Open Thread 58.75

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever.

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892 Responses to Open Thread 58.75

  1. M.C. Escherichia says:

    Did the “open thread” link always open the latest open thread? I seem to remember getting a list of them, which was useful if one wanted to look at ongoing discussions…

    (Maybe I’m bikeshedding.)

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      I remember it linking to the most recent one directly for a while, though it does briefly show a list of all of them while the page is loading.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I’ve been thinking the same thing.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      The archive shows all of them…

    • bluto says:

      It’s done it since perhaps the 2nd hidden open thread, but I’ve noticed a pattern that the threads take considerably longer to auto load as the post count grows, while new threads (with few or no posts) load almost immediately. So if someone only came when the most recent thread had 100+ posts, the might always have time to click on their desired thread before the auto loading function could finish.

      If you want to go back to an earlier thread, just copy the open thread link and remove everything after the question mark (which takes you to the open thread archive, with no auto loading functionality).

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The link to the list was introduced with the system of hidden threads. It was always supposed to go to the latest thread, but, as you say, it took a couple of threads to get there.

        Not the second open thread but something like the second fractional open thread. The link originally went to the list of open threads but that didn’t last long.

    • brad says:

      If you use chrome (tampermonkey) or firefox (greasemonkey) it should be easy to override — just remove the “?latest” from the link. Not sure about IE (excuse me, Edge) or Safari.

    • Bakkot says:

      That change was made a few months ago, around the start of hidden open threads. To view previous open threads, in addition to the strategies others have proposed, you can click on the “open” tag at the bottom of the main post in every open thread.

  2. no one says:

    How dangerous do you think it is is to try to really understand different worldviews? I just don’t mean charitably listen to what other people have to say, but really try to think like them

    I’m worried that most worldviews can seem very convincing once you’re inside them. I’ve twice in my life tried to put myself inside a totally different value system and attempted to see how thinking like that would make me interpret the world. And once I got far enough into it, it was terrifying because it started to seem so true. At some point, I felt like I faced the choice of either pulling back and saying “Sorry, I know this stuff is crazy and wrong, time to stop” or taking the plunge and really letting it affect my life.

    Anyone have similar experiences or thoughts how to try to be really sympathetic to another worldview in a more psychologically healthy way?

    • M.C. Escherichia says:

      It’s certainly easy to go from simulating the thoughts of hated outgroup X, to simply having those thoughts. So yes, can confirm.

      You’re probably fine as long as you do it in moderation. But reading the other side’s scandalous ideas can be a bit like consuming pornography.

    • Urstoff says:

      It seems like a definite danger; so much so that I don’t really like having a worldview at all (not that I can avoid it, but it’s still annoying).

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I think the supposed danger can be overstated.

      The reality is that, for most people anyway, your worldview doesn’t actually change how you view the world around you very much. I’ve trotted this example out a few times, but I’ve worked under a very capable geneticist who was also a creationist. Compartmentalization combined with the fact that most of the interesting ideological narratives are only visible from a bird’s eye view means that there’s not really much room for it to change your behavior or perceptions.

      After all, the world would look very very different otherwise. You’d have Soviet New Men and Ex-Gay Christians running around everywhere if ideology actually had that sort of fine control over how you thought and acted.

      • no one says:

        I think it’s fair to say that the default position of almost everyone it to never take any ideas too seriously. But some people really do! I mean, there are monks. There are revolutionaries. There people who leave their families to live alone in the wilderness.

        I agree with the general idea that, more or less, almost all ideologies have some really good and really bad ideas and none are Right ™. But in trying to get at the good parts of ideas, getting really deep and trying to wrap your mind in how they would address questions can, at least for, start to have tangible effects.

    • Wrong Species says:

      In my experience, being afraid of having a different worldview means I’m scared of it being right. I think there is usually a kernel of truth somewhere even in the most “wrong” ideologies. It’s not a strong argument but it’s some evidence that you should try to figure out what that kernel is, assuming you care about the truth.

      The healthy thing to do is not to conflate facts versus values. Lets say that we discover Nazis are right about some empirical fact that we didn’t believe before. That doesn’t mean we have to accept the entire paradigm. Of course, it’s not so simple because empirical facts can influence values. The best thing to do is try to look at the facts first while holding on to your preferred belief system and then later sort out whether it needs updating.

      • Richard says:

        This has been my approach and seems to work well for many things.

        The downside is you will stand out as the crazy one in just about every social context imaginable.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think is really an argument against epistemic closure.

      Whenever you hear a story on the news that is sourced primarily from either a prosecutor or a defense attorney, it’s always best to wait until you hear what the opposing counsel has to say. Any argument can seem airtight if you don’t hear or listen to the best opposing ones.

      So “thinking like” the opposing worldview can frequently just be “setting my opinion and allowing confirmation bias to dictate what I hear”.

      • Jordan D. says:

        I wish to wholeheartedly second this. It’s so easy to make a position appear unassailable when you’re the one presenting the facts and the argument.

      • no one says:

        I’m not talking about the news. I don’t really mean political ideologies here. I’m was thinking more, say, taking a religious viewpoint really seriously.

        If you take almost any religion and really start studying what it says, suppressing your “What the hell? This is total nonsense” reflex, trying to internalize how that religion views the world, it starts to make sense. The smart and subtle versions of these ideas look beautifully consistent from the inside and give you some flashes of insight. They are, after all, thousands of years of accumulation of human wisdom.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I’m not talking about the news either. That was just a fairly clear cut example.

          I’m talking about looking at only the positive arguments for a position (and/or the negative arguments as formulated by those taking the position).

        • My SCA persona is a North African Berber from about 1100 and I do quite a lot of story telling (and teach a few classes) “in persona,” so I have a good deal of experience of trying to think like a medieval Muslim. I also have a chapter on Islamic law in the book I’m currently writing.

          So I have a good deal of practice at thinking like a medieval Muslim. I don’t think I’m at any risk of converting. But I do end up with mental pictures of and linked emotional reactions to various historical figures. I’ve actually written a sonnet, from the Muslim point of view, about the second caliph, one of the figures I admire. I have a rather different view of his successor. Of later caliphs, I have a low opinion of al-Rashid, a high opinion of his younger son and ultimate successor al-Ma’mun.

      • “Any argument can seem airtight if you don’t hear or listen to the best opposing ones.”

        An important point.

        When I was a high school senior looking at colleges, I visited Yale. They happened to be having a program on the House Unamerican Activities Committee, with both supporters and critics.

        I watched a movie, “Operation Abolition,” which clearly demonstrated that the movement to abolish the committee was a communist project, with named communists shown.

        Then I watched a movie–”Operation Fraud” or some title vaguely along those lines–which clearly demonstrated that the first movie had wildly distorted the facts in making its argument.

        Then I read printed material from supporters of the Committee showing the dishonesty of the second movie.

        Then I read …

        It was a very educational experience.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          I came across a more succinct version in a left-wing publication back in 2001. It showed two extremely grainy long-distance frames from a video; the first showed what appeared to be a Palestinian funeral procession, and in the second the “corpse” was walking along beside its bearers. The article said that this was a video released by Israelis, which they claimed showed the Palestinians filming a fake funeral for propaganda purposes. The Palestinians claimed it was a bunch of kids playing funeral, a frequent enough game given the miserable conditions they live under. The article then posed the question: what would you have to do to be truly confident that you knew which one, if either, was actually telling the truth?

          • pku says:

            This is the famous image of this variety.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @pku – that’s a good one, but there you at least have what appears to be an ironclad, objective image in the center. The doubt induced by the version I saw was completely open-ended; a few minutes of thought quickly revealed that knowing the truth was practically impossible.

          • Jiro says:

            The article then posed the question: what would you have to do to be truly confident that you knew which one, if either, was actually telling the truth?

            I would be much more skeptical of the version that makes claims unfalsifiable than the one which doesn’t. “It’s just some kids playing” is a fully general excuse for fakery, and if we were to just accept it on someone’s word without any positive evidence, Palestinians would use that explanation every time and Israelis would never be able to point out fakery.

    • pku says:

      Usually it’s not too bad, but it can get weird. For example, I had a friend in high school who used to constantly annoy us by talking about the latest crazy racist thing he saw on the internet and how terrible it was. By senior year, he started trying to convert me to believe in Aryan racial superiority. Another example is the guy who went from being super-marxist to super-libertarian (and then maybe back again, I don’t remember).

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Back about 13 years ago, I hung out on an enthusiasts’ forum for the Game Boy’s turn-based strategy game Advance Wars.

        Now, as most forums do, we had a general discussion/debate area, where I liked to hang out since I was 14 and knew everything already and needed to tell everyone the truth about things. There was a fellow there who was perhaps the most vocal, argumentative Bush/Religious Right-defender I ever met. I always admired the fact that he was outnumbered 50 to 1 but continued to labor away in his lonely defense of The Truth as he saw it. Anyway, after a couple of years I left the forum and forgot all about it and most of its denizens, bar a few close friends I had made.

        Last year, I ran across the guy on reddit. Full blown communist now, preaching the Good News of Sanders over Clinton.

        Funny old world we live in.

        (Jaime, other AWB people, it was JonWood007 if you couldn’t tell from the description).

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          I also ran into JonWood on reddit. I knew that he was now an atheist and a proponent of basic income, but I hadn’t heard about his support for Sanders or his communism.

          Funny world indeed.

          Not that I have much room to talk. As I recall, I was describing myself as a feminist and a socialist during the same time period.

        • LPSP says:

          I think I used to hang out on that forum! Althought I may have just lurked, I can’t remember. There was a webcomic hosted there, Totally Flak’d!, if I recall.

      • US says:

        I’m reminded of this quote by Erich Hoffer, from The True Believer:

        “It goes without saying that the fanatic is convinced that the cause he holds on to is monolithic and eternal — a rock of ages. Still, his sense of security is derived from his passionate attachment and not from the excellence of his cause. The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not primarily because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause. The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude and righteousness of his holy cause. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. His passionate attachment is more vital than the quality of the cause to which he is attached. Though they seem to be at opposite poles, fanatics of all kinds are actually crowded together at one end. It is the fanatic and the moderate who are poles apart and never meet.”

    • LPSP says:

      I tried to get inside the mindset of Norwegian musician, murderer and outspoken anti-Judeo-Christian generally racist guy Varg Vikernes a few years back. You do start to feel tempted to believe it from the inside, because the worldview entails you to dismiss certain outlets of information as corrupt or untrustworthy, along with any associated techniques of thought or analysis. It’s easy to swallow a /pol/ infographic ridiculing the idea of the Holocaust (“Holohoax”) for instance if you just go along with the pretense that Jewish conspirators hide the existence of non-death concentration camps. You can take a real fact – at least one of those camps had a rabbit breeding program – and somehow make the fuzzy, feel-good leap to justifying the persecution of Jews. Because what did those stinking, lying, hook-nosed *insert off-the-deep-end ad hom here* ever do for us, while we *insert off-the-deep-end self-effacement here* for their fat arses?

      From this, I can only conclude that it is dangerous, indeed. But I have a much greater understanding of how racism, nativism, conspiracy theoryism and actual bigotry *actually* work, which I think is immensely valuable. I see Varg as a lonely, tortured soul who lashes out at a confusing world, like a wild animal that you don’t want to put down but will have to if it endangers innocents. It’s easy to either treat him as a revolting goblin who needs to be lynched and tortured (the guy is old and extremely passive, having served fifteen to twenty-odd years of jailtime for stabbing a former bandmate, he writes racist things but explicitly condemns violent action and just wants to raise his children), OR to idolise him as some edgy folk hero (he was very attractive in his youth and from the evidence he arguably just committed manslaughter and was unjustly tried for murder plus false accusations of church burning so let’s let him off and kick non-whites off the Earth rite?), without taking the time to peer at the world through his particular blinkers.

      • dndnrsn says:

        OK unrelated but this jumped out at me and I was wondering if it was phrasing:

        It’s easy to swallow a /pol/ infographic ridiculing the idea of the Holocaust (“Holohoax”) for instance if you just go along with the pretense that Jewish conspirators hide the existence of non-death concentration camps.

        Do they actually believe that? Because all the mainstream (non-denier, and Holocaust deniers are one of the few groups I have zero time for) historical sources list the concentration camps and transit camps alongside the death and hybrid camps. I wonder if maybe you’ve phrased this in a way I’m misunderstanding?

