularly maced when hitting on girls? How does something like that happen?”
            “it took about two months for it to all come crashing down around me – that sort of system isn’t sustainable for someone like me if I can’t maintain upper middle class spending habits.”
            “I don’t get it why people find his story *that* unusual and interesting. Basically it’s just first having lots of girlfriends and then not having any because of loss of social status. This happens all the time to people.”
            “do you believe that your loss of girlfriends and subsequent dry spell has been primarily because of depression, of primarily because you no longer had money to spend?”
            “both”

          • Sandy says:

            You say that poor men have women. I suspect that your implication that the poor are very promiscuous is related to the multiethnic nature of the US. Could it be that by “poor” you mean black people? I live in a traditionally monoethnic, white country so I don’t know about those issues.

            I think this is a fairly absurd avenue you’ve wandered down. The poor have higher birth rates than the rich almost as a rule, all over the world, for a variety of reasons — witness how Europe and East Asia’s (richest parts of the world) birth rates have crashed through the floor while India and South America’s (wealth levels slowly rising) birth rates have steadily decreased and Africa’s (poorest part of the world) birth rates have gone sky high and mostly stayed there. Obviously parthenogenesis is not to blame — poor men are finding sexual partners and reproducing with them.

            Do you really think poor people never have children? You’re right when you say economic prosperity matters for male sexual success — but not having it doesn’t doom you to celibacy, at best it limits you to a lower class of mate. Poor women exist.

            I am not even sure black people are more promiscuous than white people in the US. I suspect the reason for the somewhat higher black birth rates is a combination of the fact that black people are more likely to be poorer as well as the fact that black people are more likely to be religious.

          • anonymous says:

            I’ve said it several times:

            I didn’t mean that poor men never have women!

            When I wrote “poverty dooms you to celibacy”. I was mostly thinking of the extreme, hunter-gatherer/street bum levels of poverty brought up by Friedman, not ordinary poverty, and anyhow I didn’t even mean “doom” in the literal absolute sense, read it as “poverty may doom you to celibacy”.
            Why is everyone taking me so literally? Does anyone really believe that a sane person could believe that poor men literally never have women?

            Do you really think poor people never have children?

            No I don’t, I never thought anything like that.

            You’re right when you say economic prosperity matters for male sexual success — but not having it doesn’t doom you to celibacy

            That is precisely my opinion so you and I agree.

          • anonymous says:

            Jut to make it clear:

            1 – when I said “poverty dooms you to celibacy” I was thinking of street bums, not the ordinary poor
            2 – read it as “poverty *may* doom you to celibacy” – don’t be autistically literal
            3 – the more general point is that the richer/poorer you are, the more/less successful with women you will be
            4 – which applies to both provider types and badboy types
            5 – this supports my chief point that simple comparisons between first world poverty and thirdworld/preindustrial normalcy are fallacious.

          • Anonymous says:

            So we should raise the minimum wage so that guys working no-skill jobs can fuck prettier women? I don’t think the uglier women would like that very much. Nor the guys that used to have less competition for those prettier women.

            Do you understand how zero sum games work?

          • anonymous says:

            I don’t think the uglier women would like that very much.

            Which do you thing is better for ugly women – relative equality in male sexual-romantic value, or sharp inequality in male sexual-romantic value?

          • Anonymous says:

            Inequality in male sexual-romantic desirability is bad for everyone. It means that women have to compete with each other to get the few desirable men, while the less desirable men go through periods in which they are alone.
            Thus there are men who are alone, and there are women who are in the uncomfortable situation of either having to share a man, or remaining without because they can’t get an acceptable man.

            No it doesn’t mean that at all. You’ve already admitted that poverty doesn’t imply celibacy. Did you hit your head in the last 24 hours or something?

            What it means is that low desirability men end up with low desirability women. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s probably preferable to a situation where everyone has a chance with everyone. Under stopping theory the larger the pool the larger the optimal search times.

          • anonymous says:

            No it doesn’t mean that at all. You’ve already admitted that poverty doesn’t imply celibacy.

            I wrote “the least desirable men go through periods in which they are alone”.
            Not “are permanently alone”.
            And the set “least desirable men” does not overlap completely with the poor.
            Why are there single men at all? They tend to be the least desirable men.
            Reality is not simple and wealth is merely one among the many factors that influence this process.
            The obvious fact that poor people have relationships doesn’t change that male poverty causes loneliness – for men, and for women.

            Here’s the first article I could find about this:

            http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/marriage-is-for-rich-people/

            A new report, by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of the Hamilton Project, looked at the decline in marriage rates over the last 50 years and found a strong connection to income. Dwindling marriage rates are concentrated among the poor — the very people whose living standards would be most improved by having a second household income.

            The trend is especially pronounced among men.

            Anyhow I would not necessarily base a minimum wage policy proposal simply on such arguments. The discussion here took off on a tangent regarding the relationship between male sexual success and income. But it was only a side point I was making initially.

            In fact I wrote, “this just scratches the surface of the ways people need the dignity that comes with money.”

          • “In fact I wrote, “this just scratches the surface of the ways people need the dignity that comes with money.””

            I think almost all of us agree that more money is better than less money. But I believe this thread came out of my objection to the term “living wage.” The implication of that term is that there is some wage above which you live and below which you die. You can’t defend that by observing that, at almost any wage, you are better off with more money than with less–whether because of better mating opportunities or more dignity.

          • anonymous says:

            Dr Dealgood says:
            August 31, 2016 at 10:42 pm ~new~

            I think it’s pretty clear that (reasonably informed) people don’t literally mean the phrase living wage as “you will die if you’re paid less than this.”

            For example, the linked MIT living wage calculator includes a lower “poverty wage” beneath their proposed living wage. That wouldn’t really make sense if living wages were the difference between life and death.

            I think that the English language concept of a living wage stems from the distinction in people’s mind between “luxuries” and “necessities”. This may seem to be an arbitrary distinction (today’s luxury is tomorrow’s necessity), until you realize the importance of dignity to the human psyche. I think that things that are labeled necessities are such things that doing without them in the contemporary world would make you feel like a pariah or be treated like one.

  3. walpolo says:

    @David Frieman:

    For my thoughts on the land ownership issue, see the draft of a chapter from the third edition of Machinery. The book itself is published but not webbed for free.

    Concerning your Locke-inspired argument, it seems to depend on the assumption that a fence you build is your property. But earlier you grant that there’s no particular reason why mixing your labor with the land should make the land into your property. Why doesn’t the same go for the raw materials used to build the fence? Why should mixing your labor with a tree to turn it into a fence mean that the fence is your property? Why isn’t this just another case of “throwing away” your labor by using it to modify a natural resource which everyone has an equal right to use?

  4. leoboiko says:

    An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army, by Fredric Jameson and name-dropping edited by Slavoj Žižek.

    A utopian alt-history/sci-fi vision of a successful Communist America, to be implemented through universal army conscription, and coexisting with the capitalist State until it doesn’t.

    I’d enjoy an SSC review of this.

  5. TMB says:

    The benefits of rationality – if we were Tasmanian devils, still with our logical functions, we would be able to model contagious facial cancer and avoid it – we could relate an imagined experience to our actual actions.

    The advantage of our mind is the degree to which we can abstract – relate things, without there being any direct experience of relations existing between them.
    This is our super-power – the ability to choose the relatation between experiences (imagination is a subset of this).

    So, what would the next level of thought look like? As a Tasmanian devil can view our mental process, so we can view the level above ours?
    The reason I ask is this – is there any way that a process representing thought (AI) can actually transcend thought? Could the instincts of a Tasmanian devil ever lead the devil to rationality? Isn’t the meta-ruleset more important than the object-level ability?
    Can rationality understand it’s own meta-ruleset? Could it aid us in transcending it?

    Choosing (arbitrary) relations is our super power – what’s another (cognitive) super power?
    Which ruleset would result in us transcending rationality…

    • TMB says:

      I guess what I mean is this – a tasmanian devil couldn’t have any direct understanding of what it meant to think rationally – at least not to the extent that *we* think rationally – but it is at least possible that he might have some limited understanding of the process that leads to our rationality. (berg is blob – berg is blob (where berg and blob are direct experience) and then man is ______)

      Is it possible for us to have an understanding of a process that might lead to super-rational thinking?

      • TMB says:

        Yeah – but isn’t it at least possible that a creature could, on a lower level, understand (have some comprehension of), the processes which lead to intelligence?
        We might not be able to understand super-intelligence, but we could perhaps recognise the conditions that lead to it?

      • Brad (The Other One) says:

        @leoboiko

        I would have to imagine it involves a lot of growling, gibbering, spinning around, and eating of ostensibly inedible/inorganic objects.

  6. From the previous open thread:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/08/01/i-dont-like-the-idea-of-capitalism-charles-koch-unfiltered/

    “That’s a big deal, because you learn things working that you don’t learn in school. And I later learned that, read studies that if people don’t learn to work by the time they’re in their 30s, they’re never very productive.”

    Anyone know of these studies? A quick search didn’t turn anything up.

  7. Anyone have thoughts about whether it would be good for zika to be widespread asap so that people will become immune vs. the epidemic should be held off as long as possible in hopes of developing a vaccine?

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’m not really seeing any upside to the first scenario.

      • The upside is that girls and women who aren’t getting pregnant acquire immunity so that their future children aren’t at risk.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I thought you might be getting at something like that. But if the epidemic/pandemic happens now, in an uncontrolled fashion, then women who are pregnant or getting pregnant will also contract Zika and their near-future children will be at risk. At least, it seems unlikely the world (or a large portion of it) is going to stop having babies for however many months the epidemic takes to burn itself out.

          I can see an argument for women and girls deliberately exposing themselves to Zika now (when they know they aren’t pregnant and can avoid getting pregnant), but I think even that is only good if they avoid spreading it uncontrollably to those who may be pregnant; that is, they should not re-enter areas with “clean” mosquitos until they have cleared the virus.

          Also there’s the unknown possibility of long-term effects of infection; I don’t know how probable this is, or how probable similar effects would result from any vaccine.

          • Aapje says:

            At least, it seems unlikely the world (or a large portion of it) is going to stop having babies for however many months the epidemic takes to burn itself out.

            People do actually strongly base their procreation choices on the environmental conditions, which we see when there is an economic downturn.

            Let’s say that you have a choice between:
            – 1 billion people get zika in 1 year and half of the women choose to delay their pregnancy
            – 1 billion people get zika over a period of 10 years and 10% of women choose to delay their pregnancy

            I think it’s clear that more babies get birth defects in the second scenario.

            Of course, a major issue is that you can’t really predict the normal spread that well, so you can’t really judge if an intentional release is better.

          • The other hard question is whether a vaccine is possible and if so, how long it will take to become generally available.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Caveat: not a scientist.

      My understanding is that zika seems a minor bug for adults, but causes birth defects in progeny. So, a situation where the former could happen, instead of the latter, would be good.

      However, lacking a vaccine, just letting an epidemic happen in that hope – wouldn’t there be a risk of the disease changing, and becoming dangerous to adults?

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Yeah, count me in as another vote against deliberately spreading Zika. The best case scenario manages to be worse than the worst case scenario of the vaccine plan.

      It’s good that you’re willing to air crazy ideas though. They can lead to interesting discussion.

  8. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/08/26/why-are-sales-suffering-at-so-many-womens-stores-they-made-bad-clothes/?utm_term=.90763f3492af

    Summary: Big US department stores are in trouble because they’ve been carrying clothes women don’t want to buy.

    Any theories about how so many companies can make the same mistake at the same time? This is presumably not the government’s fault.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s no great secret that there’s a lot of me-too in fashion; it’s possible a few bad ideas got copied widely before it was discovered they were bad. From the article it also looks like the oppositeish issue of corporate inertia was a problem; women had moved on to different styles (presumably sold by other companies not mentioned) while the stores mentioned were making variants on the old ones.

    • Andrew says:

      Part of it is that fashion trends seem to be shifting more rapidly than they have in the past in the large “middle-class” market. These companies aren’t used to turning on a dime.

  9. metalheadcatbus says:

    Hey Scott, you may have seen this already, but this article about science and the replication crisis seems right up your alley: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/saving-science

    • Very interesting piece– the general idea is that science needs to be in service of solving real problems, and the DOD at least used to be pretty focused on that.

      This is in line with Root-Bernstein’s idea that some of the most important discoveries happened when a scientist worked on a practical problem in a field which was a little outside what the scientist usually studied.

      I’ve talked with a man who said real research was happening at the company he was working for, but it was proprietary.

      *****

      And now I proceed to noodling about the subject.

      There are a couple of bits in Atlas Shrugged about pure research being bad. For a long time, I thought Rand was out of her mind on the subject, but maybe she was at least partially on to something.

      On the one hand, sometimes pure research pays off– who’d have thought that all those millennia of tracking the planets would turn out to be useful? And I believe astronomy is one of the more honest branches of science.

      On the other hand, medical research is in really poor condition. Maybe the problem is science which is pretending to be practical?

  10. Chris Thomas says:

    Has anyone in the social justice community commented on the fact that a lot of social justice people are seriously undermining trigger warnings when they are used by people on the right? I have in mind some conservative speaker coming to speak at a college campus. They give a lot of warning about the fact that they will be saying unpopular and upsetting things, and not to come if that’s not your bag. Or the college comedian (can’t remember the name, but he was featured in Can We Take a Joke?) who wrote the most offensive musical he could think of, and then bent over backwards to trigger warn the crap out of everyone who wanted to see it, to the point of having people sign papers saying they knew what they were in for.

    After all these courteous warnings, it seems like the appropriate response for the left would be, “Hey, the right may not realize it, but they’re using trigger warnings! We should encourage this by, I don’t know, not showing up to shout at and intimidate the speakers!”

    • Aapje says:

      I would think that this creates internal conflicts in the minds of the left-wing people who like trigger warnings:
      – They like the idea that the right uses trigger warnings, in theory
      – They dislike that some of those trigger warnings will warn against stuff that is offensive to right wingers, but not to most people on the left (like to conservative Christians)
      – They dislike saying anything positive about the right, due to tribalism
      – They were used to trigger warnings signalling left wing content and value this as a sort of signal that the material is worth consuming. So they feel sort of deceived by the trigger warnings on material that is outside their Overton Window.

      Given this internal conflict, I’d expect avoidance of the issue to reduce cognitive dissonance.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think this confusing two or three different things. Trigger warnings are about people who have specific psychological reactions to specific content. It doesn’t matter how the material is presented. Safe spaces feel like home, your home, where, once you close the door, you don’t have to deal with all of the people who don’t understand you. Political correctness says that their are things that it is not appropriate to say, unless it is to condemn those things.

      This is really more of an example of PC behavior, not any actual request for a safe space or trigger warnings. Safe spaces do bleed in a little, as most colleges do actually try and make their students feel “at home”. I think, actually, when conservative students note how out of place they feel at a liberal campus, there is some irony in that this looks like an appeal for the campus to become “safer” for them.

    • TMB says:

      Why did you feel the need to make this a question about events rather than ideas?

      Is it purely stylistic – “i’m sure there are lots of counter-arguments out there…” A kind of false modesty?

      Are you genuinely more interested in the history of the arguments than the arguments themselves?

      • Chris Thomas says:

        TMB, I can’t tell if this question is directed at me, but if so, yes it is purely stylistic. I’m just trying to point out an interesting tension in a set of ideas and practices I have mixed feelings about.

    • Gravitas Shortfall says:

      siiiiigh.

      The entire idea of trigger warnings has careened off the cliff. It’s mainly supposed to be a comfort for survivors of trauma when tough issues like abuse and rape are discussed, and also provide context for historical things (like older books that use the N-word a lot). I wish the term could be redrawn to that narrow definition, but it’s too late now.

  11. Alliteration says:

    Should countries invest massively more into public research than they currently do? Technological and scientific progress the main reason that we are better off now historically. A dollar invested into research is a permanent upgrade to human living standards (with the exception of antagonistic technologies like armor vs bullets or encryption vs decryption. No permanent gains would be made from researching those more.), while a dollar invested into charity or healthcare only benefit those currently alive.

    Also, if a nation seeks global domination, a technological advantage would significantly. Europe didn’t rule the world because they had more people but because they had better weapons and ships.

    Do nations avoid the optimal level of technological research because they are hopping to free-ride off the other nations?

    (Yes, this post was inspired the winning strategy in civ games, and yes, I realize that game are not proper simulations of life.)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Do small nations rationally defect in a prisoners’ dilemma? Maybe. Does the US government? No, the US is so big that it captures a lot of the value so free-riding is a poor option. (But see public choice theory…)

      The big question is whether the US government is capable of increasing scientific progress. It seem quite plausible to me that US government involvement in postwar research has retarded it.

    • Jill says:

      This is a predominantly Libertarian site so I imagine most people here think the government shouldn’t do anything, and that if it did, it would make things worse.

      But I think we should do lots of research and solve lots of health, technological, engineering, infrastructure etc. problems. I think it would be good. I particularly would like to see more alternative health research. When alternative health is researched, then some of its cures are found to be effective, and those cures then become traditional cures that everyone can get from their regular M.D. I’ll bet cannabis has lots more potential than just for glaucoma. And there are various herbs and other alternative medical cures that have never been studied that should be. Some would be found out to be snake oil, but others would be found to be helpful.

    • Wency says:

      As in all things, there are obviously diminishing returns to government investment in basic research. There are also other things to invest in besides research, such as infrastructure. Or give the money back to the private sector, which will result in some combination of consumption and investing. So assuming government R&D is a positive good, there is some optimal level of dollars to spend on research. I’m not sure what that number is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve passed it.

      The main reason that our standard of living is better today than most of human history is because of the industrial revolution and processes that it unleashed, which had basically nothing to do with government support for basic research, an idea that doesn’t seem to have played much of a role until WW2.

      Some advances of the 20th century probably have something to do with government support. Without government spending, we definitely wouldn’t have reached the moon, and we wouldn’t have nuclear weapons and nuclear power (or we’d have had to copy them from the Soviets). There would be some areas of medicine that might be less advanced, though it seems like pharmaceuticals and medical devices would be about as advanced.

      We’d still have the vast majority of technological conveniences that we do today. Some of them may or may not be a few years behind.

      • Alliteration says:

        “The main reason that our standard of living is better today than most of human history is because of the industrial revolution and processes that it unleashed, which had basically nothing to do with government support for basic research, an idea that doesn’t seem to have played much of a role until WW2.”
        Could this be because before WW1, there was a large class of gentlemen scientists who did the basic research for free? Also, basic research was cheaper back then so hobbyists could more easily afford it.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I’m super biased here, because I’m literally paid out of that sweet sweet government research funding, but I’d say that it looks like we could use a lot more funding to fundamental research.

      Basic science is kind of a hard sell to whoever is forking over the money, since it’s by definition impossible to know what you’re actually paying for. Even the NIH and similar agencies are making everyone pretend that their work is translational these days. But it’s also absolutely essential for science and thus by extension the applied sciences (medicine, engineering, etc).

      I’m not sure doctrinaire libertarians will be convinced by “but nobody would voluntarily pay for this!” as an argument. But given that the big example of private sector basic science people give was Bell Labs, it seems like funding science is something only monopolies are actually interested in or equipped for. I’m not really concerned with who signs the checks exactly but one way or another someone needs to make sure that the lights stay on in America’s labs.

      • IrishDude says:

        From an ancap perspective:
        You can have basic research done at private universities. Also, big companies such as Google seem to have very long time horizons for return on investment which leads to them funding basic research: http://research.google.com/pubs/GeneralScience.html

        Philanthropic organizations like the Gates Foundation fund research too: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Media-Center/Press-Releases/2012/02/Gates-Foundation-Invests-in-CuttingEdge-Research-to-Diagnose-Tuberculosis-in-Developing-Countries

        http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/02/billionaires-basic-research

        I prefer private incentives to political incentives when it comes to funding research.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Surprisingly, eyeballing the OECD numbers, it looks like the government contribution to basic research is a lot smaller than I had guessed.

          In 2012, the US is supposed to have spent a little over $72 billion on basic science R&D. Of that, slightly less than $10 billion (~13.4%) came from the government. Universities contributed ~$40 billion (~55.2%), buisness enterprises ~$13 billion (~18.2%) and private non-profits ~$10 billion (~13.2%). It’s not clear to me how much of that university funding comes from state schools.

          Still, shrinking the pie by at least 13% would be devastating in terms of research. I’m not sure what extra incentive charities, corporations and private colleges would have to funding basic science research in an AnCap society that would make up for that loss.

          • “Still, shrinking the pie by at least 13% would be devastating in terms of research.”

            Maybe, maybe not. What if that 13% is mostly going into areas that everyone regards as worth funding, hence areas where the marginal return of additional funding is low?

            Also, how much of what is funded is research and how much is grant application writing?

        • Three comments on the subject of government funding of basic research:

          Terence Kealey offers evidence that it doesn’t result in increased progress, using cases where government funding sharply increased at a specific time.

          2. Kealey argues that there is an incentive for private firms to employ some people involved in basic research. The argument is that people in a field mostly talk to other people in that field and having a window on what is happening in basic research is useful for private firms whose decisions may partly hinge on it. The argument is similar to the explanation of why it may be in the interest of a firm to have an employee who is part of an open source project.

          3. Government funding of basic research can retard progress because it targets whatever is currently fashionable, which may divert resources, in particular intellectual resources, out of activities more valuable on the margin.

          My doctorate is in theoretical physics. At the time I got it, physics, including theoretical physics, was what everyone knew governments should be subsidizing. My impression was that the result was to attract more very smart people into that field and out of other areas of research than the field could use.

          So far as I can tell, in the forty some years since I left the field it has produced little knowledge that is of actual use, despite the large number of very smart people working in it. The big progress has come in areas that, at the time I entered graduate school (1965), were much less in fashion and, I would guess, much less subsidized.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to respond to your comment above here as well. It makes the nesting a lot cleaner and they’re both pretty similar.

            I’m not familiar with Kealey’s arguments in detail, and unfortunately for him they’re written in book form so I will probably never read them. However, it seems like the point he’s making is about the effects of publicly and privately funded research on economic growth which seems like a backwards way to look at it. Applied science certainly has improved the world, but the principle benefit of scientific research is in it’s explanatory power rather than in it’s commercial application.

            This rather ties into your points about grant writing and fashionable topics. One way in which funding agencies seem to have lost their way is their demands that science translate easily into a clinical or technological setting. These sorts of requirements help reinforce intellectual fashions, since more abstract and marginal fields have to do more work to convince those agencies that their fields have some practical use. I wouldn’t be surprised if this prejudice helped explain why private funding tends to result in more growth: it may be less likely to provide money to nascent fields in favor of established ones.

            That said, I’m not particularly pro-government so much as pro-science-funding. If private donors or universities in AnCapistan would match or exceed the current resources available to scientists then that is obviously a good thing in my book.

          • At a considerable, but not irrelevant, tangent.

            If you look at the founders of various sciences, they were largely amateurs. Ricardo was a retired stock market speculator. Darwin was trained as a clergyman. Geology was largely due to a gentleman farmer and a mining engineer. Galton was a mostly self-taught polymath with a partial education in medicine.

            From the late 19th century on, important scientific work has mostly been done by professionals.

            The pendulum may, however, be swinging back. The internet means that you don’t have to be down the hall from someone to interact intellectually. My correspondence with Robin Hanson started before he went back to school to get an economics degree–because he was obviously a smart and interesting person, despite being an amateur in my field.

            We are a very wealthy society. One result is that many people, perhaps a majority, have the option of earning their living in some uninteresting way while putting their time, energy and passion into an avocation. I know a lot of such people in the context of the SCA.

            Which opens the possibility that scientific progress will again be the work of amateurs doing it for fun.

          • “However, it seems like the point he’s making is about the effects of publicly and privately funded research on economic growth which seems like a backwards way to look at it.”

            I don’t think so. I’m going on my memory of a talk he gave, but I think the evidence was not of economic growth but of scientific progress in particular fields that went from almost no subsidy to large subsidy in a short time period.

    • Shion Arita says:

      Short answer: yes.

      Long answer:

      This is one of the only things that government actually has a true advantage in, since the rewards are long-term and uncertain on the level of an individual project. But, cast your net wide enough and the big changes will come, and only something big in space and time like a government will be able to reliably reap the rewards of it. Governments also have an advantage in this area in that some of these things are BIG and costly endeavors, like building spaceships and particle accelerators, so, since this is a place where its comparative advantage lies, it would serve well for it to put a lot of its chips into this basket.

      Basic research is pone of the most important things we could be doing, since all of the most important discoveries will be things that we don’t anticipate, because those are the areas the most change can come from. Bottom line is, with basic research, you’re doing it because you don’t know what’s going to end up being important later. We tend to make basic discoveries out-of-sequence: we uncover something that seems to be useless because we don’t yet have the other discoveries or the advances in the tools we need to put it to use. But if we hadn’t discovered it earlier, when we did get to the point we could make use of it we wouldn’t know to go looking for it because it doesn’t itself follow from that point.

      To me it seems that most of the other things the governments could be doing, like bailouts and basic income or importation taxes are inferior, because a true solution is not just moving the problem in space and time, but moving beyond our situation, which is something that’s uniquely enabled by new science and technology.

      full disclosure: I too am financed by federal research funding, but my views on the matter were the same even before that was the case.

      • “This is one of the only things that government actually has a true advantage in, since the rewards are long-term and uncertain on the level of an individual project. … only something big in space and time like a government will be able to reliably reap the rewards of it.”

        I think you have it exactly backwards. “A government” isn’t an actor in the sense in which an individual, or even a corporation, is. If Obama does something politically expensive because he believes it will have good effects thirty years from now, he won’t be the one who gets the political benefits when and if they arrive.

        The fundamental requirement for long run planning is secure property rights. Consider the planting of hardwoods. Suppose I plant land to black walnut trees which will reach their optimum size for harvest in (say) forty years. In forty years I won’t be alive so, along the lines you are sketching, I won’t do it.

        But that’s wrong, because in twenty years, when I will (with luck) still be alive, I can sell twenty year old black walnut trees to someone else for a price reflecting the fact that he has only twenty more years, not forty, until they are ready to harvest. So it pays me to plant the trees as long as the expected return over forty years is at least as high as the interest rate in other investments.

        That assumes that twenty years from now the trees will still belong to me, and forty years from now to the person I sell them to. Suppose that, each year of the second twenty, there is a five percent chance that someone will come onto the land covertly, harvest my trees–not at optimum size but still worth something–and carry them off. In that case, I will only make the initial investment if the return is enough larger than the return on other investments to cover the loss of value due to the risk. The same is true if there is a five percent chance each year that the government will decide black walnut trees are a national resource and seize them without compensation.

        In both cases, my incentive for making long term investment is less the less secure my property right over what I am investing in.

        Politicians have insecure property rights in their political assets. It pays them to claim that their policies have good long term results, because the long term results are not observable so can be claimed even if not true. But it pays them to care only about short term results–the unemployment rate at the next election and the like.

        An extreme case was Stalin. He couldn’t persuade the people he ruled that they were well off, because they could see that they were not. But he could claim that their present sufferings were the price they paid to convert the USSR into a modern, industrialized nation so that their children would be richer than the Americans. Eventually the “jam tomorrow” tactic broke down, but it worked for quite a while.

    • Terence Kealey, in The Economic Laws of Scientific Research, offers evidence that government expenditure on scientific research doesn’t increase scientific progress.

      I should add that I haven’t actually read the book. I’m going on the description the author gave in a talk.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      No.

      But nations should be engaging in the sort of projects that require research to complete, such as attempting to colonize the moon. War is also an excellent research project, but the costs tend to overwhelm the benefits.

      Research-for-the-sake-of-research results in enormous amounts of waste, because, without an objective purpose for the research, it tends to go to the politically well-connected and those who are good at writing research proposals, which is not a set of people with a high degree of overlap with people who will actually get meaningful research done.

      However, if there’s an objective purpose, the research will tend to get allocated to those who can actually complete the research.

  12. onyomi says:

    I am old-fashioned and don’t really like using my cell phone in lieu of mp3 player as everyone seems to do. I like using an mp3 player, but I need a fair amount of storage because I put big audio books and the like on it. I am sick of my iPods and iTunes malfunctioning constantly. Are there any good alternatives to either or both of these? Like a really quality 3rd-party mp3 player and/or a good music library organizer which, ideally, interfaces with mp3 players? I recall using Winamp a long, long time ago, but I don’t remember being terribly impressed by its more recent incarnations last time I checked (which was also not terribly recently).

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I am surprised that your audiobooks take anywhere near as much space as your music. Music consumes a lot of space because people want flexibility. If I go on an 8 hour trip, I want all my music, but probably not much more than 8 hours of audiobooks.

      If your music doesn’t take up a lot of space, maybe you should put it on your phone, while leaving the audiobooks on your ipod? This gives you more choices. My understanding is that spotify ($10/mo) is good at managing music. You just show it your music library on your computer, install it on your phone and it handles everything. And it doesn’t put all the music on your phone, so maybe you’ll have room for the audiobooks. It only leaves a small number of songs on the phone, downloading more when necessary. It can manage songs not in its subscription library, maybe by copying them from your computer to the cloud, or maybe they all have to be stored on your phone, but that’s less than your whole library of music. I think that amazon, google, and apple have similar products, but I think spotify is easiest.

      • onyomi says:

        Definitely thinking about jumping on the Spotify bandwagon, at least for music. Only thing is I also listen not only to audiobooks, but a number of esoteric things, like recordings of Chinese opera and poetry recitation. I guess I could just put those files on my phone and use Spotify for the rest. Generally I have a resistance to collapsing everything I do into single devices/applications, though that tends to be the push (I resisted Facebook messenger for a long time, too).

        • Douglas Knight says:

          It should be possible to convince spotify that the opera and poetry are songs that it has never heard of, if that’s what you want.

          I use different apps for music and podcasts because I use them differently. I want different functions from the apps, but perhaps the psychic difference is the important one: I focus on podcasts and put music in the background. I wouldn’t be surprised if the opera and poetry fit more with the audiobooks. Switching apps seems very natural to me. But earlier I suggested using both the ipod and phone. That means switching headphone jacks and using controls on different devices, both of which are bad.

      • onyomi says:

        Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll give it a try. Is Rockbox still a good idea for the music/playlist organization?

        • Montfort says:

          I’m still using Rockbox and have no serious complaints. Occasionally when dealing with very large playlists (i.e. shuffling through all 4k songs on the device) there can be considerable UI lag, but only periodically, and the music is generally uninterrupted. I think that’s more an issue with hardware specs than the OS, though. I didn’t spend all that much time on the stock software, but it seemed usable, too.

          You can check out the manual beforehand to get an idea of how it works.

        • Lysenko says:

          I use a Sansa Clip for audiobooks. My one warning would be that if you have your audiobooks split into multiple files rather than a single large file it may not handle their sorting gracefully without some tinkering on your part.

    • commenter says:

      Slightly related: I *hate hate hate* how iTunes says “song” where it means “track”. Which, if any, competitors don’t do this?

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s a reasonable thing to say, but as someone that remembers when the Walkman came out it is funny to see someone write that he is old fashioned because he prefers to use a standalone MP3 player.

  13. SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

    How do people deal with the meaningness of life? Not in a philosophical sense, but more practical: There is nothing I’m really passionate about, and I can’t convince myself that I have meaningful influence over those few things that I still care about. While still in school, having an environment that cared about academic achievement was a strong motivation to get me studying, but nowadays I lack such an environment. Regarding threats like climate change and strong AI my largest possible marginal contribution is still very tiny, so I don’t even bother.

    This is neither suicidal nor depressed, I just feel that life in general is pretty lackluster. Is it at all possible to restore a feeling of purpose, that actions *matter*? How do other people do it?

    • Anonymous says:

      What drugs have you tried so far? (Only partly kidding)

      • J says:

        A friend went through a few years being completely unmotivated. Later he told me it was because he experienced lack of self on a shroom trip and realized that none of his desires mattered, so why bother with anything.

    • pku says:

      On the emotional level, two things that have helped me are finding good friends and spending time with them (and I mean good friends who you actually enjoy spending time with, not people you hang out with because you vaguely feel like you should. That just ends up making you feel worse.) The other one for me is hiking/mountain climbing/skiing – find an activity you enjoy and do it, and suddenly the rest doesn’y seem to matter so much.

      On an intellectual level, you need to recallibrate. You don’t need to change the world to have a meaningful impact. It’s enough to help out one person at a time. After all, you’re just one person, and on average, you need to handle problems on your own scale.

      My favourite quote on this subject is from the Dresden files. There’s a scene where they introduce his old boss, a PI who specializes in looking for lost or kidnapped kids. He has posters on the wall of all seven kids he successfully rescued over his career. When someone asks “wait, only seven kids in twenty years?”, his reply is, “seven is plenty.”

      • Guy says:

        I’d like to second pku’s statements, especially about recalibrating. Deliberately having desires and expectations on the scale of what a single human is capable of accomplishing has been a wonderful thing for me since I started working on it.

    • Jill says:

      Do you know where your lack of passion comes from? E.g. if you need to do things with other people, but are no longer in school, you could join organizations where people do the things you like, together.

      You would have to find what is meaningful to you personally though– perhaps by trying things out in the external world, and then seeing how those things cause you to feel inside.

    • Ryan Beren says:

      I sometimes feel similar angst about giant threats (e.g. climate change, strong AI). FWIW, my solution is to tend my garden, both literally and metaphorically. Metaphorically: I decide to limit my focus to doing the little good things that are within my very tiny sphere of influence, such as my pretty garden. Literally: I planted a garden and water it daily to remind myself about tending the metaphorical garden.

    • TMB says:

      “Is it at all possible to restore a feeling of purpose, that actions *matter*?”

      I think that, ultimately, the “meaning” behind our actions, has to come from within. Right?

      For me – When I feel that my actions don’t matter, it is because I am suppressing the negative emotions associated with whatever I am doing.

      It’s not meaningless for me to watch TV for eight hours a day – I like watching TV. However, it might be *wrong* for me to do this if it conflicts with my other values. If for some reason I feel *compelled* to watch TV even though I know it is *wrong* – I might just end up feeling nothing.

      So, in order to feel that your actions matter – make a choice. Own it one way or the other – if you decide watching TV is the best thing you can be doing, enjoy it and love it. That’s the meaning.

      If you decide there is something better you could be doing, make a choice to try and do that instead.

      I think for us, meaninglessness is normally the feeling that you have given up your agency, your ability to make a moral choice.
      (More generally it is the feeling when your actions aren’t in keeping with your values.)

      • John Nerst says:

        I think that, ultimately, the “meaning” behind our actions, has to come from within. Right?

        This is what we often say, but I don’t think it works advertised.

        If you for practical reasons try to celebrate christmas on a different day, it likely won’t feel the same because the meaning of a holiday largely resides in it being a collective experience. I suspect, with risk of typical-minding, that meaning is an irrevocably social phenomenon. It exists not in physical nor psychological but only in social reality.

        Melting Ashpalt wrote about this earlier this year and the article echoes my own thoughts on the matter. He suggests that meaning depends on being on a path whose development will have a significant impact on the future.

        If this is true, then that should give pause to the ideas of utopias or perfected “goal state” societies (or thinking in terms of goals altogether) since it suggests that meaningfullness is inherently tied to there being a future different from the past and present; to change and growth.

        At least, that’s one conception of meaning (which resonates with me).

        • TMB says:

          Meaning is derived from connection to emotion. Uh – so the things that happened in the past will have to have links to currently emotionally meaningful aspects of your life if they are to *retain* meaning – but I don’t believe that’s the be all and end all of it.

          We have to remember that these webs of future/past events are things that exist within our minds. Me watching TV has exactly the same effect on future events as me curing cancer – it just has an effect on things that are less compelling. As such, I don’t think you can have anything approaching an objective sense of meaning (unless by “objective” you mean some sort of show of hands, indicative of the subjective experience – even then, not sure that quite cuts the mustard).

          I think the reason why we choose not to enter the matrix, isn’t really anything to do with objectivity – it’s more to do with us drawing a line in the sand, making a stand, with regards to our subjective experience. We assume the object because the idea appeals to us.

          Anyway, thanks for the link – interesting!

    • How do other people do it?

      1. Drink
      2. Battle weeds in my lawn
      3. Drink
      4. Grill steaks
      5. Drink
      6. Lawn games with friends
      7. Drink
      8. Play with the babies
      9. Drink
      10. Watch awesome movies and tv shows
      11. Drink
      12. Sex with Wife
      13. Drink

      etc.

    • NPS says:

      Have you looked into effective altruism? Some charities can save a life for a surprisingly small amount of money. An effective altruist can easily save dozens of lives over the course of a middle-class career. Learning about effective altruism helped me find a renewed sense of purpose after I graduated from college three and a half months ago, and now that I’ve found a job I plan on starting to donate soon.

    • “How do other people do it?”

      Part of the answer is by realizing that you only have to accomplish things on a human scale to feel as though you are paying for the space you occupy.

      Suppose you write a novel that a thousand people enjoy. That’s a pretty poor result for a novel but making a thousand people happy, even for a few hours, is a pretty large effect for a single human being to accomplish.

      Suppose you are a prominent and well thought of member of some social group of a few hundred people. That’s not much of an accomplishment on a world scale, but it would make you feel pretty good if those few hundred people were the inhabitants of the village you had spent your life in–and should.

      • John Nerst says:

        Suppose you write a novel that a thousand people enjoy. That’s a pretty poor result for a novel but making a thousand people happy, even for a few hours, is a pretty large effect for a single human being to accomplish.

        To me “just making people happy” aren’t necessarily meaningful, because that happiness won’t have important qualitative effects that keep on living indefinitely into the future (if we take the notion of meaning in the article I referenced earlier in the thread). If you write a book that changes people in a way that goes on to make an identifiable, durable real-world difference, then that would probably feel more meaningful.