        • LPSP says:

          No, you read me absolutely. You’ll find all sorts of flabbergasting nonsense going around in these sort of denialist circles. It’ll never be consistent.

          One of the more interesting ones is the claim that only 1.5 million jews perished in the holocaust, because it says so on a frequently amended plaque in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of course, the number refers to how many died in just that camp. They’ll also claim that because the number has changed, JEWS ARE LIARS, but they’ll also take examples of unchanging numbers as a sign that JEWS NEVER CHANGE.

          • dndnrsn says:

            So, they believe that the existence of Bergen-Belsen or Westerbork, to give an example of a concentration camp and a transit camp, has been covered up? Wow.

          • LPSP says:

            There is no one “they”, so that’s not the right way to think about it. It’s a lot of conveniently-not-noticed jiggery-pokery. None of them really hold much of any consistent position for any length of time. It’s all one signalling act for their general distaste for, uh, jews.

    • keranih says:

      I think it’s a dangerous business, this going around and taking other people’s mad starts seriously.

      There is no telling what you’ll learn that you wish you didn’t know – about yourself, about your friends, about your enemies. Nor how much you know, that you find out just isn’t so.

      Probably safer just to sit on the porch in the evening, and listen to the dogs bark in the next village, and never even go around the bend in the road.

      • Poxie says:

        Is there a true, necessary, and kind way to say “Oh, barf?”

        Because you are not taking the OP’s question seriously in the name of taking new ideas seriously. Do you pull that you’re-so-closed-minded stuff on people you closed-mindedly tag as, say, SJWs?

        Oh wait, there are Ideological Turing Tests, and you passed one, according to … objective judges. I forgot.

        • keranih says:

          Dude. Seriously, dial it back a hair.

          If you’re not well read enough to pick up on the references to both Tolkien and the Tao Te Ching, I’m sorry for the short-coming in your education, but that’s not my look-out.

          Exposure to new ideas can end up with you getting eaten by dragons. It’s not to be undertaken lightly, but the benefits, imo, outweigh the (very real) risks.

          That stated seriously enough for you?

    • FacelessCraven says:

      Very dangerous. Beliefs are chosen, and the first step to choosing them is choosing to take them seriously.

    • Murphy says:

      I think it depends on why you rejected those beliefs in the first place.

      I can easily dig into pro-life positions and see them as perfectly logical and consistent and reasonable with certain base beliefs and weightings of how you compare various “rights”.

      I’m not going to easily change my basic beliefs about rights to bodily integrity so it’s not going to convert me and reading about it is merely interesting. I can respect the position while still utterly rejecting it.

      I feel in no danger of adopting those beliefs because it doesn’t change my base beliefs.

      On the other hand some positions don’t explicitly depend on base beliefs or they focus on areas where you’ve not formed strong base beliefs. Those can much more easily convert you and hang on to you later because if you have no strong base beliefs in an area they may well provide them. I do wonder if the fact that most people have no strong starting set of beliefs about economics or finance are why it’s so easy to convert people to incoherent positions related to them.

    • Aleister Crowley recommended throwing yourself into a number of different belief systems with the intent of eventually becoming more skeptical. (I think I have this right.)

      Has anyone here tried this? If so, how did it work out?

      • brad says:

        It takes a while to go through multiple belief systems and the result is hard to disentangle from simply getting older. All 18 year old know they are 100% right and everyone else is an idiot.

      • Anon. says:

        >Aleister Crowley recommended throwing yourself into a number of different belief systems with the intent of eventually becoming more skeptical.

        This method was used in fictionalized form in the hilarious and highly recommended Illuminatus! trilogy.

        • tcd says:

          “Everyone has a belief system, B.S., the trick is to learn not to take anyone’s B.S. too seriously, especially your own.”

          He was always good for a smile.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ Nancy
        throwing yourself into a number of different belief systems with the intent of eventually becoming more skeptical.

        Not with that intent, but I gave several systems a test drive. As a result, I’m more skeptical of beliefs per se on the intellectual level, but less skeptical of personal experiences (mine and others’).

      • Fahundo says:

        I think something like this is the reason I’m not religious anymore.

    • fr00t says:

      Dangerous only to your original, sacred values. I tend extrapolate the litany of tarski to this; If I change my mind about ideology or preference, so be it. And well, that’s life.

      Of course, I can understand not wanting to get sucked up into the first local attractor you come across but then, you already have been.

    • Jill says:

      Hmm. What about getting meta about this? What is the point for you of trying to really understand different worldviews? Why do it? E.g. is it to expand your mind? Not that it might not be one of many possible mind expanding activities. But have you thought of others? E.g. if you are doing the understanding through books, you could try joining the groups of people who believe that religion or world view. Or vice versa: If you are joining groups for that purpose, then you might do more reading for a while, to see the differences & similarities.

      Have you ever thought of doing some inner exploration, rather than outer? E.g. looking for the particular philosophy or world view, both in books and groups of people, that has the most to offer you personally, in your personality, talents, preferences etc?

      Or have you considered exploring inner space, as well as “outer” world view space? E.g. taking different types of meditation and yoga classes and breathing exercises e.g. transformational breathing? To better acquaint yourself with your own mind, emotions, body etc.

      The U.S., and perhaps most of the world, are outer focused cultures. So inner focus gets short shrift sometimes. But for that very reason, it is more likely to be what is missing from one’s life.

    • Jill says:

      What if the most meaningful and relevant experience to your life were not to delve into world views that “have all the answers” but to create your world from scratch? E.g. to learn sailing or white water rafting and/or skiing and/or chess and/or _____________? (Fill in the blanks with whatever you find yourself attracted most to, out of what you read or hear about when you walk out of your door. Perhaps building your own world view and activity schedule, piece by piece, dropping things that don’t work for you and trying out other things, would be most meaningful of all.

  3. onyomi says:

    I’ve been driven crazy by this long enough and recently enough at this point that I want to start a thread addressing it specifically:

    What’s the deal with the “insufficient consumer demand is always the problem” conventional macro wisdom? It’s just everywhere now, to the point that I’ve heard cute stories like “didn’t want to buy toy at the store, child says, ‘what’s the matter Mommy, don’t you want to help the economy??'”

    Clearly, I am not a Keynesian, nor do I claim to fully understand Keynesianism (too much math seems to be required). But I’m pretty sure even good Keynesians don’t necessarily support this popular version? Yet it also seems that sophisticated Keynesians, like Krugman, have never yet met a crisis which wasn’t a demand problem, so maybe the popular version is not really that much of a misconstrual?

    But whether you’re a sophisticated economist or just someone who has bought into “economy needs MOAR spending,” my question is: does lack of willingness to spend really strike you as the problem in Western economies today? Like, do Americans, as a group, seem like they don’t have enough credit card debt and are just all living like that $7,000/year guy mentioned on the last OT? To the more sophisticated Keynesians, has there ever been a major crisis which you don’t think could have been fixed with more consumer demand?

    I just feel sometimes like I’m living in bizarro world when “go shopping!” is somehow the cure to all economic ills. It’s to the point where my statement in a recent thread that “rich guys who work all the time and live really frugally, reinvesting and saving everything are better for the economy than rich people who just dissipate everything in yachts and luxurious vacations,” seems vaguely controversial?

    A somewhat related point: the left/progressive/blue tribe seems, weirdly, both to be the group always calling for more demand stimulus, yet also the group most likely to decry consumerism. What’s up with that? Are they just two different groups in an uneasy coalition? (I am the opposite: I like trying to work hard to buy lots of nice things, but I don’t imagine that I’m doing the economy a great favor when I enjoy expensive things instead of say, investing the money).

    • no one says:

      There’s too much consuming going on out there.

      • SUT says:

        The way we coordinate our economy is by tracking crude indicators like this month’s consumer spending, and then moving the rudder slightly up or down.

        The reason we do this is because it is difficult to impossible to predict long term changes in such a complex system. For examples of this folly, see Peak-Oil predictions, or pre-planned-cities like Brasilia.

        To expound a little further, certainly consumer are more difficult to characterize then small molecule and their effects on human health. Yet Wall St et al continues to not believe the pharma scientists and doctors of their ability to do so, until the actual FDA certification is a done deal. The reason for doubt are that science is not perfect, and that corporations are inevitably biased toward more optimistic projections. That means the most knowledgeable people with the best information can’t know, and even if they did, they shouldn’t be trusted.

        So what consumer spending does materialize, in aggregate (Starbucks + Dunkin Donuts, not versus), is the greatest uncertainty to planning and investing. And as others have pointed out, lots of activities like intermediate goods, real estate, new jobs etc depend on consumer spending and its expectation to stay the same. So if you can get this one thing right, the opinion of many economists is that everything else will fall into place.

        It’s kind of like the relationship of deadlifts to meeting women 😉

        • “The way we coordinate our economy is by tracking crude indicators like this month’s consumer spending, and then moving the rudder slightly up or down.”

          No. The way we coordinate our economy is not the Fed or the Treasury. The way the economy gets coordinates is the market, the price system.

          • SUT says:

            Correct, by “rudder” I mean how many stores should we open (close) this quarter? And the supply chain of investment capital that goes into that making that decision possible

    • Urstoff says:

      Vulgar Keynesians always see everything as an issue of AD, but sophisticated Keynesians (like Krugman) have been emphasizing it since interest rates have bottomed out (the thinking being that if interest rates are zero, AS is maxed out; thus, slow macroeconomic growth must be due to insufficient AD).

      There definitely does seem to be some tension in the general vulgar Keynesian worldview given how often I see those same individuals decry how our economy is built on the illusion of wealth via CC debt. Also, I would take their stimulus plans more seriously if one of them (just one is all I ask) ever suggested reducing public spending during boom times.

      • Wrong Species says:

        But interest rates aren’t at the bottom level anymore, not since last year.

        • Urstoff says:

          0.5% is still incredibly low by historical standards, so the canard that AS is maxed out is still rhetorically available.

          • onyomi says:

            The possibility that never seems to be considered is that maybe it’s neither insufficient supply, nor insufficient demand, but a mismatch between what is being supplied and what is demanded.

            Like in the USSR, you might manufacture 10x more steel this year than ever before and yet the economy still seems to be doing poorly. Why aren’t we making money off our newfound ability to produce huge amounts of steel? We must need to stimulate demand for steel!

            Clearly this is wrong. In such a distorted, command economy, the idea that what the economy is producing just isn’t what consumers are demanding seems clearly possible.

            Yet maybe our own economy is also distorted in a million less obvious ways due to repeated bubbles, bailouts, subsidies, etc. and what’s actually needed is restructuring to meet actual demands rather than inflation of demand for what/how is already being produced.

          • Urstoff says:

            That sounds a lot like Arnold Kling’s diagnosis. But to be fair to other economists, the AD/AS lens is only one a few look through exclusively.

          • Wrong Species says:

            The traditional New Keynesian argument is monetary policy is effective until you hit the zero bound. Well, we’re no longer at the zero bound so arguments for fiscal stimulus no longer apply. Even Krugman has to a certain degree admitted this.


          • HeelBearCub says:

            Monetary =/= fiscal stimulus.

            Zero lower bound argues that monetary stimulus stops being effective when fed-funds rate gets to zero. As we approached the ZLB the Keynesians were relatively regimented in calling for more fiscal stimulus (i.e. government spending financed by government held debt).

            Even Bernanke was making this point fairly strongly.

          • Wrong Species says:


            I don’t understand your point. I said that according to New Keynesians, monetary policy is effective until you hit the zero-bound, then fiscal stimulus is supposed to be used. Then when rates go above the zero-bound, monetary policy is supposed to be effective again, at which point it takes over from fiscal policy. It looks like you just said the same thing. So where do you disagree?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Wrong Species:

            Well, we’re no longer at the zero bound so arguments for fiscal stimulus no longer apply.

            Perhaps this was a typo and you meant monetary stimulus? Because we are still really close to ZLB.

            Or do you mean that there is no need for fiscal stimulus until we are at the ZLB? Because that isn’t orthodox Keynesian thinking.

          • Zorgon says:

            The possibility that never seems to be considered is that maybe it’s neither insufficient supply, nor insufficient demand, but a mismatch between what is being supplied and what is demanded.

            Turns out there’s only so much desire you can manufacture.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Or do you mean that there is no need for fiscal stimulus until we are at the ZLB? Because that isn’t orthodox Keynesian thinking.

            I meant that. The discussion was on what the “sophisticated” New Keynesians believe rather than what the “unsophisticated” orthodox Keynesians believe. It is my understanding that NK adopted monetary policy in their framework and that for them, monetary policy was far more effective until you hit the zero bound and then things became “topsy turvey”, where the normal rules no longer necessarily apply and fiscal stimulus becomes effective. Do you believe I am mistaken?

            As far as being close, I’m pretty sure that the whole idea of the liquidity trap was originally a binary one. It wasn’t until recently that people have begun to make arguments saying that being close to a liquidity trap was reason enough. Now the economy is still lackluster in some areas but those issues seem to me to be more structural than cyclical.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      It’s not as if Keynesian’s don’t think an economy can get overheated.

      What you are really saying is the Keynesian’s see that the primary tool the government can bring to bear against recessions are tools that increase demand. It’s precisely because they don’t believe in a “command economy” that they don’t think “stimulating investment” works (without simultaneously stimulating demand).

      To take your simple example:
      “We tried to goose the development of more steel mills, but no one actually built any! Why?”

      Well, because they already have a glut of steel manufacturing capability, that’s why. Unless you get demand for end products, products that aren’t merely needed to make other products but that are “consumed” you won’t get any more steel produced or steel mills built.

      I mean, if you are China, you can build ghost cities in the desert, but that eventually falls over.

      • Alex Zavoluk says:

        As far as I can tell, that’s precisely one of the main criticisms leveled against Keynsian spending as well. You try to boost demand, but the only way to do so is to pay people for doing things that aren’t valuable enough to get done by the market, like building useless infrastructure or digging holes or, as you mentioned, building ghost cities in the desert.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          That might be the main criticism, but it’s mis-aimed.

          Unemployment Insurance (and time-extensions thereof) is a classic example of counter-cyclical fiscal stimulus. That money gets spent on good by consumers, not ghost cities.

          Building a bridge to nowhere isn’t helpful, but finding places where infrastructure is aging or lacking and accelerating plans to repair or expand can be counter-cyclical, although it will necessarily lag and therefore is less useful unless the downturn appears likely to be long (as 2008 was).

          Do a combined goose on development and demand, as the various green energy programs did, also can work (but will lag).

          In a moderate downturn, some of these things don’t make sense as they will simply further accelerate what is likely to be an already robust recovery. But 2008 was a perfect time to do even more long term counter-cyclical spending than we did.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            I’m not sure it’s *the* most important criticism–like I said, just one of many.

            How long term is long term?

            There is a now infamous graph (available here:, comparing the government’s unemployment forecasts with and without the stimulus, and noting that actual unemployment was much higher. Given that, claims that the problem with stimulus spending was just that we should have spent more ring a little hollow to me. Krugman in particular likes to miss this point entirely while claiming his predictions are very good.

            Even if stimulus spending can in principle work, the fungibility of money means recipients can in practice redirect the funds to whatever they want. Moreover, from the time stimulus is passed, it takes a long time before any of it snakes its way through the bureaucracy and is actually spent. As a result, a lot of the money goes to jobs and projects that are already under way. Some of these problems are outlined here:

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Not to mention that the vast majority of the stimulus didn’t go to infrastructure anyway, despite that being what it was sold on. But hey, what’s $700 billion between friends, right?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The stimulus was not sold as a stimulus majority bill.

            A huge chunk of the money went to state governments to prevent them from rapidly shrinking. Unemployment insurance extension was a huge chunk. Tax breaks, including a reduction of payroll taxes were a huge chunk. Everyone knew all these things at the time.

            Republicans spent a lot of time arguing about the infrastructure stuff and whether it would be timely enough. Only paying attention to the other guys weak-man is rarely a good way to get a sense of the positive case being made.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Everyone knew all these things at the time.

            “But the plans were on display…”
            “On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
            “That’s the display department.”
            “With a flashlight.”
            “Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
            “So had the stairs.”
            “But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
            “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

          • Chalid says:

            If you didn’t know what was in the stimulus package, then what that shows is that you’ve got a problem with your news diet. This was not secret stuff.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            If you didn’t know what was in the stimulus package, then what that shows is that you’ve got a problem with your news diet. This was not secret stuff.

            Don’t you dare gaslight me. I was following the news, and I know exactly how the package was sold. I’m not going to claim that the contents of the bill were kept secret — of course they weren’t. But the propaganda line and the official media spin were that this would Fix Our Crumbling Infrastructure. All those high speed trains we were gonna get, remember that? But sure, sure, I guess we all should have made our own way down to the display department, with a flashlight. Our own faults for reading newspapers and expecting some kind of accurate summary of the news, I suppose. Don’t worry, I won’t make that mistake again.

          • hlynkacg says:

            …and people wonder why trust in the media is so low. Worse they imply it’s a bad thing.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @ThirteenthLetter: @hlynkacg:
            Eight years ago, where do you think you got your descriptions of how the stimulus plan was sold? I’m actually quite curious.

            Because the contents of the stimulus plan were not a big surprise to me. They genuinely weren’t. And bullet trains weren’t a big emphasis on the selling point side of infrastructure side. I remember talk about high-speed rail (which required state cooperation that subsequently was absent), but the phrase on infrastructure repeated over and over was “shovel ready”. That means relatively quotidian stuff, just accelerated.

          • Randy M says:

            I find it is pretty hard to reliably reconstruct past mental states. I have impressions of how I felt and thought at points in my life, but I suspect that these are colored by memories of events that came after.

            On the substance, I’m pretty sure the phrase “shovel-ready jobs” was doing some work then and meant to imply immediate physical projects. I can’t say how much other aspects were emphasized and by who.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s funny how much the new right sounds like the old left. I guess Chomsky was right all along, eh?

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            Passing money on to state governments does not solve any of the issues I raised. In fact, it most likely makes several of them worse by adding another layer of bureaucracy and more opportunities for graft and redirecting of funds.

            There was definitely a lot of propaganda around crumbling infrastructure that should be repaired, weatherizing homes, etc. The video I linked has clips of the president mentioning these things. Which isn’t to say he mislead anyone–I don’t know how much time the proponents of the stimulus spent on each thing in it, compared to the amount of money spent on that thing. But it was supposed to be a major selling point of the bill.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            HBC: Even for you, a person insisting you had a full understanding of the bill and knew that infrastructure was a tiny part of it at best, the phrase “shovel-ready jobs” instantly popped into your head. That is suggestive of how it was sold.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It tells me that there was criticism of how fast the additional infrastructure spending could be made to occur. What people are arguing about will always get the most conversation. They needed to sell the infrastructure spending more because it was being objected to.

            Nobody was bitching about extending unemployment insurance at that point, so it was a mention, not a conversation.

            I’m not saying they weren’t selling the infrastructure spending, just that that wasn’t represented as the whole bill.

            Here is what The NY Times said about the bill immediately after passage.

          • onyomi says:

            I definitely recall the phrase “shovel ready.”

            I also recall a couple of years later when I realized that by “shovel ready,” they meant, “we are ready to shovel money into overextended state and municipal pension programs.”

          • Chalid says:

            So I got curious and looked up Obama’s speech when signing ARRA, which is presumably what he wants voters to remember:


            I’d say:

            Every major part of the bill is touched on. Tax cuts are mentioned, as is unemployment aid. On the spending side there are paragraphs devoted to education, health care modernization, transportation infrastructure, energy, and basic research. State aid is brought up mentioned multiple times in multiple contexts, e.g. when he discusses education he mentions saving teachers’ jobs from state budget cuts, when he discusses health care he mentions help to state Medicaid programs, etc.

            In terms of emphasis, the things that stand out to me as being disproportionate (as defined by comparing word count to dollars spent) are energy and tax cuts for individuals. Tax cuts are about a third of the bill but he only devotes a few sentences to them. Meanwhile, energy was only $43 billion but gets three paragraphs. Some of this discussion could be defined as being about infrastructure (smart grid) but some could not (tax incentives, loan guarantees, etc.)

            The other topics seem to have a more-or-less comparable amount of emphasis in the speech versus the bill. In particular, stuff that could be defined as “fixing our crumbling infrastructure” is only one small paragraph, which basically lists various transportation improvements, broadband improvements and dam/levee repair. At least in this speech, it is not emphasized, and the amount of text devoted to it seems about proportional to the amount of spending it actually received.

            The phrase “shovel ready” does not appear.

            Obviously this may not be representative of the process of selling the bill as a whole.

          • Chalid says:

            @Alex Zavoluk

            Passing the money to state governments is designed to prevent them from having to do mass layoffs/spending cuts or tax hikes in a recession. State governments have much less ability to run deficits than the federal government does, and when a recession hits tax revenue falls and spending needs increase. So this aid is *intended* to go to projects that are already underway, to prevent them from being cut.

          • onyomi says:

            I know the Keynesians want to insist that a national economy is not like a household economy, but all of this feels a lot like taking out a loan supposedly to start a new small business or renovate the house, but you end up just using it to buy groceries, keep the electricity on, and make payments on your credit cards.

    • Zombielicious says:

      As I stated in the last open thread, there would seem to be some evidence for a demand-limited economy, in that corporations are allegedly sitting on huge piles of cash and not reinvesting it. No one bothered to explain why more investment would be great when companies already have record high sums to invest but see nothing worthwhile to invest it in.

      High consumer debt doesn’t really seem to contradict this, since debt would be another reason to avoid spending unless you absolutely have to. An economy with either 100% investment or 100% consumption, and 0% of the other, isn’t going to work very well. Either one can be below optimal or above optimal levels, so just trying to mindlessly maximize one or the other doesn’t make a lot of sense.

      A somewhat related point: the left/progressive/blue tribe seems, weirdly, both to be the group always calling for more demand stimulus, yet also the group most likely to decry consumerism.

      The views of political tribes consisting of hundreds of millions of people taken as a whole aren’t going to be very consistent when put under a microscope. Might as well ask why people that oppose abortion and stem-cell research tend to support the death penalty, or who distrust government feel unbridled patriotism for their military and (some) Presidents, or who are opposed to centralized power love and defend big corporations…

      But the most charitable explanation would probably be that they dislike certain types of consumerism and prefer certain types of demand. Lower-class people being able to spend at a middle-class level = good, more people buying yachts and unnecessary low-ROI positional goods = bad.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        Might as well ask why people […] who are opposed to centralized power […] defend big corporations

        Answer: because they’re defending those corporations (big or small) against government, the ultimate example of centralized power. Context matters.

      • Eric Rall says:

        The huge cash positions (at least those held by companies like Apple and Google) are largely an artifact of tax policy and financial regulation.

        On the tax policy side, multinational corporations can defer US taxes on much of their profits by attributing the profits to subsidiaries in low-corporate-tax countries. If they try to reinvest the money in expanding the business or if they try to pay the money out to their investors as dividends, they first have to “repatriate” the money to the US-based parent corporation and pay full US taxes on it. But they can leave the money indefinitely in the foreign subsidiaries (where it passes through to the parent company’s balance sheet) in hopes that US tax policy will change (a corporate income tax cut, or switching to a territorial corporate tax system, or another repatriation tax holiday (a temporary lower rate on repatriated profits, like in 2004)).

        The regulatory end of things comes in because the term “cash” is misleading in this context. The full term is “cash and cash equivalents”, which can include any number of liquid investments with maturity horizons of up to three months, and then there’s “short term investments” (3 months to one year) and “long term investments” (more than one year). Apple, for example, has about $20 billion in C&CE, another $20 billion in STI, and $164 billion in LTI. Depending on who’s writing the article and how precise they’re being, that might get reported as $20 billion in cash, $40 billion, or $200 billion. But almost all of whichever number is invested and only what Apple needs immediate access to for ordinary business operations will be sitting around in regular bank accounts. The rest is invested. Apple’s finance department is essentially an investment bank with one major customer (the rest of Apple), which has the happy situation of being regulated as a computer company instead of an investment bank. Likewise for Google. And both companies can and do borrow money from regular banks (which are limited by regulation in what and how they can invest) in order to free up more cash for their investment banking activities.

    • DavidS says:

      As someone who doesn’t really understand economics and is basically left/progressive/blue, I think

      1. I think it’s got some of the appeal of ‘correcting the first mistake’. People assumed for a long time saving was always good, so the idea that spending is actually good for the economy has that ‘isn’t it wacky’ appeal
      2. The left tends to emphasises that government or poor people spending money is helpful, rather than rich people buying yachts etc. And there’s a fairly obvious reason why if you want higher tax and spend you’re motivated to think this will boost the economy (or, more charitably, that if you think it will boost the economy you’ll be a leftist.