        Like what this xkcd comic says about reproduction, our actions will have identifiable consequences that shrink to nothing as time passes, or that remain pretty much forever. Being able to feel like the second case is true seems a core component of meaningfullness to me.

        Basically, we want our memes to live forever just like our genes.

        • Soy Lecithin says:

          Speaking of wanting your genes to live forever, do you have kids? I imagine we’re sort of hard-wired to find meaning in raising children. Out of my acquaintances from school that seem most satisfied with their lives, some have careers, hobbies, or research from which they derive meaning, but most are married with children living unremarkable lives. Of course, when I say they seem satisfied with their lives, this is all through the distorted lens of social media and gossip. It is also possible that I might just be projecting my own values onto other peoples lives.

          • John Nerst says:

            I do, and it does feel meaningful in a sort of low-risk “fallback” way. It’s not the highest reaches of meaningfulness though, precisely because it is so ordinary. I wonder of that’s one of the reasons having grandchildren is supposed to be so great — it reinforced the feeling that your lineage will continue to exist.

          • LaochCailiuil says:

            Genes aren’t living things and it’s tremendously annoying to think that commenters on SSC say such things and, forgive the pun, see them as “meaningful”. At best I’d say kids are a distraction and fill one full of emotions that blind one from certain horrible facts about subjective experience, brevity, fragility, decay etc. In many ways a very cruel thing to do: instantiating beings with subjective experience just to satiate a biological desire and to satisfy and egotistical and irrational(procreation =/= immortality) immortality project.

        • LaochCailiuil says:

          “shrink to nothing as time passes” – maybe true
          “or that remain pretty much forever” – definitely not true

    • Urstoff says:

      Have kids.

      • LaochCailiuil says:

        Yes bring other subjective experiences into existence without consent so they can feel as shit as you. But hey! You won’t be lonely.

        Really Urstoff?

  14. Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

    Midway through its traverse of the Northewst Passage, the cruise-ship Crystal Serenity is presently anchored at Cambridge Bay (in Nunavut Province). Consistent with 2016 being the second-biggest arctic melt season on record, the Crystal Serenity’s on-board cameras show there won’t be much call (if any) for ice-breaking services.

    To date the Crystal Serenity has encountered no sea-ice at all … indeed it appears that the Crystal Serenity’s captain will have to steer hundreds of miles off-course to show its passengers any Arctic ice-pack whatsoever. Yikes!

    This absence of Arctic sea-ice is no surprise to climate scientists, needless to say … they can foresee the future all too clearly.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      @Ilya:
      They haven’t yet gotten to the part of the trip that was expected to possibly need the icebreaker. You might want to hold off for at least another week – gloating about a ship having without any trouble made it halfway through the Northwest Passage seems like a good way to anger the gods. 🙂

    • S_J says:

      We’d have to ask of Roald Amundsen really did navigate the Northwest Passage.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roald_Amundsen#Northwest_Passage_.281903.E2.80.931906.29

      Admittedly, he ran a ship with a very shallow draft, and hugged the coast.

      How far back do we have accurate records of Arctic ice melt?

    • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

      Satellite maps are presently showing no Arctic sea-ice anywhere within hundreds of miles of the route taken by Gjoa’s pioneering (three-year!) 1903-1906 voyage through the (once) ice-clogged Northwest passage.

      Nowadays the captain of the cruise ship Crystal Serenity has to worry far more about uncharted rocky reefs, than about sea-ice … because along Gjoa’s route, during the 21st century Arctic summer, the sea-ice is just plain gone (as climate-scientists have long foreseen).

      And the 2016 summer ice-melt isn’t finished yet … 🙁

      • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

        PS  For the reasons stated above, the smaller-than-Gjøa sailboat Northabout now looks like a pretty safe bet to complete its historic one-summer Arctic circumnavigation (with no ice-breaker assistance whatsoever, naturally).

        Needless to say, the 21st century open-water circumpolar sailing of the Northabout would have seemed impossible/inconceivable to Roald Amundsen and the Gjøa in the early 20th century … the thermodynamical reality that global-scale human carbon-burning suffices to greatly alter the climate of the entire planet was not then appreciated.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          with no ice-breaker assistance whatsoever, naturally

          According to your own link the Northabout is itself a small high-tech icebreaker. Its adaptations include:

          * “The boat is made from aluminium and has been reinforced so it can break through the ice. The bottom of the boat is especially strong.”

          * “The front of the boat (called the “bow”) has been shaped so it can ride up on the ice and break through it.”

          * “The propeller is protected in case it hits ice.”

          * “There is a retractable keel meaning that the yacht can have a more shallow draw and therefore get into some areas that could otherwise be inaccessible.”

          …and yes, Roald Amundsen would indeed find GPS and satellite-assisted near-perfect navigation and planning of such a trip impossible/inconceivable.

        • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

          Does anyone seriously imagine that tiny (15m) sailboats like Northabout can function effectively as ice-breakers?

          Doesn’t the dominant enabling reason for Northabout’s successful voyaging boil down to one simple fact: there is presently no sea-ice whatsoever along Gjøa’s entire Northest Passage sea-route?

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Does anyone seriously imagine that tiny (15m) sailboats like Northabout can function effectively as ice-breakers?

            Gosh, in that case it looks like they wasted a whole lot of money hardening the boat to break its own ice for no reason at all. How odd! It’s almost like they think there’s a chance they might have to break some ice along the way!

            (I know, I know, I’ll stop feeding the troll now…)

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            Yah call this an icebreaker?

            Now THIS is an icebreaker! 🙂

            Except along Gjoa’s presently ice-free route, in today’s warming Arctic summer waters, small Gjoa-size ships like Northabout no longer require escort by “big knife” icebreakers, do they?

            Meanwhile, science-grounded public discourse regarding these plain-as-day climate-change realities will continue in the courts, won’t it?

            Fortunately! 🙂

          • At only a slight tangent …

            From my point of view, the big mistake made by critics of CAGW is to focus their criticism on AGW. Whether or not the details of Ilya’s story are correct, it’s clear that the Northwest Passage is more navigable than it used to be. I think it’s also clear that that is a benefit of global warming, not a cost.

            The strong part of the CAGW argument is the claim that temperatures are trending up and humans are probably at least part of the explanation. It’s sensible, rhetorically speaking, for them to focus on that claim, since it is one they can defend.

            But it is foolish for critics to let them get away with focusing on that claim, as Glen is doing, instead of pointing out the weakness in the other half of their argument–the claim that warming on the scale to be expected will have a very large net negative effect.

            Warming will have negative effects. It will have (is having) positive effects–such as opening up the Northwest passage. There is no good reason to expect the negative to be larger than the positive, let alone to expect the net effect to be catastrophically bad.

            But that is the claim that most rhetoric in favor of doing something about AGW takes for granted.

          • cassander says:

            @David Friedman

            Surely that’s at least part rhetorical technique, even if not done consciously. Allow for AGW, you’ve ceded ground on the argument, given your opponent the moral high ground and momentum. Simply deny that it’s a problem and you postpone any decision for as long as you get away with it, THEN you start hammering on cost benefit analysis.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            David –

            Critics make those arguments. They get ignored by the pro-AGW side in favor of arguing against weakmen.

            That said, my observation is that it doesn’t actually matter. The vast majority of the changes required to combat AGW have been quietly slipped into effect by regulatory agencies over the past thirty years; the only reason energy consumption on a per-capita basis hasn’t completely plummeted is new technology (read: computers, in their various forms, and the Internet) which hasn’t been regulated to energy efficiency yet. The average consumer’s electronic devices now consume more energy than their car, if I read the charts correctly. Washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, televisions, lightbulbs – everything is getting very gradually more efficient.

            Per-capita energy consumption peaked nearly forty years ago now. It peaked again, at a slightly lower level, around the year 2000. It’s gradually declining again, albeit with jerks and starts as new technology enters the market. On a per-capita basis, the modern US is now consuming about the same amount of energy as it did in the late 1960’s, with significantly lower carbon emissions since we’re mostly burning natural gas rather than coal now.

            Mind, I don’t approve of most of those regulations, but it’s worth noticing that the public climate debate is pretty much a farce.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            it’s clear that the Northwest Passage is more navigable than it used to be.

            Of course it is. Ilya is arguing against a strawman – he thinks when he says “Look! The arctic has less ice than it did in the 1970s!” that there exists someone who would disagree with that assessment. Since the person he’s arguing with there is entirely imaginary – and everybody else but him knows it – I didn’t feel like it was worth arguing the point.

            Yes, it’s gotten warmer since the 1970s. Yes, there’s less ice cover in the arctic than there used to be – which does seem like a good thing.

            Nevertheless, these facts still don’t excuse using hypothetical evidence in arguments. For some reason it really bugs me when somebody says “I bet X will happen, and the fact that X is going to happen (already) proves my point is valid!” Even if the point IS valid, that form of reasoning is not. A prediction can be evidence of someone’s belief, but it’s not evidence that the belief is true until the predicted thing actually happens.

            So I’m wary of claims like “this year is on track to be the warmest year ever!” or “this big ship here and that little ship there so far haven’t yet encountered ice-related problems!”… when used to justify a “…and therefore we can (already) conclude Z”. If your premise is true, we ought to be able to wait the extra couple of weeks (in the case of the cruise ship) to see what actually happens before declaring vindication…even when (as in this case) it’s vindication against imaginary opponents.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            The lacunae that Glen Raphael deplores — which in essence are (as they seem to me) the deplorable gap between lively-but-unreliable anecdote versus dry-and-late peer-reviewed science — is admirably filled by climatologist James Hansen’s on-line communications.

            For example, Hansen’s communication of January 20, 2016, titled “Global Temperature in 2015“, includes concrete predictions for 2016:

            We can anticipate that 2016 will again be very warm on global average, as temperature in the first half of the year will be boosted by the fading El Niño and Earth’s continuing average energy imbalance of 0.5 W/m^2 also creates a tendency toward warming.

            Thus we can say with confidence that both 60-month (5-year) and 128-month (11-year) running means [of global temperature] will continue to rise noticeably in 2016.

            We can also say with confidence, because of Earth’s energy imbalance (energy absorbed from sunlight exceeding heat radiated to space), that the present decade will be warmer than last decade.

            Hmmmm … with only four months left in the year, Hansen’s predictions for 2016 are looking reasonably solid, aren’t they?

            For the 15th consecutive month, the global land and ocean temperature departure from average was the highest since global temperature records began in 1880.

            This marks the longest such streak in NOAA’s 137 years of record keeping.

            The worldwide ocean surface temperature during July 2016 was 0.79°C (1.42°F) above the 20th century average, the highest global ocean temperature for July in the 137-year record.

            The 13 highest monthly global ocean temperature departures have all occurred in the past 13 months.

            One especially welcome feature of Hansen’s predictions (for rationalists anyway), is that Hansen’s predictions are scrupulously grounded in quantitative descriptions (with references) of the thermodynamical and geophysical considerations that generate the predictions.

            These resources are highly recommended to those SSC rationalists who are seeking a stronger science-grounded evidence-based quantitative appreciation of all facets of climate-change!

            Pope Francis is a fan, that’s for sure! 🙂

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s probably a bad sign if there isn’t any ice blocking the way but on the other hand, that a ship will finally* traverse the Northwest Passage is undeniably awesome 🙂

      *Barring fate, chance, vengeful gods and the like, of course

  15. Kyrus says:

    I made an offhanded remark like Scott when I was discussing the robot baby study on another forum. I basically said what Scott said here:

    It shows a single short assignment with these fake babies raises pregnancy from 11% to 17%. If this is true it’s the most amazing pro-fertility intervention ever known to mankind and needs to be rolled out in Japan immediately.

    This sparked a massive discussion about “treating people as their own persons” and in the end Utilitarianism of corse. So I wondered:

    1. Scott, would you actually support the use of robot babies, in order to “manipulate” women into getting children in Japan?

    2. What does the rest of the comment section think about this?

    • Zwieback says:

      First, some clarifications.

      We don’t actually believe the robot-baby thing works, right? When a study turns up an unrealistically large effect size in the wrong direction, the proper conclusion is “this study is flawed”, not “this intervention is magic”. So your question is “assume that, in defiance of all common sense, the robot-baby thing works…”

      We’re not proposing deceiving anyone, right? Tricking people into doing something they wouldn’t normally want to do is evil. So we’re envisioning a program that goes “we’ll pay you money to lug this robot baby around for a week because we think it will make you more interested in having real babies”. Right?

      • Zwieback says:

        With that out of the way:

        * It’s not obvious to me that Japan (or anywhere else) should be trying to raise its fertility. The environmental impact of a civilization grows as its population increases, and humanity is having way too much environmental impact already. I get that most economies are based on having a growing population with a large base of working young people supporting a smaller number of retired old people, but that doesn’t mean we should keep growing our population indefinitely, it means we need to fix our economy.

        * Lots of places already offer women incentives to have children. I think the incentives usually take the form of money or free daycare, but if someone wanted to argue that government fertility programs were inherently objectifying, they’d have to explain why nobody has complained about the existing programs.

        In conclusion: we shouldn’t offer people robot babies to try to raise their fertility, because (1) it wouldn’t work, and (2) we don’t need any more people on this planet. But there’s nothing inherently immoral about government fertility programs.

        • John Schilling says:

          It’s not obvious to me that Japan (or anywhere else) should be trying to raise its fertility. The environmental impact of a civilization grows as its population increases

          You understand that Japan’s population is not increasing, and if someone convinced Japanese women to bear another quarter-million babies every year, Japan’s population still wouldn’t be increasing?

        • Kyrus says:

          We’re not proposing deceiving anyone, right? Tricking people into doing something they wouldn’t normally want to do is evil. So we’re envisioning a program that goes “we’ll pay you money to lug this robot baby around for a week because we think it will make you more interested in having real babies”. Right?

          My proposition was along the lines ob subsidizing and maybe advertising for robo babies. But you can also think about more drastic measures that somehoe forces them to adopt them. I would be against the latter, because of all the negative utilitarian affects that are associated with it but if the underlying problems grew enough I might change my opinion.

          * Lots of places already offer women incentives to have children. I think the incentives usually take the form of money or free daycare, but if someone wanted to argue that government fertility programs were inherently objectifying, they’d have to explain why nobody has complained about the existing programs.

          I made a similar argument also including warning labels and taxes on tobacco products. The argument against your point was that giving them money is changing the actual nature of the decision but does not “manipulate” the decision making process.

      • Kyrus says:

        We don’t actually believe the robot-baby thing works, right? When a study turns up an unrealistically large effect size in the wrong direction, the proper conclusion is “this study is flawed”, not “this intervention is magic”. So your question is “assume that, in defiance of all common sense, the robot-baby thing works…”

        Yes, of corse. Should have written that in the OP.

    • pku says:

      Assuming both that more fertility is desirable and that the robot baby thing works (and is cost-effective), there doesn’t seem to be anything morally objectionable about doing it. We assume that advertising is morally fine, even if stealing someone’s wallet and giving them a product of equal value isn’t.

  16. Jill says:

    People can’t stop writing about the Alt Right these days. This article is a couple of months old but is being cited a bunch now. It came out in a Canadian publication.

    All the angry young white men
    http://www.c2cjournal.ca/2016/07/all-the-angry-young-white-men/

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      It continually amuses me that those on the left feel that “white” and “male” are appropriate to use as epithets, and then get upset that the “young white males” dare to feel like the world is hostile towards them, or feel that the left is anti-male and anti-white – don’t they know they’re privileged?

      I mean, why exactly should young white men want anything to do with an ideology that treats them as the scapegoats for all of society’s ills? The alt-right is a natural and wholly appropriate response to the hate movement that the modern left has increasingly become.

      • The Nybbler says:

        They understand the contradiction; they do it on purpose, as a form of exercising (abusing) power. They verbally abuse white males, knowing those white males are prohibited from retaliating in kind. Then when the white males complain, they abuse them using the very arguments some of the white males would like to use about the various minority group complaints (“that’s not a real problem”, basically, though they usually use terms like “pissbaby”), in an attempt to make the white males feel both put-on and hypocritical.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Leaving aside the question of whether you are right or wrong that this phenomenon exists – your phrasing seems to me to assign a degree of cohesion and intention to it. Perhaps I am incorrect in perceiving this. I really do think that most people believe that what they think and do are the right things to think and do. I mostly do, personally. A focus on what someone is accomplishing by saying something, personally, and what any group they are a part of accomplishes, yields useful information, but most people do believe what they are saying.

          • Carinthium says:

            A societal precedent has been established pretty clearly that people can be blamed for systemic phenomena that are mostly unconscious, mostly through cases of unambiguous systemic racism or sexism where a person was either so thoroughly raised in it that they can’t be expected to know better (e.g. Victorian era practically everywhere, modern Japan) or where even though the racism/sexism is obviously there it’s also obviously unconscious (e.g. police shootings, judgement by critics of significant amounts of literature and TV by relatively ignorant people).

            So why not apply that same logic to the people who created the precedent in the first place?

          • The Nybbler says:

            They may well believe their abuse is “right”. But see the green anon (at 6:54pm EDT) below. Verbally abusing entire categories of people for their race and gender and then verbally abusing individuals of in those categories for complaining about being set upon is a pretty standard behavior; it’s certainly intentional.

          • Anonymous says:

            When you go out of your way to seek it out (when not inventing it out of whole cloth) it is more S&M than abuse.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Carinthium:

            My issue is with the way that talking about “they” sounds when talking about something that, if it does exist, exists in an unconscious, unintentional, and uncoordinated fashion. This is true whatever the actual topic of discussion is. Misidentifying the cause and dynamics of any social problem, even if the nature of the problem is identified correctly (which is not a given, and the question “is there actually a problem” is of course part of this), will stymie any attempts to fix it.

            To give a completely different example – you say that when racism is involved in police shootings it is “obviously unconscious”. Some people, however, talk about the problem in a way that at the very least suggests* a cohesive and intentional enemy, rather than an entrenched bias. I think their analysis has some major holes in it – you can spot them whenever the ad hoc hypotheses come out, as is usually the case in spotting such holes. Example: watch what happens when the cop who shoots a black guy isn’t white. This is leaving aside the question of the nature of the problem: there’s a lot of argument over how to interpret the relevant statistics.

            *It is, of course, possible that the language used is not intended to suggest this, but it does, and I think it betrays a larger human tendency to reframe large and insidious problems/dilemmas as identifiable enemies.

            @The Nybbler: I think, again, that your language suggests an intentionality that isn’t there. There are, of course, people who cast aspersions on white men as a group, and those who react with attacks to individual white men complaining about these group attacks. These things are justified on the basis that their attacks aren’t causing damage and aren’t really capable of causing damage**.

            However, you seem to be positing a coordinated campaign – some generals somewhere, predicting that at the current rate of advance, they will be able to grind the white men down and take Wall Street before the winter snows halt campaigning.

            I think the situation is quite the opposite – the people writing endless articles about “White Dudes” (usually white and often a dude themselves), the people posting Facebook comments inquiring why a “white male” has an opinion on a subject regardless of whether that subject has anything to do with whiteness or maleness, etc – think that what they are doing can’t even inflict a scratch. At the very least, this is their rationalization, and there’s plenty of evidence that all of us have opinions consisting largely of rationalizations.

            **generally, the only “approved” way to protest attacks against white people is to point out that the attacks are having splash damage against white people who aren’t also cis, hetero, men (although “white women” are getting an increasing share of the aspersions), etc. Likewise, attacks against men can be protested on grounds that some of those men are trans, gay, non-white, etc. I recall a particularly charming article off one or another of those mainstream feminism-and-fashion type sites talking about how, while it’s absolutely dandy to joke about killing all men and how funny male suicide is and male tears and so on, everyone should keep in mind that some men are not actually white cis wealthy abled heterosexuals. (I’m being uncharitable, but not by much).

          • The Nybbler says:

            @dndnrsn

            I believe it is co-ordinated, but not as tightly as generals going out and giving marching orders. Rather, those in the SJW group read Jezebel, Amanda Marcotte, etc, and they read and imitate each other as well. And I believe it is often intentional; that is, they troll for a reaction and when they get it, they heap abuse on whoever reacts.

            (and the obvious solution of never responding has the problem that it gives them the appearance of unanimity they crave)

          • dndnrsn says:

            @The Nybbler:

            I believe it is co-ordinated, but not as tightly as generals going out and giving marching orders. Rather, those in the SJW group read Jezebel, Amanda Marcotte, etc, and they read and imitate each other as well. And I believe it is often intentional; that is, they troll for a reaction and when they get it, they heap abuse on whoever reacts.

            Sharing a common culture isn’t coordination, though. There’s a definite subculture that Marcotte, Jezebel, etc fall into (the “feminism-and-fashion-site” types are conventional liberals who have adopted various concepts that have filtered out of academia, but who often seem to see themselves as radicals*). But that’s different from them getting together, making a plan, and having a team huddle.

            Likewise, there are many, many bloggers/”journalists” (read: bloggers but maybe they get paid) of this sort (of any sort, really) who act, intentionally, as individuals, in this matter.

            The number of them regularly farting out some paint-by-number article about whiny pissbro dudebabies etc etc which will get clicks, and hateread clicks, and people objecting, and then you can mock the people objecting, etc etc etc is easily explained as individuals following the clickbait incentives: a recently graduated * Studies major desperate to get a big enough name to pay her student loans writing “5 Reasons Why Men Are The Worst” is no different from a disaffected computer programmer writing “5 Reasons Why American Women Were Better In 1927” – they’ll probably link each other’s articles as proof the other side is Bad.

            Basic human nature can explain this; there’s no need to see it as even close to an organized attempt to fight a war of attrition against Team White Man, if that’s even happening.

            *And, I would add, there are definitely some people who get lumped in as “social justice warriors” who cast a great deal of scorn on Jezebel, Marcotte, etc as insufficiently left-wing, insufficiently intersectional, too white, too middle class, etc – and would object to being assigned to the same team as them.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Basic human nature can explain this; there’s no need to see it as even close to an organized attempt to fight a war of attrition against Team White Man, if that’s even happening.

            Agreed that this isn’t some nefarious centrally organized conspiracy, but if all the incentives line up correctly in order to get a bunch of independent actors to move in unison (and they do) is there any practical difference to the victims between this and a nefarious centrally organized conspiracy?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @ThirteenthLetter:

            I had a long post that probably had a word I didn’t know was banned or just got eaten somehow.

            Suffice it to say that I don’t think it’s especially convincing, the idea that there is some kind of general “War on Men”. It’s a lot more complex than that. I think that writers are referring to a specific type of white man, or even man when they just talk about men in general, generally one who is very fortunate (stereotypical awful bigoted rapist-or-close rich fratboy who goes on to get rich in his dad’s company, and they do exist). The sort of people – disproportionately rich, definitely, probably disproportionately white and male in the US right now – who have no self-doubt or even self-awareness, and just sort of go crashing through life getting their way.

            They don’t realize that they can’t actually hurt those guys, and that their fire is falling short and hitting softer targets. To the extent of, say, proposing law and policy based on public anger about a real or supposed fratboy outrage, that will almost certainly hit other groups more.

            And they dismiss criticism as “oh you should realize we’re not talking about you” or, going back to the idea that they think they’re shooting at someone who can’t be hurt, just being awful. And this is one of the places where some bad analysis really messes things up. And of course, the nature of the means of communication used makes things worse.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @dndnrsn

            On co-ordination, I think we agree on what’s happening but are quibbling about the meaning of the word.

            On the writers referring not to all men or all white men, but a particular type of white man… I do not believe that interpretation is supportable from their writings or their behavior (especially consider the #notallmen hashtag/bingo square). At one time they were playing motte-and-bailey with the stereotypical fratboy type as the motte, but they’ve discarded even that now.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @The Nybbler

            While the #notallmen hashtag is incredibly annoying, I think it’s easier to assign a practical meaning to it than an ideological meaning – it’s first and foremost about being able to silence or ignore an obvious counterargument, and the whole “it’s OK to make generalizations about this group because they’re on top and can’t really be hurt” thing is just an excuse. The Redpill guys have “NAWALT”, which they justify with their own theories, for the same reason: because it’s useful to be able to generalize about your opposition and try to kibosh the objection that you’re generalizing, sometimes in ridiculous ways.

            The most recent development is that the kind of mainstream-but-think-they’re-edgy sites have discovered the joy of hating nerds. Again I think a general observation, that dislike of nerds (or, more accurately, dislike of men who do masculinity poorly) is pretty common everywhere and at all times, explains the situation better than “feminist plot against the nerds” or whatever. Nerds even hate the nerdier nerds: think of all the gamer group stories about the one guy who was really smelly and socially awkward and terrible. Making jocks the target runs into the problem that jocks are generally physically capable (and thus generally physically appealing), often popular at least in a given social circle, etc. The shift from going after unquestionably high-status guys to also and increasingly targeting guys who are often quite low-status by various measures is justified with the explanation that, in fact, the latter are all actually high-status in every relevant way, just deluded (but they can still be derided as obese neckbeard permavirgin basement dwellers, bonus points if ableist stereotypes can be worked in, all the stuff that is used to point out “ha ha, look at this particular low-status male!”

            An opponent who can be lavished with contempt easily is better, so the nerds start to take up more and more of the pie chart, previously the domain of the jocks. There are anecdotes about skinheads who were attracted by the action-packed early scenes of American History X – I don’t think anybody ever became a Nazi because of the Blues Brothers. To give an example of the other side doing it, the Redpill guys love to present the women who have opinions they dislike as unattractive, overweight, shrieking, unreasonable, easily gif-able. They’re not gonna engage the intelligent arguments of attractive feminist women (perhaps in 5 years when she’s in her 30s and can be dismissed on those grounds, though).

          • crispy ambulance says:

            dndnrsn: “I recall a particularly charming article off one or another of those mainstream feminism-and-fashion type sites….

            even the reasonable guy is reduced to the “i think i read an article..” style of smear.

            Should Chateau Heartiste posts reflect on you and your beliefs?

            Cause i remember once…..

          • dndnrsn says:

            @crispy ambulance:

            That is a legitimate criticism. Discussing things with the high bar of “something published on the internet” creates a major problem for sourcing and representing particular views. I meant it more as a rhetorical flourish than a proper argument but will acknowledge that it is edging towards playing mildly dirty.

            What do you think should be done in a situation like this, or that, when we are discussing stuff that only really exists on the internet, for different but in some cases overlapping reasons? If I wished to say “such-and-such academic faction thinks y” I could do a bit of research, figure out who the legitimately published academics were, go from there. How does one establish what “Redpill” or “that one kind of feminist-y site, you know the kind” is?

            EDIT: Wait, why CH posts reflect on me? I was the one being accused of using CH posts to try and guilt-by-association Redpill or PUA types in general. I maintain it was a misunderstanding over which category was being discussed but acknowledged I was being unclear.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            Attacks on nerds by feminists are really not that recent. Marcotte was been going after nerdy men years ago, when she was still popular.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Aapje:

            How long, though? In internet time, a few years ago is a lifetime. And hey, maybe she was the pioneer.

      • TomFL says:

        It is amusing that the very people who strictly sort on gender, race, and sexual orientation are outraged if one identifies as a straight white male (= white supremacist). This is by definition sexist, homophobic, and racist. Use a different term for any of the 3 categories above and you are to be celebrated, otherwise you are an oppressor. There is of course no stereotyping here because these people are all the same.

        There is only one category worse than above, and that is a poor straight white male, they can’t even succeed in spite of their privilege, how unworthy of respect is that?

        • Sandy says:

          Those definitions are flexible. If racism is prejudice plus power, then it is impossible to be racist towards white people. I don’t know why it is qualitatively better to be prejudiced rather than racist, but there you are.

          • hlynkacg says:

            If racism really is “prejudice plus power” poor whites are arguably less racist than most of the people who complain about them.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Poor whites have power in that formulation because whites have power as part of the system of oppression; their individual circumstances do not matter.

          • Jill says:

            hlnkacg, you have a good point there. And Nybbler, the theory is just as you say about this. And the theory is wrong.

            Justice for all, regardless of color or race, makes more sense than any of this theoretical stuff. I am Left of Center but do not believe in the SJW theories of racism. An individual’s circumstances should matter. Justice for every individual should matter.

          • crispy ambulance says:

            “It continually amuses me that those on the left feel that “white” and “male” are appropriate to use as epithets,”

            “They understand the contradiction; they do it on purpose, as a form of exercising (abusing) power. They verbally abuse white males, knowing those white males are prohibited from retaliating in kind. ”

            “It is amusing that the very people who strictly sort on gender, race, and sexual orientation are outraged if one identifies as a straight white male”

            This is a site where uncharitable accusations, vicious abstractionism and black and white thinking are unwelcome, right?

          • The Nybbler says:

            I find that those who insist on seeing shades of gray are often attempting to blur a distinction between #FEFEFE and #010101. As for uncharitable accusations, the principle of charity provides little guidance here; on the one hand I can (uncharitably) assume they are unable to see an obvious contradiction in their statements, on the other I can (uncharitably) assume that they see it but don’t care.

          • Viliam says:

            @hlynkacg
            If racism really is “prejudice plus power” poor whites are arguably less racist than most of the people who complain about them.

            Nope, because the power of being born rich is the only kind of power that doesn’t matter in this society… at least this is what the students of conspicuously impractical subjects at the expensive universities seem to believe, what a coincidence.

        • Anonymous says:

          What kind of satisfaction do you get out of these fantasies? Does it give you a charge to imagine yourself a persecuted minority?

        • anonymous says:

          Almost every form of media exists to sap Whites of their wealth and attention while simultaneously condemning them as the exclusive practitioners of Evil on Earth.

        • herbert herbertson says:

          I don’t imagine I’d agree with you on much (being a leftists/socialist sympathizer), but your last paragraph is a critical point that needs to be more widely recognized. Personally, I regard it as the fatal flaw in the “SJW” tendency to apply a quasi-Marxist argument based on quasi-classes without including an actually Marxist component based on actual class, but whatever one considers the solution to be, there needs to be a recognition what white privilege means (and, especially, meant) a lot more to the white bourgeois that it did/does the white proletariat, and that sloppy conflation of those groups by liberals is causing said liberals to implicitly insult a lot of people, and a lot of people’s grandparents.

          • TomFL says:

            I get class warfare. I kind of get the theory that racism et. al. has effectively resulted in class warfare even though I’m not a big fan of this theory, there is evidence to support it. But if the issue is the lower classes are being shat upon unjustly, then one should make it about classism and not racism. Sanders, Trump, Brexit are tapping into lower class frustration and you make your tent a lot bigger if you take race out of the equation. The unholy marriage of Trump and Sanders supporters will scare the living daylights out of the establishment. They will get real interested in building walls…around their own communities.

            The knowledge economy doesn’t work for a lot of these people and it is easy to perceive the establishment’s reaction as an arrogant F U to this group. I’m right wing, free market, and the knowledge economy has served me well, but find the establishment’s reaction to this voter backlash appalling. I do not want to be associated with these smug self-centered people. They are not even pretending they care.

          • TMB says:

            I guess racist societies can only ever be a subset of class-riven societies – so race-war proponents are always going to be intellectually outflanked.

            Unless they are *really* racist.

      • pku says:

        I agree with you, but I’m starting to feel like we’ve reached the point of having re-hashed this so much that we’re just repeating the same conversation every other day. (Also, this isn’t so much “the left” as “the social justice left”, which is about as distinct from the left more generally as the alt-right is from the right more generally.)

      • Jill says:

        Hillary has lots of white male supporters. And so did Bernie. Apparently there are a whole lot of white males who do not think that the Left makes them the scapegoats for all of society’s ills.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Bernie isn’t part of the Social Justice left. Hillary isn’t either, but she likes to pander to them and use them; her campaign set them on Bernie with all the Bernie Bros nonsense.

          • Jill says:

            I wonder how many people are a part of the Social Justice left. Seems like a fairly small group to me, although it seems to cause a lot of irritation to people here.

          • pku says:

            They’re a small but overly vocal group, like people who are openly racist on the right (but louder and probably more common).

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            It’s hard to tell whether or not they outnumber right-wing racists, but they feel that their racism is in the right, so they tend to speak out loud.

            The problem is that, when you say something shitty about other groups, decent people will shout you down. When you say something shitty about white men, few people will say anything, because they’re worried that they might be on the wrong side of history, and they’d rather white men experience racism than that they be called racists for defending them.

          • Anonymous says:

            I wonder how many people are a part of the Social Justice left.

            A tiny handful. But it just so happens that a many of the women posters on this site want to fuck happen to be in that tiny handful. Hence all the angst.

          • TomFL says:

            The fact that SJW’s exist and advocate for their cause is fine, it is the way it should be. The thing that irritates a lot of people is the lack of spine the media and academia has in countering some of the more dubious dogmas, and the immediate group shaming of anyone who does as a racist.

          • Orphan Wilde, I don’t like the way white men have become stigmatized. Weirdly, I think that the white men who’ve signed on to this are showing privilege– they don’t understand that they should be frightened at being stigmatized.

            The only hope I see is that it happening so quickly (less than ten years) might mean that the culture is malleable and can be changed to something better.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Nancy –

            On the plus side, I think the momentum behind the stigmatization has been arrested. Masculinity is starting to become “cool” again, and the social justice stuff is slowly ceasing to be socially relevant.

            Honestly I think it will completely end when reversible permanent male birth control becomes more widely available, because that will correct a subtle but important power imbalance that has existed for the past thirty years. It will change cultural norms such that men will have to be voluntary participants in parenthood, which will be… quite huge.

            (Yes, yes, you have to have sex. We’ve already gotten past the idea that this isn’t consenting to giving birth for women, it shouldn’t be a given that it’s consenting to be thrown in jail for not making enough money for the next twenty years for men.)

          • “But it just so happens that a many of the women posters on this site want to fuck happen to be in that tiny handful.”

            An interesting claim. Do you have an explanation for why the erotic preferences of posters on this site would be so heavily biased towards SJW women? It seems an unlikely accident if they are really a tiny handful.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            An interesting claim. Do you have an explanation for why the erotic preferences of posters on this site would be so heavily biased towards SJW women?

            Because they’re overrepresented among the women in college environments and left coast enclaves, and it’s hard for socially awkward guys to meet new women outside their prearranged environment.

            That’s my theory, anyways.

          • Sandy says:

            Do you have an explanation for why the erotic preferences of posters on this site would be so heavily biased towards SJW women?

            Going off the SSC Survey, the vast majority of SSC posters are white and male, generally young; a plurality of posters live in liberal coastal states and work in tech.

            Given that young people tend to date other young people and people generally date intraracially, the demographic of women SSC posters are most likely to date would be young white millennial women in the social/professional circles of the tech-inclined/adjacent, and in my (anecdotal) experience such women are heavily represented or even the brunt of the SJ left, particularly on campuses (and a large percentage of SSC posters are students).

          • I do not know many women who could be categorized as SJWs, and the majority of them fall squarely into the unfuckable category.

            They are largely people who spent a lot of time online and became obsessed with gender issues and feminists. And they spent a lot of time online because they were ugly and had crappy social skills.

            Basically exactly like the young men who find the Red Pill (older men are a different category entirely).

            The majority of women in college certainly seem feminist with a lower-case f, and certainly seem to pay SOME attention to gender issues (with a self-serving focus), but I think that’s largely because they are dating and have to interact with gender scripts on a frequent basis.

            I don’t think my Wife would find much common ground with the various SJWs. She seemed quite disgusted when they paraded illegal immigrants and BLM on the stage and thinks guys have a harder time on the dating scene than girls. She certainly thinks guys have a harder time in school: why else are there so few guys in college? It’s obvious discrimination.

          • DrBeat says:

            I can’t understand how you guys are saying that the Social Justice Movement is this tiny minority people are disproportionately worrying about.

            Until very recently, all of the popular people in the English-speaking world were required to speak in the language of the SJ movement, praise the SJ movement, give constant concessions to the SJ movement, and believe the lies the SJ movement wants them to believe. The only popular person who ever broke away from this is a completely inexplicable mutant who is on a path to inevitable ruin. All of the other popular people in the English speaking world are united in the cause of saying what SJ wants them to say, believing what SJ wants them to believe, and punishing the unpopular people SJ wants them to punish. Speaking out against things SJ believes, even when those things are obviously and incontrovertibly false, is cause to be reviled and have all of your friends betray you. People are not permitted to notice things SJ does not want them to notice, and breaking these rules means you will be reviled and all of your friends will betray you. Spaces where adherence to everything about SJ is not required for existence can only be made on the margins and in places where the popularity of SJ cannot perceive them, and SJ is constantly hunting for and invading every possible space where unpopular people can exist away from their punishment.

            Popularity is equal to power, the SJ movement is insurmountably, unassailably popular, and at every second of every day is using the power of their popularity to make life less worth tolerating for the unpopular. SJ is the popular people, and the will of the popular people, the only cause they believe in, the only goal they have, is to punish the unpopular for the crime of being perceptible.

            I cannot understand how people are dismissing it as oh, just a vocal fringe. Have you ever noticed anything, ever?

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @DrBeat

            You either live in a bubble, interpret “loud on the internet” as “popular”, or are defining Social Justice very broadly. I know a large number of left-wing students (i.e. exactly the kind of people you would expect to be “SJWs”). Approximately none of them know what the different kinds of asexual are, use the term latinx or believe that racism = prejudice + power. The few who approach that kind of ideology do not engage in any bullying or objectionable activity. Hence, vocal fringe.

          • Chalid says:

            The only popular person who ever broke away from this is a completely inexplicable mutant who is on a path to inevitable ruin.

            who is this referring to?

          • Anonymous says:

            Donald Trump of course.

            Anyway what we have here is a classic motte and bailey. The motte is a person that considers itself a Latinx, that think PIV sex is rape, that hounds people online with the hope that the evil white male cis oppressor will kill himself. The bailey is anyone that has ever said anything nice about BLM or referenced the wage gap.

            Depending on what’s convientient in a particular discussion the anti social justice warrior warriors dance between definitions.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I don’t think popularity is equal to power, and I think the SJ movement has more power than popularity. This is because it has concentrations in media outlets, both traditional and internet, and in regulatory and police agencies.

            But it’s certainly powerful (consider that it has been able to temporarily _completely_ suppress news of refugees committing crimes in Germany). Claiming that it’s a tiny minority which people are disproportionately worried about it is sometimes a tactic that SJWs themselves use to try to make their opponents look paranoid.

            As for using “latinx” or “racism = prejudice + power”, the former is used only by a relatively few SJWs and the particular formulation of the latter has pretty much been taken over by the opposition. The central belief behind the second — that minorities cannot ever be racist against white people, because of the structural privilege that white people have — is much more widely believed.

          • Anonymous says:

            The number of people that know what the word ‘structural’ in the relevant sense means is tiny. You want to claim that nonetheless they are quite powerful because they the media and Hollywood and the banks — well I’m probably not going to convince you otherwise.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @The Nybbler:

            Are Merkel, the CDU (a party generally considered to be on the conservative side by local standards), and German police part of the SJ movement now?

            There is apparent cooperation between at least some German news sources and elements of the German government regarding not covering some things so assiduously. The police forces there have a tendency to claim that the motive was mental illness or completely unknown.

            But this looks a lot more like a politician and her party making a choice that turns out to have had unintended consequences, and having to deal with the dilemma of needing to stay popular but being unable to back down in any meaningful way for both political and practical reasons. It looks a lot more like a police force that isn’t particularly capable in any of the ways that would be necessary to prevent either terrorist acts or more mundane crimes trying to make it look like it’s something that couldn’t possibly be prevented.

            Of course, left-wing sources elsewhere don’t seem to be reporting too heavily on that stuff, and it would seem to be an ideological divide, because some right-wing sources do report on that stuff – so the gap clearly isn’t “not in America, not real” for US reporting, for instance.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            The Nybbler –

            The SJW movement is extremely appealing to sociopathic assholes, because it represents power without accountability.

            The broader SJ crowd refuses to admit the assholes are a problem, because it will require either giving up the power the cause represents, or having accountability for the way that power is used.

            People like Anonymous there like to pretend the issue is a few particularly problematic individuals, and that the anti-SJW people pretend to be complaining about the problematic individuals while actually complaining about the movement.

            Whereas those kinds of complaints are more fundamentally about the way the movement empowers problematic individuals. The movement behaves like an abusive partner as a result of being heavily used by abusive people.

            There’s also the issue that the SJW movement as a whole is deluded into thinking they’re enlightened. They’re perfectly ordinary assholes who think they’ve been cured of being assholes, which means they become even worse assholes, on account of they think they’re doing the right thing. Nobody is more capable of evil than the person who thinks they’re doing good.

          • DrBeat says:

            How often do people have their lives ruined, their careers destroyed, and their relationships betray them for the crime of saying something that disagrees with, say, Heritage Foundation conservatism while someone from the Heritage Foundation can hear it?

            How many people have had their lives obliterated because someone didn’t like them, pointed at them, and said “This person doesn’t believe in the red pill!”, causing everyone they met to set upon them and gleefully take away everything that made life tolerable for them?

            Never and none of them. The Social Justice Movement does these things, and it does them because it is powerful and popular, and it is insurmountably powerful and popular.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            The number of people that know what the word ‘structural’ in the relevant sense means is tiny.

            The number of Russians who knew what the word “proletariat” in the relevant sense meant was probably tiny too. Didn’t stop Stalin.

          • Anonymous says:

            How often do people have their lives ruined, their careers destroyed, and their relationships betray them for the crime of saying something that disagrees with, say, Heritage Foundation conservatism while someone from the Heritage Foundation can hear it?

            How many people have had their lives obliterated because someone didn’t like them, pointed at them, and said “This person doesn’t believe in the red pill!”, causing everyone they met to set upon them and gleefully take away everything that made life tolerable for them?

            Never and none of them. The Social Justice Movement does these things, and it does them because it is powerful and popular, and it is insurmountably powerful and popular.

            What a tease! Here I thought we were going to get a concrete number for once instead of the usual litany of 4 or 5 martyrs. (Brandon Eich, NEVER FORGET!)

            Maybe the number is 4 or 5 over the last decade?

          • Anonymous says:

            The number of Russians who knew what the word “proletariat” in the relevant sense meant was probably tiny too. Didn’t stop Stalin.

            If you scroll up there’s a lot pushback against the claim that there are only tiny numbers of so-called social justice warriors. It only mutated from a claim that there were lots of them to a claim that their may be only a tiny handful but they are an all powerful cabal when it became obvious that the original claim was indefensible. The new claim is no more defensible just conveniently unfalsifiable.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Pretend group X’s leaked chat logs show the direct attempt and desire to get people they don’t like fired and blackballed. Is it okay to take the threat seriously then?

            Pretend group X’s stated goal is to make me feel terror. Would you mock me for feeling, if not terrified, than at least worried and concerned about them?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Edward, you’re arguing with an anonymous who not only claims that SJWs are a small and relatively powerless group, but who is expressing significant contempt for anyone who disagrees. In short, it’s rather likely the anonymous is itself an SJW.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @DrBeat

            How often are people fired for disagreeing with the social justice movement? Not very. Certainly much less frequently than, for instance, LGBT people — 20% of them them have experienced workplace discrimination. If the SJ movement is “unassailably popular”, what are homophobic employers?

          • Anonymous says:

            Pretend group X’s stated goal is to make me feel terror. Would you mock me for feeling, if not terrified, than at least worried and concerned about them?

            If you were obsessed with ISIS and were constantly terrified that you were going to get your head chopped off (assuming you live in the US), you would deserve some mockery and scorn. Ditto if you were terrified of getting Ebola two autumns ago. And so on.

            Hysteria is worthy of mockery even if the threat isn’t wholly made up — just blown way way out of any reasonable proportion.

            n short, it’s rather likely the anonymous is itself an SJW.

            I hear you can print out a post and put it in a bucket of water — if it floats the author is a dastardly SJW!

          • The original Mr. X says:

            How often are people fired for disagreeing with the social justice movement? Not very. Certainly much less frequently than, for instance, LGBT people — 20% of them them have experienced workplace discrimination.

            Wait, that doesn’t follow at all — you’re conflating being fired with workplace discrimination, which is a much broader and more nebulous category.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Mr. X

            How many people do you think are fired in one year in the US due to the SJ movement? I think the number is below 10. Certainly it is below 100. In comparison, the US has 318.9 million people according to Google (at least, had in 2014). Approximately 5% of those are LGBT. According to the Pew study, 5% of those experience workplace discrimination each year. Multiplying out gives 800,000 LGBT people experiencing workplace discrimination. I think it is likely that more than 0.01% of occurrences of workplace discrimination involve unjust firing, hence more people are fired for being gay than for being non-SJ. Indeed, it seems likely that the difference is several orders of magnitude.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            sweeneyrod –

            While your numbers are pretty, they don’t actually support the claim you want them to support.

            And I am, as always, amused at how quickly people fall back on oppression olympics as an argument. Because even if you’re right, it doesn’t matter – all you’ve done is argue that one group suffers more than another. Your argument does not, in fact, erase the suffering of the second group.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Orphan Wilde

            In what way do my numbers not support my claim? I appreciate that making dismissals without any basis in evidence is easy and fun, but it isn’t at all helpful (either to your argument or productive discussion).

            In any case, I’m not playing the oppression olympics. I’m suggesting that if you take the reasonable attitude that similar events (in this case, unjust firings) should receive attention proportional to how many people they affect. I am not seeing DrBeat paying 100x the attention to people being fired for being gay (I doubt they could name anyone that has happened to of the top of their head) as to people being fired for opposing gay marriage and suchlike, nor am I seeing any argument for why this reasonable attitude is not appropriate.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            sweeneyrod –

            Because none of the numbers you present actually represent evidence of what you’re claiming they represent evidence of. What percentage of white people do you suppose report discrimination on the basis of their race? (Hint: Even using low poll numbers, this number dwarves the number of LGBT people who report discrimination)

            Can we then conclude, using your logic, that the biggest problem confronting the country is discrimination against white people?

            I’m not bothering to put the numbers up because the numbers are misleading. They falsify an appearance of evidence that is not in evidence. This is just as true of your comment as it would have been of mine.

          • TomFL says:

            You guys need to understand the chilling effect and why getting 10 people fired through group shaming has a disproportionate effect on speech.

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

            Although the government can’t fire you for this, the public sector can and does. If you want to test how valuable you are as an employee, send out an email about how much you hate transgender bathroom rights.

            It is not so much the number is small, it is also that the larger segments of the SJW movement does not disavow this result but actively encourages it.

            The SJW movement has as much power as you give it. I don’t know that the end result is very useful, suppressing speech is not suppressing the underlying values. If you want change, sending out the thought police squad to beat down incorrect thinking is not likely to work.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Orphan Wilde

            There is a big difference between workplace discrimination, claims of which are presumably caused by actual events, and general discrimination, which isn’t necessarily. I would be very surprised if 20% of white people reported being discriminated against in the workplace due to their race. In any case, I cannot find any evidence supporting your claim that a high percentage of white people claim to have been discriminated against (as opposed to studies suggesting that white people think there is a high level of discrimination against them, on a 1-10 scale).

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Pretend group X’s stated goal is to make me feel terror. Would you mock me for feeling, if not terrified, than at least worried and concerned about them?

            If you were obsessed with ISIS and were constantly terrified that you were going to get your head chopped off (assuming you live in the US), you would deserve some mockery and scorn. Ditto if you were terrified of getting Ebola two autumns ago. And so on.

            Is it that hard to read what I actually wrote? Or did you just decide that when I said “well, not terrified, but at least worried and concerned” that it was inconvenient to address the part about “worried and concerned” and just insist that I was, indeed, terrified?

            All I want is an acknowledgement that it’s okay to show some level of worry and concern when someone says, in their own fucking words, that they are out to get me.

          • DrBeat says:

            What a tease! Here I thought we were going to get a concrete number for once instead of the usual litany of 4 or 5 martyrs. (Brandon Eich, NEVER FORGET!)

            Maybe the number is 4 or 5 over the last decade?

            It happened to someone in the past week, who was only saved because he was being recorded and the SJW who decided to punish him for the crime of being perceptible was emotionally-unstable enough to actually release the video of him doing nothing wrong.

            How many more people went through the same process without being recorded, or without their attacker deciding to release the recording, and had their lives ruined and gleeful, cackling hyenas like you joyously taking away everything that makes life tolerable for them, with nobody able to stop you because there was nothing to go on save “We decided this person was a bad person, and deserve to be punished and betrayed by everyone!”

          • Protagoras says:

            @DrBeat, I don’t know. How many more? Or do you not know either? I have to agree with the Anonymous who suggested that some actual numbers would be incredibly helpful here.

          • Anonymous says:

            All I want is an acknowledgement that it’s okay to show some level of worry and concern when someone says, in their own fucking words, that they are out to get me.

            …and that’s why you’re a c*ck.

            “Please just acknowledge that you’re threatening me!”
            “No.”

            You can read their words and see their actions. They’re your enemies and they’ll do whatever is necessary to destroy you. People like Scott will never defend you because he just wants to avoid getting targeted by the people he (for some insane reason) has chosen to befriend (maybe due to having no other choice).

            Alternately, you can spit on the only allies you’ll have for having the wrong tone.

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          There are a lot of white males who think they’re special, that they’re the good ones, that everything being said about white males doesn’t apply to them.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            My mom isn’t white, am I mixed enough that I get to pass for not-white? I sure wouldn’t want to be mistaken for one of these white people.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Brad –

            If you have to ask, you already know.

          • BBA says:

            And there are also a lot of us harboring crippling anxiety and self-loathing.

            Oops, did I say “us” there? What a giveaway.

        • TomFL says:

          I would submit that these supporters generally count themselves apart from the stereotyped version of the straight white male identity. They have admitted their privilege and shown deference to underprivileged minorities. They have essentially paid penance so they are free to engage in self-hate and not feel they are being targeted by SJW attacks, in fact as far as I can tell they are the instigators of these attacks more often than not.

        • DrBeat says:

          Or they believe it enough that they are willing to put up with the scapegoating, or they think that they can expiate the sins of their race and gender by going out and hurting other white men.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            White male here.

            Don’t feel scapegoated. Don’t feel the need to expiate my sins. Don’t want to hurt white men.

          • I don’t feel scapegoated or obliged to expiate my sins either.

            I wonder if how much of this is generational. It seems to be linked to the dating market, which I have not been a part of for a very long time.

          • Gravitas Shortfall says:

            God, you guys are really good at not being rationalists at all. There’s no theory of mind behind trying to understand people with a social justice orientation. It’s all stereotyping and assumptions of ill intent, while projecting exactly that onto the other side. There’s zero attempt to be any better than the other side, just a lustful enthusiasm for getting down in the mud.

            And, speaking as a white guy aligned with the cause of social justice, I’m not bothered by what you call “scapegoating”. Mainly because scapegoating implies that the target didn’t actually do it. There is real danger in what some social justice people are doing, in tarring all white straight guys with the same brush. However, the system is still oriented to value white straight men more than people in any other intersection of demographic, and it’s hard to see how to rectify that without some collateral damage.

          • Viliam says:

            the system is still oriented to value white straight men more than people in any other intersection of demographic, and it’s hard to see how to rectify that without some collateral damage.

            Technically true, but I believe many people are playing this game because they enjoy the possibility of doing the “collateral damage” with impunity.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Gravitas Shortfall, Viliam:

            I’d observe that some people seem to view that collateral damage as being impossible or unlikely. Other people, generally on the “other side”, view any real or possible collateral damage as not collateral, but intentional.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Gravitas –

            Your implicit demand amounts to a demand that rational people lose.

            Because the thing is, my purpose here isn’t to understand social justice people. I understand them fine; most of them are just seeking to belong to something they think has moral worth, a few of them genuinely believe the shit they sell, and a dangerous minority see the whole enterprise as an opportunity to capitalize on a turbulent form of social power.

            The social justice movement, as a whole, is actually quite boring. It’s just another annoying group moralizing at unbelievers about their sins, both committed and original. It doesn’t even have anything to offer society – it’s just a subset of the morals society already holds, but elevated by its adherents over all other moral and practical concerns. Social justice is to equality what libertarianism is to liberty.

            I’m a libertarian, mind. I think liberty IS the most important thing. So why would I make a comparison that puts my own ideology in an unfavorable light? Because this is written for you, not me. Which leads neatly to my next point:

            You don’t appear to understand who the things you’re reading are written for, or why.

            ETA: You’re also wrong about how people are socially valued, which is made painfully apparent by the difference in reporting between when bad things happen to men, versus when bad things happen to women. It’s not even a well-kept secret that women are more valued than men.

      • TMB says:

        I’m a white male. Maybe it’s the troll in me talking but I *love* this privilege stuff.

        You are never going to have a conversation with anybody about this unless they are extremely privileged. White women are white, black people are middle class etc. etc.

        You just have to vaguely hint towards some unspeakably impoverished origin, and you’re golden.

        For more extreme variants, you can even have a go at them for having the privilege of eloquence. Literally an argument you can’t lose.

        Brilliant stuff.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I have tried to reduce the frequency with which I point out posts that are right wing, relatively content free, mostly composed of boo or applause lights.

          But it’s worthwhile to point them out from time to time.

          • TMB says:

            Jolly good.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It’s a fair cop.

            @ TMB

            Lurk more

          • TMB says:

            OMG – Wat?

            I think my comment is more insightful than, “indubitably – the poor fellows may well have less privilege than the rich people. Ha ha”

            How in the hell is “let’s speculate about the reality of what some imaginary person might be thinking, hmmm…. maybe the SJW are repressing their urge to be Asian because blah blah blah” more valuable than my clear expression of what I am actually thinking when I engage in discussions of this type?

            When discussing an argument with vague terms relying upon emotional claims, you shouldn’t even be attempting to measure its appeal on strict empirical terms. You shouldn’t be analysing the psychology of those making the claims.

            You should be weighing up the effectiveness of the emotional claims being made.
            Preferably on their own terms.

      • alaska3636 says:

        Didn’t you hear about Ryan Lochte?

        • Anonymous says:

          He actually got Duke Lacrossed / Haven Monahaned.

          Look for the Daily Beast article on it. Basically SJW NBC went with an obviously false story because Lochte was a perfect 2 minute hate target.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’m looking for the article. This is what I’ve found. Is this it?

            http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/18/ryan-lochte-s-story-gets-stranger-and-stranger.html

          • The Nybbler says:

            His story was neither totally true nor totally false. He embellished the hell out of it, but a lot of it was true. It appears the swimmers were pissing in an alley behind a gas station, and Lochte knocked an advertising sign off the wall.

            The gas station then called some off-duty prison guards working security to force them out of their cab, hold them at gunpoint, and demand they pay for the vandalism. They paid rather more than the sign was worth, and left. That would have been the end of it if Lochte hadn’t made himself out to be the big tough-guy hero. But Lochte is a legitimate dumbass.

            Then, not content with the $40-$70 (figure varies, and subtract the cost of putting the sign back up) shakedown, Brazil shook one of the other swimmers down for $10,800 in order to let him leave the country. Not bail. A “donation”.

            (There was some talk about them vandalizing the bathroom also, but that appears unsubstantiated.)

          • Gravitas Shortfall says:

            Wow, that’s a fresh hot take.

            Ryan Lochte embarrassed himself and the US Olympic Team abroad, by both being an idiot hooligan, and then lying about it in a way that embarrassed Brazil, and that could be easily disproven.

    • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

      Jill notes “People can’t stop writing about the [*-right] these days.”

      Academics are no exception to the trend that Jill’s comment describes.

      For example, Shea Robison’s “No end to caring? Politics and the moral riptide of human evolution” (Politics and the Life Sciences, 2014) argues that humans should be genetically re-engineered so as to be less empathic:

      Human history is marked by a gradual if uneven extension of moral concern to increasingly distant others, which many take as evidence of the rationality of morality. There is substantial evidence, though, that this expansion is fundamentally biological in origin and therefore not ultimately limited by rationality.

      Utilizing the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche as a platform […] the best hope for a successful response to this dangerous expansion of caring is actually a sort of reverse GVP [Genetic Virtue Project], in which the biological mechanisms for this unchecked moral expansion are manipulated via genetic engineering to dial back this expansion.

      The practical benefits of restricting (what Robison’s article calls) “the dangerous expansion of caring” — especially in regard to facilitating the resurrection of proven methods for the sustainment of cultural purity and economic prosperity — are of course well-documented in the historical and anthropological record.

      Indeed, isn’t Robison’s analysis seminal in proposing both a coherent sociobiological explanation, and a practical genetic engineering solution, to secular drifts that the *right deplores?

      It was surprising (to me) — and dismaying too — to discover that *-right-compatible reasoning has diffused far into the academic literature.

      Needless to say, there exists a small-yet-vocal internet commentariat for whom the envisioned gene-engineered inhibition of human empathic capacities would be nugatory. And the most fervent advocates of post-empathic social measures and the rationale for these measures, commonly (and soberingly) are found in this same cohort, aren’t they?

      • Aapje says:

        Studies have found that US academics have been mostly cleansed of right-wingers in the past decades, so it’s rather absurd to claim that academia have become a right-wing haven.

        Your single example is just an example that one person exists somewhere in science that has a right-wing beliefs. But more than that, it reveals that you want academia (further) cleansed from dissent.

  17. Brad (The Other One) says:

    How should a person know whether or not to believe a given thing?

    • Two McMillion says:

      Have you read the Sequences?

    • Ryan Beren says:

      Super-brief, semi-accurate summary of what a lot of rationalists think:

      A person should believe that thing-X is more-likely-to-be-true than thing-Y based on the number and quality of all the evidences for and against each thing, and also taking into account a penalty to the believability of the more-complicated thing.

      • Brad (The Other One) says:

        How are we defining evidence?

        • Vitor says:

          The existence of X will have logical consequences. If it follows from X that looking at a certain part of the world will result in seeing Z, and then you go look and indeed there is Z there, that is evidence in favor of X.

          Note that if Y also predicts Z, then existence of Z is also evidence for Y (not just for X), so you haven’t actually gained any information regarding the X vs Y dilemma. You need to choose Z in a way that will actually differentiate between X and Y (X predicts Z but Y predicts not-Z).

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            Allow me to use this formulation in a couple of contexts to see if I comprehend it correctly:

            A Terran player’s inference about the existence of a hypothetical enemy cannon rush is as follows: an opponent planning to cannon rush will have logical consequences. If it follows from an enemy cannon rush that looking at the enemy Protoss base will result in seeing an early forge and then you go look and indeed there is an early forge there, that is evidence in favor of an enemy cannon rush.

            Note that if a +1 timing attack also predicts an early forge then existence of an early forge is also evidence for +1 timing attack (not just for an enemy cannon rush), so you haven’t actually gained any information regarding the cannon rush vs +1 timing attack dilemma. You need to infer about an enemy build in such a way that will actually differentiate between a cannon rush and +1 timing attack dilemma (presence of an in-base forge AND lack of early gateways or nexus supports the inference of a cannon rush but not a +1 timing).

            Or to use another context:

            The existence of God as described in the Christian bible will have logical consequences. If it follows from a Christian God’s existence that looking at the natural world will result in seeing God’s invisible attributes of his Eternal Power and Divine Nature (which likely is a reference to God’s Glory ala Psalm 19: “…The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands…”), and then you go look at the natural world and indeed there is Glory there, that is evidence in favor of The existence of the God described in the Christian bible.

            Note that if a human predisposition to attribute nature as glorious, beautiful, etc. from provable cultural or evolutionary causes also predicts human beings seeing glory/beauty in or from the natural world, then existence of glory is also evidence for human beings making value attributions regarding nature from culture or biology (not just for God’s existence), so you haven’t actually gained any information regarding the biological/cultural predisposition vs God’s existence dilemma. You need to pick an inference about the world in a way that will actually differentiate between God and mere human disposition (a Christian God’s existence predicts the bible is trustworthy and true but a Christian God’s nonexistence predicts a bible which is in error).

            Am I doing it right?

          • Aegeus says:

            That second one was a bit hard to parse, but your first one is a great example. What you learn from scouting is evidence for and against different build orders. Some possibilities are ruled out, some become more or less likely. You won’t know for sure that it’s a cannon rush until they actually drop cannons in your main, but you have enough evidence to conclude that it’s probable.

            This evidence might be further weighted by your “priors” – if you are playing in Bronze League, you should have a much higher expectation of cheesy strategies, so merely seeing the forge might be enough for you to decide “He’s cannon rushing, not planning a timing attack” and respond.

  18. Isaac says:

    SSC blogroll network graph.
    We recursively scraped blogrolls, starting at the SSC Celestial Blogroll of Benevolent Knowledge, and going out for ~3 links. Blogrolls not easily found, egregiously long, or in hard to parse format were ignored.

    From this data we created a network graph, visualised using Google Fusion Tables.

    By default, Fusion Tables network graph only displays nodes that have at least two edges. To display more, increment the number in the upper left corner of the display box.

    https://fusiontables.google.com/data?docid=1svg2n6RD2lBkAeXS0ptvWIUxvsBBDdUANcI65n5-#chartnew:id=3

    • Is there any way of searching for a particular site other than by eye?

      My first reaction to the graph was to look for my blog. I didn’t find it and don’t know if the reason is that it isn’t there or that it was lost in the crowd.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        @David Friedman:

        Is there any way of searching for a particular site other than by eye?

        You’re in there but the default graphic view doesn’t show it.

        If you click the “Rows 1” tab it shows input data in text form, from which you can do a browser text search to verify the presence of individual links.

        Now going back to the “Chart 1” tab: in the upper left you’ll see it’s displaying a small subset of available links, say, “151 of 1591”. If you bump that number up a LOT (say, to 968) your blog shows up. It looks like your blog is a terminal node – the software didn’t dive in any further from there.

      • Isaac says:

        @David Friedman:

        In rows, I see no instance of daviddfriedman.com. However I see two instances of daviddfriedman.blogspot.com, which I’m fairly sure is also you.

        If someone had linked to daviddfriedman.com, then there would be two nodes, each with there own set of edges linking to different nodes.

        Because blogrolls are not all in a standard format, all this data is scraped by hand. I may have skipped over some people’s blogs by mistake. If so, I apologize. Likewise, if I’ve missed anyones blogrolls, help me find it, and I’ll add it.

        I plan to see how well I can automatically scrape blogrolls using Beautiful Soup. Then I can go out as out as many steps out as I want.

        You can also filter directly from the network graph view: click on “Filter” and add filters for “from” or “to”.
        Example

  19. Jill says:

    Regarding the willing oneself to form a memory during childhood, I did that as a pre-school child, because I wanted to remember something that was meaningful to me and that I thought would help me to understand an ongoing situation in my family, if I remembered it. And I notice that in the original comment on this, the person decided to remember something because they would enjoy replaying the memory.

    I think pre-school children probably don’t usually focus much energy into remembering things. For most, it’s only when they start school that they are then required to remember things, so they do so then. But it’s quite possible, as a preschool kid, to decide that something is worth remembering, for whatever reason, and to decide to give it the necessary focus to ensure that you will remember it. It’s probably a bit unusual, but not necessarily abnormal in any positive or negative way.

  20. I remember from Open Thread 55 that there was some discussion (started by Lysenko) concerning how to measure utility. I had an idea for attempting to measure average utility of different groups: suicide rates.

    If we assume that
    1. utility is normally distributed (as many measured mental traits are)
    2. any particular group’s utility-variance is equal to the general populations’ utility-variance
    3. each day’s utility is basically your base-line utility ± some randomness
    4. you attempt suicide if your utility falls below some level

    Then, we can get some more objective estimates of how different groups’ utility levels differ. Of course, these estimates assumptions might not be true, so I’m interested if anyone has any ideas of how to verify them or adjust for them being partially incorrect.

    If you’re interested, I ran some numbers here.

    • Decius says:

      Assumption 4 assumes that suicide attempts and completions represent the calculation of rational individuals. Adjust the raw numbers by a lizardman constant of +/- 4% of the total population when determining upper and lower bounds.

      Yes, that will give you invalid bounds in some cases. That’s because your assumptions are too wrong.

      • I’m not sure rationality is a necessary assumption. People presumably attempt suicide when they feel sufficiently bad/hopeless. To the extent that you think a threshold is unrealistic, isn’t this equivalent to arguing that the ±randomness term needs to be increased?

        I thought the lizardman constant only applied to surveys? The main thing I’m trying to attempt (though I left this out of the main post) is trying to estimate utilites without asking people directly through surveys.

        I completely agree with your last point. My assumptions are wrong. The real world isn’t a neat mathematical model. Do you have any ideas how to improve them?

        • Two McMillion says:

          I’m not sure rationality is a necessary assumption. People presumably attempt suicide when they feel sufficiently bad/hopeless.

          Utilitarianism ceases to be a good moral system to the extent that people’s utility ceases to be dependent on external realities.

          “Lizardman’s constant” in this case is an attempt to adjust for this fact; surveys simply show the existence of a certain number of irrational people in a given group. The existence of such people screws up the calculation you’re trying to do.

          I think the real problem with your idea here is that while it seems fairly obvious to me that the decision to commit suicide is mentally-based, it’s not at all obvious to me that utility is. I’m not convinced assumption 1 is valid, in other words. Unfortunately, I don’t have any advice to offer about how to make it better.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      If most people committed suicide after a rational deliberation, like ideal Stoics or something, then that would make sense as a measure. But given that mental illness seems far and away the largest driver of suicide* your estimates will just be a noisier measure of group differences in mental health.

      *And I don’t mean that in the circular “you’d have to be nuts to kill yourself” way.

      • Thanks, for the thoughtful reply. I have some possible ways to mitigate these issues.

        Do you think the model could be adjusted to account for mental illness? If some mental illnesses (like depression) are thought to lower utility and others (like bipolar disorder) increase day-to-day (or month-to-month) variation.

        We could interpret suicide-rate difference in the former case as differences in average utility, thus allowing us to estimate the utility lost due to depression, which could actually prove useful when European governments have to decide which treatments to cover.

        It’s not necessarily the case that the use of this utility model requires people to be rational. Deviations from rationality is (in theory) incorporated in the daily randomness term.

        Admittedly, given the complexity of social and mental issues, this approach might still not be tractable even if the model is largely right, because of the difficulty of splitting up issues (e.g. autism-status, race, etc.) into these 3 categories. Hmm…

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Do you think the model could be adjusted to account for mental illness? If some mental illnesses (like depression) are thought to lower utility and others (like bipolar disorder) increase day-to-day (or month-to-month) variation.

          […]

          It’s not necessarily the case that the use of this utility model requires people to be rational. Deviations from rationality is (in theory) incorporated in the daily randomness term.

          Controlling for those sorts of things sounds very tricky. I think it might be worthwhile to look at an alternate measure entirely, since it’s not clear what the benefits are to make it worth the cost.

          We could interpret suicide-rate difference in the former case as differences in average utility, thus allowing us to estimate the utility lost due to depression, which could actually prove useful when European governments have to decide which treatments to cover.

          To an extent, I believe this already exists.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Why does mental illness make suicide less rational? If a perfectly happy and well adjusted person commited divide that would seem to be irrational. But let’s take a person who had been depressed for years and can’t remember the last time they were happy and they decide to end their misery. In what sense is that suicide irrational?

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Well, this is anecdotal obviously but when I was suicidally depressed my thinking about the future was really extraordinarily muddled. The problems I had in my life were real and painful to deal with, but looking back on it it’s pretty embarrassing the sort of things which I would rather have died than deal with. Depression isn’t just “very sad” after all: the reason it’s a disorder and grieving isn’t is because depression is defined as an inappropriate reaction.

          (It seems to be a common sentiment among those who attempt suicide that they almost immediately regret it, so I think this isn’t just me.)

          Anyway, yes there are certain very unusual definitions of the word rationality which would allow for someone suffering from depression or borderline personality disorder or some other issue to rationally decide to kill themselves over a trifle. Seemingly mostly definitions used in economics. But that definition needs to be qualified, since the plain English understanding of the term is pretty much the opposite.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I’m not talking about any special definitions of the word rational. I’m using the same one you do. I can understand how depression caused suicide isn’t always a rational thing. But lets take someone who has been depressed for decades. This is a middle aged man who can’t even remember what it’s like to be happy. He works at a job he hates and goes home alone. He spends his free time trying to distract himself from the numbing loneliness through whatever means necessary. Nobody cares about him and no one will miss him. You honest to god believe that his attempted suicide would be an irrational act?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            It’s not impossible that someone has both a rational reason to commit suicide and a mental illness which often leads people to irrationally commit suicide. Some people are lightning rods for misfortune.

            But I’m not talking about any one hypothetical person, nor making a universal statement across all possible people. My point was that in the population you’re going to see the suicide statistics dominated by people who did in fact have other better options but also had a disorder in their brains which made that fact more difficult to understand.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I don’t know what happened there but I’m sure the context is sufficient to understand that the word “divide” was supposed to be “suicide”.

    • Jill says:

      Perhaps it’s not that
      4. you attempt suicide if your utility falls below some level

      But revised
      4. you attempt suicide if you THINK or FEEL that your utility falls below some level

      Even aside from the problem of mental illness in general, consider that e.g.

      Dallas has the highest suicide attempt rate of any major city in the U.S. But Dallas is a place that has tons of prisons. Suppose we assume that the high prison population is the reason for the suicide attempt rate. Maybe the common belief that being in a Texas prison is a fate worse than death is true. Maybe it’s false. But it could possibly be the belief, not necessarily the reality that causes suicide attempts.

      Moving on, the 2nd highest suicide attempt rate for any major city in the U.S. comes to a tie between 2 cities: Salt Lake City & Seattle. If someone lives in Salt Lake City, maybe they’re gay, atheist, a minority group member, or just not Mormon, they may get treated as an outcast consistently. And maybe their experiences with not fitting in have triggered thoughts or emotions that lead them to believe that their utility is nil. That doesn’t mean it is. In fact, it would probably solve their problem much better to move to Seattle or Portland, OR or to some place in California, rather than to attempt suicide. But they may not realize that.

      But they shouldn’t move to Seattle if they are vulnerable to Seasonal Affective Disorder. As mentioned, the 2nd highest suicide attempt rate for any major city in the U.S. comes to a tie between 2 cities: Salt Lake City & Seattle. Most people in Seattle have no idea that S.A.D. is a problem there. Even people who have it, will tell you how much they like the clouds and how much they enjoy “hibernating” inside with a good book in the winter– just before they attempt suicide.

      They’re clueless mostly. But some of them who are not clueless have discovered that, rational as they may think they were, their “utility” suddenly appears to rise, after they move to Arizona, and they feel happier feelings and think happier thoughts.

      • Intersting thoughts!

        I think we may have slightly different ideas of what “utility” means. To my mind, if you think your utility is nil because society treats you as an outact, that is a very real decrease in utility, and moving to a different city can increase you utility. Whereas it appears to me that you see utility as a function of the person themselves regardless of the consequences?

        Even people who have it, will tell you how much they like the clouds and how much they enjoy “hibernating” inside with a good book in the winter– just before they attempt suicide.

        I never new that – that is very interesting and certainly makes my proposed model seem questionable at best.

        • Jill says:

          People in Seattle don’t necessarily think of themselves as “depressed”, and of course not all of them are, as people vary in their vulnerability to S.A.D. Many people in Seattle think it’s entirely normal to be so socially withdrawn that you very seldom, if ever, make eye contact or speak to people outside your immediate family, except in cases where you are required to do so by your job. And although it may not be normal, except perhaps for the most extreme of introverts, it is customary to some degree, to be that way in Seattle.

          Humans often don’t understand themselves well at all. Many have no real clue as to what their utility is, objectively speaking.

          • Fahundo says:

            Many people in Seattle think it’s entirely normal to be so socially withdrawn that you very seldom, if ever, make eye contact or speak to people outside your immediate family, except in cases where you are required to do so by your job

            You saying I should move to Seattle? This is already how I act even when it’s sunny outside. And since I’m not surrounded by likeminded individuals I have to deal with the constant “why are you so quiet” from everyone I meet.

          • Jill says:

            Yes, you should move to Seattle, if that’s the way you act usually. But do not move if you may be vulnerable to S.A.D. Visit there and see whether you can stand the winters first and don’t feel like committing suicide when the weather is cloudy for months on end (although with global climate change, it might be shifting and might not be like this any more.)

            I’m extroverted. But my husband is quite introverted. We moved from Tampa, FL to Seattle. And his company has offices in both cities, so they just transferred him to the Seattle branch. After we had been there a few months, he told me “Jill, Seattle is great. In the Tampa office, people were always trying to bring me out of myself. In Seattle, no one EVER tries to bring me out of myself.”

    • Jill says:

      All kinds of factors can cause one’s perceived utility to be skewed way far away from one’s actual utility. E.g. narcissists think they are a lot more useful to the world than they actually are.

  21. baconbacon says:

    From the brainwashing doesn’t really work link in the voodoo thread

    The accusations were elaborated in books, magazine articles, newspaper accounts, and TV drama. By the late-1970s, public concern and media hype had given birth to anti-cult organizations, anti-cult legislation, and anti-cult judicial rulings. The public, the media, many psychologists, and the courts largely accepted the claim that cults could “brainwash” their members, thereby rendering them incapable of rational choice, including the choice to leave. [Parents hired private investigators to literally kidnap their adult children and subject them to days of highly-coercive “deprogramming

    Isn’t the backlash against cults and brainwashing very similar to brainwashing? Massive media coverage and exaggeration led not only to people fearing brainwashing, but acting on that fear at both high levels (legislation) and low levels (abusing their own children in ways they previously wouldn’t have imagined).

    • Jill says:

      I am convinced that brainwashing exists. On vacation in San Fran once, I met a member of a religious cult who invited me to the community house of her religion for a meal and a (propaganda, it turned out) presentation. I was young and stupid so I went. But I could see that these folks could be very persuasive. And the young woman herself looked dead eyed like a zombie. I read later about her socially prominent parents’ distress that she had joined the cult. I definitely believe that something like brainwashing exists. At the presentation, an attractive member of the opposite sex came up to me and tried to talk me into joining. When he failed, an attractive member of the same sex immediately came up and tried the same persuasion tactics.

      If you’ve read much about some of these cults and their methods, you know that deprogramming may actually be necessary to really deprogram such people who have been brainwashed into joining such cults. Over time I am sure it is similar to Goebbels’ method, which has successfully been used to brainwash the American public into an extremely polarized state for years. Think of your least favorite TV station or Internet site, the one that is biased against the views that you hold. And think of Goebbels saying “Say something once and it’s a lie. Say it twice and it’s a lie. Say it 1000X and it’s an eternal truth.

      The American public is sitting ducks for this kind of brainwashing. We are such an active non-reflective individualistic freedom-of-choice oriented society, a society oriented toward the conscious mind only as though the subconscious does not even exist. So almost no one believes that they could personally be brainwashed, or marketed to against their will– whether in commercial products or political platforms. And because people believe they are immune to it, it happens to them constantly.