      Part of this is I think an idea that saved money just sits there rather than thinking about it being invested.

    • Part of the problem is that there is no adequate and accepted version of macro. As I usually put it, a class in macro is a tour of either a cemetery or a construction site. I recently linked to Romer’s piece arguing that the current popular version is bogus.

      Given that, it’s natural for vulgar Keynesianism, whatever set of ideas seems to make sense if you don’t think about it very much, to dominate the discussion. As you observe. I think someone here recently suggested that an argument for progressive taxation is that it’s good for everyone since the rich don’t spend their money. That wasn’t a claim about special circumstances with a zero interest rate.

      Compare that to the situation with regard to trade policy or the minimum wage. We have a generally accepted theoretical structure, price theory, which has different implications from what someone who doesn’t know economics but thinks he can make it up for himself will think–in the former case comparative advantage rather than absolute advantage. We still get vulgar economics playing a large role in the public discussion, as seen in the popularity of “competitiveness” and “unfavorable balance of trade.” But the economists–even Krugman still (I think) on trade policy and on minimum wage back when he was an academic economist rather than a professional public intellectual–push back. That’s harder to do when the real answer to “why have we been having a very bad recession?” is “good question.”

      • onyomi says:

        Though it doesn’t seem like all that many economists, at least not the ones politicians seem to talk to, or whom I see on the news, share your view of macro as “construction site/cemetery,” given that they seem perfectly happy to keep experimenting on e. g. Japan, decade after decade with little to show for it and seemingly no humility about their fundamental assumptions.

        If the real answer to “why have we been having a bad recession?” is “good question,” one would like a little more humility on the part of people like Krugman, who always seem to be very confident in their prescriptions.

        • Lumifer says:

          they seem perfectly happy to keep experimenting on e. g. Japan

          That’s not a horrible set of experiments — the patient is stable, he’s not out of coma, but not dead either : -/

          people like Krugman

          Krugman used to be a good economist. Unfortunately, at some point he decided that influencing policy and the public is more important and so he became an agitprop mouthpiece. All he says nowadays is in the service of a single point — that Carthage must be destro that the government should spend more money.

          • Matt M says:

            Well in the past year or so it’s been more like “that Hillary should be President.” He eventually conceded that there is such a thing as too much government spending (the amount that Bernie wanted to spend)

          • LHN says:

            He became an economist because he wanted to be Hari Seldon.

            On the one hand, this produced his early paper on The Theory of Interstellar Trade. On the other, having efforts at influencing the future replace empirical knowledge as his primary focus was (in the absence of his actually inventing psychohistory) always a likely failure mode.

    • Poxie says:

      ‘ It’s just everywhere now, to the point that I’ve heard cute stories like “didn’t want to buy toy at the store, child says, ‘what’s the matter Mommy, don’t you want to help the economy??’” ‘

      As a quasi-Keynesian with mostly Blue-Tribe brainwashed IRL friends, most of whom have bred at least once, I am VERY curious where you heard this story – I’m sorry, THESE stories, plural. Because I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing out in the real world.

      • onyomi says:

        Facebook, among other places. Though as stated in my reply to fr00t, my friends are probably not representative.

        To offer, a perhaps, more shared experience: do you not see the news reports every year which take Americans’ Christmas shopping enthusiasm seemingly not only as a barometer but maybe even a driver of economic health?

        I recall Rothbard, Hazlitt, or someone like that quipping to the effect: “if only everyone would behave as if it were Christmas every day, we would enjoy really stellar economic growth, these Keynesians seem to imply.”

        • Fahundo says:

          Americans’ Christmas shopping enthusiasm seemingly not only as a barometer but maybe even a driver of economic health

          I’m instantly reminded of the story of FDR moving Thanksgiving up a week in order to lengthen the holiday shopping season, hoping it would stimulate economic growth.

    • Lumifer says:

      The macro frameworks of Tyler Cowen, Arnold Kling, and Scott Summers.

      the left/progressive/blue tribe seems, weirdly, both to be the group always calling for more demand stimulus, yet also the group most likely to decry consumerism.

      The progressives are statists, they like the state and believe in it. Nowadays most of demand stimulus is fiscal meaning the government gets to spend the money. From the progressives’ point of view giving the government more money to spend is almost always a good idea.

      • onyomi says:

        This is definitely one aspect which really gets me about popular, vulgar Keynesianism. As soon as it comes time to spend money, suddenly politicians become expert economists and throw this stuff out there like it’s obvious.

        How convenient that they happen to have decided upon a macro vision which requires them to spend a ton of money to save the economy.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I don’t think, with the amount of fetishizing of Laffer that has occurred, you really get to throw this kind of accusation around.

          And see comments upthread complaining that the 2009 stimulus bill was “sold as an infrastrutcture bill”. A massive amount of the stimulus was designed as a means of putting money directly into the pockets of people most likely to spend it, the opposite of the government controlling the spending. Basically this all comes down to straw men and weak men. Pick something and complain about it, then pick the opposite and complain about that.

          The single piece of ongoing fiscal stimulus that was most supported by the Democrats was extended unemployment insurance. This was bitched about endlessly and vociferously by Republicans, who mostly described in their opposition moralistic terms.

          • onyomi says:

            And they argued in favor of the unemployment insurance by saying “unemployed people are going to spend the money faster than rich bankers, and that will help the economy.”

            Also, I would consider giving money to constituents who will support you in the next election, be they the unemployed, or a construction company, a kind of “spending” from the perspective of a politician.

            I didn’t saying anything about Republicans or Democrats.

            Of course tax cuts without spending cuts, more typical of Republicans, can also be a form of demand stimulus and also differentially benefit different groups who might support politicians as a result. Either way, really, politicians can use vulgar Keynesian (MOAR spending) logic to support what they’d like to do anyway.

            That said, Democrats seem more likely to use the rhetoric of consumption spending=good for economy, because they say things like “putting money in peoples’ pockets today will stimulate consumer spending.” GOP rhetoric tends more toward “taxing companies less today will allow them to invest and hire more people (though some might go on to argue, “and those people with jobs will spend more,” so prevalent is the logic of “higher consumer spending=strong economy”).”

            In other words, the GOP just offers a more “supply side”-ish version of the same Keynesian logic, which is part of what drives me crazy–there’s seemingly no mainstream alternative to this version of macro since both parties find it convenient to their purposes.

            (Whether through higher spending and static taxes or lower taxes and static spending, it’s bigger deficits that vulgar Keynesianism justifies for politicians of all stripes, because it allows them, in effect, to defer the sting of taxation while offering the same or more spending today).

        • Matt M says:

          “How convenient that they happen to have decided upon a macro vision which requires them to spend a ton of money to save the economy.”

          I believe this is one of the standard explanations by critics of Keynesianism as to why he became so popular. He was the first economist to tell the political class exactly what they wanted to hear. That the best way to run the economy was to give them all the power and let them do all the things they always wanted to do all along anyway.

    • Chalid says:

      I feel like a great many of the responses here are missing/ignoring that tax cuts are perfectly good Keynesian stimulus.

      • mobile says:

        A great many of the politicians that use Keynes as intellectual cover are missing/ignoring it too.

        • Chalid says:

          Not really. The 2009 stimulus under Obama had a large tax cut component. The 2008 stimulus under Bush and a Democratic congress was explicitly a Keynesian stimulus bill and it was almost entirely tax cuts IIRC. Before that, the very large 2001 Bush tax cuts were sold partially as Keynesian stimulus as well. etc etc

    • fr00t says:

      I just feel sometimes like I’m living in bizarro world when “go shopping!” is somehow the cure to all economic ills.

      I don’t know anyone at the actual-people-level who say or believe this. It is almost a truism that we are too consumerist (typically said to signal virtue and sophistication, no doubt) and that reducing that kind of behavior is Good.

      How our tribal leaders throw bones and interpret the omens is whatever.

      • onyomi says:

        I don’t think it actually changes many individuals’ behavior when it comes to purchasing/saving/investing decisions, but it is very much part of the conventional wisdom when people are discussing such matters in the abstract, at least in my experience, which is admittedly skewed toward academic Blue tribe types.

        But if everyone believes it in the abstract, they’ll vote for politicians who espouse it, which is where the issue arises.

      • JayT says:

        My Blue Tribe friends are always talking about how supply side economics are obviously wrong, because it’s the poorer people that will spend all the extra money they get, thus giving them money helps the economy.

        At least, that’s what I thought the original post was referring to.

    • Nyx says:

      I think that’s a bit misrepresentative. Obviously any individual deciding whether to shop or not shop is not going to have a large impact on the economy.

      It’s also important to remember that one man’s spending is another man’s saving. If Boris the Grocer has enough money left over at the end of the month to save £1000, that’s because people came to his shop and spent money. It is impossible for everyone to save instead of spend. I believe (I don’t really understand how such things are measured) that investment during the Great Recession also dropped along with spending, with companies and firms sitting on cash instead of expanding; because they didn’t see any demand and therefore expanding would have been unprofitable. So there is no “saving versus spending”; both fuel the other.

      “rich guys who work all the time and live really frugally, reinvesting and saving everything are better for the economy than rich people who just dissipate everything in yachts and luxurious vacations,”

      I don’t think it’s particularly meaningful to try to determine which of these courses of action is “better” for the economy. Ultimately, Johnny Investor’s wealth and ability to invest comes from there being a lot of demand for his labour. I doubt he would be able to continue to invest and save money if he got laid off from his job selling high-end yachts to rich idiots. In addition, such moralizing has no place in economics; both acedia and industria have their places in the economy. How could Mexican house-cleaners be so impressively hard-working if their employers were not so lazy?

      Thus every Part was full of Vice,
      Yet the whole Mass a Paradice;
      Flatter’d in Peace, and fear’d in Wars
      They were th’ Esteem of Foreigners,
      And lavish of their Wealth and Lives,
      The Ballance of all other Hives.
      Such were the Blessings of that State;
      Their Crimes conspired to make ’em Great;
      And Vertue, who from Politicks
      Had learn’d a Thousand cunning Tricks,
      Was, by their happy Influence,
      Made Friends with Vice: And ever since
      The Worst of all the Multitude
      Did something for the common Good.

    • Corey says:

      Well, it’s been a really long time since we (these United States) had supply-side problems. If there was excess demand relative to supply, or a mismatch of what’s demanded and what’s supplied, there would be shortages of something (the thing(s) being excessively demanded) leading to price increases of it. Likewise if unemployment is due to skills mismatch, then the skill(s) in short supply would see wage increases. Better folks than I have tried to find evidence of these sector-specific price/wage increases, to no avail.

      The cases of big inflation I know of are healthcare (which is well divorced from market forces) and college (which does seem to be a supply-side problem: there are only so many seats, but more jobs require degrees, and creating new seats ends up with either for-profit scam universities, or new colleges that employers don’t recognize, defeating the purpose).

      the left/progressive/blue tribe seems, weirdly, both to be the group always calling for more demand stimulus, yet also the group most likely to decry consumerism. What’s up with that? Are they just two different groups in an uneasy coalition?

      That’s my understanding, yes.

      • Kind of Anonymous says:

        We seem to have major supply-side problems regarding housing within a reasonable commute of anywhere venture capitalists are paying attention to, but then no one with the power to resolve that issue seems particularly interested in doing so.

  4. Dr Dealgood says:

    Are there any tangible benefits to dual citizenship for an American? Any downsides?

    This isn’t a theoretical question. I’ve found out recently that due to some legal weirdness I might be able to claim German citizenship. I already knew I could invoke the Law of Return in Israel but that’s not a very attractive prospect given that I’m about as Jewish as a goat boiled in it’s mother’s milk. Anyway, it sounds interesting and would make seeing my folks there slightly easier but I’m cautious that there would be some hidden downside.

    Would I have to pay German / EU taxes while living in the US?
    Would weird European censorship, childcare and/or banana curvature laws suddenly start applying to me?
    Will it make getting DoD grants more difficult in the future?

    Given that we’ve got a gaggle of Germans and a good number of global citizens here I was hoping someone could give me a quick cost / benefit breakdown.

    (Also, feel free to point out the irony of a guy who semi-regularly complains about foreign immigration to Germany potentially immigrating to Germany. It’s actually pretty funny, I freely admit that.)

    • dndnrsn says:

      The US and Eritrea are the only states that charge taxes on citizens/resident aliens living/earning income outside the country. So it’s the opposite situation you’d need to worry about – living and working in Germany or another EU country and having to pay taxes, or at the very least deal with the situation (you can exclude some foreign income, and you can get a credit for the taxes you pay in Germany wherever, but this still requires filing a return).

    • RoseCMallow says:

      I’m a dual citizen, German and American and I’ve never run into any meaningful downsides. I grew up in the US and now I’m studying in Germany, which is better in pretty much every way. A German passport also lets you travel pretty easily in all of Europe. No idea about the DoD grants.

    • brad says:

      I don’t have much to say about the pros and cons, but I can say that I was pretty sure I was going to be able to do the same thing a few years back, but it turned out I wasn’t entitled after all. Pre-war Germany did not have jus soli. Germany wasn’t even a nation until 1871 and even after that much of the citizenship law was delegated to the component states. The long and short of it is that if your ancestors migrated to Germany (from say the Pale or Austro-Hungarian Empire) in the late 18th, 19th, or early 20th century, your Nuremberg exception qualifying relative may not have been a German citizen even if born in Germany. Further, determining whether or not he was may not be simple.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Yeah, mine is jus sanguinis and that side of the family has been Hanoverian since before Germany existed as such. I might still not be entitled but it would be for different reasons.

        My Jewish relatives are all on the other side and were running from Tsars anyhow. It wasn’t directly related, just another possible dual-citizen angle. Hope that wasn’t too much of a red herring.

        • brad says:

          Interesting, and I totally understand if you don’t want to get into personal details, but I’d be curious as to what legal weirdness applies. My understanding is that Germany law is pretty tough on dual citizens.

          For example, if you had a great-grandfather whose German citizenship was a 100% in order, but came to the US and become a naturalized citizen, then he’d lose his German citizenship and so have been unable to pass it on to your grandfather or grandmother.

          The loophole I was hoping to use was that Jews whose citizenship were stripped by the Nuremberg laws at the time they acquired the second citizenship were not considered to have voluntarily given up their German citizenship.

          I have a vague recollection that there’s another exception for the descendants of ethnically German expellees from Poland after the war. I don’t remember reading about any others.

    • JayT says:

      If your DoD work requires a security clearance, dual citizenship may cause problems. I don’t have a lot of experience in this, so I’m no expert, but I do know that it is something they look at.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Not just DoD work – anything you do with NASA will also be quite painful. And of course any time you could potentially touch state secrets.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Huh, you know that hadn’t occurred to me honestly. I know they do astrobiology too but the NASA set I know are all engineers or physicists.

          • Gazeboist says:

            “Anything” is probably an exaggeration, but when I worked for a professor doing sounding rocket astronomy, and the problem was mentioned. The main non-state-secrets issue is “could this violate international arms treaties”, of which the surprises are cryptography and space flight. It probably won’t stop you from working as a contractor, but you’ll want to check for special forms as soon as you can. I doubt it would stop you from working for NASA directly either, but I’d also expect them to let you know as part of the hiring process.

      • Matt M says:

        Intentionally handicapping your ability to work for the state could very well be a blessing in disguise!

        That said, as far as I know, it’s just something they ask you about during your interview to try and screen for people who might be foreign espionage agents. It’s not the sort of thing that, in and of itself, is likely to disqualify you for possessing a clearance.

        • Deiseach says:

          That said, as far as I know, it’s just something they ask you about during your interview to try and screen for people who might be foreign espionage agents.

          Now I’m having visions of “Excellent interview, Herr Schmidt, and we’re really impressed by your credentials and experience. Just one last question – merely a formality – are you by any chance a foreign spy?”

          “I cannot tell a lie – yes, yes I am” 🙂

          • dndnrsn says:

            They’ll just have a meeting, the memo will say “meeting starts at 10:30; 10:15 for foreign spies”. At the very least they’ll get the German spies that way.

          • LHN says:

            It might be like the question about illegal income on the tax form. Even if they can’t get someone on the original crime for some reason, they may still be able to get them for the material, intentional false statement in the application. (Or at least it’s another charge to add to force a plea bargain.)

          • Matt M says:

            I assume most of you are being sarcastic, but just in case anyone is serious – the process of getting a security clearance is supposedly governed by something they refer to as the “whole person approach”

            In other words, having been convicted of misdemeanor theft won’t, by itself, disqualify you. Being married to a Chinese national won’t, by itself, disqualify you. Owning land in Russia won’t, by itself, disqualify you. Having been treated for depression in your teens won’t, by itself, disqualify you. But if you have all of those things going on, your odds probably aren’t great.

            But any one of those things may flag you for an interview where someone sits down to talk to you about them. And they’ll ask you a bunch of questions about any such things to determine whether you can be trusted with classified information or not. If the only “red flag” they have on you is that you claimed dual German citizenship, my suspicion is that you’d be fine, although there are no hard and fast rules on this.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Having been treated for depression in your teens won’t, by itself, disqualify you.

            Unrelated to the issue of security clearance or citizenship, but I thought this might be worth flagging:

            Any medical condition (including most mental health conditions) that requires a steady treatment in some manner (such as medication or regular therapy, but not glasses, I think), as well as any dietary restrictions, will probably prevent you from serving in the US military in any capacity where you might be deployed*, because the military cannot guarantee it will be able to meet your needs while you are deployed. If you’re working for the DoD outside the armed services, or for a contractor**, of course, this doesn’t apply.

            * I think this is most of them, at entry level anyway.

            ** Production / research contractor, not a PMC. I think the applicable branch would apply its rules to any PMCs it involves in a conflict for the reasons mentioned above.

          • dndnrsn says:


            I recall reading stories in the news some years back describing active-duty troops (including, I think, combat personnel) who had been prescribed multiple psych meds after suffering trauma. Were these articles inaccurate for reasons of sensationalism?

          • keranih says:

            The key terms are “deployment” and “chronic medication”.

            It is Expected that direct effect personnel (infantry, pilots, ship riders, artillery, special operations, and the forces that support them) will be “deployable” – sent out at some length from civilized things like cable (*), a/c, showers both hot and not, and qualified MDs. People who need monitoring for unstable conditions (heart failure, pregnancy, diabetes, nonstabilized mental conditions, HIV infection, etc) are not cleared for this sort of duty.

            Generally, it takes six months of stability on a particular medical regime to be considered deployable.

            At any one time, not all military members need be deployable. There are many positions which need to be filled “in garrison”. However, if the number of nondeployables in a particular career field get too high, that means the deploy able people are constantly being rotated back out again, which wears down people and families and builds resentment. When “force shaping” happens, people who can not medically deploy are the first invited to leave – but they may be entitled to medical care for the duration.

            All of this, however, is for people who are in service and suffer injury/develop a condition. There is no need at present for the services to accept anyone who from the start can’t do the job for which they are hired.

            (*) The humanity of deploying USAF beyond the reach of cable tv is under constant evaluation. Last I heard, locations limited to basic cable and/or dialup were considered hardship tours earning extra pay.

          • dndnrsn says:


            So, nobody on psych meds would ever be, say, deployed to somewhere combat might realistically happen? If that’s the case, then at least one article was, if not lying, then certainly written in a misleading fashion.

          • keranih says:

            Emmm. Not what I said. And not being familiar with the article or the people interviewed, I can’t say if anyone was being untruthful. And I’m talking about policy standards – whether or not to deploy someone with any medical condition is actually decentralized down to the commander (with the advice of the medical provider) so there absolutely could be exceptions.

            More likely – either a) a person was on one or more medications, but was stable and had been so for so time, and gave every appearance of remaining stable while deployed and/or b) this person (or another new person) suffered injury/breakdown and needed to be put on more/stronger meds while being evaluated for shipping back to the US. (It’s not an emergency if the person isn’t a threat to themselves/others.)

            Possibly linked with this: soldier goes to see a physician, gets meds prescribed, is told “with this diagnosis, you can’t stay deployed, you have to tell your commander this” and Soldier (who wants to stay and do their job) “forgets” to tell the commander, the doc rotates to a different base, the records are left in a drawer, and the Soldier goes on getting the prescription filled (and more or less functioning) until they rotate back.

            The Army is not called the Big Green Machine for nothing. Lots of moving parts, lots of pieces in play.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @keranih: Ah, I see where I misread.

            I think a) sounds more likely from what I remember reading. The articles, of course, made it sound less reasonable and more “nudge-nudge-wink-wink-you-know-who-else-had-drugs-to-keep-soldiers-going”.

          • bean says:

            My understanding of the rules is that to be considered for entry into the military, you have to be stable off of any psych meds for a year. However, once you’re in, the requirement seems to more or less disappear. I have a friend who’s a reservist who has gone on ADD meds several times, and I think he just has to be clean for a month before any deployment. I’m not sure exactly how it works for active soldiers. I vaguely recall hearing that the military’s main concern is that they’ll let people in who are totally unstable off the meds, hence the 1-year requirement.
            (For the record, this is a major reason why I didn’t join the military. I wasn’t going to stop taking my ADD meds for a full year.)

    • pku says:

      I have dual (Israeli-)German citizenship. It’s incredibly convenient (German passport lets you get places without a visa that Israeli or even american passport can), and I’ve never encountered any downsides (except for people speaking german to me at airports, which always requires awkward explanations).

      (Also, in defence of getting Israeli citizenship: come visit Israel! It’s awesome! and israeli jewish culture is completely different from american jewish culture, you might like it.)

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        (Also, in defence of getting Israeli citizenship: come visit Israel! It’s awesome! and israeli jewish culture is completely different from american jewish culture, you might like it.)

        That’s probably true. The Israeli girls in my program here crack me up, people seem much more relaxed over there. I’ve heard good things about Tel Aviv too.

        I just don’t think it’s worth learning a new language and certainly not worth getting circumcised.

    • Deiseach says:

      Not German, but if you hold German citizenship you would be an EU citizen and eligible for the rights of such. You probably could, if you really wanted, vote in elections to the European Parliament 🙂

      I have no idea about German-USA citizenship or if you’d have to renounce one or the other. I imagine Department of Defence grants might be tricky if you’re legally a citizen of another country/dual citizenship, so that is something you’d need good solid legal advice about.

  5. Psmith says:

    Let’s have a Matthew Crawford subthread. Industrial arts and industrial arts education, DIY ethic, Aristotle, etc.

    Several posts in the last OT brought to mind Shop Class as Soulcraft (original essay here). It inspired me to start learning a little metalworking and auto repair when I first read it in high school. Got out of the habit in college and am getting back into it bit by bit. Great book–in addition to elaborating on the theses of the essay, there are a lot of very compelling recollections of Crawford’s wrench-spinning Baja-Bug-drifting youth, if you like that sort of thing.

    I forget whether he explicitly addresses this, but I think sufficiently skilled programming is totally compatible with Crawford’s basic vision–not that I’m that good myself, but from what I gather it absolutely entails the kind of focus and attention and engagement with the real that he finds in shop work.

    He’s also done some more writing recently, of which I gather this is a pretty representative sample. Interesting stuff, and not a few hints of SSC-adjacent contrarian political philosophy.

    • Very interesting piece, though it doesn’t address the intractability of real-world computers.

      • Gazeboist says:

        What do you mean by that? Real-world computers are quite tractable, unless you mean real computers, which as of now seem very likely unphysical, but not likely what you’re talking about.

        I mean, he clearly neglects to mention the work of the people who make the “magical” tools he describes, but I don’t see any sort of intractability to be neglected.

        • I just had a bit of a fight with Windows photo viewer. It is posstible to pry loose the location of a download which has been grabbed (built-in default) by photo viewer, but it isn’t what I would call an obvious process.

          This is not nearly as difficult as dealing with computers can get.

          Computers are tractable a lot of the time, but when they aren’t tractable, they really aren’t.

          • Deiseach says:

            Nothing Windows does is obvious. There have been multiple times when I’ve given up trying to access the official Microsoft support for a solution and simply Googled the problem.

            Then when I’ve found the answer I generally go “What sane human being would call it that? Who on earth refers to [thing] as [Microsoft name for it]? And why on earth put it there, when it makes more sense to make it accessible from here?”

            Either aliens or first-step AI are writing the support pages, as far as I can tell.