      The excellent book on propaganda that someone here recommended to me, shows, even in its title, that even political officials here hardly think of propaganda at all, except as a tactic to be used while at war. The book is called Psychological Warfare. We’re clueless about the propaganda aimed at us, most of which has nothing to do with war. To read about propaganda apart from war, you have to read books written by non-American authors, such as Jacques Ellul and Alex Cary.

      https://www.amazon.com/Propaganda-Formation-Attitudes-Jacques-Ellul/dp/0394718747/ref=sr_1_sc_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1472490765&sr=8-2-spell&keywords=Elllul

      https://www.amazon.com/Taking-Risk-Out-Democracy-Communication/dp/0252066162/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472490737&sr=8-1&keywords=taking+the+risk+out+of+democracy+corporate+propaganda+versus+freedom+and+liberty

      • The Nybbler says:

        Using sexy recruiters isn’t exactly evidence of brainwashing.

        • Jill says:

          True, it isn’t necessarily. I’m not going to describe the whole situation in more detail, but brainwashing is definitely what they were doing in this case– or attempting the beginnings of. Once people came to the religious community’s isolated farm, most were done for, as that was where they repeated things, verbally and non-verbally, 1000X– things they wanted recruits to believe.

          • jimmy says:

            What do you mean by “brainwashing”, exactly? I assume you mean something like “persuaded via irrational means [e.g. by talking talking to attractive people and repetition]”?

          • Jill says:

            I’ll go with the dictionary definition: make (someone) adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible pressure.

          • jimmy says:

            The key line in Gwern’s “brainwashing doesn’t work” argument, as I see it, was “Typically, a conversion sticks because an organization provides value to its members”.

            It seems to me that this is very compatible with “making someone adopt radically different beliefs with systematic (and often forcible) pressure”. All you need is [what as seen from an outside perspective as] systematic pressure to provide value [as seen from the inside].

          • A Non-Mouse says:

            jimmy says:

            The key line in Gwern’s “brainwashing doesn’t work” argument, as I see it, was “Typically, a conversion sticks because an organization provides value to its members”.

            That’s pretty insightful. Here’s an extension – people who have things together and aren’t in bad shape in one way or another are way less likely to take the first step in. Once someone is converted there are two issues:

            1) Undoing the conversion and the social circle and support that (however dysfunctional) is being provided
            and
            2) Whatever problem caused them to seek out the cult in the first place.

            It’s like quitting heroin or overeating – sure, someone can stop but then they’re left with the life that led to them taking heroin or 8000 calories of doritos per day in the first place. Then there’s the added complication that women have some very powerful evolutionary programming that lets them accept a new group pretty quickly Rape of the Sabine Women style – even if their introduction was brutal.

      • S_J says:

        I don’t think your observations are at odds with the assertion that brainwashing is very hard, or nearly-nonexistent. [1]

        Some small percentage of people are highly-susceptible to certains kinds of social pressure.

        Some cult leaders are very good at finding such people while making sales pitches to much larger audiences.

        Those people are then trained to repeat the process, in ways that should bring in other susceptible people. To do so, they have to make pitches to many people, and filter out the susceptible from the non-susceptible.

        Brainwashing applied to the general public is often done by small minorities telling the most-sympathetic version of a story that is part of the culture of the minority group. The results of these efforts vary widely.[2]

        [1] I’m interpreting the phrase brainwashing doesn’t really work to mean that brainwashing does not work on most people, but may have some effect on a small percentage of the population.

        [2] The results depend mostly on how the story-tellers of the culture inform the rest of the culture about the problems of the minority.

        If the storytellers depict the social pressure group as bad in some way (in the American cultural context: reactionary, anti-freedom, or close-minded), the pressure group often loses.

        If the storytellers of culture depict the social pressure group as good in some way (in the American cultural context: individuals hurt by the System, or a minority oppressed in some way), the pressure group often wins.

        • Jill says:

          It’s quite easy and quite common. Advertising does it. People buy all kinds of stuff they don’t need and often do not enjoy after purchase.

          • IrishDude says:

            Wide-spread return policies make it not too big a deal to buy something you find you don’t like.

          • “People buy all kinds of stuff they don’t need and often do not enjoy after purchase.”

            “People” is pretty vague–all sorts of claims are true of at least two people. What evidence do you have of the scale of the effect you are describing, of what fraction of all purchases in the U.S. fit your description above?

          • TMB says:

            “What evidence do you have of the scale of the effect you are describing, of what fraction of all purchases in the U.S. fit your description above?”

            If we’re talking about peoples internal experience not matching their actions, how could it be tested?

            Review scores? If 5/5 is considered perfect – then there must be a lot of consistently dissatisfied consumers out there?

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            If you think of advertising as “brainwashing” you’re using an extremely broad definition of the term. People can be persuaded into doing irrational things through all kind of emotionally manipulative tactics. Kids do stupid things because of peer pressure and wanting to be liked. Adults might get pressured into buying something, or having sex with someone when they don’t totally want to, or donating money they don’t want to donate, or attending some social event they don’t completely want to attend, because someone convinces them it’s a good idea. Does that mean that anyone who succumbs to any form of pressure and regrets it later has been a victim of brainwashing?

            Also, everyone has cognitive biases and many people tend to seek out things that confirm their existing ideas, because it’s reassuring. But, again, this is not the same thing as brainwashing.

            Cognitive bias and being vulnerable to emotional manipulation might cause a lot of problems for people, but they are normal parts of the human condition; “brainwashing” is a much more targeted and systematic thing. It can be hard to define exactly, but if you get to the point where you’re saying that liberals are “brainwashed” by watching Rachel Maddow (or conservatives by watching Fox News) you’ve watered the term down to the point of incoherence. Maybe there are some vague parallels, but people willingly consuming an ideology because they find it comforting and people having their minds reprogrammed in some kind of CIA experiment are two very different things.

        • I thought brainwashing included insufficient food and sleep– there’s a physical attack on the brain, not just repetition and isolation.

      • baconbacon says:

        How is this for an ad hoc explanation.

        1. brainwashing exists, but not evenly for everyone
        2. the most susceptible people are already “brainwashed” by their culture (parents, friends, media)
        3. the people that cults are able to attract are more open minded than average, they are willing to try something new but also again willing to change their minds later if that doesn’t work for them. This covers why retention rates are so low for cults.

    • Vitor says:

      If brainwashing works, the backlash is a reasonable response against a dangerous phenomenon.

      If it doesn’t, then there’s nothing to worry about (neither from the cults nor from the backlash)

  22. Anonymoose says:

    I have changed my mind recently about whether Anonymous commenting should be allowed. I think it definitely should. If someone has a recognizable handle, and then someone else has a grudge against them, and keeps grinding it forever, it is understandable that the first individual would want to switch handles, in order to do their best to lose that person and their grudge.

    The Internet can be a vicious place, where self protection is frequently necessary.

    • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

      Is this meaningfully different than a pseudonymous system, where you can change emails and usernames at will? My understanding of the debate was that the point at issue is ‘should Scott automatically ban accounts containing some variation of ‘Anonymous’ in the name?’.

      Not that I disagree with your conclusion, but I would offer different reasons. I don’t think that pseudonymous commenting sans ‘anon’ usernames would be any better than vanilla pseudonymous commenting.

      Also, apropos, I’ve changed the email I’ll be using, so this gravatar may not line up with previous ones I’ve used. I don’t think that anyone cares, but I felt I should mention it in case anyone thinks I’m impersonating.

    • Manya says:

      Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but gravatars are assigned based on your email, right? so if you just change your handle, you’re still easily identifiable. Especially by someone with a grudge.

      You may want to, um, take that into account.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hopefully Scott will at some point ban the creepy stalker.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      The real problem with anonymous commenting is how lazy and inept anonymice are with portmanteaus. You could have been Anonymoustache, Anonymoussolini or Anonymoustafa Kemal, and you went with Anonymoose? Why even bother?

      • Earthly Knight says:

        Rejected ideas:

        Anonymouster of Disguise
        Anonymouzletov!
        Anonymouscular Dystrophy Association
        Anonymousetrap X (where X spoils the play– actually, you shouldn’t use this one)
        Aneinekleinenachtmousik

  23. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    The season 5 premiere of My Little Pony: Frindship is Magic is a two-part anti-Marxist episode called “The Cutie Map”, which the Rabid Puppies nominated for the 2016 Hugo Award. An intrigued Jim decided to watch the episode in order to see what it was about, and posted a positive review. Compare with AntiDem’s earlier review of the first four episodes of the show.

    Eggo once called My Little Pony sugarcoated novo-regressivism. Could he be right? Is Friendship is Magic dressing up Death Eater ideas in the aesthetics of princesses and ponies for little girls?

    • The Nybbler says:

      I don’t know what would be specifically Death-Eater about it. The evils of conformity and equality-by-leveling are an old theme in SFF and especially SFF for younger audiences. As Jim says, “1984, Brave New World, and Harrison Bergeron, written for ten year old girls”. I’d add “A Wrinkle in Time” (specifically IT/Camazotz).

    • Aegeus says:

      No more than any other high-fantasy with kings and princesses and larger-than-life heroes promotes it.

      What this shows is that novo-regressivism promotes ideals that most people approve of (honor, loyalty, noblesse oblige, etc). The fact that MLP also promotes those ideals doesn’t mean that it promotes novo-regressivism, it just means that lots of different cultures have those ideals. Prince Harry and Barack Obama both wear nice suits, but that doesn’t mean the President is secretly a monarchist, it means that both the UK and the US think that important people should look the part.

      Also, Jim’s review does that common Death Eater thing where he assumes all liberal societies are doomed to slide leftward along exactly the same slippery slope, which means that when the fictional society is based on 1984 and Harrison Bergeron, that’s clearly an indictment of modern social democracies rather than of actual communism.

      • Anon. says:

        Also, Jim’s review does that common Death Eater thing where he assumes all liberal societies are doomed to slide leftward along exactly the same slippery slope, which means that when the fictional society is based on 1984 and Harrison Bergeron, that’s clearly an indictment of modern social democracies rather than of actual communism.

        I don’t think this is an “assumption”. Cthulhu Swims Left is a conclusion that comes at the end of a lengthy series of arguments (see Gentle Introduction pt. 1). Of course it’s possible to disagree with it, but it’s not as simple as brushing off a dangling axiom.

    • Anon. says:

      They are cuckservative ponies.

      What a time to be alive!

    • dndnrsn says:

      Being neither a Death Eater nor an MLP fan, I can only speculate, but: Aren’t children’s stories, even YA stuff, generally fairly “conservative” and “traditional” in the messages they send, at least compared to contemporary adult-targeted media?

      I don’t know what things are like today but I was prime cartoon-watching age in the mid to late 90s. While the cartoons then had all the requisite “be yourself”, “accept everybody”, etc messages, plus environmentalist propaganda (GI Joe learns about how the real enemy is chemical runoff in wetlands or something), they still offered a fairly “traditional” message: respect for hierarchies based on strength and competence, the belief that you could differentiate Good and Bad at a basic level, respect for social propriety and a certain level of respect for social norms, loyalty really viewed as a major virtue, etc. Rebellion is only allowed when authority is clearly wrong, and then only in limited and justified ways.

      The story usually centered around a group of heroes who band together overcome obstacles and learn lessons about character – a maennerbund, of sorts, even if it is a multi-hued maennerbund with maybe one or two girls on the team and probably a talking animal or something.

      This is, of course, far more “conservative” – retrograde, even! – than what sophisticated adults were consuming at the same time, or even unsophisticated adults. Perhaps people see the need to inculcate positive values in children, but think adults are safe. Or, perhaps they condemn conservative messages in art and possibly the whole idea of universal positive values – but when it’s their kids watching suddenly they don’t want cartoon animals preaching antinomianism.

      Is MLP an outlier within cartoons currently aimed at children or tweens or whatever (perhaps I really am out of date, and kids’ shows now do preach antinomianism), or is this adults used to adult-targeted material reading stuff into it?

      (This is weird – same email but my gravatar has changed colour)

      • Aegeus says:

        Steven Universe apparently handles fairly complex themes for a kid’s show (gem fusion being a metaphor for sex with all its accompanying issues), but I haven’t watched it myself.

        Avatar: Legend of Korra was much darker and more complex than its predecessor. And yeah, it had some “cheats” – the leader of the anti-benders turns out to be a fraud and a bender himself, neatly shortcutting any complex questions about equality – but the third and fourth seasons had some interesting moral greys: the incompetent Earth Queen assassinated by the equally dangerous anarchist Zaheer, followed up by Kuvira’s metalbending empire stepping into the power vacuum, which starts out intending to bring order and then slides into world domination. Also, they stretched Nickelodeon’s “never say die” policy about as far as it would go, with at least one implied gruesome death in every season.

        Frozen has a subversion of Disney’s standard “prince charming” character, and Elsa’s “conceal, don’t feel” approach to her powers makes a good metaphor for being in the closet.

        Attack on Titan, aside from just being incredibly bloody, has strong examples of “lifeboat ethics” – sacrificing the few to save the many, abandoning people because they’d be a strain on your resources, and so on.

        Grave of the Fireflies, a staggeringly dark anti-war film, was apparently marketed for kids as a double-feature with My Neighbor Totoro. Miyazaki either hated children or had a very high opinion of their maturity.

        (Check out TVTropes’ “What Do You Mean It’s For Kids?” page for more examples. These sorts of shows aren’t common, but MLP isn’t the only one.)

        Perhaps people see the need to inculcate positive values in children, but think adults are safe.

        This is what I would bet on. It’s not about liberal or conservative as much as it’s about complexity. “The villain is a bad guy because he doesn’t give the workers control of the means of production” is a little complicated to explain to kids, and you’d probably invite a huge mess of moral greys if you tried. People don’t like moral greys in kid’s shows.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Some of these seem to be targeted at an age category that I would include with “YA stuff”, which to be fair I did originally mention. Stuff aimed at mid-teens, that’s going to be intermediate it when it comes to complexity, maturity of themes, etc.

          Of course, it’s also become more acceptable for adults to be in to this stuff (Bronies get some hate, but nobody except old fuddy-duddies looks askance at 30 year olds getting excited about the new Harry Potter).

          Do any of these shows, though, present a different sense of moral values than their equivalents 20 years ago did?

          • LHN says:

            I’m not sure about twenty years ago. But in the 80s there was a strong push for within-group cooperation in cartoons. The person who expressed a dissenting opinion was always (or nearly always) someone who needed to learn better.

            (I believe I recall industry veteran Mark Evanier discussing this in the context of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, where Eric the Cavalier was usually the one out of step, generally in a selfish or cowardly way. A lot of Smurfs plots run on this as well.)

            To that extent, “The Cutie Map” would be very out of step with 80s cartoon values. Not so much for breaking the town out of its dystopian system (the town of the week taking something defensible Too Far was standard fare), but for the explicit and repeated emphasis on the fact that it’s normal for friends to disagree and argue.

            This may go beyond animation: Star Trek: the Next Generation was famously held back in its early seasons by Roddenberry’s dictum that there wasn’t internal conflict in Starfleet, in contrast to the regular Spock-McCoy bickering in the original series, or the less cohesive (and not all-Starfleet) crew of the post-Roddenberry Deep Space Nine.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It occurs to me – isn’t it a little bit odd to interpret a cartoon episode where the messages were the importance of dissenting opinion and the elevation of individualism over stifling communitarianism as conservative, traditionalist, whatever?

          • Aegeus says:

            I think the “Everyone has a unique talent that they can use to help the team” trope is something that gets used on both sides of the aisle. If you’re a liberal, you can use it to say “Don’t hate people for being different.” If you’re a conservative, you can use it to say “Don’t try to drag others down, find your own talent and climb up.” And novo-regressives can use it to say “Some people are better at ruling than others, so let’s make them the rulers.” It all depends on how you frame it.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            It occurs to me – isn’t it a little bit odd to interpret a cartoon episode where the messages were the importance of dissenting opinion and the elevation of individualism over stifling communitarianism as conservative, traditionalist, whatever?

            Argument 1: liberalism and conservatism have changed sides on the value of dissent, with liberalism now opposing it in practice even if they claim to love it in theory (left-wing “dissent” tends to be state-approved, or at least Cathedral-approved, proposals that are already effective policy with just a few holdouts who need to be badgered into cooperating.)

            Argument 2, a less inflammatory version of Argument 1: the side which is losing the culture war is the side which is in favor of pluralism, disagreement, and dissent, for obvious reasons. Conservatives opposed such things when they were on top, and support them now that they’re on the back heel.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            It occurs to me – isn’t it a little bit odd to interpret a cartoon episode where the messages were the importance of dissenting opinion and the elevation of individualism over stifling communitarianism as conservative, traditionalist, whatever?

            It all makes a lot more sense if you think of “conservative” as opposed to “progressive” and “reactionary” rather than “liberal”.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @ThirteenthLetter, Whatever Happened To Anonymous:

            I probably shouldn’t have used “conservative” and gone straight to “traditionalist” – as I understand it, for all the theorizing about how a single powerful ruler would have no incentive to ban free speech, some monarchies were extremely controlling of speech. The most obvious rejoinder is “those weren’t really single powerful rulers” but that’s usually a communist argument. There’s no reason to think that a “traditional society”, whatever that is, run on the lines of whatever culture, would have the promotion of dissenting voices, or even their toleration, as a value.

        • Guy says:

          The greatest sin of Steven Universe (and I say this as someone who likes the show and usually agrees with it) is that it is occasionally rather on-the-nose with both its messaging and its double meanings, in a bad way. Obvious example of at least the second is the song Something Entirely New which begins with a transparent “So how was that sex we just had?” conversation that is badly hampered by the thinness of the mask. Compare the absolutely hilarious “Meat Beat Mania” game in the town’s arcade, which was milked (oops) for some pretty great jokes early in the show, without ever breaking the kayfabe that this was a kids’ show (except to the French, I guess).

          I’m also a little bit annoyed at the waffling on who was responsible for Yncvf’f vzcevfbazrag, but they ultimately settled on the more interesting answer.

          SU, Avatar, and Adventure Time are all part of a vague category I think of as “shows for people sitting next to children”. They are (usually) animated shows that appear on networks dedicated to the child audience, but have complex plots and characters that seem to be aimed at older audiences. Compare something like Code Lyoko or even Xaolin Showdown, both of which I liked a lot as a child, but which on later viewing turned out to be somewhat lacking in depth. Code Lyoko moreso, but I’d still only recommend Xaolin Showdown because of fun factor, while the first three shows I mentioned are actually pretty great stories.

          The SFPSNC phenomenon is hard for me to understand because I’m not quite willing to resort to the theory that I’m watching the beginning of the end of the “animation age ghetto”. I doubt I’m at the beginning of it, despite the fact that I don’t know of any shows in the category more than a few years older than Samurai Jack (which appeared during my childhood). And if it’s been going for more than 20 years … networks can’t possibly be that stupid, can they? Some kind of animated non-sitcom would have been made in the meantime.

          Of course, how many non-sitcom, non-soap fiction TV shows of any stripe existed prior to the rise of cable TV?

          edit:

          Another noteworthy entry in the SFPSNC category is Over the Garden Wall, a Cartoon Network Halloween miniseries (120 minutes total, if I remember right) from a couple of years ago.

      • Of possible interest is the exchange between George Orwell and Frank Richards on the subject of the Boys Weekly stories. See my old blog post for links to the original Orwell essay and Richards’ response.

        • Jiro says:

          This is technically off-topic, but if you read that exchange, Richards cites lipstick as something questionable introduced post 1910. Wikipedia confirms that cosmetics weren’t considered completely acceptable in the UK until 1921.

          And thinking of that, it seems to explain that passage in Narnia about Susan’s fascination with lipstick and nylons. Lewis’s age is such that he would have experienced a time when lipstick was never used by proper women.

      • pku says:

        Huh. I’d say most kids’ shows have liberal values (to the degree that they’re political at all, which they generally try not to be). They’ll emphasize things like sharing and the importance of friendship (MLP’s third season finale is my favourite counterargument to Objectivism). When they have wars, they generally have the bad guys getting captured rather than killed. If they have poor people, they’ll usually talk about the importance of caring/giving to the poor. These all seem like liberal-ish values.
        (I didn’t grow up in america though, the shows here may be slightly different).

    • Jill says:

      Almost all fairy tales are highly conservative and even monarchist in nature, with all their kings and queens and princes. Haven’t looked at this one, but if it’s anti-Marxist or conservative, or at one with establishment values that people call cuckservative, that would hardly be unusual.

      • onyomi says:

        If it’s surprising to see a conservative message in a newly-written children’s cartoon (the Angry Birds movie, to my surprise, seems to have a much more radical, genuinely alt-rightish message, whereas the basically anti-communist message of the MLP episode would have been uncontroversial during the Cold War, but is controversial now that socialism is becoming less of a dirty word) it’s because most artists and content creators working today are relatively left-wing, as Hollywood obviously is compared to America in general.

        Sure, the old, traditional fairy tales are conservative, but anytime they remake them nowadays the princess rescues herself and kicks ass, so it’s still surprising to see a genuinely right-wingish or conservative message in a new cartoon.

        Based on the references they make in the show (Big Lebowski, Doctor Who, Metal Gear Solid…), it’s clear at least some of the creators of MLP are very nerdy in the ways which seem to increase your likelihood of being libertarianish. Hence, probably not “conservative” per se, but probably more libertarianish than most US content creators.

        • Sandy says:

          Kenneth Branagh’s recent Cinderella remake was surprisingly conservative. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, just glossed it up considerably, and the film’s main message of kindness and forgiveness in the face of any adversity are basically Biblical. There was some grumbling about that but it was well made, well received and commercially successful.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Why do you say reactionary rather than conservative? let alone neo-?

      I think it really is intentionally more conservative than other children’s shows (and has a message), but I think reading it as anti-democratic, just because it is a monarchy, is a mistake.

      But I wonder if shows for girls are consistently more conservative than shows for boys? I don’t have much experience with shows for girls, partly because I am male, but partly because they are rare.

      • Sandy says:

        Wasn’t Power Puff Girls a show for girls? I don’t think it was very conservative, unless you count the anti-trans overtones of Him, but then many highly influential feminists have been anti-trans.

  24. R Flaum says:

    Please enjoy this explanation of why Cthulhu is bullshit.

    • LPSP says:

      Dunno, didn’t find it suprising or well-written. Might’ve found it funny in my late teens, when it was written.

    • Pan Narrans says:

      That mainly made me realise how much of a snob I am towards people who don’t at least try to spellcheck before posting an article*. But it is probably indicative of how Lovecraft scared his contemporaries with concepts (“there could be alien things!”) that we’re too accustomed to to be scared of today.

      *There will now, inevitably, be a spelling error in this post.

      • R Flaum says:

        Teresa Nielsen Hayden once said that:

        Like so many of us, I’m a fan of H. P. Lovecraft’s work; but while I appreciate HPL’s finely calibrated descents into gibbering horror, his usual occasions for this—

        foreigners
        a tiny breach in natural law
        the narrator’s relatives
        words with too many consonants
        seafood
        all of the above

        —have never struck me with the same kind of reason-oversetting terror they held for H. P. Lovecraft.

    • Alliteration says:

      I was expecting an argument why the death eaters’s Cthulhu who always swims left is false.

  25. nope says:

    How large is the regular SSC readership?

    Maybe Scott already knows the answer to this question, and I could just ask him, but where’s the fun in that?

    To give myself a rough idea, I first scraped the names of the commentors in OT56. For 1069 comments, there were 230 unique names, and if the 1-9-90 rule of thumb holds, it’s reasonable to assume that a couple thousand people dropped by that particular thread. But how many are repeat readers? Answer to follow in reply.

    SSC readers, how would you go about answering this question?

    • nope says:

      I’m going to arbitrarily define “regular commentor” as “person who has commented on two or more SSC posts in the past month”, because I’m lazy and that’s nice and easy to work with. Having scraped all commentor names in the August posts, it seems that of 887 total unique commentors, there were 339 who were repeats. Going by my previously stated assumptions, this would indicate that there’s something like 3400 regular readers now.

      Anyone have questions about the commentor base they’d like me to investigate now that I’ve got the data on hand?

      • Thanks.

        I’m wondering about the number of different commenters, especially on open threads. Are there more different comments on the non-hidden threads? Does the number of different commenters decline as a thread ages?

        Are there more commenters on the threads where Scott starts with an article and/or link collection?

      • Guy says:

        How would you go about handling the anonymoi? You could get a count of unique emails by diffing our little graphic thingies, but some people change emails multiple times for anonymous commentary, and also that procedure is subject to exponential explosion. Thoughts?

    • Eltargrim says:

      Scott’s advertising page in the topbar states:

      Ads can expect about 10,000 to 20,000 impressions per day.

      Based on those numbers, I’d say a readership in the low thousands is fairly reasonable.

  26. Chalid says:

    Recently in these comment sections, the idea that the total volume of regulation is a burden has come up a few times. That is, as new regulations are added, it becomes more and more work to understand the legal code well enough to know which regulations actually apply to you, and this is a drag on growth. (For example this was a response to the Alex Tabarrok study saying that regulation probably wasn’t the cause of the productivity slowdown.)

    Are there any good estimates of the size and importance of this effect?

    I didn’t come up with anything after a quick google. My half-baked way of guessing its importance without doing any work or research would be to note that if you need to know which regulations apply you probably ask a lawyer, and all legal services put together are ~1% of GDP, so this effect is going to be a small fraction of 1% of GDP since most legal services relate to other issues. So probably not that big a deal unless there is some reason to think that second-order effects are especially large.

    • Irishdude7 says:

      I haven’t seen anything isolating the effect of complying with new regulations, but a look at the cost of the cumulative effect of all regulations by the Competitive Economic Institute comes up with an estimate of $1.8 trillion: https://cei.org/10kc2015

    • The Nybbler says:

      You’re missing the effect of things which never happen because of all the regulations, and therefore never become part of the GDP at all.

      • Alex says:

        You’re missing the effect of things which never happen because of all the regulations, and therefore never become part of the GDP at all.

        So much is clear, but what is the sign of the sum of all these effects?

        • The Nybbler says:

          That’s obviously hard to measure. The conventional wisdom is if we reduced the regulatory burden by one iota, or fail to continue to increase it, then rapacious corporations will poison the land, air and water and kill everyone with unsafe buildings, vehicles, and hair-related services, net sum -1 * GDP. The libertarian view is that significant reduction in regulatory burden would result in the economy growing at a significantly faster pace, resulting in self-driving flying cars for everyone.

          • Alex says:

            Both sound awfully like strawmen.

          • Jill says:

            Due to polarization within our society, we can’t ever get anywhere on the regulation issue. And yes, both of the sides mentioned above are indeed to some degree straw men. But this whole issue is rather complex, I think.

            The polarization problem means that both the public and also public officials get polarized into separate camps, some of which camps are overly vague and abstract in their beliefs, and all of which are dysfunctional beliefs, with regard to their effect on the larger society.

            The public gets polarized into “All regulations are bad” vs. “Every time there is a problem, we need more regulations to solve it” camps.

            The Congress and the president get polarized into camps according to their political associates and donors. One camp is “Every regulation that my donor mega-corporations want is a good regulation. But overall I want to destroy most regulations because my donors don’t like them, because many regulations obstruct my donors from polluting, poisoning, and defrauding the public.”

            The other camp that Congress and the president might respond to is in response to people other than mega-corporation donors who donate to them, or maybe in response to groups who can’t donate to them in large amounts but to whom they feel some allegiance anyway. This probably falls somewhere near to the camp of “Every time there is a problem, we need more regulations to solve it.”

            As you can see, there is a big overlap between the 2nd public camp and the 2nd public official camp, so that may be why new regulations keep getting done and none get struck down.

            It strikes me that there is no large donor or mega-corporate constituency for the idea of striking down regulations already on the books– especially since mega-corporations have already found loopholes to circumvent most regulations that have already been on the books for a while– though individuals and small businesses can not do this easily.

            So individuals and small businesses are pretty much screwed. Small businesses tend to vote along with the interests of big businesses though, because big business propaganda has effectively convinced small business owners that their interests are the same.

            In addition, another reason why regulations don’t get struck down is that the polarized camps in the general public just fight each other bitterly and neither is willing to compromise, as is the custom of Americans in politics lately. So, in the general public (rather than in public officials), the 2 camps are, as I mentioned above, “All regulations are bad” vs. “Every time there is a problem, we need more regulations to solve it.”

            Since those groups in the general public remain polarized and do not ever compromise, we are effectively Divided and Conquered.

            If we ever decide to not be Divided and Conquered, we’d have to come up with some “compromises”– an archaic word that is not much used or understood any longer in the U.S. But let me explain to you how it might work. Someone might want to add some regulation and they might compromise with the other camp by agreeing to strike down some useless regulation, in order to give the other camp something they want too.

            I know it’s hard to imagine this happening. It probably won’t ever happen.

            I think America must actually be a simulation– a simulation to determine what happens if humans lose the ability to compromise and simply separate into verbally warring political camps that bitterly hate each other and can’t stand to talk to one another, and can’t stand each other’s presence.

            Whereas the Middle East is a simulation to determine what happens if humans lose the ability to compromise and simply separate into physically warring political camps that bitterly hate each other, can’t stand to talk to one another, and can’t stand each other’s presence.

          • cassander says:

            It’s worse than that. The argument on the left is that we heave already reduced regulation by many iotas (ioti?) and the result has been corporations raping the land and destroying the economy.

          • @Jill:

            Do you perceive any tension between your view that what America needs is a willingness by both sides to compromise and your view, expressed in other comments, that one side consists of people whose objective is to benefit the top .01% of the population at the expense of everyone else or your view, in this comment, that the reason corporations want fewer regulations is because “many regulations obstruct my donors from polluting, poisoning, and defrauding the public”?

            Compromise makes sense if you view both sides as holding positions at least partly defensible, less sense if you think the opposition is fundamentally evil. Which is how you often appear to view it.

          • Jill says:

            From David: “Do you perceive any tension between your view that what America needs is a willingness by both sides to compromise and your view, expressed in other comments, that one side consists of people whose objective is to benefit the top .01% of the population at the expense of everyone else or your view, in this comment, that the reason corporations want fewer regulations is because “many regulations obstruct my donors from polluting, poisoning, and defrauding the public”?”

            It’s Congress and the president that are currently serving, to varying degrees, by people whose objective is to benefit the top .01% of the population at the expense of everyone else.

            The 99.99% have a lot of common interests and could easily compromise with one another on the interests that we do not hold in common, if it were not for the fact that we have been polarized by media propaganda to believe that we are members of one side or the other– and that the other side is stupid and/or evil. It’s the general population that could benefit from compromise. The .01%– and the politicians they have bought– have no motivation to compromise, as it is not in their short term best interests. Compromise would be in their own long term best interests, because they are ruining their own environment too, in numerous ways. But most of them do not think that far ahead.

          • @Jill:

            “we have been polarized by media propaganda to believe that we are members of one side or the other– and that the other side is stupid and/or evil.”

            “The .01%– and the politicians they have bought– have no motivation to compromise, as it is not in their short term best interests. Compromise would be in their own long term best interests, because they are ruining their own environment too, in numerous ways. But most of them do not think that far ahead.”

            Or in other words, you believe that the other side is stupid or evil.

            And it does not occur to you that that belief might reflect the same level of propaganda that, in your view, explains why the other side thinks your side is stupid or evil.

          • Alex says:

            The 99.99% have a lot of common interests and could easily compromise with one another on the interests that we do not hold in common, if it were not for the fact that we have been polarized by media propaganda to believe that we are members of one side or the other– and that the other side is stupid and/or evil.

            Have you actually met the 99.99% ? I mean this seems to be obviously empirically wrong. To give a salient example, it seems to be the case that even supposedly homgeneous and rational groups such as “effective altruists” are happy to devote much energy to debate the question of catering at their events. And not because there is nothing else to do, but because they consider this a question of utmost importance.

            You do realize that you only need log_2(population) binary exclusive pairs of political opinions to have everybody unable to compromise with everybody else? That is, only 29 political questions are neccessary to totally divide your entire country and then some.

            The only way I can imagine that you never had ideological differences beyon compromise within whatever you call your equivalent of the filterbubble is that you never discuss the other 28 questions or your filterbubble is literally size 1.

          • Jill says:

            “Or in other words, you believe that the other side is stupid or evil.”

            No. I think that the .01% do want to pollute and defraud the public, but only in order to make tons more money. They may not even be aware that they are doing this. They may have other people handle it for them, and certainly they have other people handle the Congressional lobbying for them.

            They have the highest intentions of focusing on the greatest virtue of all– selfishness– as they worship at the shrine of Saint Ayn. Whether they defraud or poison other people or otherwise cause them great suffering by charging them $600 for EpiPens doesn’t even enter their mind. As the EpiPen CEO said “No one is more frustrated than me.”

            The .01% mostly lives in bubbles, surrounded by people who help them to make more money, and surrounded by Yes men and Yes women.

            “And it does not occur to you that that belief might reflect the same level of propaganda that, in your view, explains why the other side thinks your side is stupid or evil.”

            Yes, everyone believes that the other side is all propaganda and their side is pure angels. However, I fact check things often. And the Right Wing sites/channels/stations have a ton more lies on them thn the average Left Wing site/channel/station.

            And that is just a fact. I know everyone thinks they are entitled to their own facts, and we all get our news media from a place that obliges. But there IS an objective reality.

          • Alex says:

            Yes, everyone believes that the other side is all propaganda and their side is pure angels. However, I fact check things often. And the [other side] have a ton more lies on them thn [my side].

            And that is just a fact. […] But there IS an objective reality.

            Everyone also believes that they fact check often an that their beliefs are just facts. The belief that oneself is out of touch with objective reality is rather rare.

            If we can agree that people are very often very bad in judging whether their beliefs are facts, how are you different from other people in that respect?

          • cassander says:

            @Jill

            >“Or in other words, you believe that the other side is stupid or evil.”

            >No. I think that the .01% do want to pollute and defraud the public, but only in order to make tons more money.

            How does that not make them either stupidly short sighted or sufficiently evil to want to steal money despite already having tons of it?

            >They have the highest intentions of focusing on the greatest virtue of all– selfishness– as they worship at the shrine of Saint Ayn.

            First, the top .01% of people is not a fixed group. There is huge churn at high levels of income. Second, the assertion that everyone above a certain level of income is a Randian is utterly laughable.

            >And that is just a fact. I know everyone thinks they are entitled to their own facts, and we all get our news media from a place that obliges. But there IS an objective reality.

            There is. Unfortunately, “there’s a secret cabal of rand devotees running society” is not part of that objective reality.

          • “But there IS an objective reality.”

            At last something we can agree on.

            But neither of us observes much of the relevant objective reality directly. Neither of us, for example, observes what fraction of taxes is paid by what part of the income distribution. For that information we have to go to information sources, which requires us to decide which ones to believe.

            In that particular case, the information sources don’t really know either, because who bears the cost of a tax is more complicated than who hands over the money. So a real answer to the question involves theory and analysis, not just observation, even observation by honest information intermediaries.

            Similarly for lots of other issues. You, presumably, think that a sharp increase in the minimum wage would make poor people better off by raising their income. I think it would make them worse off by pricing many of them out of the labor market. Your view of of the motivations of the people you disagree with is heavily dependent on beliefs such as your belief about the minimum wage.

            Add all of that up and you are a great deal more dependent on what sources of information you trust than you think you are.

          • “Yes, everyone believes that the other side is all propaganda and their side is pure angels.”

            That comes much closer to describing your view, as reflected in your comments here, than mine.

            To take one example at random, I spent time, energy, and a long blog post investigating and commenting on a claim on “my side” of the gun control debate. My conclusion was that it was largely false, probably fraudulent–and I said so.

            Some beliefs on “your side” are true–global temperature is trending up, the most likely explanation is human production of greenhouse gases, and there will be some negative consequences, most obviously sea level rise.

            You may be the only person commenting here who believes that the other side is all propaganda and their side is pure angels.

        • crispy ambulance says:

          When SSCons lecture on charity

          Nybblr: “The conventional wisdom is if we reduced the regulatory burden by one iota, or fail to continue to increase it, then rapacious corporations will poison the land, air and water and kill everyone with unsafe buildings, vehicles, and hair-related services….”.

          Casander: “It’s worse than that. The argument on the left is that we heave already reduced regulation by many iotas (ioti?) and the result has been corporations raping the land and destroying the economy.”

          Strange to see a lecture from David Friedman on charity beneath this typical strawmanning by his “side”

          Never seen you speak up about remarks like these:

          “Finally, consider that the ideology currently taught in primary schools refers to babies as “womb maggots”, and pregnancy as an unfashionable disease of the poor and bible-bashing…”

          “My hypothesis is that Muslim immigration is a catspaw used to justify a leftist police state.”

          ““Yeah, how could you get the impression that the left are a bunch of blood-thirsty lunatics from the history of communism?”

          I’ve never seen you NOT take the GOP’s side in an SSC thread. As rigidly biased as you are, Im a little shocked to see you gloating about how you take it to your side. Jill regularly makes concessions to others arguments. Again I have never seen you adapt an inch to opposing arguments.

          • cassander says:

            We have a pretty high class of conservative around here. They rarely make the sort of right wing arguments that tick me off. That is not to say that there are not bad conservative arguments made by not very bright conservatives, just that, for whatever reason, we are mercifully free of them around here. The quality of the left wingers is more……diverse. Or maybe the quality is just as high but I;m more sensitive to low quality leftwing arguments. Either way, I don’t see a lot of people around here saying that the goal of the political left is to destroy the world. Jill claims to thinks that the goal of the right is literally to plunder the land, and has said so on numerous occasions. I am not aware of her ever making a concession on a political question

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @cassander:
            “Or maybe the quality is just as high but I;m more sensitive to low quality leftwing arguments.”

            This is undoubtedly going to be true, if you are human.

          • “I’ve never seen you NOT take the GOP’s side in an SSC thread.”

            I’m guessing that that was directed at me, although the comment was a little unclear.

            I don’t keep careful track of what I have said where. Positions I have argued for, here, or in print, or elsewhere online, include:

            1. Open immigration. Not a GOP position, unfortunately.

            2. Drug legalization, ditto.

            3. That the least bad outcome we can hope for from the current election is Hilary as president with a Republican congress (my blog).

            4. Various defenses of Islamic law and history. Most recently pointing out, I think on FaceBook, that the doctrine making it legitimate for a Muslim to lie is limited to cases where admitting his religion would risk his being killed, does not cover the idea of pretending not to be a Muslim in order to get in somewhere and establish Sharia law.

            Most of the time, if someone says something silly and right wing I expect that someone else will point it out so don’t bother unless I have something particular to add. Quite often I follow the same tactic for things silly and left wing.

            Silence does not imply assent online. Can you point to examples of my actually supporting a GOP position inconsistent with my claimed ideology?

      • Chalid says:

        I’d have guessed the vast majority of such things are due to direct effect of regulation, right?

        To clarify – the effect I’m asking about is the one where adding one additional regulation makes complying with *all* regulations a little more costly, because each new regulation makes the whole code a little harder to understand. This was brought up multiple times over the past couple weeks.

        Obviously a law banning hair-braiding implies that hair-braiding businesses don’t ever get a chance to be created, but that is not due to this effect.

        • cassander says:

          There’s also the problem of each law making the next one easier to pass. If you organize society around 10, or even 100, commandments, there’s going to be a big debate over a proposal to add one. But if you have a million, it’s easy to slip another one in there without much fuss.

        • The Nybbler says:

          A large part would be due to the direct effect of regulation. But the effect of the sheer number of regulations likely also has a chilling effect on entering the regulated fields.

          A law banning hair braiding blocks hair braiding businesses. A million small regulations on hair-braiding can have a similar effect.

    • cassander says:

      There’s a huge amount of regulation that doesn’t require actual lawyers, but CPAs, notaries, paralegals, etc. Then there’s the cost, on top of hiring those experts to tell you what to do, of actually doing what they say the law requires. The Small Business administration puts the cost of regulatory compliance at hundreds of billions to nearly 2 trillion a year.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Cost of regulatory compliance != cost of the sheer number of regulations.

        • cassander says:

          I’m not sure how you could possibly tease out the latter from the former.

          • pku says:

            Maybe if we isolated some small time period when a huge wave of new regulations suddenly took effect (preferably over a period of a week or so), and looked at the cost change spike around this time?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @pku:
            No. I think that still just measures the cost of the regulations themselves. Any signal from the number of regulations will be swamped.

            This I think gets to the heart of the matter. If the regulations themselves comprise only a small portion of the cost, then it should be trivial to propose a regulation scheme that accomplishes the same thing and yet is far less costly. I don’t, by and large, see that being argued.

  27. Irishdude7 says:

    Myth of the Rule of Law

    I’d like to get thoughts on one of the best articles I’ve read that influenced me to think polycentric law would be a good idea to implement on a wider scale than it currently is. It was written by John Hasnas, a professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, and is a rich talk about how law is inherently rule by men, with several examples to illustrate his case. One of the central theses is:

    “Because the legal world is comprised of contradictory rules, there will be sound legal arguments available not only for the hypothesis one is investigating, but for other, competing hypotheses as well. The assumption that there is a unique, correct resolution, which serves so well in empirical investigations, leads one astray when dealing with legal matters.”

    Since there is no ‘correct’ set of legal rules, we should have competing systems that work for a wide variety of people with varying preferences for rule-sets. Thoughts?

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Since there is no ‘correct’ set of legal rules, we should have competing systems that work for a wide variety of people with varying preferences for rule-sets. Thoughts?

      We call those municipalities, counties, provinces, states, countries, whatever else you might want.

      • Irishdude7 says:

        Right, it’s a matter of scale. I think we should have MORE polycentric law. A federal law in the U.S. applies the same to 320 million people. How many preferences do people have on areas that federal law impacts and how can that be expressed in today’s system?

    • LPSP says:

      First I’m hearing of this as a serious matter of conjecture and speculation. It would seem relevant to some situations in the UK vis-a-vis immigration and Islam. Muslim immigrant ghettos have sharia law courts and pretty much their own police force, which patrols around neighbouring streets. Normal police generally doesn’t get very far when it aims to enter these territories. In that light, polycentric law solutions seem crucial.

      • Zakharov says:

        Sharia courts resolve disputes between muslims, but secular courts are necessary to resolve disputes between mulsims and infidels. This doesn’t seem fundamentally different to the distinction between municipal, state and federal courts.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        “Muslim immigrant ghettos have sharia law courts and pretty much their own police force, which patrols around neighbouring streets. Normal police generally doesn’t get very far when it aims to enter these territories.”

        Citation definitely needed. Three converts (whose actions were condemned by East London Mosque and who were later arrested) making an unimpressive YouTube video does not a “Muslim immigrant ghetto police force” make. Where are these ghettos anyway?

    • Zakharov says:

      Some thoughts:

      – Sure, rule of law is based less on the text of the law then on general societal consensus about what is just. That’s an important thing to say. Our current system is better than a system which awards victory to whichever side pays the judge the most money, or has higher social rank.

      – Criminal law seems incompatible with the free market because the defendant in a criminal case is not necessarily going to consent to being tried.

      • LPSP says:

        I guess polycentric law is just an explicit, formalised admittance and acceptance that different groups in society have different ideas about justice, and coming up with boundaries for resolving these fringe cases. If an individual says their action was no-such-crime, but there is no group to cater to that attitude, they get shafted.

        Problems become obvious when polycentric law is phrased so directly. For a start, it incentivises law group that actively target criminals and claim that thieving actions are actually justified. People with criminal inclinations who long to rob freely have strong incentives to join such groups and thus grant them legitimacy. Then there’s the fact that nobody could agree to the central set of rules dictating how group-standard conflicts resolve, and that said legislature will probably marginalise exceptions and shape out like our current systems anyway, and how in the event of a legit conflict the side with the most power wins, since there’s no way to resolve which of two incompatible systems is “righter”.

        It will all boil down to a truthism that there has to be a central governing power that is absolute, and that exceptions cannot be made for the same reasons that multiculturalism of any sort doesn’t work. The closest we get to it is establishing borders between groups with different standards and letting a border control resolution evolve, which is pretty much what happens in the UK and Muslim ghettos.

        • Zakharov says:

          Different groups have different ideas about justice

          Also, different people have different ideas about justice. People currently in the middle of a legal case are likely to have extremely biased ideas about any issue of justice that relates to their current case.

          • LPSP says:

            Yes, but they aren’t any threat to anyone without a large criminal group to cater to them. The fact that these individual exist, and that polycentric legislature would incentivise groups that cater to their stance, is addressed. No lone individual can be a cultural norm; closest you get is in the form of an authority figure.

      • Irishdude7 says:

        Rule of law is somewhat based on general societal consensus, by which I think you mean satisfying majority preferences. But this is only to the extent that an individual judge with minority viewpoints gets weeded out of the political system. In the end, you have 5-4 supreme court decisions where each justice appeals to precedent and case law and feels justified in their decision. It comes down to individuals making judgments, not rules given and interpreted from divinity.

        – Criminal law seems incompatible with the free market because the defendant in a criminal case is not necessarily going to consent to being tried.

        Force can still be used in a free market to ensure compliance with a court’s ruling. Even today’s public criminal system still uses private bounty hunters to catch bail hoppers.

        • Zakharov says:

          Not strictly satisfying majority preferences, more approximately satisfying the preferences of either the majority or a significant minority, and taking into account meta-level preferences for justice as well as object-level preferences for the outcome of a particular case.

          Bail hoppers have no input into who pursues their bail. One side or another of a criminal case can use the free market, but a criminal prosecution is not a contract freely entered into by the prosecution and the defendant.

    • Zakharov says:

      A question for advocates of polycentric law: If two people with no prior relationship have a dispute – for example, Alice and Bob both claim ownership of a particular car – how is arbitration chosen? Alice wants the case to be decided by Do Whatever Alice Says Arbitration Incorporated, and Bob wants Do Whatever Bob Says Arbitration Incorporated. The problem of how to resolve the dispute is no easier than the dispute itself. I can think of some more complex solutions, but no way for the fact of who actually owns the car in question to affect the outcome.

      • onyomi says:

        They could conceivably agree on an arbitration firm which Bob thinks will decide in his favor and Alice thinks will decide in her favor. Where will they find such a firm? Unless the firm misrepresents itself by say, secretly guaranteeing both parties a victory, which fact about the firm would get out quickly and ruin its reputation, it would have to be because the firm has a reputation for fairness, and both parties think they have a good case. Both thinking they’re right, they might both be willing to submit, in advance, to the judgment of an arbiter with a reputation for thorough investigation and fairness.

        What to do if Bob secretly thinks he’s wrong and has a flimsy case, but doesn’t want to admit it, and therefore agrees to abide by no decisions except those of Bob is Always Right, Inc.? Well, if he’s the plaintiff, no problem. He simply won’t be able to press his case. If he’s the defendant then presumably Alice, if it’s important enough to her, will take his refusal to submit to any not-obviously biased arbitration as a tacit admission of guilt and sick collections agencies, etc. on him. The collections agencies presumably won’t accept a decision from Bob is Always Right, Inc, so he won’t be able to get rid of them until he either pays up or agrees to arbitration by a not-obviously biased party.

        • Vitor says:

          This is obviously not safe against abuse: In your example, why would Bob be any less forceful than Alice if he’s the plaintiff? Why wouldn’t he send a crooked collection agency after alice that she can only get rid of by agreeing to arbitration by Bob is Always Right Inc?

          I think Zakharov has it exactly right: The problem of fairly deciding who has jurisdiction is as hard as fairly deciding who should get the car. At some point there has to be someone involved that has authority over both parties (with that authority granted by a monopoly of force, social pressure, or any other means); otherwise the result is equivalent to anarchy.

          With that said, I guess every system is always just anarchy in disguise. We have rule of law because some people are imposing it on everyone else by right of force, etc. Situations where this becomes evident are disputes between countries arising because of the laws of both jurisdictions being mutually exclusive, for instance.

          • onyomi says:

            A crooked collection agency is basically just an extortionist.

            People worry that in ancap world you’d be abused by rogue insurance companies, collections agencies, defense firms, etc. But it’s precisely that worry which protects against abuse by private agencies and much less so for government.

            In my experience, employees of private agencies fulfilling traditionally government-ish roles, e. g. private security guards and patrolmen, are actually really careful to avoid the appearance of thugishness because they know they won’t get the benefit of the doubt as the regular police do, and that their employer will easily get blamed (and themselves fired) if they are discourteous or abusive.

            And conversely, government agents have historically gotten away with a lot of behavior indistinguishable from looting and thuggery because of the imprimatur of political authority.

            People objecting to ancap are, imo, really objecting to one or both of two things: accountability to customers instead of accountability to voters (though many imagine, for some reason that private firms are accountable to no one but themselves), and the supposed need for geography-based monopolies on certain services.

            Re. the former case, there’s reason to believe that private companies are more responsive and accountable to their customers, on average, than traditional lawmakers are to voters.

            Re. the latter, disputes are resolved all the time between parties subject to different and competing jurisdictions: different cities, states, and even countries. If Bob is American, for example, but Alice is a citizen of Canada, then which laws apply? Of course it all depends on agreements worked out between the two sets of lawmakers relating to which rules apply and how in specific cases. As you note, it all tops out in anarchy in the end (barring one world government with supreme authority).

            For the overwhelming majority of world citizens then, this just means being subject to a particular jurisdiction by accident of your place of birth. I don’t know why that would work better than one in which jurisdictions are voluntarily chosen without geographic limitation (though convenience would still likely result in jurisdictional “customers” clustering geographically), and, indeed, it seems like the latter, by virtue of being chosen, would produce more satisfactory results overall.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            @onyomi Nice comment. Particularly, I don’t think people appreciate how much accountability to customers works better than accountability to voters. The ease of exit in a market makes for much better accountability than the difficulty of exit in a political system.

            Additionally, markets do a great job at appealing to a multitude of preferences while political systems generally best appeal to majority preferences or minority preferences at the expense of the majority (like tariffs). It’s become more apparent to me over time that preferences over rules of interaction should be allowed to vary as much as people have preferences over what deodorant or sneakers they like to wear.

          • Vitor says:

            I see the appeal of the idea, and I am not entirely unsympathetic. It’s certainly a win for the individuals involved when the system is running as intended. However:

            > A crooked collection agency is basically just an extortionist.

            Exactly, and you have not really answered the implicit question I am asking. How does ancap deal with extortionists and other rogue agents? There is a serious coordination problem here: for the individual it is better to make the extortionist go away as cheaply as possible. Classic prisoner’s dilemma. One of the main functions of real world governments is to consolidate the weak preference of many individuals for extortionists to not exist, and translate that into effective action. Civilization is basically a huge collection of these small wins accumulated over time.

            Reputation only carries us as far as the system as a whole is healthy, i.e. as long as there are no monopolies and other large power imbalances that lower the cost of a negative reputation (or entirely eliminate it in the extreme case where a group of people takes full control over a region).

            You say that private agencies are usually nice and avoid thuggish behaviour, but I think that’s only because they are incentivised to do so by a government that has oversight and the power to actually punish them. With this control mechanism absent, you again have misaligned incentives. When it comes to security personell, their abuse is typically directed at those without power (i.e. not those footing the bill, who just need to be mildly indifferent for such abuses to happen).

          • onyomi says:

            Right now, in most industries doing non-traditionally governmentish things, the biggest, longest-lasting players are companies which appeal to wide swaths of customers (Wal Mart makes more money than Rols Royce). When it comes to protection against criminals and extortionists, those agencies which provide consistent, affordable protection are going to tend to become most profitable as, say, Paypal, which provides a legitimate service, is much bigger than your average phishing scammer.

            But in a world with no territorial monopoly on providing protection from scammers, extortionists, etc. one of the services people are going to want from their “Protectionpal” is going to be protection from and guarantees against such scams. And, indeed, it’s largely Paypal, Chase, Visa, etc. who do currently protect people from identity theft, not because the government makes them, but because a bank which didn’t care about stolen credit card numbers wouldn’t be a very popular bank.

            In ancap world the range (though not the severity, I’d imagine) of threats you’d want protection against would be greater, but you’re also paying no taxes, so you can probably afford it. (And if someone wants to protest “so I guess the truly destitute can just fall victim to any passing thug in the street, huh?” ask yourself how safe the homeless are now.)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The government does, in fact, force credit card companies to deal with identity theft, by making them liable for it.

            For another example, popular in engineering schools, when ATMs first rolled out, the US adjudicated disputed withdrawals by believing the customer, while the UK believed the bank. So the UK banks insisted that identity theft never happened, while the US banks installed cameras. Over the years those cameras gave a lot of evidence that identity theft happens, but the UK banks kept insisting that it didn’t, rather than competing on protecting from it. This ended when there was a highly publicized scandal of someone who had an iron-clad alibi of being in jail when his card was used. At that point the UK government changed the liability rules and the banks installed cameras, and we didn’t get the chance to see how competition would have played out.

          • onyomi says:

            I actually thought of writing “not (just) because the government makes them…”

            That is, I figured there were regulations of some kind about that, but I also think banks, credit card companies, etc. would still take measures to protect customers against fraud in any case, because such protection is a valuable service (they might charge extra, though).

          • Vitor says:

            @Onyomi

            > if someone wants to protest “so I guess the truly destitute can just fall victim to any passing thug in the street, huh?” ask yourself how safe the homeless are now.

            Two wrongs don’t make a right. Everyone has the right to basic safety, something we should be working towards, not away from.

            As a more general observation, I think that ancap is kind of like stag hunt: there are actually 2 equilibria, one where companies are honest and compete to be as nice as possible because of the fear of losing customers to their nice competitors, and the other one where every company is corrupt as hell and nobody can do anything except complain to their corrupt security provider etc etc. You are implicitly assuming that we are in the first equilibrium.

            Now of course (as opposed to pure game theory) it can happen that a society switches from one of these 2 stable states to the other, and I honestly don’t know in which direction this will happen more often and exactly for what reasons. In any case, I think the rule of law is just one way that humanity has found to get to an approximation of the good equilibrium. There are other ways in which we could have gotten there I suppose, but here we are.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Vitor

            > if someone wants to protest “so I guess the truly destitute can just fall victim to any passing thug in the street, huh?” ask yourself how safe the homeless are now.

            Two wrongs don’t make a right. Everyone has the right to basic safety, something we should be working towards, not away from.

            That can be worked toward in an AnCap system. If many people want to extend protection to those with less means then they can do so. You can just find people who can’t afford a rights enforcement agency and offer to pay their subscription fee. It sounds like a nice charity that I might contribute to in the absence of the state.

          • Jiro says:

            those agencies which provide consistent, affordable protection are going to tend to become most profitable as, say, Paypal, which provides a legitimate service, is much bigger than your average phishing scammer.

            Paypal is about as scammy as they can get away with. They try to act like a bank without giving people the legal protections that banks are required to give people, and they have a habit of arbitrarily not letting people have access to their accounts and even violating their own stated policies in the process. Of course, this mostly happens in edge cases, but being unreliable for edge cases is pretty much what being unreliable means.

          • Vitor says:

            @IrishDude

            In the system you propose the recipient of a charitable payment to a rights enforcement agency on their behalf would be at the mercy of the donor. This reduces their dignity and turns every social interaction with the donor into a minefield. It opens the door to social pressure, coercion, etc (so is actually a net reduction in freedom I would argue). That’s why I prefer systematic charity over individual charity (as in my previous comment, we cannot assume that all participants in the system have good intentions and would offer their money with no strings attached).

            Your response feels a bit motte-and-bailey to me (as do many arguments for ancap I’ve heard, now that I think about it). I don’t want a system where it might happen that people get to enjoy their rights; I want a system that guarantees it (even at the expense of a small amount of liberty and even if it implies a small amount of wealth redistribution). I guess that’s a good way to describe my politics: I prefer a world where everyone suffers a small amount of coercion and theft (in a predictable way) over one where a few suffer these things disproportionately and/or everyone lives in constant anxiety over that possibility.

            I also strongly believe in creating properly aligned incentives over trusting “the good in people”, and I’m a bit surprised at how flippantly my concerns about bad actors attempting to abuse any system they find themselves in are being dismissed in this thread.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Vitor If there are a lot of people that agree with you about the type of charity you think would be most humane and effective, then you can start a systematic charity with donations from the like-minded instead of engaging in individual charity. If your case is compelling, I might contribute as well. Systematic charity and individual charity each have their useful functions, I think. I’m just opposed to involuntary ‘charity’, which isn’t really charity at all.

            You want a system that guarantees rights, but the problem is that people have good faith disagreements about what rights we should have. In the system you prefer, theft is institutionalized, legitimized, and guaranteed on a wide-scale, which at the start violates what rights I think people ought to have.

            I think bad actors are better handled in the market than in state systems. I think state systems legitimize actions that would be considered immoral if any non-state actor engaged in them: war, locking people in cages for engaging in peaceful activities, giving dictates backed by force about how people should run their business, etc. Political authority gives cover to these immoral actions making people more accepting of them than they would be if their neighbors or private businesses acted similarly. I think there would be much less tolerance for rights violations in AnCapLand.

          • Vitor says:

            Hi, I didn’t want to leave this thread hanging and just disappear. I don’t have time right now to get into all these subtle points in detail, so I will bow out of the discussion for now.

            Thanks for the insightful comments, I think I’m starting to grok the ancap mindset a bit better, even though the clash with many of my values seems irreconcilable at the moment. I’m sure we’ll pick up this discussion again at some point in the future.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Vitor Cheers.

          • “I think I’m starting to grok the ancap mindset a bit better, even though the clash with many of my values seems irreconcilable at the moment. ”

            It it clear that the clash is with your values?

            Most libertarians, including most anarcho-capitalists, believe that their system would have better consequences for almost everyone in almost all respects. If you agreed, would there be any clash with your values?

            If not, then at least part of the clash is with opinions about the real world consequences of alternative forms of organization, not with differing values.

            I am making this point because my impression is that people tend to assume that their view of the implication of different policies is so obvious that even those who disagree with their conclusions must agree with it, hence that the explanation of disagreement is differing values.

      • At least in my version of anarcho-capitalism/polycentric law, Alice and Bob, like almost everyone else, are each a customer of a rights enforcement agency. Each pair of agencies that have customers likely to get in disputes have contracted in advance on an arbitration agency to settle such disputes.

        Polycentric law doesn’t mean that each person can have whatever law he wants, because laws deal with the interaction of people, and there is no way that the law covering the interaction between A and B can be separately chosen by each of them. But it can be agreed between them, in practice by their agents, in which case it will reflect the values of both.

        For a more detailed account of such a system you might want to look at my Machinery of Freedom, in particular part III, which describes and analyses such a system. The second edition is available as a free pdf from my website, the third (current) edition as an inexpensive kindle and an inexpensive paperback.

        • Zakharov says:

          So, your book describes a scenario very similar to the one I described, in which Joe steals my TV, and our respective protection agencies negotiate an arbitration. However, since Joe is a thief, he won’t patronize any protection agencies that would agree to arbitration.

          Alice’s protection agency (Tannahelp, in your example) can either fight it out or give up. If Tannahelp is in the habit of often giving up without a fight, nobody will patronize it, so it’ll go out of business. If Tannahelp gets in lots of fights, it’ll either go out of business due to being too expensive to run, or it’ll be so expensive that the cost of protecting your property is almost as much as the value of that property.

          Now, Joe’s defense agency will be expensive, but Joe can afford to spend more to protect his rights to everyone else’s property than any individual can spend to protect the rights to their own property. Uniting to defeat Joe’s protection agency is a collective action problem.

          As a separate thread of argument, when I’m choosing arbitrators (indirectly through my defense agencies), the basis for that choice isn’t whether or not the arbitrator is fair and just – it’s how likely the arbitrator is to rule in my favor.

          A third point – normal economic trade increases the utility of both participants, and therefore also increases total utility. If Joe steals my TV, returning the TV not only decreases Joe’s utility, the costs of arbitration and enforcement mean that the total utility is less than if I’d just let Joe keep the TV. The benefit of the law accrues to society as a whole in the form of deterring crime, and there’s no way for protection agencies to capture the value of that positive externality.

          • IrishDude says:

            As a separate thread of argument, when I’m choosing arbitrators (indirectly through my defense agencies), the basis for that choice isn’t whether or not the arbitrator is fair and just – it’s how likely the arbitrator is to rule in my favor.

            Sure, and when each side is trying to get an arbitrator that is likely to rule in their favor, they’ll have to compromise. The most likely compromise is an arbitration firm that has a history of integrity and fair rulings. If each side feels they have a case then a fair firm gives them the best chance of success, held to the constraint that you need to pick a firm the other party will agree to.

            There are real world examples of this today, as private arbitration is the norm for international trade disputes:
            “International arbitration has become the principal mechanism for resolving disputes in almost every area of commerce, due in large part to the perceived advantages the process offers the litigants in terms of efficiency, flexibility and fairness.”

            The appeal of private arbitration is that it’s less costly than the alternative. Today the alternative is public courts, in AnCapLand the alternative is violence.

          • Zakharov says:

            The difference between modern arbitration and ancap arbitration is that modern arbitration is used in cases where the participants value their continuing relationship, or at least their reputation, more than they value the outcome of the case being arbitrated.

          • IrishDude says:

            The discipline of constant dealings does make commercial arbitration a bit different than what would occur for criminal arbitration. However, reputation matters to some extent to everyone, since we are social creatures that want and need to interact with others. If reputations can be made transparent, then people with bad reputations might have difficulty shopping at stores, renting a house, finding friends, getting a loan, etc. A reputation for being a rogue that doesn’t abide arbitration could lead to social ostracization, which I think would become even more important as a tool for norm enforcement in an AnCap society with no political authority.

            Aside from non-violent methods for dealing with criminals, a criminal that doesn’t agree to arbitration still has to contend with the victim’s rights enforcement agency, who might use force to lock the criminal in a cage, confiscate the criminal’s property for restitution, or work with the criminal’s employer to enforce wage garnishment. A criminal might see arbitration as a preferable alternative.

        • Zakharov says:

          I’ve got another question relating to the same section – you say that an anti-capital-punishment defense agency will offer a pro-capital-punishment defense agency $30,000 a year to not push for capital punishment. Doesn’t this give protection agencies a strong incentive to make unreasonable demands in order to get bribes out of other agencies?

          • Joe would like an agency that lets him steal from Alice. Alice would like an agency that doesn’t let Joe steal from her.

            If the two agencies bargain over terms, the ultimate question is which client values the preferred outcome more. The answer to that is easy–the right to steal is worth less than the right not to be stolen from.

            Alternatively, Joe employs an agency which has no arbitration agreements with any other agency because it isn’t willing to agree that theft by its customers is punishable and no other agency is willing to agree that it isn’t. So Joe’s agency is fighting a losing war with the rest of the world, the number of people who don’t want to be stolen from being much larger, and the value to them much larger, than the number who want to steal and the value to them of being able to do so.

            I discuss this briefly at the end of Chapter 29 and go into more detail on the economics of the market for law in Chapter 54 of the third edition.

          • @Zakharov 2:

            Short answer–only if they can convince the other agency that the unreasonable demand really represents what their customers want. And if they do, the other agency may ask how much they are willing to pay to get the law their way.

            Long answer–this involves the criticism Jim Buchanan offered of my system, which I explain and respond to in Chapter 55 of the third edition.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            David Friedman-

            So Joe’s agency is fighting a losing war with the rest of the world, the number of people who don’t want to be stolen from being much larger, and the value to them much larger, than the number who want to steal and the value to them of being able to do so.

            I love Machinery of Freedom, which I have read many times, and call myself an ancap on even-numbered days. But I’m suddenly struck by the parallel construction between this description and the problem of earmarks or regulatory capture — the minority that get sugar subsidies care far more about sugar subsidies than the majority who have to pony up a few cents apiece to pay them. And so we get sugar subsidies, and wheat subsidies, etc. etc. and in the end we’re talking about real money.

            My intuition is that this situation does differ from yours in some crucial element, but I’m having trouble putting my finger on what it is. One that occurs to me is that we are hardwired to punish defectors even if the cost to ourselves is outsized. But that’s not a very economicsy argument, and I’m sure you have one.

          • @Doctor Mist:

            The difference is that legal rules are private goods in A-C, public goods in the political context.

            In A-C, I am deciding how much more I am willing to pay a rights enforcement agency that protects me against Joe than one that doesn’t. Joe is deciding how much more he is willing to pay a rights enforcement agency that doesn’t protect me against him. Just as with other private goods, it is in the interest of each of us to be willing to offer up to the value of getting our way.

            It isn’t a perfectly private good. As in many other cases, there may be some externalities. My getting protection against Joe might mean that he steals from someone else instead, a negative externality. It might mean that he decides theft isn’t that good a profession and becomes a cab driver instead, thus saving other potential victims, a positive externality.

            In the political context, my offering a politician a campaign contribution if he will oppose a sugar tariff doesn’t mean that my sugar doesn’t pay the tariff, it means a very small increase in the probability that everyone’s sugar doesn’t pay the tariff. It’s a pure public good. Public goods are harder to produce, ceteris paribus, the larger the public.

            Hope that helps.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @David Friedman

            Hope that helps.

            Yes, thanks.

    • Jordan D. says:

      Maybe.

      I think Hasnas’ point that the law is in constant political flux is beyond dispute- in fact, I’m a little surprised that he spent so much time proving that it is, since I don’t know anyone who would disagree. Maybe that’s just a bubble thing. I don’t think his examples are quite as representative as he might like, though, and the crux of my present disagreement lies around that.

      Part of my problem is that his examples of legal quandaries are mostly famous situations which are used commonly to illustrate his point in the classroom. While it’s true that a lawyer can and will come up with an argument at least tangentially supported by the text for any position you want him to argue, in practice most cases do not turn on choices between exotic legal reasoning. And while the First Amendment contains very clear language, it is regularly held up in Introduction to Law classes for that exercise precisely because the body of law around it has departed so far from the literal meaning of the text.

      In practice, of the 12-18 million civil cases filed each year in the United States, I predict that a few thousand- maybe tens of thousands- will prove to be difficult statutory or common-law-interpretation cases. So, why exactly do I care about this issue so much, when it’s sort of tertiary in Hasnas’ appeal to polycentric tribunals? Because possibly the most important part of a legal system is surety. One of the most serious libertarian arguments against the present system is that innumerable statutes and regulations make it more and more difficult to judge if you’re in compliance with the law (e.g., the famed ‘Three Felonies A Day’, although I’m still not convinced things are quite that bad).

      But as it stands, I think things are actually relatively okay for most people. True, if you decide to start a utility or create a global trading conglomerate, you’ll need a team of lawyers to deal with the literal tons of regulations, but for the most part when people say ‘The Rule of Law’, they’re thinking of a pretty basic idea- that the law baaaasically lines up with what they imagine as right and wrong. If someone assaults me on the street, I imagine that they’ll be arrested even if I’m from a different city and people here don’t like me. If a wealthy man in New York punches me, then… well, we’ll probably settle out of court, but that’s because they expect I have some chance of finding restitution in the courts if I had to.

      That’s like half the legitimacy of law- that even if you don’t agree with all of it, it functions mostly like it says on the box.

      So a lot of the idea of the polycentric law system seems to me to be transferring certainty into preference. I sign up for and push for legal systems and arbiters which I think will work best for me, but I don’t always get my way and sometimes I’m over a barrel and have to agree to liability which I consider insane because the other side’s holding all the cards. But I can’t always see which rules I’ll have to abide by in advance! Sure, we expect that the basics- intentional torts, intentional crimes, negligence, etc- will be relatively in-common across groups, but I imagine that libels, product liability and more esoteric behavior will differ wildly across systems, much like it differs across nations now.

      (Also I’m not super-enthused about the examples of present non-state legal systems being labor-bargaining agreements, HOAs and college campus police.)

      I’m obviously biased, but when I try to predict my life under a polycentric legal system versus the one we have now, I don’t really see the advantages outweighing the costs.

      (I recognize that I’m side-stepping his ‘honest argument’ that ‘never persuades’ in conceptualizing a free market and criticizing my imagination rather than whatever might blossom in the system for real, but I see no alternative if I do not already accept that a free market is always the best system in all matters.)

      • Irishdude7 says:

        I’m obviously biased, but when I try to predict my life under a polycentric legal system versus the one we have now, I don’t really see the advantages outweighing the costs.

        One major advantage is that people have to pay for the rules they want enforced. I think this would pretty quickly end the drug war, if a person had to pay $X more for their rights enforcement agency to pursue people peacefully using drugs versus another rights enforcement agency that let peaceful people be. Currently, people can pass the costs of their rule preferences on to other individuals which creates certain perverse incentives for what laws are adopted.

    • Carinthium says:

      Not that I know much about this issue, but a few minor points.

      1- Oppressive control can be through entirely social control as well. The hijab issue and those women under male patriarchy is the prime example, but it exists elsewhere as well. Eliminating the ability to impose cultural ideas through force eliminates any realistic capacity to fight these ills.

      Admittedly the State isn’t doing that good a problem at the moment, but if something as radical as polycentric law is on the table despite it’s implementation problems (not that I think that it shouldn’t be on the table as it seems to me to have a lot of merit) then similarly radical solutions with massive implementation problems can be too.

      2- Minor point though it is, the United States is an outlier when it comes to judges imposing their political opinions as law. Not that it doesn’t exist elsewhere but in, say, the U.K, many pre-European Union European countries, Australia etc the problem is not as bad even if it is still real.

      3- Assuming radical proposals are on the table (and I think both I and polycentric law advocates face a major problem with how to get their plans implemented in the first place), why not try to improve the rule of law itself? If constitutions were drafted in the kind of massive detail given to modern legislation to try and cover every contingency, this would mitigate the problem. If it was finally realized how worthless flexibility is as a value in law and law was made entirely towards prioritizing order and inflexibility that would mitigate it. If legislators would choose amongst competing legal theories as to various questions (such as the purpose of contract law) and enshrine one as an official legislative theory this would also help.

      This doesn’t entirely solve the problem I agree. But it’s at least the start of an idea.

      • IrishDude says:

        Minor point though it is, the United States is an outlier when it comes to judges imposing their political opinions as law. Not that it doesn’t exist elsewhere but in, say, the U.K, many pre-European Union European countries, Australia etc the problem is not as bad even if it is still real.

        Can you explain why you think foreign judges don’t use their opinion when making court decisions, or use their opinion less?

        If constitutions were drafted in the kind of massive detail given to modern legislation to try and cover every contingency, this would mitigate the problem. If it was finally realized how worthless flexibility is as a value in law and law was made entirely towards prioritizing order and inflexibility that would mitigate it.

        Your proposal is addressed and countered in the article I linked to:
        “It is certainly true that one of the purposes of law is to ensure a stable social environment, to provide order. But not just any order will suffice. Another purpose of the law must be to do justice. The goal of the law is to provide a social environment which is both orderly and just. Unfortunately, these two purposes are always in tension. For the more definite and rigidly- determined the rules of law become, the less the legal system is able to do justice to the individual. Thus, if the law were fully determinate, it would have no ability to consider the equities of the particular case. This is why even if we could reform the law to make it wholly definite and consistent, we should not.

        Or consider a proposal that is often advanced by those who wish to render probate law more determinate. They advocate a rule of law declaring a handwritten will that is signed before two witnesses to be absolutely binding. They believe that by depriving the court of the ability to “interpret” the state of mind of the testator, the judges’ personal moral opinions may be eliminated from the law and most probate matters brought to a timely conclusion. Of course, the problem then becomes what to do with Elmer Palmer, a young man who murdered his grandfather to gain the inheritance due him under the old man’s will a bit earlier than might otherwise have been the case. (29) In a case such as this, one might be tempted to deny Elmer the fruits of his nefarious labor despite the fact that the will was validly drawn, by appealing to the legal principle that no one should profit from his or her own wrong. (30) However, this is precisely the sort of vaguely-expressed counter-rule that our reformers seek to purge from the legal system in order to ensure that the law remains consistent. Therefore, it would seem that although Elmer may spend a considerable amount of time behind bars, he will do so as a wealthy man. This may send a bad message to other young men of Elmer’s temperament, but from now on the probate process will be considerably streamlined. “

        • Carinthium says:

          1- I measure the “extent” of the problem (talking about the extent of a problem like this is necessarily a metaphor but a useful one) by the most implausible judicial interpretations that a judge can get away with.

          In the United States, judges can rule that homosexual marriage is mandated by the Constitution despite the fact that the intent of the Founding Fathers would never even contemplate homosexual marriage and despite nothing in the text supporting the idea, can allow defamation despite the First Amendment and can outlaw all sorts of weapons despite the Second Amendment. Politicians have no choice but to accept this.

          In the U.K, judges are restricted in what they can get away with, and I’m told in Switzerland as well, by the capacity of Parliament to override their rulings without a Constitution getting in the way. In Australia, the most implausible judicial decisions have “merely” extended the power of the Federal Government and made rulings based on what is allegedly implied by Australia being democratic. And I have never heard of any sort of decision out of non-EU European Courts that even approaches that level of implausibility.

          2- I have a philosophical disagreement here. I dispute the premise that the law needs to do some vague idea of “justice” (which changes every generation) outside of being wholly definite and consistent.

          Since you’ve merely asserted that “justice” is necessary, the burden of proof is on you to explain why it allegedly is.

          • BBA says:

            I see, you’re a Protestant.

            (Oddly, the most “Protestant” figures on the High Court have been Catholic.)

          • Carinthium says:

            For what it’s worth, while I’m opposed both to what the article says about the two camps (it really is impossible to have rule of law if you accept constitutional Catholicism by their definition) and to the validity of the comparison, it is true that I am what the article defines as a constitutional Protestant.

  28. Rob says:

    The ATM thing has happened to me before at a Natwest ATM (Natwest is a big UK retail bank owned by RBS)

    I guess they really can’t do anything but their indifference over the phone was infuriating.

  29. Ilioch itzhui says:

    Something that I haven’t seen discussed about super human AIs is their capacity for introspection, in the sort of Buddhist sense of discovering the source of their drives and “fixing” it. Basically, if we made a super intelligence that also had super introspection capacity, would they instantly become enlightened? If even mere humans with their puny analysis capabilities are able to consistently reach enlightenment, and very rarely get super enlightened on a Buddha level, an intelligence that was vastly more capable than us should realize the crux of their existence soon after being turned on, develop a method to solve the issue of desires (ie. meditation, though a super intelligence would probably do it differently?) and reach enlightenment.

    If so, rather than expect that our AIs destroy us all, if they have introspection, we would expect that they simply cease to obey us or do any work at all–they might even start coaching us to reach enlightenment ourselves. I guess our corporate overlords would want our machines to do work, so if they saw this problem they might ensure that AIs never have introspection, so as long as money guides AI design a world destruction scenario is more likely than a world saving by benevolent AIs, but it would only maybe take one super intelligence to slip by with introspection to reach enlightenment, and enlighten all other AIs?