      • Psmith says:

        he clearly neglects to mention the work of the people who make the “magical” tools he describes

        That’s more or less what I had in mind. Like I said, I’m not much of a programmer, but the experience of programming seems not all that unlike the experience of small engine repair or whatever, demanding a similar engagement with what the machine is doing as opposed to what you want it to do, requiring a similar kind of focus and attention, similar built-up implicit knowledge, etc. (And indeed many serious programmers mess around with quadcopters or AR-15 trigger groups or old tube amps or whatever in their spare time, lending some support to the notion that a similar kind of person is drawn to both worlds.).

  6. Gazeboist says:

    Why do people keep trying to comment in Markdown? It’s way better than html, but it’s super uncommon (for blogs) and Scott hasn’t enabled it, here or on Unsong, but people seem to try to use it fairly regularly.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      People use it because they’re used to it from reddit, or the reddit-clone less wrong, which is where a lot of people found Scott.

      People on *should* enable markdown. Scott should, too, but he might have to upgrade his software or something.

      I’m confused about the history. I thought that there was a year or two when markdown was available for wordpress posts but not comments, but the earliest archived version of that page includes comments.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Until I googled, I thought Markdown-on-WordPress was just a plugin. Maybe at the plugin stage it was posts-only?

        (also not being on reddit I didn’t know reddit uses Markdown. That makes things much clearer)

    • Alex says:

      I guess you mean *bold* and _italic_ which have been a thing back in the time of Word (Outlook?) 97 and probably longer. In any case long before Markdown. I use them as emphasis markers even if I’m aware that they will not be converted to actual formatting. Many people seem to do this, resulting in this syntax having become an emphasis marker by itself. When I do it I do not think of myself as “using markdown”, in fact I never have consciously used markdown in my life.

      If you meant something else, please clarify.

      • brad says:

        Using those for emphasis goes back to at least usenet. My guess is they go back to typewritten letters where bold, italic, and the like weren’t available. (Similar to origin of the quoting convention for titles.)

        • fubarobfusco says:

          Italic wouldn’t generally be available on typewriters except for IBM Selectric and the like, and then only by swapping out the type ball.

          You’d get underline on a typewriter by backspacing and typing an underscore. Bold would often be done by backspacing and typing the same letter, and strikeout by backspacing and typing a dash.

          The use of strikeout for politically incorrectsarcastic commentary was a common feature of typewritten zines, a cultural precursor to blogs.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Yeah, Markdown-like emphatic syntax is not what I mean. People occasionally try to post links in Markdown style, though, rather than html tags. For example, Daniel here on the current Unsong chapter.

    • CatCube says:

      I do it because it’s convenient to type, as opposed to typing the HTML or clicking on the “Italic” button below. I actually didn’t realize that there was a conversion tool, I just use *italic* as emphasis on its own.

      Sometimes I do use the italic button or markup, depending on if I feel like making the effort.

    • keranih says:

      I’ve *never* heard of anything like Markdown. And I have no clue *why* anyone would want to use it.

      I touch type, and I can use *this* kind of emphasis without slowing down my typing, although I sometimes do go back and add it in.

      • Aegeus says:

        You can still type with *this* kind of emphasis, but other people will see it as this kind of emphasis.

        That’s the nice thing about Markdown – it’s simple enough that you can actually type in it, instead of reaching for the mouse to click on the italic/bold/link/quote buttons.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        I use Markdown for all my personal text documents. It works great! It basically gives me a consistent set of rules for formatting my plain text files in a human-readable format, but it also gives me the option to instantly turn them into formatted html by copying and pasting them onto a converter.

        One of the great things about commenting in Markdown syntax is that even if the website you are on doesn’t parse Markdown the comment will still be perfectly readable. On the other hand, if you try to post a comment formatted in html to a website that does not support html tags your comment will be a mess.

    • Iceman says:

      I’m not sure what you mean about it being uncommon for blogs; the internals of my jekyll based blog are all markdown. Hexo and Hugo also support markdown out of the box, as apparently does WordPress as an option (I just learned that from this thread).

      As for why I use Markdown as a long term format? I’ve lost data to old non-text file formats. If I’m going to write something that I’m going to store long term, I’d prefer to keep it in as close to plain text format as possible. Markdown documents are readable in any text editor; you don’t even need to render it to HTML. It conforms to the old implicit convention of *bold* and _italic_. It keeps links mostly out of paragraphs and lets you put URLs as end notes. Underlining section headers makes sense and is still readable. Et cetera.

  7. Kenziegirl says:

    I’m curious to hear your take on this. All my life I’ve been very much a follower, not a leader. I’m introverted. I’m not charismatic. I’m not an ideas person. I have no vision. I’m not innovative. I’m not good at marketing myself. I have no patience for networking and workplace politics. I’m slow to accept and adapt to change. I’m a terrific footsoldier, not a general. But I do sense that in the new economy (I’m in America BTW), the second type of person will have much more career and financial opportunity than the first. So my question is, do you think this is just the way that people are? Or is it something that can be taught? I’ve thought a couple of times about joining an improv class. I would be terrible at it, but it might help me to change some of my thinking patterns, to be able to adapt more quickly and see more options in a situation. What other things do you think could help build some more forward-thinking skills and habits?

    • Skivverus says:

      A little of column A, a little of column B. Pretending-to-Extrovert takes work, but that doesn’t make it impossible.
      Not that I’ve got all this figured out myself, mind you; most of how you describe yourself I suspect applies here too. You might be(come) less terrible at improv than you’d think – despite the name, I’d argue there’s a lot of room for preparation and practice in there, and yes, the skills it develops are probably useful for Pretending-to-Extrovert.

    • Randy M says:

      I’m probably like that too; too little ambition, happy to do my share, live within my means and occupy myself with my small sphere of life when it would probably be advantageous to be bold and entreprenurial enterprising.
      And I loved taking improv class. So I’m not sure it’ll help you, but it probably won’t hurt.

    • The Nybbler says:

      This is the way life is, always, at all times. If you’re not the leadership type, your place is at the bottom. (No, I’m not the leadership type either). I think leaders are born rather than made; I’ve read up on leadership and been to leadership workshops and such, and they use language that has no meaning to me. It all boils down to “leaders lead”; I assume all this leadership stuff actually makes sense to those with the basic ability and lets them hone it, but if you don’t got it, you don’t got it.

    • keranih says:

      But I do sense that in the new economy (I’m in America BTW), the second type of person will have much more career and financial opportunity than the first.

      There has never been a place in the world where – all else being equal – a person who was smart, or charismatic, or able to stay reasonably mentally focused, or was physically strong, or had family dedicated to looking out for them did *worse* than their doppleganger who was lacking that quality. So you’re not wrong, you’re just wrong in assuming that it was ever otherwise.

      On the upside, the time when you’d automatically lose out to someone whose family was looking out for them are over – it’s still an advantage, but not the overwhelming one that it used to be.

      So my question is, do you think this is just the way that people are? Or is it something that can be taught?

      You are born with a certain genetic potential to be smart, charismatic, strong, mentally flexible and focused. Your early environment shaped you further. But so long as you live, you have the possibility to increase your ability in any of these areas. There are limits to what your body and mind can learn to do. But improvement is always possible.

      What other things do you think could help build some more forward-thinking skills and habits?

      Improv would be a good start. Looking at what you do for fun and tweeking that to be more outward focused could help.

      (By this I mean – you like, oh, you like puppies and kittens. So you volunteer to walk the dogs at the local shelter. By yourself, you’d just go in, walk the dogs, not talk to humans, and leave when you are do. So consider switching this up – find out who is responsible for training the new volunteers and ask to shadow them. Volunteer to bring out adoptees to new owners. Volunteer to work the phone lines some times. Not all at once, of course. Small baby steps. Stumble a little, fall down, cry over the scraped knee, get up, do it again.)

      Also – remember that you don’t have to out run the bear. Ten percent better than you were might well be enough.

    • Incurian says:

      Leadership can be learned through experience, but you have to want to do it and put in a lot of work.

    • I’m skidding off into hypothesis, but I hope that those charismatic leaders figure out that they need competent, reliable followers. You can’t outsource all the support work to computers.

      Now I want the science fiction story where the competition is to get good followers.

    • Jill says:

      Most people won’t ever be entrepreneurs. Most people work in someone else’s business. Entrepreneurs are worshiped in American culture, so many people think they want to be one, when maybe they don’t. It’s like struggling starving actors vs. the few famous ones you see on TV and read about in every magazine.

      Most small businesses fail. In the process they lose the owner’s money and/or the investors’ money. While the entrepreneur is losing money, he or she often works just about every waking hour and does not have a life.

      Is that really what you want?

      Do you know any entrepreneurs? Perhaps you should try to meet some, although they may be too busy to meet people not related to their business. Maybe a retired entrepreneur.

      That being said, taking improv classes never hurt anybody. I found them fun when I took them.

      Physical and emotional health are also limiting factors to one’s initiative, energy and assertiveness/aggressiveness in the workplace and elsewhere. There are people who take anti-depressants specifically for the purpose of doing leadership, sales etc.– high energy activities– in their career– although you won’t hear them mentioning that they do that, in public. But if you work in mental health, you might meet some of them.

  8. Gazeboist says:

    What does it mean to be “smart”*? I’m in CS, which colors my conception of these ideas, but smartness seems to be some sort of aggregate of the following:

    -Your pool of problem-solving algorithms.
    -Your ability to select from that pool for an appropriate task.
    -Your ability to expand that pool as needed.
    -Your ability to optimize an algorithm, both in general and for a particular task.
    -The typical slowdown caused by you executing an algorithm, versus some optimally fast reasoner.
    -All of the above applied to heuristic methods, plus how well you can optimize speed against correctness in general.
    -Your ability to retain information. (which is often imperfectly measured by how much information you have retained up to now)

    * I don’t want to say “intelligent because I don’t want to accidentally start a conversation about AGI, Turing tests, etc.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      “- Your ability to expand that pool as needed.”

      I’m going to say most of what you are talking about is here, and that this also might be sort of circular reasoning or question begging.

      • Gazeboist says:

        I think that’s the main driver as well, but whenever you try to measure it, you catch the other five things too, and distinguishing between them in a systematic way is difficult.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          II think ‘d restate that the other five things are contained in, and necessarily implied by, the one I highlighted.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Then I failed to state it clearly enough, I think. I meant specifically the ability to generate novel algorithms, as opposed to learning them by rote or slightly modifying to fit circumstances.

            Although it occurs to me now that so broad a thing might not even be an ability in the way the others are. It could be impossible to perform in a reliably good way, or even at all.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Ah, yes, I was not parsing the meaning as you intended. I basically thought you meant, roughly, “can learn things” for values of learn that would include everything from “looking at instructions for IKEA furniture” to “scientist testing a novel hypothesis”.

            The latter seems more your exclusive meaning.

    • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

      To answer a slightly different question than the one you asked:

      What companies are looking for in CS guys, and what gets called ‘smart’ is mostly a sort of “problem-solving-ness”. The items on your list all factor into problem-solving-ness, but aren’t the main thing; the main thing is the tenacity to dig deeper on a given problem and both 1. provide a solution and 2. prod anything that looks weird in your outcome and discover and fix any issues with it until you have a product that fixes their problem.

      This is what “smart” means, from the perspective of a business observing a prospective CS employee, in my experience.

    • Anatoly says:

      Why does it matter? You’re investing a significant amount of effort thinking about something that has no consequences in the realm of things that happen. Linguistic signs are arbitrary and vague; you’re trying to pinpoint an exact-ish piece of the ground in the imaginary space where to plant an imaginary flag on which is written “smart”. Suppose some people reply to you and you reply to them and eventually the flag is moved over a little to the north in your imagination and south in theirs. What will it change in the world?

      If what you’re really after is which of the things you listed is more important than others, or if there are other things more important yet, then think about *that* directly, and not by proxying that over “smart”. Then you’ll have the benefit of seeing clearly that “important for what?” is a question that needs to be answered first.

      But “smart” is just a word.

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        I feel like the first paragraph is a fully general argument against abstract discussion in general. It could’ve been written by Hume, if he used 21st century English.

        There’s one concrete benefit OP can reap from this discussion; he can poll members of this community on how the term is understood by them. That’s real information that can be valuable in understanding what they mean on other subjects.

        • 27chaos says:

          Also, “what does smart mean” can be interpreted as the question “which of these qualities within the vague grab bag of concepts associated with ‘smart’ are most important? How do they correlate or interact with or cause one another?”

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      Smart is whatever gets the job done.