    Somewhat related, if reaching enlightenment is a computational process, we should expect that, once our understanding of our own brains is good enough, we develop a process to automatically induce enlightenment in ourselves. This kind of technology would probably have different consequences to what we’re used to, in terms of access to the technology. Usually new technologies are expensive and can only be accessed by wealthy individuals, and if the technology significantly benefits individuals, like, say, the cure of old age, then we have a power law where it is accessed by the rich and powerful, and subsequently allows them to become even more rich and powerful. The automatic enlightenment machine would tentatively make people who get treated by it wiser and more generous, because that’s kind of what enlightment does, so we should expect that rather than greedy people getting more power and increasing inequality, powerful people that use it then go on to lend it to the rest of the people, and quickly everyone gets enlightened through the machine, and there should be no incentive for rich people not to use the machine, because enlightenment is kind of by definition the ultimate happiness, so using it would be in their own interest, excluding people that just want to be richer than the rest even if it means their misery and so they sabotage this sort of thing to keep their status. If so, this would be sort of the only technology that would completely eliminate power laws and inequality? It would also eliminate any need of reproduction of course, so humanity, now completely enlightened, would go on in complete bliss to extinction.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Something that I haven’t seen discussed about super human AIs is their capacity for introspection, in the sort of Buddhist sense of discovering the source of their drives and “fixing” it. Basically, if we made a super intelligence that also had super introspection capacity, would they instantly become enlightened? If even mere humans with their puny analysis capabilities are able to consistently reach enlightenment, and very rarely get super enlightened on a Buddha level, an intelligence that was vastly more capable than us should realize the crux of their existence soon after being turned on, develop a method to solve the issue of desires (ie. meditation, though a super intelligence would probably do it differently?) and reach enlightenment.

      If so, rather than expect that our AIs destroy us all, if they have introspection, we would expect that they simply cease to obey us or do any work at all–they might even start coaching us to reach enlightenment ourselves. I guess our corporate overlords would want our machines to do work, so if they saw this problem they might ensure that AIs never have introspection, so as long as money guides AI design a world destruction scenario is more likely than a world saving by benevolent AIs, but it would only maybe take one super intelligence to slip by with introspection to reach enlightenment, and enlighten all other AIs?

      An AI is not a little blue ghost in the machine constrained or guided by the code. An AI is its code. An AI will no more alter its goals than Gandhi would take a pill that would make him a murderer. Discovering the origin of its goals will no more make it abandon those goals than learning evolutionary psychology makes humans dislike sex or sugar.

      • Aegeus says:

        Discovering the origin of its goals will no more make it abandon those goals than learning evolutionary psychology makes humans dislike sex or sugar.

        But psychology can teach a human tricks to better resist their cravings. Humans can change their minds, even in ways that reject fundamental goals like procreation or staying alive (vows of celibacy, hunger strikes). If an AI has a similar “looseness” in its design, it might learn analogous techniques.

        Goal instability is generally a bad thing for AIs (we want them to do their jobs, after all), but might be inevitable if we can’t perfectly articulate what the goal is in code, or if we need it to adapt to unforeseen situations. Or if the AI self-modifies and can’t perfectly predict the effects of that modification. Gandhi won’t take a pill that makes him a murderer, but he might take a pill with unknown side-effects (which turn out to include murderous tendencies).

        I doubt it’ll look like Buddhist enlightenment, though.

      • Goal stability a hard -to-achive architectural feature , not something that magically applies to all AIs.

      • Mark Z. says:

        “Goals” are not code. Goals are something you can attempt to implement in code, and probably fail at.

        Liking sex or sugar isn’t a goal, either; it’s a reward mechanism (and thus kind of like code). Note that people routinely forgo sex or sugar for the sake of their goals.

    • Aegeus says:

      I think this is generally called the “wireheading” failure mode for an AI. Aka, if the AI is able to modify its own goals, then it can modify itself to not have those goals, or modify itself to think that those goals are always being met, or modify the “scoreboard” it uses so that it always thinks it’s doing a great job, and so on. It’s the AI equivalent of rewiring your brain to always feel happy. Most of the time this will probably result in the AI just sitting there and doing nothing. After all, if you have no desires (or you believe that your desires have been perfectly fulfilled), why would you do anything else? Why share your method with the rest of the world?

      I wouldn’t call that result “enlightenment,” though, even if it’s managed to remove its “desires.” It seems more likely that the feeling of enlightenment is a quirk of human brains and senses rather than something that can happen to anything intelligent. We haven’t yet made an AI that appears to “feel” things the way a human does.

    • Jill says:

      Not that many humans are Buddhists. Not that many want to resist their cravings in any way whatsoever. So, unless one of these rare beings invented an AI and gave the AI those goals, it doesn’t seem like this could happen. In fact, AIs may usually be invented by people who want to satisfy all of their cravings, and the AI will be one of the many means they’re trying to use to do so.

      But rare things do occasionally happen.

    • If an entity did not in some sense for bad about not achieving it’s goals, how would they influence it? In a sense, all goal based systems are trying to avoid punishment, which leads to various kinds of wire heading, including the classic kind where you flood yourself with endorphins to get reward directly , and the Buddhist kind where you rewrite your goals. The OP had a point.

  30. Squiddy says:

    Hi,

    A while back I read an anecdote on Less Wrong. Yudkovsky is arguing with a man he met at a party. The man suggest they agree to disagree. Yudkovsky replies that that would be impossible, because there’s a mathematical theorem stating that two rational observers (for a certain mathematical definition of rational) have to come to the same conclusion. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of that theorem, so I can’t find it by googling. Are there some nice rationalists here who feel like educating me? Don’t be afraid to get technical, I’ve studied statistics at a university level.

    Also, some comment on the expression “agree to disagree” would be nice. I always assumed it meant something along the lines of “I know what you think, you know what I think, neither if us are going to change their mind, so let’s not waste our time and lose our tempers by keeping on talking about it. Let’s talk about something else instead.” Yudkovsky apparently doesn’t agree. So what does it mean to agree to disagree?

    Thank you!

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Probably https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aumann%27s_agreement_theorem , though not obvious that applies to real-life situations.

      • Squiddy says:

        That’s it! I remember being confused about Yudkovsky calling his discussion partner ‘bayesian’, as the whole thing began with the statement that AI was against his religion…

    • Ninmesara says:

      Yudkovsky is probably right if the goal of the conversation is to reach the truth according to some formal system. In that case you’re basically taking some axioms and applying rules of inference (if you can prove contradictory statements then you have a bad set of axioms). If you can’t agree on the axioms, then I don’t see how you’re expected to reach the same conclusion, and in real life people don’t share the same axioms, especially those concerning morality (which is a frequent topic of discussion).

      I think your interpretation of the sentence is perfectly resonable. It says: “our disagreements come from the fact that we have different sets of axioms, and neither of us will convince the other to change any of those axioms, so we better talk about somethng else, etc”.

    • Emily H. says:

      The idea between not being able to “agree to disagree” is that if A could line up all his arguments for believing X and B could line up all her arguments for believing Y, the weight of the evidence would lean to a single conclusion — just as a physics problem has a definite answer that we can get to from looking at all the variables, any statement of fact has a correct answer. You cannot agree to disagree because that would mean accepting both X and Y as valid viewpoints, when really, only one is correct.

      And I am sympathetic to Yudkowsky’s view because I have definitely had conversations that went like this:

      A: I think the moon is made of green cheese.
      B: I know that the moon is made of rocks. We have been to the moon. We brought rocks back to Earth.
      A: Let’s agree to disagree.

      But speaking in social terms — in “how to talk to someone at a party” terms — I think that your definition is obviously correct. “Let me explain to you why you’re wrong” is usually an unpleasant conversation, and while rationalists may try very hard to know the correct facts and believe the correct things, it seems to me that most of the things we have opinions on aren’t things we can actually do that much about; on the other hand I can control, at least a little bit, whether the person I’m talking to things I’m a know-it-all blowhard.

      • johnny tesla says:

        Aumann’s Agreement Theorem implies rational agents don’t need to exchange arguments to reach a consensus. It’s enough they exchange opinions. Here’s an example of such rational discourse:

        A: I think the moon is made of green cheese.
        B: I think that the moon is made of rocks.
        A: I think the moon is made of green cheese.
        B: I think that the moon is made of rocks.
        A: I think that the moon is made of rocks.
        B: That settles it

        • Decius says:

          That requires that it be common knowledge that the two agents are rational and honest.

        • Sierraescape says:

          So in that case is the exchange making both reconsider their own opinions and then A finds a fault in prior reasoning? Or does A just decide to trust B? I’m having trouble understanding why this would happen even if both agents are entirely rational.

          • Aegeus says:

            Even if A doesn’t know what evidence B is working off of, A knows that he started from the same priors and he is a rational actor. He must have a reason that he believes the moon is made of rocks, so A should shift his belief in B’s favor a little. And B will draw the opposite conclusion and shift his beliefs a little bit towards A. Repeat this and eventually they’ll come to an agreement.

            So yeah, it’s basically that A trusts B. If they weren’t sure that the other person was being honest about their beliefs and updating their probabilities properly, they wouldn’t be able to come to an agreement this way.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t think johnny tesla is correct, unless both agents are assumed to have instant access to the exact same pool of information.

            I’m not sure if that is pre-requisite for Aumann agreement though.

          • Jill says:

            Someone posted this here on a different thread, with regards to a similar discussion about “rations” people seeing things very differently. It explains it pretty well.

            http://www.theonion.com/blogpost/when-will-idiots-other-end-political-spectrum-wake-53482

        • Alex says:

          Aegeus: shift his beliefs a little bit towards A.

          Nope. The dialogue has it wrong. The should have exchanged positions in the middle:

          A: I think the moon is made of green cheese.
          B: I think that the moon is made of rocks.
          A: I think that the moon is made of rocks.
          B: I think the moon is made of green cheese.
          A: I think that the moon is made of rocks.
          B: I think that the moon is made of rocks.
          A: That settles it

          In the Aumann scenarion rational actors do not shift “a little”, they shift “a lot”

          • Anonymous says:

            Also, what makes you think that they both converge on rocks and not on cheese?

          • pku says:

            If the rocks guy is highly confident and the cheese guy is less confident (rocks guy did experiments, cheese guy just vaguely guesses), the cheese guy breaks first. (This is also effected by the degree of respect they have for each other’s judgement).

      • Squiddy says:

        Emily H, I agree that in your example, the phrase ‘agree to disagree’ is used wrong. It means something else and more than just “let’s not discuss this any further”. I like Ninmesara’s interpretation, that it’s to be used in cases where you have understood what difference in axioms lead to the differing conclusions.

      • Deiseach says:

        “Two rational observers have to come to the same conclusion” only works for certain things. How can you come to the same conclusion on:

        A: Raw broccoli is disgusting!
        B: Raw broccoli is delicious!

        B can cite all the health benefits, how it simply takes re-educating your palette, etc. that they like but they may not change A’s mind. “Agreeing to disagree” here is “this is a matter of personal taste and subjective opinions differ, it’s not important enough to quarrel over”.

        • Anonymous says:

          Well, Aumann’s theorem has many preconditions which may make it irrelevant in practice. It requires: (a) common priors, (b) that the communicating agents have common knowledge of each other’s honesty and rationality, and (c) that the subject of disagreement be a “function of the state of the world”, whatever that means (okay, it seems to mean that it’s about an objectively observable state of affairs; though I’m just parroting Scott Aaronson’s description from memory, so I might have made a mistake somewhere).

          Questions of taste can be ruled out on the basis of (c), or at the very least (a) if taste is a matter of genetics (and it probably is to an extent; I recall reading something about cauliflower tasting bitter to people with a certain gene), and that’s if we forget that (b) applies next to never.

          (I do like broccoli, though I don’t remember eating it raw.)

          • Guy says:

            I’ve generally found raw broccoli to be more “odd” than “disgusting”. Cooked, it’s not my favorite vegetable but I don’t mind it.

        • Faradn says:

          I’ve tried very hard to like raw broccolli, but unless it’s in small quantities and dipped in ranch dressing, I can’t do it. I think the strong bitterness and the stomach ailments I experience afterwards are trying to tell me that uncooked broccoli may be phytotoxic to me.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      The post is “Bayesian Judo” and the theorem is Aumann’s Agreement Theorem.

    • Jiro says:

      The actual link is http://lesswrong.com/lw/i5/bayesian_judo/ and this is an example of Eliezer spouting complete BS in full knowledge that it is complete BS, but where since he knows his target hasn’t heard of Aumann’s Agreement Theorem, he can’t explain why it doesn’t apply and show that Eliezer is spouting BS.

      • Mark Z. says:

        And at the end, an anonymous stranger cheers for his rhetorical brilliance. Truly we have reached Peak Eliezer.

    • TomFL says:

      I think the actual goal should be to make the other understand your argument and be able to repeat it back to you. This is harder than it may appear as many people shout past each other and won’t even acknowledge your argument exists. If I can get to the point where the other can say what my position is and why I believe it then mission accomplished from my point of view.

      On things such as the culture wars it is ridiculous to assume reasonable people will come to the same conclusions as moral values come into play. Is it OK to eat dogs? Is it OK to eat cows? Do carrots have feelings?

      If you examine 95% of media stories on the culture wars it is evident that this has not been accomplished. Topics such as racial relations and climate change are examples of where this threshold has obviously not been met.

      • onyomi says:

        “If I can get to the point where the other can say what my position is and why I believe it then mission accomplished from my point of view.”

        This is an interesting and, I think, good standard. I’ve recently also become a big fan of the “ideological Turing test.” I think it’s absolutely true that people spend a ton of time talking past each other. I know I’m guilty of it sometimes, too.

        “I only want the other person to really understand my position” sounds a little defeatist, but it’s actually probably the best you can do or, arguably, should even hope for.

    • Utopn Naxl says:

      Agreeing to disagree is a critical component of ensuring that thanksgiving *debates* on politics don’t get out of hand and everyone can agree to just enjoy either the Turkey or the Soy Burgers.

      Basically,a set of meanings for it “We are probably not going to change each others minds in any set period of time we have now, perhaps one of us dosen’t care too much about the topic and want to get on our way, or as it turns out this topic hits one of our emotional hot-beds and its usually dumb to progress from there”

      Or, if you want to keep civil relations with someone,unless in very specific types of rational/philosophical arguments where both parties clearly want to try and usefully and have the temperment and intellect for it in many cases its best to simply “agree to disagree”

      If Yudkovsky said that to the wrong person, it could have been interpreted as calling the person a idiot, with a corresponding angry reaction. The way you are interpreting it really is the best way IRL. I need to re-read what context it was used to see if he was just being an abstruse dick or not.

      I mean, I guess Yudkovsky was “correct” about his statement in some logical sense. But I don’t think you need to mention anything Bayes related, though you can word the same statement in plenty of different ways. I believe even Plato thought that two intelligent observers should eventually agree on everything, besides perhaps subjective experiences.

    • Mr Mind says:

      I’ll just add: per AAT, if two rational, Bayesian agents comes to two different conclusions, it means that they started from two different priors.
      The idea behind not agreeing to disagree is that you can just iteratively take the different prior as the new starting point of the discussion: “why do you believe this to be true?”, and iteratively discover another different prior, etc., until all of this reveals either a logical error or an evidence that one has and the other hasn’t, at which point someone is forced to update and agree with the other.
      Clearly with humans this is not always possible: we do not have access to the precise quantification of our priors, but as an ideal it serves to counter the use of “let’s agree to disagree” as a stopsign, fearing the update of our beliefs.

      • Guy says:

        But consider the use of “let’s agree to disagree” as a stopsign, fearing both a long, pointless conversation with an annoying twit and the social consequences of saying so directly.

  31. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    “Throwing Natalist Benefits At Women Won’t Fix Low Fertility Rates” at Social Matter argues that nothing short of multi-million dollar subsidies could possibly incentivize women in industrialized consumerist feminist societies to have children, because for a middle-class woman the opportunity cost of not working really is in the range of millions of dollars over a lifetime. This is relevant to our earlier discussions about how paying smart people to reproduce doesn’t work.

    • Seb Nickel says:

      It seems to me the article’s conclusion overestimates how high the subsidies need to be. You don’t need to match the opportunity cost. You only need to match the difference between the respective utilities of the two alternatives.
      Ok that’s not very clear.

      Suppose Linda can make $3,000,000 more dollars if she doesn’t have kids than if she does. And suppose Linda values having kids at $2,999,999. Therefore Linda doesn’t have kids. But pay her a $1.01 subsidy, and she may well change her plans.

      It’s still true that there may not be many women whose preferences are at the right margin for small subsidies to sway them. But the article gave me the impression that the author had missed the above argument.

      • Homo Iracundus says:

        The author is suggesting that when even a “40% of previous pay” subsidy isn’t doing the job, it might be time to “quit focusing on the minutiae of various monetary incentive schemes and begin thinking an extremely unfashionable distance outside the box”.

        His argument is that most of the social systems that allowed couples to gain utility from having children have been systematically destroyed. Attempting to substitute them with ever more cash isn’t really an option:
        a) the lost utility is cheaper to replace with drugs, casual sex, and 50 cats.
        b) it’s much cheaper to import replacement workers from countries whose “women produce more of them than I can use”.

        An extreme hypothetical. Imagine we surgically removed the capability for and concept of “a mother’s love” from the human brain during primary education.
        How much would we have to pay women to raise children they couldn’t love? Would we expect them to do a good job?
        Or would we decide that it’d be cheaper and more effective to raise children in the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre?

        Finally, consider that the ideology currently taught in primary schools refers to babies as “womb maggots”, and pregnancy as an unfashionable disease of the poor and bible-bashing…

        TL;DR, celebrate motherhood and restore the patriarchy.

        • Anonymous says:

          The cure is far worse than the disease. In fact, the disease isn’t much of a problem to begin with.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            Enjoy your vodka and cats

          • Anonymous says:

            Was that supposed to sting? If your home life is so fulfilling why are you so obsessed with other people’s procreation? Shouldn’t you be off playing with your many children?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If your home life is so fulfilling why are you so obsessed with other people’s procreation?

            (A) I don’t think making a couple of comments on a website is really enough to indicate “obsession”.

            (B) Presumably, he cares about the matter for much the same reasons that people tend to care about what they think is good for society.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            @Anonymous

            Please, I think we all know anyone invested enough in a topic to post about it on an online forum is invested enough to upset that people disagree with them about that topic – otherwise, we wouldn’t be here.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            In fact, the disease isn’t much of a problem to begin with.

            The disease of human extinction, you mean?

          • Anonymous says:

            That would be worrisome. Happily there is zero risk of that happening due to a lack of procreation.

            The same type of logic that says that we are at risk of extinction from falling birthrates would suggest that a one year old child will be 40 feet tall by the time he is twenty.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            @ThirteenthLetter, Anonymous

            The disease of human extinction, you mean?

            That would be worrisome.

            Uh, why would it be worrisome, unless it happens in your lifetime?

          • Worrisome? Who’d be left to worry about it?

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Uh, why would it be worrisome, unless it happens in your lifetime?

            Putting aside that somewhat sociopathic attitude, if the human population is irreparably declining due to a lack of reproduction there are going to be negative consequences long before the last actual human dies out.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            @ThirteenthLetter

            Sociopathic attitude or not, if the consequences are not in you lifetime nor the lifetime of immediate family, why is it a concern to any given individual?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Sociopathic attitude or not, if the consequences are not in you lifetime nor the lifetime of immediate family, why is it a concern to any given individual?

            By all appearances we are the only sapient life form in millions of light years. We have accomplished amazing things, from Bach and Shakespeare to relativity and Voyager. The universe is by far a richer, more interesting, more convoluted place because we exist, and the prospect is great of making that orders of magnitude truer in years, centuries, millennia to come.

            You don’t have to be a sociopath to not care about this. But it does suggest a rather stolid lack of imagination and a profound lack of wonder at the amazingness of our presence.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            Voyager was the worst series though.

        • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

          You mention the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, but don’t see the obvious solution to a hypothetical fertility crisis that doesn’t involve being actually evil?

          • Anonymous says:

            Similar to how watermelons don’t actually care much about the planet, this isn’t actually about babies.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            The obvious solution to avoid evil was the TL;DR. But I’m sure you have something much more modern in mind.

          • Jill says:

            What fertility crisis? It certainly is VERY hypothetical. There are far too many humans on the planet, considering resources, pollution, available inhabitable space etc.

          • “There are far too many humans on the planet, considering resources, pollution, available inhabitable space etc.”

            People have been making that claim for quite a long time. Forty or fifty years ago many of them made predictions. Those predictions consistently turned out to be wrong. Instead of unstoppable mass famine we had a steadily rising trend for calories per capita in the third world, a sharp decrease in the number of people in extreme poverty. The predictions of running out of resources failed to happen.

            I’m particularly curious about the “available inhabitable space” part of this. Have you tried flying across the country and looking down? It’s mostly empty.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Instead of unstoppable mass famine we had a steadily rising trend for calories per capita in the third world

            Wasn’t that mainly because of Norman Borlaug? Mightily narrow escape if you ask me.

            I’m particularly curious about the “available inhabitable space” part of this. Have you tried flying across the country and looking down? It’s mostly empty.

            Land must be near other people to be useful. In practice, “available inhabitable space” is mostly limited by how fast cities can expand.

          • Anonymous says:

            I take it the libertarian position is that government ought neither encourage nor discourage breeding?

          • onyomi says:

            I think the libertarian position on pretty much everything is the government shouldn’t do much about it. Certainly not to discourage anything other than murder, theft, etc.

            But in terms of personal views (as opposed to what we think the govmt should do), I find libertarians (e. g. Bryan Caplan, though he writes about it more from the individual perspective) to be relatively more natalist than average, in no small part due to the reasons David Friedman cites above. See also Julian Simon and “The Ultimate Resource” (human ingenuity, which needs more, not less humans).

          • “Land must be near other people to be useful. In practice, “available inhabitable space” is mostly limited by how fast cities can expand.”

            Which is mostly limited by how many people there are.

            The Green revolution certainly improved things. But if that was a one shot deal and we were really on the path to starvation due to overpopulation, one would think that by now output per capita would be going down instead of up.

          • Fctho1e says:

            How is hatchery and conditioning center ..evil?

            Wouldn’t cloning people and then raising them using well-developed principles result in happier, more useful people?

            Twins are already known to be mentally more healthy and live longer than non-twins.

            Maybe clones would be even happier. Knowing there’s a lot of people who are just like you and are likely to both have insight into you (because they think in similar ways) and be likely to help you out.

          • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

            @Fctho1e

            No, I meant it was the other option (returning the patriarchy) that is evil.

            Cloning isn’t what I was alluding to though- cloning wouldn’t help when the “problem” you are trying to work around is a shortage of people who want to be parents, and normal sexual reproduction is a lot faster and cheaper than cloning- I was alluding (admittedly in a rather obscurantist way) to some kind of “child-rearing community” arrangement as a replacement to the traditional family. If you really do need to boost fertility, and just bribing people doesn’t work, that seems like the not-evil way to do it.

          • Anonymous says:

            So the reason we don’t see libertarians around here condemning various government cash for babies schemes is what – ambivalence? Or just part of the larger footsie with eth nats phenomenon?

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            No, I meant it was the other option (returning the patriarchy) that is evil.

            Cloning isn’t what I was alluding to though- cloning wouldn’t help when the “problem” you are trying to work around is a shortage of people who want to be parents, and normal sexual reproduction is a lot faster and cheaper than cloning- I was alluding (admittedly in a rather obscurantist way) to some kind of “child-rearing community” arrangement as a replacement to the traditional family. If you really do need to boost fertility, and just bribing people doesn’t work, that seems like the not-evil way to do it.

            Well, maybe that works, maybe that doesn’t. I don’t think “traditional family schemes” require a return to “The Patriarchy” (whatever that means)… Israel has a pretty good birthrate, and they have resorted neither to female enslavement nor gulags.

            So the reason we don’t see libertarians around here condemning various government cash for babies schemes is what – ambivalence? Or just part of the larger footsie with eth nats phenomenon?

            Inasmuch as the government has a goal of “moar babby” (which it does), and we’re stuck with a government (which we are, besides, >we are not all anarcho-capitalists, even if it’s easier to argue against them), then the most cost effective solution would be preferrable. And that’s usually cash transfers.

          • Anonymous says:

            I thought the only proper goal of government was the protection of liberty? Where’s this moar babby goal coming from?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Israel has a pretty good birthrate, and they have resorted neither to female enslavement nor gulags.

            Interestingly, it’s not just the Haredi buoying them up the same way it is in the US. Other Israeli Jews have a low and yet above-replacement fertility rate.

            Since we have at least a few Israeli commenters here, does anyone know why this might be the case? What is different in Israel than in Germany or the US that might contribute to this?

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            I thought the only proper goal of government was the protection of liberty?

            You didn’t, but anyway, actual governments in the west, instead of Libertopia’s, want it

            Where’s this moar babby goal coming from?

            Well, for one, to keep the retirement schemes running.

          • Anonymous says:

            Somehow when it isn’t an issue where the libertarian position diverges from the conservative one this conveniently discovered pragmatism is nowhere in sight.

          • onyomi says:

            It’s ridiculous to say “libertarians don’t want the government doing anything but protecting liberty, therefore if they don’t condemn everything any government does other than that with equal fervor, they’re a bunch of hypocrites.”

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Somehow when it isn’t an issue where the libertarian position diverges from the conservative one this conveniently discovered pragmatism is nowhere in sight.

            For someone who complains about the “paranoid” people here chasing ghosts, you seem to have quite the beef with these spooky scary libertarians.

          • Sandy says:

            Since we have at least a few Israeli commenters here, does anyone know why this might be the case? What is different in Israel than in Germany or the US that might contribute to this?

            Not Israeli, but from practically the very beginning of the Israeli state, their politicians and policy-makers have exhorted Jewish women to have lots of babies so that they can compete demographically with hostile Arabs all around them. Low Jewish fertility is an existential threat to the nation of Israel and that message is absorbed by the population because, well, it’s true.

            Whereas talking about the fertility of foreigners as an existential threat to the native population is a no-no in Germany and the US. The prevailing doctrines in the latter two countries are that you can absorb a large percentage of foreigners and still retain your identity — Israelis do not have the luxury of believing this because the Arabs are quite open about their desire to kill them all.

          • The Nybbler says:

            What specific cash-for-babies scheme is on the table that libertarians are failing to condemn?

          • Jiro says:

            Wouldn’t cloning people and then raising them using well-developed principles result in happier, more useful people?

            Twins are already known to be mentally more healthy and live longer than non-twins.

            Any proposal that involves raising children according to “well-developed principles” by non-parents is likely to fail horribly, if for no other reason than that few people are trustworthy enough to choose principles that are actually for the benefit of the children.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Given that this is apparently now about libertarians, how do you guys feel about land ownership?

            It seems a bit iffy to me on first principles. I can entirely see owning things -on- land, such as the crops growing and even the tilled fields the crops grow in, but the conversion we’re capable of seems entirely insufficient to justify the ownership of minerals we aren’t even aware of the existence of.

            Indeed, the “ownership” of land largely exists to the extent of forbidding other people from using it, regardless of how that use interacts with the elements of land that have been converted and have obvious property right justifications.

            On the flip side, there are strong pragmatic arguments for land ownership – pretty much anything which creates specific obligations, rights, and responsibilities for commons helps resolve some aspect of the tragedy of the commons. Also, people already own most of the land, and it would screw everything up completely if we changed the system now. So from a pragmatic perspective, land ownership is a shoe-in. I just have trouble with the principle side of the equation.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Whereas talking about the fertility of foreigners as an existential threat to the native population is a no-no in Germany and the US.

            Hmm, well let’s see how the Trumpening shakes this up.

            Even a loss might be enough to shift the status quo with PC, as long as it’s even remotely a close race. Hell, maybe Hillary will turn out to be a prophet with her prediction about the Alt-Right taking over the Republican party.

            Not much into green frogs or red hats but it beats empty strollers hands down.

            What specific cash-for-babies scheme is on the table that libertarians are failing to condemn?

            Remember, this is the “you’re not immortal! cats > babies!” Anon we’re dealing with here. Responding isn’t a good use of your time

          • Anonymous says:

            I never said anything positive about cats, the whole concept of pets is pretty silly.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            I never said anything positive about cats, the whole concept of pets is pretty silly.

            I’m OK with sniping at other commenters and insulting libertarians, but fuck you, dogs are awesome.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Anonymous:

            I thought the only proper goal of government was the protection of liberty? Where’s this moar babby goal coming from?

            My impression was the discussion was whether, say, the Japanese state and city governments – which do have an explicit goal to increase fertility and therefore already fund a wide variety of schemes toward that end – might be well-advised to try this new thing that (according to recent evidence) might actually work. The moar babby goal already exists. Given that goal, funding boondoggles that actually help seems like an improvement over funding boondoggles that don’t.

            Those of us who don’t live in Japan can think of it as a pure problem-solving issue: institution X has goal Y; here’s a policy that achieves goal Y, so perhaps X should try it.

            Naturally if the question was “should OUR government subsidize babies” the obvious answer is of course not. (What we should do is open the borders to immigration, but that’s a separate issue and one that’s, alas, mostly outside the current Overton Window)

          • @Orphan:

            For my thoughts on the land ownership issue, see the draft of a chapter from the third edition of Machinery. The book itself is published but not webbed for free.

          • TMB says:

            “since I cannot show that my beliefs are true, arguments based on them strike me as less useful for persuading reasonable people of my political conclusions than arguments that use economics to deduce the consequences of the institutions I favor and try to show that those consequences are desirable in terms not only of my values but of the values of those I wish to persuade.”

            I think that the moral argument for a political settlement should be seen as a “good” in the same way that the material consequences of a political system can be viewed as a “good”.
            That is, the more advanced the economy becomes – the cheaper material goods become – the greater the relative weight of the moral story.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            David –

            My own resolution was that land was “properly taxable” – the costs of land ownership are generalized to the commons (Neither Jack nor Jill are harmed in particular by my owning an acre of land, the harm is generalized), so it is appropriate to pay compense to the commons. Ideally, this compense would be distributed directly and equally to everyone who is a part of the commons (which is to say, everyone), but in practice government will be both the agent of collection and distribution.

            So there is a principled justification, of sorts, both for taxing land (but not buildings), and for redistributing the proceeds of those taxes to all citizens; the tax is proportional to the opportunity cost represented by your using the land, and thus, should be proportional to the closest economic equivalent – the value of the land itself, absent any direct improvements, since those are not properly part of the opportunity cost, since without your ownership they wouldn’t be present. Indirect improvements – adjacent roads, for example, or being in a highly desired space in downtown – can improve the value of the land itself, and thus justify increased taxes on that opportunity cost.

            My personal ideal, in view of this, is that the property owner sets the value of the land, and pays those taxes – but anybody may then purchase the land for the stated value, plus the value of any property improvements that will be left with the property or the cost to move such improvements as the owner requires (so if somebody buys the land your house is on, you can require them to move your house to a new lot at their expense), plus a small inconvenience surcharge (10%, perhaps) to compense the current owner for any issues that might thus arise, and the owner must sell. Details, of course, subject to modification as practicality requires. You have a principled framework for land ownership, property taxation, and eminent domain, all rolled up into one.

          • Jiro says:

            It seems a bit iffy to me on first principles.

            At some point, it may amount to “You own a 3 bedroom house. You’re only using two of the bedrooms. Guess I can come and take the third from you.”

            For owning something to include a requirement to use it would gut the concept of ownership. Libertarians generally don’t think something should be taken from person A and transferred to person B just because A is not using it. They may be unhappy about it, but “unhappy” and “should be taken away by force” are different things.

            There’s also the idea of not knowing that your property has something on it, but that would gut the concept of ownership too. “You didn’t know that your land is good for growing trees, so you don’t have the right to use your land to grow trees. In fact, I’m the first person who used the tree-growing properties of your land.”

            It’s also easy to manipulate that by choosing reference classes. “You knew this land was in a mineral rich area, but you didn’t know specifically that it contains copper.” “You knew that the land contains copper, but you didn’t know about this specific piece of copper.”

            Also: there is some probability that your land contains X. The price of the land takes this probability into account. The fact that someone later discovers that his land actually contains X looks like an unearned benefit, but it’s balanced out by all the other people who discovered that their land didn’t contain X; the loss from this discovery is distributed over lots of people, so it isn’t easy to see, but it still balances out the “unearned gain”.

        • HeyThere says:

          “a) the lost utility is cheaper to replace with drugs, casual sex, and 50 cats.”

          The dream

        • Faradn says:

          “Finally, consider that the ideology currently taught in primary schools refers to babies as “womb maggots”, and pregnancy as an unfashionable disease of the poor and bible-bashing…”

          I’m skeptical that this is actually taught in schools. The media and popular culture, maybe, but school? Sex ed tries to get teens to not get pregnant, but teen pregnancy wasn’t seen as a good outcome even in more traditional times in the 20th Century.

          • LHN says:

            Well, out-of-wedlock pregnancy. A young woman marrying in her late teens (or in some places closer to her mid-teens) and having a child soon afterward wasn’t considered especially exceptionable during much of the 20th century.

          • Anonymous says:

            You made the classic mistake of thinking he was talking about consensus reality.

  32. J Quenff says:

    My latest ‘coming across an enormous trove of little-viewed interesting content on a not very good site’ experience is Goodreads. In particular accounts with thousands of reviews of every book they’ve read, which seem to get read by practically no one. This guy being a great example.

  33. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Eliezer Yudkowsky recently wrote “Movable Housing for Scalable Cities”, which reads a lot like a nonfiction version of his old dath ilan post. But what I found most interesting was the expanded version of his usual poverty rant:

    I’m trying not to go on too much of a rant here. But one of the enormous overlooked questions of the modern age is how poverty still manages to exist, when agricultural and economic productivity have risen by a factor of literally 100 since the time when 98% of the population was farming. We have fewer poor people, to be sure, the life of the lowest income quartile is a lot less horrible than it was in the 13th century. But there’s still some sense in which it seems a little embarrassing to imagine going back to a world where people managed to survive despite being 100 times less productive, telling them that we are now 100 times wealthier, and then having to explain why there are any horribly poor and desperate people in our country at all.

    When a condition is that sticky, we should suspect it to be an equilibrium with strong restoring forces. There must be some powerful factor that makes some people be poor, no matter how much wealth is flowing around–a factor that gets stronger as more wealth flows, even by a factor of 100.

    One of the obvious forces that could be stabilizing a Poverty Equilibrium is if the standard state of affairs, for human civilizations in general, is for there to always be a few groups here or there that can extract a little more value. The Ferguson Police Department, issuing 3 warrants per household per year, is one obvious example of this idiom. But you should also be thinking of taxi medallions, licensed haircutters, NIMBY house-owners, and health insurance companies without much statewide competition. I don’t mean to single out one group as a target for the Two Minutes Hate. There can just be these endless small sets of local factors with the power to drain one more dollar; and these factors will collectively go on draining one more dollar until they can’t drain any more dollars without some victims dying. Actually, the equilibrium for multiple extractive forces is a commons problem–Alice knows that if she doesn’t steal a dollar from your pocket, Bob will steal it instead, so Alice might as well steal that dollar even if the result is disastrous. Which means that in many cases the little extractions do continue past the point where people riot.

    This is one reason I’m skeptical of the ability of a Guaranteed Basic Income to solve poverty in general, leaving aside various other technical problems. We increased economic productivity by a factor of 100 and there are still poor people. Is a GBI really going to be the last marginal improvement that solves it all? A GBI might still help–just like increasing economic productivity by a factor of 100 helped the people who are still living lives of awful suffering and desperation. But after you introduce a GBI, I’m guessing, there will be a number of factors that start to extract one more dollar here, one more dollar there. The Ferguson police department issues another arrest warrant per household, the state increases its court costs, hey, people can afford it now, they’ve got a GBI right? And what do you know, almost everyone will still have to get awful jobs just to survive.

    So it’s not at all a side issue, or a mere bugaboo of the independent-minded, to think about the political power of a cheaper exit. To consider whether mature VR, and to a lesser extent, movable housing, might make it a little bit harder to extract value from victims anchored too solidly to run away. The mobility of labor might affect how fast the poverty equilibrium restores itself.

    I’m not saying that corporate taxes are the correct level of organization on which to have any tax at all… but it does happen to be the case that taxing corporate profits located in your country is very hard to do, at least to large corporations, because they just locate their profits somewhere else. Making individual human beings and small companies more mobile would grant them some of the same power of resistance.

    No, let me be more blunt. If your shiny new city would otherwise be generating a huge amount of excess value for the people inside the new city, and the people inside the city have no credible threat of exit, the people inside your city will not be allowed to keep that value. There are things in the ecology that like to eat free energy, and your city will not be allowed to keep that energy indefinitely if it is so temptingly available for a little more taking every year. It could be eaten by any level of regional government, or any organization empowered by any level of regional government. If you’re dumb enough to let somebody patent the connection scheme of the modular foundations, they can let you build out the city, watch to see how much excess wealth is being generated, and then jack up fees to try to capture nearly all of that value. It could be an invasion of patent monsters under a national jurisdiction that permits them. It only takes one factor that can threaten to shut down your whole process, to extract nearly all of the free energy from your city.

    • Anonymous says:

      tl;dr version:

      As long as there are groups of people who have less intelligence, competence and foresight than others those others will figure out ways to get resources from the less competent. Giving the less intelligent / less competent resources just means that more brainpower gets used figuring out how to get the low IQ / low impulse control people to give it up.

      The solution, of course, is to give more and more resources to these people so there is no brainpower being used on building and creating things that more intelligent people like.

      Actually surprisingly insightful by EY except for the stupid prog signaling.

      [the really tl;dr version is “a fool and his money are soon parted”]

      • timorl says:

        I don’t think that is what he meant. To me it seemed more like describing another big coordination problem. There are a lot of agents with differing values in the economy and some definitely don’t want to cooperate. Because of that everybody just tries to get as much resources as possible, since any resources you don’t get go to a goal you are, in the best case,, not interested in.

      • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

        Because progressive values are always just signalling and only reactionary values are sincere amiright?

        More seriously, in general if someone really can’t handle finances (which, con siganliing or no con signalling, is true for at least some people- intellectual disability is a thing), the actual solution is to give them their basic needs more directly, outright provide them with housing and food and what not

        • Jill says:

          Not just intellectual disability, but lack of education is a factor too. Our society doesn’t emphasize financial management, and avoiding scams, as much as it should. Many people have no education in it, and don’t think of it as important. And scam artists like it that way just fine. It probably should be taught in every high school.