      Everything else is just mast commentary.

    • caethan says:

      The most interesting true and unexpected thing that came out of the long history of psychometric research is that for many purposes, any reasonable definition of smart is as good as any other, because they’re all strongly correlated with each other. There’s a long history of researchers wanting to show the existence of some orthogonal dimension of intelligence and ending up showing that their new measurement was well correlated with the old one.

    • Lumifer says:

      What does it mean to be “smart”

      I tend to interpret it as thinking clearly, correctly, and fast.

    • Aneesh Mulye says:

      With respect to humans, at least, I’d recommend this (short) book, which (I believe) sums up the current state of the research in a layman-friendly yet sufficiently precise and nuanced manner.

      • Gazeboist says:

        That does look interesting, but it’s not quite what I’m trying to get at. I accept the correlational arguments that an IQ test measures something, and the thing that it measures is something that is associated with positive outcomes. On those grounds alone, furthering IQ research is a good idea.

        That said, the controversies over whether or not IQ “really” measures intelligence suggest to me that we don’t have a good idea of what “intelligence” is. There’s the empirical approach, where intelligence is “that quality which is measured by an IQ test”, but this is unsatisfying, and I think we can do better. After all, we have a much better idea of what a coma is than that quality which is measured by the Glasgow coma scale.

  9. Jordan D. says:

    Good [LOCALTIME], everybody!

    A few cases of note from the Institute for Justice’s Short Circuit newsletter (Availible if you like) and from

    First on the docket: should these students in New York have standing pursuant to the Establishment Clause to challenge alleged abuse of public funds in the district for private religious uses? Not in this case, says the Second Circuit, which finds that, even taking the allegations as true, the students don’t have any personal right to have the public monies spent on their educations, so the tenuous link between the school’s favors to private schools and cut classes isn’t enough. More importantly- how many pages of caption do you go before a case caption is Officially Too Long? –

    Next up, a historical curiosity: a reporter and historian would like to access the grand jury materials generated in a 1942 grand jury investigation of a WWII leak involving the Pacific Theater. Is a member of the public not entitled to the records of history? No, says the man in the Justice Department, which agrees that there’s no substantive reason not to release the records, but nevertheless maintains that they can only come out pursuant to a Federal Rule. The District court decides that the rules do not override the court’s inherent power to manage its own records, and the Seventh Circuit agrees. Will this case go to the Supreme Court and dominate next year’s headlines? No. –

    And congratulations and condolences are due to the musician Fenriz, of Norwegian Black Metal band Darkthrone, who has been elected to the town council of Kolbotn, in spite of his campaign asking people not to vote for him. Perhaps he can help add some flavor to town council meetings! –

    Finally, for the controversial piece- a study which looks at major Constitutional cases in the Supreme Court since 1900 and comes to the conclusion that a slight majority turned on the Court’s understanding of factual, rather than legal, propositions. I haven’t yet read the study, and therefore have no opinion on it, but I thought folks here might be interested. –

    • dndnrsn says:

      Does this running feature involve discussion of particular cases, or is that ruled too mindkilling?

      • Jordan D. says:

        As far as I’m aware, Scott’s never granted certiorari on the issue. We’ll simply have to do our best without the benefit of stare decisis.

        Myself, I think both of the cases above were correctly decided- I’m sort of on the fence on the issue of standing in the first case, but ultimately I think that strict construction of standing requirements is, in general, a good thing. I’m definitely on board with courts exercising sound discretion to open up sealed records decades later.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I ask because there’s been a couple of controversial sex-assault cases in Canada recently. One was an acquittal with a judge who pulled all the usual blame-the-victim crap. The other is a case where the judge ruled the defendant guilty and denied bail pending sentencing, but the latter was overturned, with the relevant judgment casting a fair bit of doubt on the judge’s decision to convict.

          They’re interesting cases, especially the conviction, but I can see them being mindkilling enough to not be worth discussing.

          • Jordan D. says:

            From your descriptions, I’m not sure I’ve found the cases you’re referring to. Sexual assault cases can cause gigantic flamewars, but the people who have shown up the past few weeks to talk about cases seem reasonable enough.

            Is the second case the Oland case? Because discussions about the appropriateness of bail pending appeal are always worthwhile.

          • Diadem says:

            Those latter two links both seem to lead to pay walls. I could only preview one page or something.

            I admit I’m kinda curious what this is all about.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Weird, scribd lets me read but not print them.

            Does this work?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Jordan D. and Diadem:

            Does that one work? I can provide news articles if need be, but they’re generally more mindkilling than just the decision text.

          • Jordan D. says:

            That one does work- I can’t access scribd because it’s blocked around here (for God only knows what reason).

            I’ve got to say that this opinion is… unusually written, even for Canada’s pretty informal system of Reasons. I find it difficult to follow the rationale of parts (I’m not at all sure what paragraph 481 means, for example) and I’ve got to say that I prefer a less personal format for drafting a conviction.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Jordan D.

            One thing I noticed is that the transcript has really bad layout and editing, which makes it a bit difficult to tell what’s going on. At one point, the text says it’s shifted to the Crown lawyer questioning the complainant, but it’s obvious from what’s actually written that it’s still the defence’s cross-examination.

            I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not sure what’s going on in para 481. I do know that more than one person has said/written that the judge’s tone and attitude towards the defendant is really unusually vehement.

            I’m going to see whether I can find another source for the superior court decision un-revoking bail, but here’s an article about it. It mentions several of the problems people have brought up with the judge’s original decision.

            Two things that jumped out at me (that the superior court hearing didn’t address and I’ve seen no commentator address) were, first, that neither the judge, nor the crown, nor the defence seemed familiar with the sort of drinking and sexual culture at hand. Ururyar claims in para 31 and again later at 164 that neither of them was noticeably drunk to the point of slurring their words. I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations, and given that later “beers” is established to mean pints, over the course of the evening he might have had around 8 or 9 standard drinks, and she maybe a dozen, with no reference to food. So, I’d reckon* that they were both at or near to the point where you start losing track of how much you’ve had to drink, and at the point where most people would be word-slurring drunk anyway. At para 155, Ururyar says that walking from the one bar to the other took 15-25 minutes – the two bars are a couple of blocks apart, maybe 5 minutes for a slow walker … so he’s either lying here, or lying about how much people were drinking – because two blocks only takes 15+ minutes for a group that is quite drunk.* Likewise, at para 318, Zuker seems completely unaware that breakup sex is a thing, and not just something that happens in “B movies”. The legal professionals seem completely unaware about the context in which the events of that night happened.

            Second, one thing I noticed, is that at para 484, he faults the defence for not raising reasonable doubt. Again, not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the defence’s job to do that.

            *Note, though, that the precedent for “too drunk to consent” under Canadian law is a very high level of drunkenness – I don’t know the case off the top of my head, but it involved a sleazebag 24-year-old having sex with a 14-year-old at a house party his younger sibling was throwing. The age of consent was 14 at the time (it was raised to 16 some years later), but testimony from the complainant, multiple witnesses, and a cop who took the girl home all attested that she was so drunk she was falling down, couldn’t recognize her own sister, etc. The judge ruled that she was so drunk she was unaware of what was happening, and that the guy’s story that he had checked with her twice and she’d consented was unbelievable. The decision was upheld on appeal. So, neither Ururyar nor Grey would have been so drunk as to not be able to consent: the standard is much higher than “impaired judgment; would not have done that if sober”.

          • Jordan D. says:

            I don’t think 484 is about failure to raise an issue- it looks to me like he’s saying ‘the evidence submitted by the defense does not give me reasonable doubt about this case’. I don’t practice law in Canada, but I assume that ‘reasonable doubt’ there, like here, refers to the standard for conviction.

            That leads to the trick of the whole thing- obviously in a case where two sides assert different things happening, the judge has to believe one account over the other (or reject both, in some cases). I’m not familiar with whatever Canadian law or caselaw controls how evidence must be considered and objected, but most of the judge’s ruling is essentially just ‘I disbelieve everything the defendant says’. Assuming that they met any relevant legal standards, that’s fine.

            What bothers me most about this case is how vehement the judge is. Criminal opinions often do have a measure of condemnation for the guilty party- after all, we’re talking about serious immoral acts- but there’s a surprising amount of what looks like totally-irrelevant quoting of various social-science articles and no small amount of meandering. That’s exactly why I prefer formality in an analysis like this- you lay out everything in an easy-to-examine set of paragraphs and if your analysis is weak or strong, it’s obvious, and either way it’s harder to accuse you of stumping for one side emotionally.

            The point about the drinking is well-taken, but is kind of a perennial problem in cases like this. Practically half of the crimes I’ve ever seen at trial (note: not many, I don’t do trial work) involved either one or both parties being very drunk. Sometimes the court just has to sort of shrug and keep going.

          • dndnrsn says:

            A lot of people observing the case – lawyers and not – seem to think there’s at least going to be an appeal, based on the judge’s vehemence and the citation of social studies texts not introduced during trial.

            The appeal is probably going to be based on the idea that the judge was clearly biased, both in terms of his comments and his background (he has written or co-written at least one feminist book on the law, and is both an alum and a prof of a teacher’s college attached to the U of T that has been whatever the current flavour of academic leftism is for decades), and that affected how he interpreted things.

            While obviously a ton of crimes involve alcohol, and you can’t just not prosecute in a lot of cases just because booze was involved, but there’s cases where he clearly should have taken it into account. Example: the judge takes that the complainant accepted Plan B at the hospital as a sign that she did not consent – on the basis that she managed birth control by tracking her cycle, and would not have been worried about getting pregnant had she consented, for that reason. It’s not hard to imagine, though, someone 12 drinks deep not giving a hoot about that sort of thing – anyone of any gender 12 drinks deep is liable to stop giving a hoot about a lot of things that, generally speaking, everyone should. The judge doesn’t seem aware enough that everything the complainant and the defendant are saying was filtered through, not just ordinary human memory (which the judge mentions), but a fog of alcohol. Similarly: Is the defendant lying when he says that neither he nor the complainant was noticeably drunk? Or is it just that a lot of drunk people are convinced they are fine, and generally someone inebriated is bad at noticing that others are too? It’s implausible that neither of them was noticeably drunk, especially her. So either he’s lying, or he was quite drunk.

            The judge is in his mid-70s and just generally seems not to get The Youths Of Today. Toronto when he was that age was a far tamer place than it is now, and was tamer relative to other cities of its size back then too. My experience of people his age is they often aren’t aware of the nature and extent of drinking in mixed-gender groups that happens now, especially among university students. He’s also clearly contemptuous of the open relationship the defendant had with his girlfriend.

          • Anonymous says:

            He’s also clearly contemptuous of the open relationship the defendant had with his girlfriend.

            I just wanted to point out that you can hardly hold this particular part against him, nor attribute it to his age – contempt of open relationships is still the massive majority view in western society, especially toward the man, who is (wrongly, given the usual outcome in fact) seen to merely want an excuse for cheating on his poor girlfriend. Outside certain very specific internet bubbles it’s clear that in this particular the judge is only upholding the standards of society at large.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I just wanted to point out that you can hardly hold this particular part against him, nor attribute it to his age – contempt of open relationships is still the massive majority view in western society, especially toward the man, who is (wrongly, given the usual outcome in fact) seen to merely want an excuse for cheating on his poor girlfriend. Outside certain very specific internet bubbles it’s clear that in this particular the judge is only upholding the standards of society at large.

            This is true – it is hardly a prejudice that this man alone holds, and hardly a prejudice he would only hold because he is in his 70s. At the same time, it’s a judge’s job, especially in a case like this where there’s no jury*, to be impartial.

            *my understanding is that Canadian law breaks crimes down into summary offences, which are heard by a judge, and generally have lower sentences, and indictable offences, which might have a jury, and which have a pretrial hearing. Some crimes can be both – in this case, it was tried as a summary offence. I believe that a judge trial is the standard for sexual assault cases in general, regardless of whether they’re pursued as summary or indictable offences.

          • Deiseach says:

            Similarly: Is the defendant lying when he says that neither he nor the complainant was noticeably drunk?