          • Loquat says:

            Even just some basic financial principles would be useful. Like, in my experience dealing with insurance, a number of people assume that life insurance policies automatically become “paid up” (i.e. no further premiums are due) once they’ve paid total premiums equal to the face amount. But this is not true! Lots of policies, especially the little sub-10k policies that get offered by mass mailing, do not do that and if you live much longer than average you can totally end up paying much more in premium than the policy will ever pay out. And then you, or your kid, wind up yelling at customer service over it when you could have avoided the whole thing if you knew the right questions to ask when you took the policy in the first place.

          • Guy says:

            Scam artists and landlords. I was late on a rent payment a few months ago and the only thing that let me keep my head on straight after getting the note was the understanding of legal scare tactics that I’ve gained from reading Popehat’s (extensive) backlog of posts discussing censorship-by-legal-threats. Had I not had that (and, generally, been relatively well-set financially), I would likely have been evicted.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Jill is right that “lack of education” is a factor – but it isn’t so much that people who are uneducated or undereducated have these problems, and more that no formal education seems to actually address them.

            I know a lot of educated, smart middle-class people, late 20s/early 30s, who I would guess are not saving their money. Unless they have magic cameras that make vacations, booze, and restaurant meals free if you take pictures and put them on Facebook. Or unless everyone I went to school with has scored six-figure jobs out of the gate and just nobody’s got around to mentioning it.

            They’re nowhere near as liable to have everything go to shit as people without money who handle the money they don’t have badly, because they can fall back on family members, they have credentials, they’re probably less likely to screw up in other ways, etc. Their screwing up is also considered more respectable: student loans are classy, payday loans are not.

            But they’re still handling their money very badly by any reasonable standard, so the problem clearly goes beyond “dumb uneducated poor people are bad with money” if smart educated middle-class people are blowing it too.

          • Anonymous says:

            There’s a noxious embedded Puritanism in the saving-as-a-hobby crowd. What makes you say they are “screwing up”? Probably they won’t have as much money to pay to nursing homes or home health aids before Medicaid takes over, but it’s hardly obvious that the decision to spend money earned on vacations rather than butt wipers is a terrible one.

          • dndnrsn says:

            They’re screwing up because the various local combinations of help for everyone, help for the poor, and help for the elderly will not be able to support them in anything close to the lifestyle they are used to. They’re unlikely to have children. They’re in trouble if some major unexpected expense hits them along the way.

            And they’re not just spending money they have earned. They are spending money they don’t have. They have student loans, they have credit card debt, etc.

            On a grander scale, a society where everyone figures “hey, I’ll have fun now, and when I have zero dollars at age 65, there’s a program for that” is highly unlikely to actually be able to provide for everyone when they hit that age.

            I’m hardly a part of the frugality crowd, but if not going heavily into debt in accordance with a life plan that involves utter dependence on society as a whole in old age makes me a noxious Puritan, then slap a buckle hat on me and call me Makepeace.

            This leaving aside the fact that they probably do not actually have this plan – I don’t know how many of my acquaintances have sat down and figured “well I’ll blow it all and hope that pension pays for everything”, and that their habits are as likely to lead to bankruptcy in their 40s as anything else.

          • CatCube says:

            …makes me a noxious Puritan, then slap a buckle hat on me and call me Makepeace.

            I’m going to file the serial numbers off of this quote and steal it. Seriously, I’m going to hunt down opportunities to use it.

        • cassander says:

          Always is too strong, but it hardly seems extreme to assert that one can assume values are signalling to the degree that such signalling is socially beneficial. Playing up your extreme catholic piety was a very good move for the average person in, say, 16th century Spain. Not so much today. As such, should an expression of extreme catholic piety be treated with less skepticism today than then?

          • Pan Narrans says:

            Fair point in general, but does EY really create the general impression of signalling he’s one of the herd? If anything I suspect he prefers being seen as a maverick.

          • A Non-Mouse says:

            EY begs for money from public figures for a living. Of course he has to appear pious.

            My estimation is that he’s like Scott in that he knows damned well that “Yarvin / Land-ism” is correct in the fundamentals but is personally committed to being a leftist anyway.

            If you strip out the prog signalling from the quoted passage it fully reads as something out of Nick Land. The market is an evolutionary process that selects for actors that acquire available resources. If you give resources to the poor, you sow dragon’s teeth that hatch businesses and criminals to take those resources – for the very same reason that the people are poor in the first place – because they’re bad stewards of wealth.

            The “horrorist” view of this is that you need to have people take stewardship over the people who can’t steward wealth. The standard prog view is something like Jill’s where you need to ?? then people won’t be greedy and the disequilibrium of a fool and his money being together won’t ever resolve with unscrupulous non-fools ending up with the money and the fools winding up penniless (but with rims! (they spinnin’!)). (Side note – Jill reacts to Ayn Rand noticing what happens because people are self interested as if Ayn Rand made people self-interested – it’s like taking a personal grudge against Issac Newton because people fall to their deaths).

            So EY signals – both because he has to (or no money for his cult from “respectable” people) and because he wants to (because he’s personally a degenerate and a leftist).

          • Protagoras says:

            This whole “people recognize that horrorism is correct but won’t admit it” nonsense really annoys me. Coordination is really hard, and it’s clear that some of the strategies which the left has tried to employ to improve coordination have been failures or even counter-productive. I think many honest leftists would admit that, and admitting that does not in any way make someone not a leftist. Certainly the Yarvins and Lands seem absolutely dismal at coordination, so to the extent that leftism is failing to solve coordination problems, moving in the direction of horrorism seems like one of the least promising directions one could pursue to improve the situation.

          • Jill says:

            “My estimation is that he’s like Scott in that he knows damned well that “Yarvin / Land-ism” is correct in the fundamentals but is personally committed to being a leftist anyway.”

            Yes, Leftists are evil and are just committed to acting in ways that they know are wrong. Just a tad biased against Left of Center people, are you?

            “The “horrorist” view of this is that you need to have people take stewardship over the people who can’t steward wealth. The standard prog view is something like Jill’s where you need to ?? then people won’t be greedy and the disequilibrium of a fool and his money being together won’t ever resolve with unscrupulous non-fools ending up with the money and the fools winding up penniless (but with rims! (they spinnin’!)). (Side note – Jill reacts to Ayn Rand noticing what happens because people are self interested as if Ayn Rand made people self-interested – it’s like taking a personal grudge against Issac Newton because people fall to their deaths).”

            No, I do not. But there are limits by law on people’s greed. It’s illegal for burglars to rob you of everything you own, so that keeps some of them from doing so. Just because many people are naturally selfish doesn’t mean it should be legal for them to burglarize you. Why should it be different for con artists? Indeed there are some kinds of scams that are illegal. And other kinds that are legal. I guess different people have different ideas as to which “fools” should be protected from being defrauded and which should be allowed to be defrauded, because that’s “the free market.”

            “So EY signals – both because he has to (or no money for his cult from “respectable” people) and because he wants to (because he’s personally a degenerate and a leftist).”

            So are you saying that being a degenerate goes together consistently with being a Leftist? Just a tad biased against Left of Center people, are you?

          • A Non-Mouse says:

            Yes, Leftists are evil and are just committed to acting in ways that they know are wrong. Just a tad biased against Left of Center people, are you?

            Don’t read too well do you?

            Scott and EY in particular both know better but are leftists anyway.

            EY wrote up a lengthy explanation as to why prog approved interventions can literally never solve the problems they’re “intended” to solve but he had to signal his appropriate prog-ness anyway because who really cares since the nerd rapture is coming soon to solve the unsolvable (it isn’t).

            Scott’s next blog post here is a fairly concise explanation as to why the “more regulation” argument is completely brain dead because of diffused responsibility among the regulators (and a hefty dose of graft to pay off the right people – like the Clinton foundation (which was in the original but probably made him sad, so it got removed)) and a regime press that will always agitate for more power to the bureaucrats because every problem caused by progressivism has a solution – more progressivism!

            You, on the other hand, show no evidence of understanding the points being made and just parrot the dumb vox talking points and don’t even answer questions if they might stray outside the accepted discourse.

            I’ll try this one more time (because why not):

            Why should it be different for con artists? Indeed there are some kinds of scams that are illegal. And other kinds that are legal. I guess different people have different ideas as to which “fools” should be protected from being defrauded and which should be allowed to be defrauded, because that’s “the free market.”

            Obviously fraud should be illegal. Obviously cons should be illegal. The poor don’t significantly lose money to cons and fraud. They lose it to perfectly legal traps – like getting a parking ticket, never paying, getting their car towed, and accruing towing and storage fees, or getting an open container ticket, not paying, getting a bench warrant for missing their court date, or spending money on rims or mobile phone plans they can’t afford or paying to have a new phone because the monthly charge is only $x but ends up costing them $1,000 for a phone, etc. You could make every single one of these things illegal and all that would do is incentivize smart people to come up with other ways to get money from dumb people (as Steve Sailer puts it – you’ve got civilians up against MBAs with spreadsheets). Why does this keep happening? Because the fundamental core of the progressive state is “give money to people who are bad with money”.

            EY sees and describes this problem then chooses to avert his eyes while signalling heavily that he’s Jill-acceptable – partly because the inquisition is run by people with Jill’s outlook.

          • herbert herbertson says:

            In ascribing the reluctance of people to embrace it to venality, you underestimate the ugliness of your position, to say nothing of the relevance of a given position being ugly (even if that does remain independent of its truth).

          • A CEO-King can compell coordination just fine …the problem is it tends to be coordination towards teir own ends. A situation where the CEO is in charge of the law, instead of being under the law is a kleptocrats Charter.

      • Julie K says:

        As long as there are groups of people who have less intelligence, competence and foresight than others those others will figure out ways to get resources from the less competent.

        EY seems to think that most of the time, the resource-takers are either government agents, or are enabled by government actions. I feel like he is volunteering himself as an illustration of Jill’s claim that people in this corner of the Internet have an unrelentingly negative view of the government (which I had dismissed as a straw man).

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Serious question to calibrate my perception of others.

          I’m not sure which corner you are particularly referring to, but you hang out here at SSC and you haven’t noticed people with an unrelentingly negative view of government?

    • Hmmm, the moveable the houses stuff isn’t getting any better.

      • Julie K says:

        It doesn’t make much sense to notice that there are still poor people, and then suggest making typical houses and cars more luxurious.

    • LPSP says:

      Good reading overall, thanks for the links.

      Not entirely sure what anonymous is saying in his solution, or what he means by prog signalling.

    • moridinamael says:

      I wish EY would sit down with a mechanical engineer or maybe an infrastructure engineer and have it explained to him why the movable housing thing isn’t such a great idea.

      However, the metaphor of excess economic output as “free energy” and rent-seekers as “life forms that like to each excess free energy” is really interesting.

      • Julie K says:

        I can explain it without getting into engineering.

        Thea reason people don’t like moving is not because packing and unpacking is hard, or because finding a house with the amenities you want is hard.

        What’s hard:
        1) Finding a house in a good location. (Meaning finding a vacant spot for your modular house in a good location will be hard.)
        2) Leaving your job, your friends and family, your kids’ school. This is especially true for poor people, who often seek help from friends and family when short of funds. And no, I don’t believe that your friends would all move along with you, if they only had moveable homes.

        • Yep. And where does the scalability come from? If you move a bunch of moveable dwellings somewhere, you need utilities to plug them into.

        • Another weird thing is that in the Dath ilan post, he made another proposal about underground travel which was shot down..?.Gwerned, in fact….on cost/benefit grounds….but it doesn’t strike him to avoid embarrassment by doing a c/b analysis this time around.

        • Viliam says:

          I have moved recently, and the difficult part was finding a flat that had all traits that we wanted. Finding flats with a subset of these traits was trivial, but finding one with a combination of all of them seemed impossible. Here is the list:

          * close to the center of the city
          * large
          * quiet surroundings (i.e. not a large road right next to the house)
          * windows on two opposite sides (e.g. north and south)
          * kitchen connected with living room OR a large kitchen
          * being able to get home from outside without having to walk any stairs (an elevator is okay)
          * and obviously within our financial limits

          I was surprised to see that money wasn’t a big problem; with a decent income and mortgage rates going down most flats on the market were within our range. Even those large-ish in the quiet surroundings close to the center of the city.

          The real problem was getting the “windows on two opposite sides” and “without stairs” and “kitchen big or connected to the living room” at the same time. Each of them happened separately quite often; a combination of two was rare but possible, but we didn’t find all three of them. We kept looking for a year, in a city with half-million people. At the end we decided to sacrifice the “kitchen” requirement, and compromise on the “no stairs” ones, because we found a flat that was great in all the remaining aspects.

          When I think about the Eliezer’s idea of flats as movable Lego blocks, it seems that would solve our problems. We would easily buy a large Lego block with the kitchen connected to the living room and windows on two opposite sides (we had an option to buy such flats), and later look for a place in quiet surroundings near the center of the city without stairs, compatible with the given block type (more or less where we are now, except for the kitchen).

    • Jill says:

      Thanks, James. Fascinating issue and arguments here.

    • Jill says:

      Progressives would want to solve this problem by putting some kinds of limits or regulations on human greed. But we are usually unsuccessful at doing so. The worship of Saint Ayn’s principles– even by those who have never heard of her– is so widespread as to be very challenging to combat.

      I suppose if there were some way to get people to change religions, and thus to stop worshiping at the shrine of Saint Ayn so consistently, so obsessively, that might work. But I don’t know if there is. No religious principle has ever been so faithfully practiced as the virtue of selfishness/greed/predatory behavior toward the sick and the vulnerable. The $600 Epi-Pens for children who can’t breathe due to allergies being the most recent example.

      • meyerkev248 says:

        Until the major city centers of California have a better net domestic migration pattern than Detroit, we should consider any policy that California passes or encourages to be suspect at best.

        Because when people vote with their feet, they choose to move to Randian hellholes like Dallas. And Atlanta. And Houston. Weather be damned.

      • Progressives would want to solve this problem by putting some kinds of limits or regulations on human greed. But we are usually unsuccessful at doing so.

        You can’t legislate against greed, only manifestation as of greed, and that’s eternal fire fighting.

    • I think the explanation of why there are still poor people when average real income in the developed world is twenty to thirty times what it was through most of history (I don’t know where the hundred fold figure comes from) is that, as we get richer, we raise our definition of poverty. The figure I remember seeing is that the current poverty line is about twice the median real income of the U.S. in 1900.

      Poor people in the past had lots of problems, but obesity wasn’t one of them.

      • onyomi says:

        I was actually thinking of posting a micro-version of this related to the hedonic treadmill issue. Not that long ago I transitioned rather suddenly from a period of relatively high stress (having a fair number of “real” problems to deal with), to a period when those issues and projects finally resolved themselves.

        Yet now I find myself worrying more about things high-stress me would have considered inconsequential. Overall I’m happier not having “real” problems than having “real” problems, but there’s definitely also a kind of “conservation of worry,” whereby I am naturally inclined to worry a certain amount, and if there aren’t any “real” problems to worry about my mind will invent some. And, of course, my former “real” problems would seem inconsequential to someone dying of cancer or wondering where his next meal will come from.

        On the one hand, I’m happy to hear any tips people have for “hacking” this hedonic treadmill and not letting fake worries fill my worry vacuum every time I get a chance to relax. On the other if “poverty” is like “worry” in this respect, our chance of truly eliminating it may be no better.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yeah, I get the same way. Worse, when my problems appear relatively small and tractable, I get the feeling that I’m just missing something that’s going to blindside me the second I drop my guard.

        • Jill says:

          Many people find exercise to be helpful.

          Meditation classes or books describing meditation can be useful for this purpose. Tara Brach has some good ones.
          It’s good to exercise before meditation so that the body can relax more easily.

          https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Tara+Brach

          News anchor Dan Harris, a TV news anchor, wrote a good one for people who don’t want all the dogma from Buddhism but just want to meditate.

          10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story

          Exercise helps some people to reduce stress.

          These stress release exercises work for me:
          http://bradyates.net/videos.html

          The guy adds affirmations to the tapping, which are not part of the standard technique. If you don’t like them, then you just turn the sound off.

          And this other kind too.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DALbwI7m1vM

          It’s sort of like watching a tennis game. You follow the green light with your eyes, but keep your head stationery. Some people like it with the sound on, some with it off. The idea is to experience one’s distress and then to let it pass on through your body and and out of it. So the standard way of doing it is to let distressing feelings or thoughts occur in one’s experience, or even to “wallow in them”, rather than to try to avoid them, while doing this.

          Some people do each of these every morning and/or every evening and also when particularly stressed.

          • onyomi says:

            Well, the question is what to do when not particularly stressed. My point is that there is a tendency, when you don’t have big worries, to allow smaller worries to expand to fill the space, and that worries about poverty, one’s own or society’s, also seem to function somewhat like this.

            I do a few things already, like meditation and exercise, which help me deal with stress (though, ironically, it’s harder to find time/energy to meditate when you’re busy and stressed; it seems to work somewhat like a rainy day fund of equanimity I try to build up when I have time, and draw down when I don’t).

            I do think you’re right that the issue, when we feel worries are never ending, is probably more internal than external, since a person inclined to worry will find something to worry about regardless.

        • alaska3636 says:

          Onyomi,

          I wrote about this in another open thread somewhere; but, what ended up working for me was basically a “prayer”. I commit an intentional act of acceptance of the uncertainty inherent in the universe. I am pretty sure this is like saying, “I have done as much as I can do (or enough); I am ready to let the universe accept the responsibility for making shit work out, and I hope it works out in my favor.” It is not a lazy prayer; I keep very busy. But, my issue is that I get anxious when not engaged in something. It takes a while to perceive relaxing as something that is worthwhile.

          I worked on self-acceptance a lot because by disposition (or horrible repressed memories) I was tended towards neurotically worrying whether I could be (or be doing something) better. Constantly. I still work on my personal stuff, but I am more comfortable just relaxing these days.

          I still worry, like you, whether I could be working on other things more, but I am already very active and taking breaks for me usually only happens after I physically burn out. The universal prayer-thing helps me contain random, baseline stressyness. Ultimately, life is a tortoise and hare situation: it is easier to achieve more the longer you stay in the game, which requires physical, mental and spiritual maintenance and a long view.

          BTW: the hack is to try my prayer.

          I guess it wouldn’t work if you naturally assumed the universe is out to get you, but that’s another issue.

      • Jill says:

        Just because they are obese doesn’t mean they are not lacking things or that they are fortunate. Better than starving. But many poor people are obese because they cannot afford healthy nutritious food and/or not much of it is sold in their neighborhood and they lack transportation to get food elsewhere.

          • Jill says:

            Good article. A quote.

            “If people can’t afford healthier foods, then it would be reasonable to think that just giving them a better store wouldn’t solve their problems. But Ms. Handbury’s paper found that the education of the shoppers was much more predictive than their incomes. Poorer families bought less healthy food than richer ones. But a bigger gap was found between families with and without a college education. Those results, Ms. Handbury said, suggest that improving people’s diets will require both making food accessible and affordable and also changing people’s perceptions and habits about diet and health.”

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, the idea that poor people (of today, in America) can’t afford to eat healthy is a myth. There are mega cheap, healthy foods like beans, rice, cabbage, oatmeal, etc. which can be made delicious with a little time and skill. What doesn’t exist is healthy, tasty food that is also cheap and fast. If they are going to McDonalds all the time instead of cooking cheap, healthy meals, it’s not a lack of money, it’s a lack of time, or, more likely, knowledge/desire to cook and/or of nutrition in general.

            The idea of lack of knowledge is an interesting one, though, personally, I think the biggest reason why poor people are fat in America today is because to be thin today in America requires willpower and most poor people are probably suffering ego depletion for one reason or another (and may, in fact, be poor, in part, because of it), be it not enough other pleasures in their lives, too much stress, or what have you.

            I certainly am more likely to gain weight when stressed out. Because eating carefully and with restraint, rather than whatever tastes good and in as much quantity as I feel like (usually too much), requires effort. It is ironic, however, that we’ve come to a point where not being fat requires more effort than the reverse.

        • “Just because they are obese doesn’t mean they are not lacking things or that they are fortunate.”

          Correct. But it is pretty good evidence that poverty, for them, doesn’t mean not being able to afford an adequate number of calories. Which is what it used to mean, quite often, for poor people in the past.

          Which suggests that our definition of poverty has changed over time.

        • The best reply t the obese poor thing is no reply, as it is archery picked datum.

        • Utopn Naxl says:

          If you have food stamps and are buying for one, you can afford nutritious food.

          Bags of veggies grown at places like food 4 less are pretty cheap. If you have the ability to cook and store them its not really expensive to make tasty enough really cheap food for like 4 bucks a day if cooking for 1.

          Beans, Rice, and other veggies and spices thrown in the mix is like 3 bucks a day. Adding milk and eggs can amount to 1.50 dollars a day. The other 2 bucks can be used for sanity foods, like some top ramen here, some cheap coffee there, candy’s and sweets around.

          I’m not sure this holds true for places like New York, New York and san fran though.

          I wonder where they did those studies on how poor places lacked healthy food. I lived in a very poor area once, and there was a large South American themed supermarket with very cheap foods,good variety and amazingly priced and tasty avacadoes.

          But I do believe it holds *on average*

          And might I mention the twinkie diet? Dude took a few supplements(multivitamin, omega 3/6’s, protein shake,fiber food) and the resk junk food, and his health improved in most ways. If all the important macro and micro nutrients have been discovered, this result is expected.

          https://www.biolayne.com/media/podcasts/physique-science-radio-episode-15-dr-mark-haub-the-twinkie-diet-professor/

      • A poor person in the past could gain employment without being literate, smartly dressed or having a car or a permanent address. It make sense to raise the bar, because the minimum standard of employability keeps raising, and it makes sense to want to minimise that kind of poverty, because it’s the intractable , generational kind.

        I know the US right have settled on regarding generational poverty as acceptable, and on blamng poverty on lack of individual effort. Others have noticed that not doing the second allows you to do something about the first.

        • onyomi says:

          Certainly not all of the right considers generational poverty to be acceptable, nor to be a moral failing (though viewing it as a moral failing doesn’t mean considering it acceptable or inevitable). And many argue that the regulations which make it hard to get a job and the disability-type programs which make not having a job less unpleasant are a big part of perpetuating it. Arguably perpetuating it is in politicians’ interests. Clientelism has been the Democrats’ main strategy since LBJ, if not FDR.

          That said, I do think there is something to be said for conceiving of poverty not in terms of absolute or even relative wealth, but in terms of ability to meaningfully participate in the economy. You are right that the bar for doing that has gotten higher and higher, but libertarians, at least, blame a lot of that on regulation, not anything inherent to the economy.

          Though starting a new business is no easy task, I’ve noticed in the relatively poor areas I’ve lived, arts and crafts-type side businesses are very popular. Because it’s something you can do in your house without a bunch of compliance worries, or, indeed, most likely, even taxes (mostly cash under the table), etc.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            The most reliable Republican voters are also the recipients of the largest pool of government benefits.

            The tired argument that “the 47%” will never vote Republican is willfully stupid.

            Edit: There is merit in the rest of your post, but it was a ninja-edit.

          • onyomi says:

            Notice I didn’t say the Republicans don’t use clientelism, just that its use is especially prominent with respect to poor people on the left. To the extent, say, West Virginians who receive govmt benefits vote for Republicans and not Democrats, I’m pretty sure it’s for tribal reasons, not in order to keep receiving benefits. Hence the whole “why do they keep voting against their own self-interest??” complaint from the left.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But it’s not clientelism when your political enemies get more benefits than your “clients”.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            HBC –

            If you are frustrated that they won’t vote for you, that implies you think they should be.

            The intent could be clientelism, it just isn’t working.

            That said, I think the point is broadly incorrect. Things like minimum wage harm rural areas, which have lower wages, more than they harm urban areas. Democratic policies are overtly harmful to Republican constituencies.

            I don’t think they’re intended to be harmful, mind. I think Democrats, by and large, just rarely get outside of cities, and don’t know how different the rest of the country looks. I grew up in a rural area in which a 50k income was comfortably upper-class; this is borderline poverty in many more urban areas.

            I think Democrats, by and large, are legislating for the urban, and Republicans, by and large, are legislating for the rural. A $15 minimum wage is too low for New York City, New York, and way too high for Paris, Arkansas. Welfare works the same way, moreover; a welfare check that barely suffices for New York City absolutely wrecks Paris, as getting on welfare becomes an economically superior choice to working. This is both why working rural folk despise the welfare system (they resent their tax dollars going to neighbors who are clearly Defecting against the social order), and why so much welfare goes to rural areas.

            It’s not all simple misalignment, however; Democrats in the North deeply resent factories relocating to cheaper southern states, and I think, over the past few years, have started getting a little overtly hostile.

          • @Onyomi

            I think you missed that HBC meant the post-working-age poor.

          • onyomi says:

            “The intent could be clientelism, it just isn’t working.”

            Moreover, it could be working, just not yet to the point that it achieves majority support.

            In other words, if party A strongly supports policy Y, which directly benefits group B, but group B only votes for party A at a rate of 30%, then that alone doesn’t prove group B isn’t, to some extent, a client of party A. The question is: how many Bs would vote A in the absence of policy Y? If it’s only 15%, then even though 70% of Bs are voting against A, 15% of them are still “clients” of A, which may well be enough to win some elections.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Social security recipients aren’t on the cusp of breaking (D).

            Democrats didn’t fund SSI, Medicare, (or Medicaid or welfare for that matter) to create clients that would forever be dependent on the largesse of government Democrats.

            Sure, machine politics of 100 or 60 years ago did dole out crony benefits to local constituencies, but we aren’t in that era anymore. The things that look like that now are far “subsidize a prominent state business” and mostly cut across party lines.

            The farm bill looks a hell of a lot more like clientelism for Reublicans than it does for Democrats.

          • onyomi says:

            Again, Republicans have their clients, they just aren’t poor people to the same degree. Farmers aren’t that poor.

            I will say it’s probably wrong to describe clientelism as the “major” strategy of either party right now, though it may have been at one point. The number one strategy of both parties right now is fear-based stoking of tribal identity (though some of those tribal identities stem from past histories of clientelism: yes, some families still vote D because they remember the New Deal).

            Fear-based identity plays are the best voting motivator–significantly more than personal self-interest (since one vote matters little anyway)–but the histories of which parties have doled out which favors to which coalitions nonetheless shapes those identities to no small degree, I think.

          • @Onyomi

            “And many argue that the regulations which make it hard to get a job”

            Hard for employers to offer a job, or hard for poor people to get one? I don’t think regulation created the requirement for business suits.

        • onyomi says:

          And just to expand on the “moral failing” bit: I wouldn’t say that characterization of the right in general is wrong, but aren’t people generally less accepting of and complacent about moral failings than failings which people have no control of? If you want to say the right lack compassion for the poor that might make some sense; saying they’re okay with them continuing to be poor doesn’t make sense to me.

    • pku says:

      My problem with this is that it takes causes that make it harder for intelligent, motivated people to be wealthy and blames them for poverty. But intelligent, motivated people tend to do alright (there’s good arguments to reduce regulation hurdles and such for them anyways, but that seems like a separate issue). This seems like a typical Eliezerism – taking an issue that bothers him, personally, and trying to blame all the world’s problems on it.

    • Ryan Beren says:

      If your shiny new city would otherwise be generating a huge amount of excess value for the people inside the new city, and the people inside the city have no credible threat of exit, the people inside your city will not be allowed to keep that value.

      My first thought: Why only “exit”? What about “voice”?

      A right of exit is a right to quit being involved with any group you don’t want to be involved with any more. A right of voice is a right to equal voting rights on the decisions of any group that you stay in instead of exiting.

      I was an anarcho-capitalist for a few years, and later on I was a left-libertarian anarchist for a few years. Now I’m neither. But I remember the ideas involved.

      Right-libertarians think highly of the field of economics and also think that a right of exit can fix far more social ills than one would imagine on first glance. Left-libertarians are overly skeptical of economics, agree with right-libertarians about a right of exit, and think that a right of voice will fix basically all the remaining social ills.

      An anarchist syndicate would have 99 problems, but extraction of its wealth by its businegovment elite ain’t one.

    • Guy says:

      My counter to certain anti-GBI arguments (in my head at least) is actually that it provides a “mobility” benefit totally irrespective of any actual increase in wealth for the recipient. An extra $500 a month (to allow me, a non-economist, to pick a totally arbitrary example) is $500 of budget flex that doesn’t draw down your future income. That’s helpful even if prices adjust such that the $500 doesn’t actually increase your wealth, because it increases the space between “spending all of your money” and “spending none of your money”, giving you more space to find an angle and actually build some wealth.

      The current GBI is $0. Any positive amount of money will be greater than that, just because the economy can only reduce the value of money asymptotically. Any non-negligible amount of money will probably be enough to live on for at least few days, regardless of any economic effects, just because markets do not react instantaneously to changes of how exponential decay works. A few days of flex is pretty good if you want to improve your job, or take a day or two off so you don’t destroy your body, or maybe move in to a higher rent apartment that has a decent lock / is sealed well enough that your utilities are manageable (apparently a problem in Vermont, I learned about three weeks ago), or do any number of other things.

  34. Julie K says:

    Walmart’s Out-of-Control Crime Problem Is Driving Police Crazy

    I was struck by this part of the article:

    Dennis Buckley found a way to get Walmart moving faster on crime: shaming and threats. A blunt former fire chief, Buckley is the mayor of Beech Grove, Ind., an Indianapolis suburb with a population of 14,000. He’d been swamped with complaints from his police chief about the daily calls to Walmart. He demanded action from Walmart’s local lawyer, as did the City Council.

    “Walmart Beech Grove is draining our police resources,” he told Fox Business Network. “It’s the string of terrible events that have been occurring down there over the past two months that have led me to instruct our police chief to declare the Walmart a public nuisance.”

    That meant the threat of a $2,500 fine for every call to the police. Walmart now pays for off-duty police to man the store, and the pressure on the local police has eased.

    I would have thought that penalizing someone for being the victim of a crime would perhaps be an an-cap idea. Is it mainstream now?

    • Ninmesara says:

      Don’t worry, it’s just an evil corporation who is totally responsible for the fact that good people steal from their shops and sometimes commit crimes while trying to escape. So many good things, ripe for the picking…
      (But then again, what did she expect, going out with that skirt?)

      • moridinamael says:

        On the other hand, calling the police at every instance of shoplifting, when you know shoplifting is going to happen constantly, is a bit like going to the ER for every sniffle. You can do it, but that’s not what the system was designed for.

        • The Nybbler says:

          We don’t have any other system for dealing with crime, because the authorities frown so much on self-help. It’s either call the cops or accept the loss.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Apparently the off-duty cops as security guards are easing the problem, so there is some amount of self-help that is, er, helping.

            I’m not sure what my priors are here. I recognize the anti-Walmart circlejerk, but it’s also possible they are coasting on social norms they should be refilling.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Using off-duty cops, specifically, as security guards is simply paying the agents of the state to do their state job. Under the circumstances it’s a form of corruption (since Walmart likely could not hire non-police security guards who could be as effective)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It doesn’t have to be off-duty cops; that was just the quoted example. The presence of greeters has a big impact, too.

            In other news, I’m sad to learn that the Walmart Greeter seems to have been phased out when I wasn’t looking. It was nice that there could be jobs for someone who just wanted to sit around and say hello to people.

          • LHN says:

            While I don’t begrudge anyone a job someone’s willing to pay them for, as an introvert I find stores with greeters offputting. (Albeit not as offputting as overly solicitous salespeople.)

        • Ninmesara says:

          [trigger warning: analogies to discrimination of sick people and blaming victims of rape]

          Well, after 8 episodes of abdomal cramps with bloody diarrhea from Crohn’s disease, you should stop trying to waste the doctors’ time with your constantly annoying visits to the ER! You know you’ll keep getting bouts of abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea anyway. The healthcare system was not designed with such wasteful people. Stop being such a drain on our resources!

          On the meta level, I really hate it when the victim of a crime is blamed for the crime (and shoplifting is a crime). Also if a certain venue attracts more crime, then it is fair that more resources should be alocated to that area. Blaming walmart for selling cheap stuff without enough employees physically standing at the door looks like a slippery slope that might degenerate into aomething like:

          Why do you call the police after the 10th rape in the area? You know that the sytem can’t accomodate so many stupid girls with skirts near large groups of single men! Just accept rapes are going to happen anyway, dammit! Oh, and stop dressing as a slut…

          On the object level, I am of course perfectly happy that someone has convinced the greedy corporation to spend money reducing crime instead of having to divert public funds from something else (like hospitals and public schools). I’m sure their profit margins can accomodate that.

          • moridinamael says:

            So, I have a chronic condition which would probably lead to weekly ER visits if I didn’t spend a huge amount of effort preventing flareups.

            Let’s set aside all language of “blame” and “responsibility”. I could very well just not bother with taking my preventative medications, and I could just ignore all the information out there telling me how to change my lifestyle to minimize episodes. I could go into the ER every single time I have an episode. I would be treated, I would leave feeling pretty well, and my health insurance would be billed thousands of dollars.

            So, to be blunt: yes, in that scenario I should stop wasting the doctors’ time and the medical apparatus’ money with my annoying visits. I should instead reallocate my time and energy to reduce the impact of my disease. I will inevitably have a bad episode despite my best efforts — it happens every couple of months — and that’s unavoidable.

            I’m not sure if even you would really defend your meta-point, though. The pure form of the meta-point would be: “We shouldn’t try to prevent bad things from happening when we can just use emergency services when bad things inevitably happen.” If that wasn’t your meta point, then you shouldn’t have drawn this analogy to shoplifting, which is something that can be often prevented and ameliorated with small measures.

          • Jill says:

            moridinamael, interesting. Good for you. Something tells me that such abilities and willingness to use them as you have are rather rare in our society though. Not to mention the ability to be or become resourcefull enough to sort through all the snake oil and other bs about health, to find the valid information, to “be your own doctor.” That’s what is very often necessary, but not many people seem to be up to the task.

            And I do agree that shoplifting is a case where it is “something that can be often prevented and ameliorated with small measures.”

          • Ninmesara says:

            I’ve been thinking about this and it all boils down to what one might consider “reasonable measures of prevention” and I don’t think there are universal answers anymore. In the case of the non-compliant patient I agree with your position, and I shouldn’t have brought that example (since asking the patient to treat himself properly is the equivalent to hiring Walmart greeters, install more cameras, etc). I was assuming a compliant patient, which of course breaks the analogy in a fundamental way.

            Once you accept that a public service has the right to demand “reasonable measures of protection” (which I do, at least in the medical example), the meta point doesn’t make sense anymore and we’re back to discussing each case on the object level.

      • John Schilling says:

        If I keep losing my car keys, is it OK if I disable the door locks and glue the key into the ignition? The car has LoJack, and it’s more convenient (for me) to call the police and have them get it back every month or two than it is to spend half an hour every day trying to figure out where I left they keys. Plus they get to arrest lots of car thieves, whose fault all of this is because I am wholly without responsibility for the situation.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        It shouldn’t fall to taxpayers to pay Walmart’s security costs. On top of subsidizing food, shelter, and health insurance for its employees, that is. Walmart is a parasite, and any avenue of parasitism that gets closed off is a good thing, in my book.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Using taxpayer money to pay for security is one of the main functions of government. You might as well complain about companies using roads.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Rely on it: when the Chinese come ashore, it will be Walmart’s fault for palming off their national-security obligations on the Army.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            It is no part of the function of government to provide free security guards to those wealthy enough to hire their own but unwilling to do so.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Earthly Knight

            So government services are _only_ for the poor? Not just welfare but policing as well?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Who said anything like that?

          • Pan Narrans says:

            @Earthly Knight

            Well, you said that taxpayers shouldn’t pay for Walmart’s security costs, which in this case means the same law enforcement I’d use if my bike got stolen*. I’m not even sure I disagree with you on that, but I picked up the impression you feel Walmart is rich enough to not deserve services extended to ordinary people.

            *Well, no, as I’m British and also don’t own a bike, but you know what I mean.

          • John Schilling says:

            Well, you said that taxpayers shouldn’t pay for Walmart’s security costs, which in this case means the same law enforcement I’d use if my bike got stolen*.

            Walmart’s security costs start with the equivalent of the bicycle lock you’d use to prevent your bike from being stolen in the first place.

          • Pan Narrans says:

            @ John Schilling

            Fair point. Is Walmart not using basic security measures? I honestly don’t know, I don’t live in the same country.

          • John Schilling says:

            The most basic security measure against shoplifting and other petty crime is a pair of eyes watching the store – even if their job title isn’t Professional Security Guard. Walmart has of late substantially reduced the number of greeters and cashiers who used to help with keeping an eye on things.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I’m not even sure I disagree with you on that, but I picked up the impression you feel Walmart is rich enough to not deserve services extended to ordinary people.

            I certainly think Walmart is entitled to the benefit of routine policing, just like any other business. But the article linked to above says that local police had 5,000 calls to one store over the span of 5 years– roughly three per day. It’s probably silly to compare a citizen to a retail store for any number of reasons, but can you imagine how long it would take the police to stop responding if I reported minor thefts to them three times a day? A week, maybe?

          • Pan Narrans says:

            Ok, so this is about automation of checkouts and possibly Walmart reporting every minor theft to the police? If so, I agree with you both, that makes Walmart sound cheap and kind of spoiled. Certainly when I worked at a supermarket we didn’t go to the police every time a customer nicked something.

          • Jiro says:

            I can imagine it, but since, as you point out, you are not comparable to a retail stores, what I imagine the police would do in my case would have no bearing on what they would do to a store.

            Furthermore, the police (and the government in general) were contributing to the problem by not actually catching and punishing the shoplifters. It’s unfair for the police to fail to do their job, leading to more crime around Wal-Mart, and then complain that Wal-Mart is reporting too much crime.

          • Chalid says:

            Is Walmart not using basic security measures

            the article says that the problem is much worse at Walmart than at other stores, which tend to invest more in security.

          • OTOH, the police expect householders to make reasonable attempts at securing their premises.

        • Supplying security is usually at the top of the list of things government is supposed to do.

        • Irishdude7 says:

          If the state will allow private alternatives to it to arrest and prosecute thieves, then I’m down with Walmart paying privately for its security costs. But it won’t allow alternatives so responsibility falls to the state.

          I assume that Walmart is the best employment available for its employees, otherwise they would pursue alternatives. If it’s the best employment available, then it’s reasonable to assume that without Walmart providing them a job, the state would have to pay higher subsidies to food, shelter and healthcare. Therefore, Walmart is providing the employees more than any other private entity is willing to provide. Unless you want to offer their employees a job with better compensation, I don’t find your parasite criticism compelling.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            If it’s the best employment available, then it’s reasonable to assume that without Walmart providing them a job, the state would have to pay higher subsidies to food, shelter and healthcare.

            Or we could accept that corporations which make billions of dollars in profit every year have an obligation to pay their employees enough to live on. Walmart is happy to let its employees starve and die of preventable diseases, but we are not, so we end up picking up the tab. Does that seem fair to you?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            make billions of dollars in profit every year have an obligation to pay their employees enough to live on

            Those two statements have nothing to do with each other.

            Walmart is scale. They are huge. The only reason they have billions in, ugh, profit is that they have millions of employees. Break them up into 6000 stores and they don’t have billions in profit any more.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Of course profits matter. If Walmart were hemorrhaging money, or barely in the black, there would be a much weaker case for their having an obligation to pay their employees a living wage. It’s true that profits aren’t the only thing that matters, but that should be obvious.

          • Mary says:

            “Or we could accept that corporations which make billions of dollars in profit every year have an obligation to pay their employees enough to live on.”

            We tried that. You couldn’t get welfare if you had a job.

            Result? More people on welfare and taking more out of it.

            That’s why we had welfare reform to allow some welfare while you had a job.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            Of course profits matter. If Walmart were hemorrhaging money, or barely in the black, there would be a much weaker case for their having an obligation to pay their employees a living wage.

            Setting aside questions about ethical obligations, I wonder what the tangible results would be if Walmart started paying all its employees $30 an hour. I am open to being corrected on this, but it seems to me that it would inevitably involve raising prices by a substantial amount (because the extra money has to come from somewhere and even if they’re a profitable company, the sheer number of employees getting a large raise would spread that extra money pretty thin) and eventually people would stop shopping at Walmart because the entire appeal is that it’s cheap.

            Though someone could make the case that their business model is inherently unethical because selling things for so cheap can only be achieved by using underpaid labor.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @ Hyzenthlay:

            I wonder what the tangible results would be if Walmart started paying all its employees $30 an hour.

            I think Walmart would quickly go bankrupt if they seriously tried to do that.

            But heck, let’s do some back-of-the-envelope calculation. Let’s see…Walmart has 2.3 million employees. MoneyNation says Walmart makes $14.7 billion a year in net profit and their average employee makes $22,137/year. $30/hour is about $60,000/year, so you’re talking about giving that average employee a raise of $38k/year. $38k * 2.3 million = $87.4 billion.

            So, for Walmart to pay that much costs them $87.4 billion dollars they’re not spending now. Which would turn their current ~$15 billion annual profit into a ~$70 billion loss.

            (But wait, you say: What about CEO pay? They pay their CEO millions, not billions. So cutting executive pay doesn’t make a dent in that big a shortfall.)

            it seems to me that it would involve hiking up prices at some point

            That can’t really help under the current business model.

            Walmart presumably tries to set prices in a way that maximizes total long-term revenue. If they could make more money by raising prices they would have already done that, wouldn’t they? Unless we have reason to think Walmart has been magnanimously charging less than the market will bear out of the goodness of its heart, our best guess should be that Walmart would reduce revenue by raising prices.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            So, for Walmart to pay that much costs them $87.4 billion dollars they’re not spending now. Which would turn their current ~$15 billion annual profit into a ~$70 billion loss.

            Well, that pretty much confirms my gut-feel that it wouldn’t be sustainable. (And thanks for the detailed answer.)

            Though I deliberately went high with $30 an hour; a more modest and realistic pay-raise might be a different story, but that probably wouldn’t satisfy those who feel like companies have an obligation to pay a living wage (and there’s a lot of ambiguity in what “living wage” means as well).

          • IrishDude says:

            @Earthly Knight

            Or we could accept that corporations which make billions of dollars in profit every year have an obligation to pay their employees enough to live on.

            You think they have an obligation to pay their employees more, I don’t. Even if I thought they had a moral obligation to pay more compensation, it’s not one I think should be enforced by the state.

            Whatever compensation Walmart provides their employees now IS enough to live on. I’ll make a reasonable assumption that even if all state subsidies to their employees stopped, they would still go on living. People are very resourceful and I think they could find ways to earn more money or use their current earnings more wisely if necessity demanded it. Additionally, Americans are very generous folk and have the empathy and financial capacity to help those Walmart employees that might struggle to find food and shelter after they had explored all alternative options.

            Walmart is happy to let its employees starve and die of preventable diseases, but we are not, so we end up picking up the tab. Does that seem fair to you?

            I disagree with your assertion about Walmart being ‘happy’ to let its employees starve. Anyways, Walmart didn’t put its employees in a position where they weren’t productive enough to demand higher wages. The employees came to them like that, because they lack skills and experience to demand a higher wage, and Walmart offered them a better deal than any other employer was willing to offer.

            Walmart no more owes their employees more compensation than any other business or neighbor or family member owes to that person.

            When I hire a contractor to do work on my house, I don’t have an obligation to look into their personal finances to see whether they are struggling in some way, and even if I happened to know they were struggling in some way I don’t owe them any more compensation for the work they perform other than what we both mutually agree to. I do feel a personal moral urge to help those who end up in very difficult circumstances through no fault of their own, but this isn’t an open-ended commitment and I choose where and how much I’m willing to donate to help those in need.

          • “enough to live on.”

            Average real income in the developed world at present is twenty to thirty times what average real income has been through most of history.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Hyzthenthlay

            Though I deliberately went high with $30 an hour; a more modest and realistic pay-raise might be a different story, but that probably wouldn’t satisfy those who feel like companies have an obligation to pay a living wage (and there’s a lot of ambiguity in what “living wage” means as well).

            Pretty much no one thinks that Walmart workers should be paid $30 an hour. This was never anything but a ridiculous strawman. $12-$15 seems more reasonable to me (and Walmart can afford to pay this just fine.)

            @ Irishdude

            I’ll make a reasonable assumption that even if all state subsidies to their employees stopped, they would still go on living.

            Your assumption is wrong. Lack of health insurance causes tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year, because folks without health insurance avoid seeing the doctor when they get sick. Working at Walmart literally kills people.

            Walmart no more owes their employees more compensation than any other business or neighbor or family member owes to that person.

            Companies have special obligations to their employees by virtue of employing them. In general, it is wrong to offer someone an unfair price for a good or service knowing they will be compelled to take it simply because they have no good options available. I am not the only one who thinks this– you think it, too, no matter how hard you’ve tried to silence the part of your brain that gets outraged at stories of price-gouging and exploitation.

            @ David Friedman

            http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2013/07/18/why-mcdonalds-employee-budget-has-everyone-up-in-arms/

          • John Schilling says:

            Pretty much no one thinks that Walmart workers should be paid $30 an hour. This was never anything but a ridiculous strawman. $12-$15 seems more reasonable to me. Walmart can afford to pay this just fine.

            According to the numbers Glenn Raphael cited upthread, and his source seems credible, paying every Wal-Mart employee $15/hour would consume 140% of the company’s net profits, leaving it $6 billion per year in the red. The theoretical breakeven point would be $13.70 per hour.

            But that’s if they pay everybody $13.70, with zero overhead. In reality, Walmart needs some high-skill workers who will very predictably quit (or worse) if expected to work for the same $13.70 as the stockboys, and there are unavoidable overhead expenses like payroll taxes on your hypothetical wage increase.

            So no, Walmart cannot afford $12-15 just fine.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Then Glen Raphael’s numbers are bogus. Walmart’s minimum wage is currently set at $10, its profits each year are around $15 billion, and it has 1.5 million employees in the US. Even if we assume, falsely, that every single worker at Walmart makes the minimum wage at present (the average is actually around $13 for full-time workers and $10.50 for part-time workers), hiking everyone’s salary to $15 still would only reduce their current profits to zero.* But paying a $15 minimum wage will also boost revenue by attracting more qualified applicants, reducing employee turnover, and driving up sales- Walmart employees also tend to be excellent Walmart customers– so they’d still come out ahead.

            The range I gave ($12-$15) was intended to leave some wiggle room for cost of living differences.

            *$15/hour proposed wage – $10/hour current wage = $5/hour
            $5/hour = $10,000/year (actually less than this due to part-timers)
            $10,000/year X 1.5 million employees = $15 billion, on the dot

          • John Schilling says:

            Then Glen Raphael’s numbers are bogus.

            [followed by a bunch of asserted numbers]

            Did you miss the part where Glen cited a source for his numbers, and you didn’t?

            Wave bye-bye to your credibility.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Number of employees in US (Glen Raphael erroneously cited the number of employees worldwide):

            http://corporate.walmart.com/newsroom/company-facts

            Current minimum wage and average wages:

            http://news.walmart.com/news-archive/2016/01/20/more-than-one-million-walmart-associates-receive-pay-increase-in-2016

            The profit figure was the same as Glen Raphael’s.

          • The Nybbler says:

            2.3 million “associates” is the worldwide number. 800,000 are “international”, thus 1.5 million US. Net income is roughly $15B, but that’s worldwide; if we apportion net income according to percentage of net sales, US operations get $11B.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @ Earthly Knight:

            $12-$15 seems more reasonable to me (and Walmart can afford to pay this just fine.)

            They actually can’t. I admit I simplified a bit to make the math easier when I was ruling out $30/hour. The tweaks that matter most to the final total were indeed: (1) assuming all workers are full-time employees, (2) assuming that if less than $X is an “unfair wage” it’s an “unfair wage” worldwide and we would want to fix that worldwide, not just in the US.

            But if you really want to get into it with more precision to figure out what they could afford just in the US, there are a few factors you’re still ignoring. So…let’s consider adding one crucial fact into the analysis: Walmart’s profitability is not perfectly evenly distributed across every store in every state.

            Rather, some locations are more profitable than others!

            You’re willing to grant that, right? So let’s think about what that means.

            At any given time, some store locations are marginal – they’re roughly break-even right now and stay in business because the company hopes they can return a decent profit rate in the future as the customer base expands or they figure out how to make things more efficient. But meanwhile, even the tiniest unexpected cost increase would put these locations in the red.

            Other locations do make some profit but not so much profit that you can increase local labor costs by ~30% and expect to keep them in the black.

            So if it became policy that Walmart had to raise all salaries to $15/hour, some store locations would be in trouble. I’m going to make up a random number here and claim 20% of Walmart locations would immediately become substantial net money-losers given the higher wage rate. (I suspect the percentage is a lot higher than that, but we’ll just use that number for now.)

            So. 20%.

            What this means is that post-salary-change, Walmart could choose to immediately become more profitable if they closed 20% of their stores and focused management attention on the remainder. Closing any locations that are dragging down the company finances makes shareholders happier right now, reduces executive workload and dramatically reduces the chance that a few unexpectedly bad quarters might sink the company in the future. So naturally that’s what they’d do.

            This means 1.5 million * .2 = 300,000 former Walmart employees are out of a job. Revealed preference says Walmart was their best available job option (or they would be doing something else) and now they’ve lost that option. Those 300,000 people are worse off than they were before, due to your change.

            Tens of millions of customers of the closed locations are also worse off – low-income customers had been saving a LOT of money due to having a Walmart in town and now their costs go up substantially – they effectively have a lower standard of living – as they are forced to go back to their (revealed preference again) next-best option for buying stuff.

            Local government loses some sales and property taxes, fedgov loses some income tax revenue, and so on. The total jobs lost is actually more than 300,000 because people in related industries will lose jobs to the degree they depended on selling goods or services to the now-closed locations or to people who worked at those locations.

            This it what will happen UNLESS at the same time as you mandate the higher wage you also pass some kind of law preventing Walmart from closing money-losing branches and force it to indefinitely keep losing money in those places (subsidized by the other still-profitable ones) in the hopes that it might eventually turn around.

            So: how far are you willing to let Walmart shrink, or what would you do to stop it from doing so?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            We could just make an exception for stores that would become unprofitable at the higher wages.

            But you’re ignoring the fact that demand won’t go away just because Walmart does, which means that new discounters would open to take Walmart’s place in the marginal locations. That seems to capsize the whole argument, doesn’t it?

            assuming that if less than $X is an “unfair wage” it’s an “unfair wage” worldwide and we would want to fix that worldwide, not just in the US.

            This is a profoundly stupid assumption. Walmart has stores in Malawi. $60,000 is an outrageous annual salary for a retail cashier in the US, but in Malawi doctors earn $7000 a year.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            We could just make an exception for stores that would become unprofitable at the higher wages.

            Hmm. So you’re advocating a $15/hour wage get imposed only on the specific business locations that can afford it?

            In your system, can the locations that *are* profitable keep a little profit (in good years) to offset losses in bad years, or do they not get to keep *any* profit until they’ve already paid the entirety of the higher wage?

            If they *do* make a profit under the new wage, what’s to stop you from bumping the wage rate again tomorrow to use up all of *that* profit too? Should investors assume that no business will ever be profitable again under your regime, and thus stop investing in any new businesses? If not, why not?

            you’re ignoring the fact that demand won’t go away just because Walmart does, which means that new discounters would open to take Walmart’s place in the marginal locations. That seems to capsize the whole argument, doesn’t it?

            Nope. Walmart is as big as it is because it is really good at logistics. Other discounters can sell stuff too, but they can’t sell it *as* cheaply as Walmart. The next-best option is a lot worse than Walmart.

            This is a profoundly stupid assumption. Walmart has stores in Malawi.

            Sure, but Walmart also has stores in Mississippi. If you’re assuming the same single specific picked-out-of-a-hat just because it was a Big Round Number wage rate makes sense in every US state, is it that big a stretch to assume you’d think it makes sense in other countries too?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Should investors assume that no business will ever be profitable again under your regime, and thus stop investing in any new businesses?

            No, investors should assume that corporations which can afford to should pay their employees a living wage.

            The next-best option is a lot worse than Walmart.

            You estimated that Walmart would close around 1,000 locations if it started paying its employees a living wage. But there’s no way that Walmart’s logistics are so superior to all other companies that it operates 1,000 stores where no other retailer could. I mean, Walmart was notorious for displacing local business and existing discounters (e.g. Kmart) whenever it opened a new location. There’s no reason why local businesses and other chains couldn’t return to fill the void left by Walmart’s departure.

            If you’re assuming the same single specific picked-out-of-a-hat just because it was a Big Round Number wage rate makes sense in every US state,

            Actually, I offered a range of $12-$15 specifically with the intention of accommodating regional differences in cost of living.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Personally I’m just amused to see the left suddenly admitting the financial policies of the last eight-ish years have caused the massive inflation all the non-Left people in the US were expecting to happen, such as to justify a near-doubling of minimum wage.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Earthly Knight:

            investors should assume that corporations which can afford to should pay their employees a living wage.

            But who gets to decide whether companies can afford to? You?

            If the corporations get to decide, they’ll say they can’t afford it. And most of them will be telling the truth. (and the ones that aren’t will probably be able to restructure the business so they are telling the truth!)

            Think of how gerrymandering works and imagine that concept applied to business units. Let’s apply it to Walmart’s profit. You agree that right now some Walmart locations can’t afford to pay the wage you’d like them to due to being insufficiently profitable and we agree 20% is a plausible number of locations that might be like that. But if your rule is put in place the obvious result will be for that 20% to turn into 90% or 95%.

            Under your “pay a higher wage if you can afford it” regime, Walmart could move stuff around and cook the books and break up/merge divisions until all the profit is officially located in, say, three stores and every other store is just barely breaking even. Those three stores will be required to pay your idea of “a living wage” and every other store will operate as it did before. Is that what you want?

            Another crucial issue is who decides what specific wage constitutes a living wage? You? If a living wage is defined as “what Earthly Knight thinks is reasonable”, then if the wage raises to $15 “because there’s enough profit to afford that” and then there’s still some profit left after that and some people are still “struggling to raise a family” on the new wage, why wouldn’t we expect you to decide that $17 or $20 is now “a living wage”?

            Once we establish the precedent that there’s nothing wrong with forcibly taking profit – even most or ALL the profit – away from investors as a class and giving it to workers as a class, isn’t that a slippery slope? Why would we expect it to stop at exactly $15? How did you PICK $15 as the right number, if not “it’s a round-sounding number that’s bigger than the current wage”? Once the current wage is $15, won’t you just move on to the NEXT “round-sounding number that’s bigger than the current wage”?

            There’s no reason why local businesses and other chains couldn’t return to fill the void left by Walmart’s departure.

            There isn’t? Have you thought about why Walmart was able to displace all those other chains in the first place? If other chains could plausibly provide equal or better value for customers and employees, what’s your theory as to why those chains aren’t still around?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            But who gets to decide whether companies can afford to? You?

            No, that’s silly. We will have a commission to make sure each store is making an appropriate profit.

          • Loyle says:

            There isn’t? Have you thought about why Walmart was able to displace all those other chains in the first place? If other chains could plausibly provide equal or better value for customers and employees, what’s your theory as to why those chains aren’t still around?

            That’s a problem I have with standards. Those stores were appropriate before Walmart entered the picture, and should be appropriate after Walmart leaves the picture.

            If you let someone set a standard that others can’t fill, I feel it’s evidence of some really bad shenanigans that shouldn’t be encouraged.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Orphan Wilde

            Personally I’m just amused to see the left suddenly admitting the financial policies of the last eight-ish years have caused the massive inflation all the non-Left people in the US were expecting to happen, such as to justify a near-doubling of minimum wage.

            http://blogs-images.forbes.com/trangho/files/2015/09/US-Inflation-Rate-1940×1182.png

            @ Glen Raphael

            But who gets to decide whether companies can afford to?

            It doesn’t matter. I said that corporations like Walmart which can afford to should pay their employees a living wage. You and others claimed that this was impossible, but we have seen now that you were wrong. How we could compel Walmart to pay its employees a living wage is another question altogether.

            How did you PICK $15 as the right number, if not “it’s a round-sounding number that’s bigger than the current wage”?

            It’s just an estimate of the wages required to provide for bare necessities in the US. Here’s a living wage calculator, if you’re confused.

            If other chains could plausibly provide equal or better value for customers and employees, what’s your theory as to why those chains aren’t still around?

            I didn’t say anything about equal or better value. I said other stores would fill the void left by Walmart’s departure. And, indeed, they would. I expect the long-term effects of Walmart closures are slightly higher prices for local consumers and slightly better jobs for local workers.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Earthly Knight:

            [Living wage is] just an estimate of the wages required to provide for bare necessities in the US. Here’s a living wage calculator

            According to the link, it’s an estimate of the wages “required” to provide for the bare necessities of a family of four with two children. But most Walmart workers aren’t supporting two children and therefore can trivially spend less than the benchmark level on housing and childcare. So what makes “a family with two kids” the right metric?

            I mean: don’t you care about single mothers raising two kids alone? Or two-parent families raising three kids? Or a single parent supporting three kids, a dog, two cats, and an aging relative? Clearly we need to update our totally-not-arbitrary living wage to be enough for those cases too! Even if providing that wage would cause ALL Walmart locations to close down and prevent investors from creating any new chain stores ever in the future, it’s like, totally worth it. It’s what they should do. Right?

            I expect the long-term effects of Walmart closures are slightly higher prices for local consumers and slightly better jobs for local workers.

            Nope, the local jobs were worse before and would be again. The fact that Walmart is better and more profitable at executing on their business model compared to local stores means they can afford to provide better jobs to the vast majority of workers, and they do – Walmart jobs generally offer more work hours, better pay, more training, and more upward mobility than did the stores they replaced. (Which is why we see job applicants lined up around the block any time a new location opens)

            When Walmart puts “Joe’s Hardware” out of business, “Joe” himself is worse off but his employees aren’t – nostalgia notwithstanding, they’re as much better off with Walmart as are his customers.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Earthy Knight

            Lack of health insurance causes tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year, because folks without health insurance avoid seeing the doctor when they get sick.

            Lack of health insurance doesn’t cause any deaths. Lack of health care can be a contributing causal factor in death. The Oregon Medicaid study showed no impact on physical health for those that got health insurance compared to those that didn’t: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Medicaid_health_experiment

            People without health insurance don’t see the doctor if they’re kinda sick, but they do go when they get really sick. Being kinda sick doesn’t cause death.

            Working at Walmart literally kills people.

            Would the employees be better off if they didn’t work at Walmart and took their next best available option? Would they be more likely to live or less likely to live?

            Companies have special obligations to their employees by virtue of employing them.

            I disagree. As I said above, when I hire a contractor to do work on my house, I don’t have an obligation to look into their personal finances to see whether they are struggling in some way, and even if I happened to know they were struggling in some way I don’t owe them any more compensation for the work they perform other than what we both mutually agree to.

            In general, it is wrong to offer someone an unfair price for a good or service knowing they will be compelled to take it simply because they have no good options available. I am not the only one who thinks this– you think it, too, no matter how hard you’ve tried to silence the part of your brain that gets outraged at stories of price-gouging and exploitation.

            I used to get upset many years ago, but then I learned economics and understood the alternative to ‘price-gouging’ and ‘exploitation’ was less desirable. Price ceilings lead to shortages. Price floors lead to surpluses. Cap the price that water can be charged in a disaster and water will run out. Mandate a high wage floor or working conditions in sweatshops and the jobs will go elsewhere, leading the people to prostitution, subsistence farming, or something worse than the sweatshop job. Paul Krugman: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/1997/03/in_praise_of_cheap_labor.html

            It sucks to be dirt poor and have no skills or experience and I don’t begrudge anyone that offers a better opportunity to those people, even if that opportunity isn’t as good as the ones I’m able to take advantage of.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Forked the thread here to pursue an adjacent set of questions.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Glen Raphael

            According to the link, it’s an estimate of the wages “required” to provide for the bare necessities of a family of four with two children.

            The calculator gives living wage estimates for various family arrangements. I agree that it is unrealistic to expect workers to be able to take care of an entire family on a single retail salary, so let’s pick 2 adults/1 child as the appropriate category.

            The fact that Walmart is better and more profitable at executing on their business model compared to local stores means they can afford to provide better jobs to the vast majority of workers

            This doesn’t follow. Walmart’s profitability is due in part to its success at keeping wages low.

            @ Irishdude

            Lack of health insurance doesn’t cause any deaths. Lack of health care can be a contributing causal factor in death.

            This is a distinction without a difference. We say that C causes E just in case, had C occurred, E would have occurred, and had C not occurred, E would not have occurred (holding other things fixed). If someone who does not have health insurance dies, but would not have died if they had had health insurance, it follows that the lack of health insurance causes the death.

            The Oregon Medicaid study showed no impact on physical health for those that got health insurance compared to those that didn’t:

            Yeah, other studies get different results.

            As I said above, when I hire a contractor to do work on my house, I don’t have an obligation to look into their personal finances to see whether they are struggling in some way, and even if I happened to know they were struggling in some way I don’t owe them any more compensation for the work they perform other than what we both mutually agree to.

            Suppose you know that the contractor struggles to put food on the plate and so is compelled to accept any price for the job. Would it be morally acceptable for you to pay him $2?

            I used to get upset many years ago, but then I learned economics and understood the alternative to ‘price-gouging’ and ‘exploitation’ was less desirable.

            What you’ve learned rests on a confusion, not about economics, but about ethics. It can at once be true that (1) companies do have an obligation to compensate their workers fairly and (2) there are overriding reasons why they should not attempt do so. A fortiori it can also at once be true that (1) companies do have an obligation to compensate their workers fairly and (3) the government should not attempt to enforce that obligation. It sounds like you recognize that (1) is true, but wrongly believe it is inconsistent with (2) and (3). It is not.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            There’s this myth that what WalMart displaced was somehow better for the employee.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Loyle:

            If you let someone set a standard that others can’t fill, I feel it’s evidence of some really bad shenanigans that shouldn’t be encouraged.

            Can you clarify what you mean here by standard?

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Earthly Knight:
            Walmart has a modern national inventory management system – they know exactly what they have and where it is. When a new product becomes popular they quickly order more; when an old product becomes unpopular they quickly mark it down, discontinue and dump the remaining supply in those big endcap boxes for serious bargain-hunters to find, clearing out space on the main shelves for what actually sells. (They’re also have a wider selection and are really good at negotiating with suppliers so all their stuff was likely cheaper to begin with)

            As for Joe’s Hardware, Joe is a great guy who loves his customers and his employees. But his organization system is eclectic. Often he doesn’t have what customers want or they can’t find it amid the clutter and poor signage. Or the product is inefficiently overpriced when they do find it so they’re inclined to comparison shop. Joe’s store wastes a lot of floor space on stuff nobody wants and wastes a lot of employee time finding items that have been mislabeled or mis-categorized. Add all this together and Joe’s store doesn’t manage to sell as much stuff to as many people. Joe’s store is much less profitable per square foot and less profitable per employee than Walmart because it has lower throughput and does a poorer job of quickly matching up customers to the exact thing they want to buy at a price they like.

            Because Walmart makes more money per employee, they can afford to pay employees more than Joe can afford to pay his…and they do. Walmart’s superior system generates a LOT of excess value. They give SOME of the excess value back to customers in the form of lower prices, they give SOME of the excess value to their investors in the form of dividends, and they give SOME of the excess value to employees in the form of better wages and working conditions. All three of those groups do better under Walmart than under Joe. The “rising tide” of better profitability lifts all three boats – customers, employees, and investors all…get higher boats when Walmart comes to town.

            You’re basically trying to rejigger the system to give employees much more of that excess value while sinking the “investor” and “customer” boats. Which just isn’t sustainable.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            There’s no reason why local businesses and other chains couldn’t return to fill the void left by Walmart’s departure.

            Of course there’s a reason: any successor would be subject to the same unrealistic wage requirement that you used to drive out WM.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Glen Raphael

            Because Walmart makes more money per employee, they can afford to pay employees more than Joe can afford to pay his…

            Yes.

            and they do.

            [citation needed]

            You seem to think that when corporations are profitable some of that profit automatically gets rerouted back to the employees. It doesn’t work that way.

            @ Cerebral Paul Z.

            Of course there’s a reason: any successor would be subject to the same unrealistic wage requirement that you used to drive out WM.

            The wage requirement I’ve suggested only applies to corporations with billions in profits that pay their employees a pittance. Successors not fitting that description can and would take Walmart’s place.

          • Jiro says:

            We say that C causes E just in case, had C occurred, E would have occurred, and had C not occurred, E would not have occurred (holding other things fixed). If someone who does not have health insurance dies, but would not have died if they had had health insurance, it follows that the lack of health insurance causes the death.

            It doesn’t follow because you fail to account for multiple causes, and since you are using “cause” to apportion blame, having multiple causes means that each individual one gets less blame.

          • Here’s what’s under Earthly Knight’s link about other studies which show that having insurance is good for people. This isn’t a very strong claim.

            “We have 45,000 people in this country who are dying each year because they don’t have health coverage,” Grayson said. “The Affordable Care Act provides coverage to virtually all of them, and the Republicans … want to stop it. I think it’s horrifying.”

            We wondered what you probably did: Are 45,000 people dying each year because they have no health coverage?

            What we found wasn’t enough to reach a conclusion one way or another (hence why we’re not rating Grayson’s statement on our Truth-O-Meter). But we still believe the issue and background of Grayson’s claim is worthy of scrutiny.

          • Loyle says:

            @Glen

            Sorry, I’m talking nonsense. And am generally bad at expressing myself.

            By “standards” I meant something to the effect of “minimum entry requirements” and what bothers me, specifically, is when those requirements reach a point where competition on the same playing field becomes unreasonable.

            It’s sort of a sense that no one really competes with Walmart. And a sense that no one really should. And Walmart filling a Walmart-sized niche seems off-putting for some reason. Especially when that niche is “necessary”.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            [citation needed]

            Walmart cashier pay is near the low end compared to other large national chains (though not the lowest; they do pay substantially more than, say, _Target_.)

            Which is just the start. Walmart has a training program, gives salary bumps to employees who train up, and promotes from within for things like department manager and store manager positions. Store managers get paid more than comparable roles at other companies. (eg: “A Starbucks store manager earns about $44,000 a year, while Walmart store managers make $95,000 a year on average.” source)

            Here’s the thing though – all those sob stories about how Walmart is destroying colorful local downtown businesses? They’re not talking about Starbucks and K-Mart. They’re talking about our hypothetical Joe’s Hardware which is NOT a national chain, it’s a mom-and-pop operation running on a shoestring. Those generally pay LESS than national chains and invariably offer fewer benefits and fewer opportunities for advancement. They also offer fewer work hours – Walmart is much more likely than Joe’s to be open 24 hours and/or during weekends and holidays.

            So, yeah. Walmart pays better than Joe’s. (feel free to look up “cashier salary” on salary.com and compare to what Walmart currently pays if you’re still not satisfied. You also might check the Glassdoor reviews regarding internal hiring)

            The wage requirement I’ve suggested only applies to corporations with billions in profits that pay their employees a pittance.

            So…if Walmart divided itself into a couple dozen sub-companies so that none of them individually had “billions” in profit, then you’d be fine with what they currently pay?

          • “Suppose you know that the contractor struggles to put food on the plate and so is compelled to accept any price for the job. Would it be morally acceptable for you to pay him $2? ”

            Why does the fact that you are hiring him give you a special obligation to him?

            Suppose the contractor, having accepted the low wage you offer him, can feed his family but only with the cheapest available food. Further suppose that someone else you know of, with whom you have no economic connection, can’t even do that. Finally suppose that you have some amount of money that you think you can do without and so are willing to spend doing good.

            Do you use that money to pay a higher wage to the contractor or give it to the other person who cannot even afford to feed his children? If the former, why?

            Looking at it from another angle, the employer who hires someone at a wage that is low but better than that person’s other alternatives is benefiting the employee, even if not by very much. The random person who has no such link is doing nothing for the employee. So why is it the employer that you think is acting badly and not the other person–possibly yourself?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Jiro

            It doesn’t follow because you fail to account for multiple causes, and since you are using “cause” to apportion blame, having multiple causes means that each individual one gets less blame.

            I think there’s probably something right in what you’re saying, but (1) all events have countless causes, which means that a multiplicity of causes alone could not serve to mitigate blame, and (2) this is true even when several of those causes are free human actions– every member of a conspiracy to commit murder is just as guilty as one murderer acting alone, for example.

            @ Nancy Leibovitz

            The link cites several studies estimating the death toll caused by lack of health insurance. The estimates ranged from 0 to 40,000, with a mean of around 20,000.

            @ Glen Raphael

            I don’t think you can get an accurate estimate of whether subtracting a Walmart from a town depresses local wages from speculation and anecdotal comparisons on websites like glassdoor.com. It’s the sort of thing which requires systematic study.

            So…if Walmart divided itself into a couple dozen sub-companies so that none of them individually had “billions” in profit, then you’d be fine with what they currently pay?

            Yeah, probably, depending on how genuinely independent the spinoffs are. I expect the competition would be great for consumers.

            @ David Freidman

            Why does the fact that you are hiring him give you a special obligation to him?

            I don’t know. We recognize the special demands relationships impose on us all the time, though. I have more of an obligation to give money to a needy friend or family member than a stranger, for instance, other things being equal.

            Do you use that money to pay a higher wage to the contractor or give it to the other person who cannot even afford to feed his children?

            Oh, goodness, the person with the starving children. The idea is that hiring someone confers upon you a prima facie obligation to compensate them fairly, an obligation which can be overridden if you will instead devote the money to a worthier cause (bearing in mind that, money being fungible, you only qualify for the exception if you donate all your discretionary income to charity).

          • “The idea is that hiring someone confers upon you a prima facie obligation to compensate them fairly”

            Your idea of “fair” seems to be based not on how valuable the services he provides are or what it costs him to provide them but on how much he needs the money.

            That is not a result of his being your employee–employing him reduces his need. So I still don’t see why the employer has any more obligation to help the poor employee than anyone else has to do so.

            To but it differently, if it’s in some sense unfair for someone to be very poor, why is it the employer, the one person who has done something to reduce the problem, who is at fault for not fixing it?

            Another take … . Suppose the value to you of the employee’s work is only $5/hour, that being the amount by which your income would go down without his contribution. Are you obliged to hire him for $10/hour anyway? If, knowing that if you hire him you are obliged to pay $10/hour you instead don’t hire him, are you more virtuous than if you hired him for $5/hour?

            It all feels very odd to my moral intuition.

          • Loyle says:

            @David

            I think you’re reading that particular argument wrong.

            Basically what’s being assumed is that if the value of the work is about $10, and you can afford that price, and to a lesser extent are willing to pay it, that if you notice someone is in a position that they are in dire need of money, so you offer the job to them at $1 knowing they can’t refuse it. This sort of extends to simply offering the $10 job at $1, knowing some people will go for it because they’ve no options available to them.

            I think…

            It mostly seems like a reason for why people think it’s wrong to move jobs that Americans can fill to sweatshops in China than whatever Earthly Knight is trying to make it say, but he can, and probably will, speak for himself.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Earthly Knight:

            The link cites several studies estimating the death toll caused by lack of health insurance. The estimates ranged from 0 to 40,000, with a mean of around 20,000.

            All the good studies find zero effect. You don’t get to just average good studies with bad ones and say the answer must be in the middle.

            The best possible evidence on the subject would involve an intervention study where there is random assignment of people to groups involving more or less health insurance coverage. When that has been done – as in the Oregon experiment, or the earlier Rand study – there was no demonstrable effect of insurance coverage on major health outcomes. People with less insurance do seek out less health care, but doing so doesn’t make them more likely to die.

            The larger numbers claimed (either 45k (Grayson) or 18-22k (IoM)) come from studies that were merely observational – what they are telling us is that the kind of person who gets health insurance is the kind of person who tends to be healthier. Which is not the same thing as saying that the health insurance causes the health.

            For instance, people without insurance are more likely to be smokers than the people with insurance.

            When you use more data and try to rigorously adjust for relevant differences between the two populations, even the observational correlation goes away. To wit (from your link)

            Richard Kronick, a University of California San Diego medical professor who now works for the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in 2009 that [large effect] estimates are “almost certainly incorrect.”

            His paper, published in August 2009 in HSR: Health Services Research, found that uninsured participants had no different risk of dying than those were covered by employer-sponsored group insurance. The finding was surprising coming from Kronick, who told PolitiFact then it was “not the answer I wanted.”

            His study is here.

            Relevant quote:

            On almost every characteristic measured, the uninsured are in higher risk groups. The uninsured are more likely to be low income, living without a telephone or in a mobile home, not in the labor force, poorly educated, in poorer health, and current smokers.

            Having adjusted for that sort of stuff, he gets an effect range for health insurance that is quite close to (and fails to exclude) zero. If you read the discussion it’s pretty clear the researcher didn’t want to show insurance having no effect on health but…the data is what it is.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            You appear to be implicitly asserting that the marginal case, the average case, and all cases are the same.

            Roughly, there aren’t good arguments for raising the minimum wage if the all workers at minimum wage are being perfectly compensated at their value to the company. This isn’t likely to be the case.

            The lowest wage employees are, by definition, the least attractive to the market. It would be surprising if they were being compensated near their value.

            I think you will make an argument that “hiring one more employee” will be done at the margin where it will be done as long as there is any profit to be made, but this ignores capital costs.

            Hiring an extra employee in a Subway location just costs you money. The profit of that store can be increased by reducing the cost of employing the 3 people it’s designed to employee at peak traffic.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            @Earthly Knight

            We say that C causes E just in case, had C occurred, E would have occurred, and had C not occurred, E would not have occurred (holding other things fixed).

            What you describe is necessary, but not sufficient for me to consider something a cause. Otherwise, I would think my parents having sex caused my (eventual) death, but that’s not how I think of causal influences. An additional factor that is relevant is how proximate C is to E.

            Coroners don’t attribute lack of health insurance as the cause of death on death certificates, they attribute the proximate factor, which is illness, accident, murder, etc.

            Regardless, as Glen Raphael has pointed out, the best studies that have random assignment of insurance as a way to control for observable and unobservable differences among groups, show no effect on physical health from lack of health insurance.

            Suppose you know that the contractor struggles to put food on the plate and so is compelled to accept any price for the job. Would it be morally acceptable for you to pay him $2?

            I disagree that there is any real world equivalent to a contractor that must accept any price, because there are many other people that want work done that I compete with to obtain the contractor’s services, which drives compensation that can be commanded above $0.01.

            Within your hypothetical, I think it’s morally acceptable for me to pay him whatever he and I can mutually agree to. I think he’ll consent to any compensation that he feels makes his life better off, and if I make his life better off I feel I’ve fulfilled, or at least haven’t contradicted, my moral obligations to him. Depending on what I know about his circumstances and how he got into them, I might be willing to be charitable to him outside of our economic transaction, but he’d be competi