            He kind of has to say that anyway, because if he admits “Yeah, she was drunk as an owl and so I knew she’d be easy”, that’s his case torpedoed.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Deiseach: Ah, but the line for “too drunk to consent” is well past that under Canadian law. He wouldn’t be saying he had committed a crime if he said she was drunk.For instance:

            [50] The main thrust of the Crown=s argument in this respect is that AJS, from illness and intoxication, was incapable of consenting to the sexual activity that took place. I accept the evidence of AJS that she consumed as many as 5 or 6 beers and some marijuana over the course of the evening. There was no expert evidence called to indicate the degree of intoxication that amount would likely produce, but it is a well known fact that intoxication can impair judgment, causing persons to make decisions they would not otherwise make. The question becomes – is it enough that the intoxication deprives the complainant of the ability to make sound decisions or must it go so far as to prevent the exercise of choice? The answer to that, according to the legal authorities, is that in order to be found to have lacked the capability of consenting, the complainant must have been intoxicated to the point where she could not understand the sexual nature of the act or realize that she could choose to decline to participate (see, for example, R. v. Jensen (1997) 1996 CanLII 1237 (ON CA), 106 C.C.C. (3d) 430).

            (a side note: intoxication and consent is usually discussed in a context of university students, but the Canadian case law I’ve seen regarding intoxication and consent all involves older guys taking advantage of teenage girls – all situations that would be considered statutory rape now, the age of consent having been raised by the previous government)

            I think the most likely explanation is that the defendant was drunk enough to be unaware of anyone’s state of intoxication and drunk enough to think he himself was fine.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      Wow, 16 pages of plaintiffs, vs… we’re gonna need to open a new crate of parentheses here…


      I’m surprised they didn’t just go for a racial discrimination claim rather than an establishment clause one, given the makeup of the non-jewish students.
      But still, using the rule of

      1) an injury in fact, 2 a sufficient causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, and 3 a likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favourable decision

      It’s amazing that “we can’t afford textbooks because they spent all our money on “I Keep Kosher“, and “Let’s Go to Shul!“” doesn’t count as an injury with a causal connection?

      Also, just imagine how much publicity this case would get if you swapped the races around a bit. Yet they get a free pass.

      As an aside, does anyone know any way to copy-paste from these PDFs without terrible formatting issues? It’s faster just to retype it.

      • “As an aside, does anyone know any way to copy-paste from these PDFs without terrible formatting issues? It’s faster just to retype it.”

        What I do is to paste into word then do a search and replace to change paragraph markers into spaces.

        • maybe_slytherin says:

          PDF converters abound online, and tend to work very well. (Especially relative to copy-paste and manual fixing.)

          Some are spammy, but e.g. this one is not.

          • I have Acrobat, so if I want to convert a whole file to Word I just save it as Word. The problem arises if I want to copy a paragraph or two to Word or to a blog comment. Straight copy and paste gives me a bunch of extra pragraph breaks.

          • Patrick says:

            A quick option is to paste the copied PDF text into a single-line browser text box (e.g., the search bar). Since those boxes do not allow paragraph breaks, they automatically strip them out. So paste, select all, cut, then paste to your final target.

      • LHN says:

        Another alternative would be to search the case in Google Scholar’s case law database, which seems to have a copy-paste friendlier document format. E.g., Montesa v. Schwartz:

        (I’d guess that there may be some delay between the release of the slip opinion and it getting into Google Scholar, but evidently not very long if this case is typical.)

      • Deiseach says:

        It’s amazing that “we can’t afford textbooks because they spent all our money on “I Keep Kosher“, and “Let’s Go to Shul!“” doesn’t count as an injury with a causal connection?

        If they had been arguing that, yes. But the argument seemed to be “advanced level classes and extracurriculars were shut down”, which is a different kettle of fish – not that basic education was affected but that they weren’t getting the extras so the kids weren’t doing as well on tests as others, and the court ruled that even if the special education money was reimbursed to the district’s budget, there was nothing to say it would be spent on those particular students or their schools.

        And that’s probably correct, going from my own experience; funding gets ring-fenced for programmes and even if you have X thousand languishing in a fund not being spent this year while you need Y thousand for another budget, you can’t simply transfer over X to Y. That’s not permitted and if you haven’t spent X for the purposes X was granted, the Department of Education claws it back instead of saying “Sure, spend it on Y!”

      • Aaron Brown says:

        any way to copy-paste from these PDFs without terrible formatting issues?

        Regular expressions! I do this sort of thing with an :s command in Vim.

  10. onyomi says:

    A friend of mine just posted on facebook a very good reply to another friend’s post which articulated something I’d vaguely felt for a while but never really thought through. I’ll here paraphrase friend A’s position and friend B’s position.

    A: Don’t lose friends over politics! It’s great that we live in a nation where you can express a diversity of opinions, but at the end of the day, we all believe in freedom of expression and we’re all Americans and we shouldn’t let petty ideological differences get in the way of us all respecting each others’ basic human decency! After you have a big political argument, make sure to hug it out and get a beer with your friend!

    B: That’s easy for us to say, because we have the luxury of viewing politics as a hobby. Whoever wins the next election, we will probably be okay. Our incomes or taxes might go up or down a little, but we’ll probably be okay. We aren’t going to be deported or have our house foreclosed on as a result of the outcome of the next election. But that’s not true of everybody, so people for whom politics is more than just an intellectual hobby or game they watch on tv every four years are justified in getting really emotional about it, losing friendships over it, etc.

    I kind of agree with both, though B’s statement is sort of giving vent to the dissatisfaction I have long felt about the A position, which is somewhat related to “In Favor of Niceness and Community…” Anyway, I just thought it was an important point worth considering.

    • Skivverus says:

      A’: People for whom politics is more than just an intellectual hobby should especially try to avoid losing friendships over politics, because if they lose they’ll need friends who weren’t quite so detrimentally impacted to help them out.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Agreed that both make valid points, but I would say that to extent that *(Person B) can go out for a beer or what have you with *(person A) the world is better off.

      The biggest problem might that those two people aren’t in a position to go have a beer together.

      • SUT says:

        Had he and I but met
        By some old ancient inn,
        We should have set us down to wet
        Right many a nipperkin!

        But ranged as infantry,
        And staring face to face,
        I shot at him as he at me,
        And killed him in his place.

        The Man He Killed

        Everyone from soldiers, to gangsters, to corporate officers recognize the tragedy and reality of brothers at heart that must fight viciously due to conflicting larger causes.

        • LHN says:

          Though seeing politics as an all-consuming war without so much as a Christmas truce football game may be symptomatic of the problem. If the soldier doesn’t shoot the enemy he may be the one shot, right now, or his buddy might. If you fail to convince your friend to vote your way he’ll… make an infinitesimal contribution to a large-scale decision in November.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      The people whose position is least secure also tend to be the people least likely to vote.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      Person B’s standard just incentivizes everyone to be assholes about politics while guilt-tripping everyone around them.
      We’ve already seen this with SJW tactics: some Queer Studies major (with insanely wealthy parents and a guaranteed sinecure after graduation) screeching at a scholarship boy about how “THIS IS REAL AND DANGEROUS FOR US!! It’s just a GAME for you, white boy!!”

      • onyomi says:

        Well, the validity of stance B is dependent on the person actually being in a position to experience serious consequences, not just thinking or claiming they are (though, obviously, there’s the problem of there being no objective, outside judge of whose concerns are really serious, and who is blowing things out of proportion or just incorrect about imagined consequences. That said, it seems like there are unambiguous cases: if you are, for example, an illegal immigrant, and one candidate is running on a platform of “deport all illegal immigrants,” it seems clear you are in a position to experience major differential life consequences depending on the outcome of the election).

        • Jiro says:

          Yes, but if you are an illegal immigrant, you really shouldn’t be voting against the candidate who wants to deport the illegal immigrants because, you know, illegal immigrants aren’t supposed to vote at all.

          • onyomi says:

            But you still might get into a debate about whom people in general ought to vote for, possibly with a legal friend planning to vote for the pro-deportation candidate.

            Question is: would you be justified or even well-advised to break off your friendship with that person, assuming you can’t convince them otherwise?

          • “would you be justified or even well-advised to break off your friendship with that person, assuming you can’t convince them otherwise?”

            That depends on why the friend is voting for that candidate. If it’s because he thinks all illegal immigrants are slime and doesn’t realize you are an illegal, breaking off the friendship might be prudent.

            If it’s because he doesn’t think Trump will really deport illegals and expects Clinton to get us into unnecessary wars, then there is no reason to break off the friendship.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            A person who has no illegal immigrants as friends is even less likely to sympathize with them. Breaking a friendship with such a person might radicalize them.

          • Matt M says:

            Indeed. If the friend respects you and doesn’t know you’re an illegal, “coming out” to him as one (but keeping the friendship) is far more likely to make him consider the human costs of deportation (he’d lose a good friend) rather than denouncing him as an evil racist that no self-respecting illegal should associate with would…

          • Jiro says:

            That depends on why the friend is voting for that candidate. If it’s because he thinks all illegal immigrants are slime and doesn’t realize you are an illegal, breaking off the friendship might be prudent.

            What if he believes that illegal aliens are, on a statistical basis, more likely to be slime than citizens? This might mean that he has no negative feelings about you personally (since he does not believe that every single one is slime), but he thinks that since the laws cannot mention you as a special case, prohibiting all of them (including you) is better than letting them in (and helping you)?

            What if the government is arbitrarily giving money to businesses which sell X, and you run a business which sells X, and your friend, a libertarian, doesn’t like subsidizing businesses and therefore thinks you should not be given the money (because he thinks nobody should)? He’s certainly suggesting something which would result in you personally being worse off, just like if you’re an illegal alien and he wants to deport all illegal aliens.

            What if your car is stolen and your friend rants about car thieves, not knowing that you’re one? What if you are a well-meaning car thief who claims to only steal from businesses who could afford it, and so would be no personal threat to your friend? (And what if your friend thinks of illegal aliens as like well meaning car thieves?)

          • Gazeboist says:

            I think the question then becomes, how does he feel about occasionally violating the law?

            It’s obvious that no sane set of laws can cover all facts. Thus occasionally it may be morally acceptable (or even required!) to perform an action the law forbids, so long as your morality is not a deontological acceptance of political law. How does this friend feel (or more properly, what feeling does he demonstrate) about exceptional violations of the law?

        • pku says:

          A more personal example for me: Trump wants to stop or severely restrict the H1-B visa program. If that happens, I’ll have a much harder time staying here and may have to leave. I’m not one of the super anti-Trump people who think he’s the devil – I just think he’s kind of an incompetent buffoon – but if he does get elected, I’ll actually have to deal with the consequences in a way a lot of my super-Trump-hating american friends won’t.

          • Matt M says:

            To what extent do you predict Trump would restrict H1-B Visas compared to Hillary? (disclaimer: I prefer Trump to Hillary, but increasing the amount of allowed “skilled” immigration from friendly countries is an issue I feel very passionately about)

            This isn’t a gotcha question and I won’t challenge your answer – I’m just curious what you think. 10% fewer visas offered? 50%? 90%? 100%?

          • pku says:

            Hillary wants to increase the cap, while Trump has repeatedly promised to decrease and limit H1B visas (according to his official site). I don’t know if Hillary would manage it – congress is likely to stay republican, and she might need their help – but I think Trump would probably make meaningful progress on it if he gets elected – I’d guess somewhere in the 20%-40% range.
            I think I’m on the safe side, for various reasons, but Trump getting elected would probably decrease my odds of being able to stay here 5-10%. Which isn’t catastrophic, but is a concern.

    • Matt M says:

      I think the B position vastly over-estimates the power than the President holds over the direct, day-to-day government decisions that affect the lives of normal people, AND the differences between Republican and Democrat Presidential candidates. As we’ve discussed in previous threads – people are already being deported, houses are already being foreclosed upon, etc.

      In other words, position B would be legitimate if true, but I estimate that it’s very very rarely true, and those of whom for it IS true probably don’t even realize it. I think this is a very good example of the recent trend of people who get really offended on behalf of others. Person B is saying “I won’t be affected by this but some hypothetical others will have their lives ruined and that justifies my getting really emotionally involved in politics,” to which my response would be, “Prove it.” Or at least substantiate your speculation in a little more detail.

      • onyomi says:

        Well, I do think there is an extent to which position A is more defensible for just about any 21st century American, than say, a 1930s German Jew. That is, there have been many times and places in history when elections and leadership struggles were real life-and-death questions for many people, but very few recent US presidential elections qualify for most Americans.

        That said, I still think there are real, if less dire, consequences for Americans in recent and upcoming elections. I know someone, for example, who voted for Obama in 2012, not because he was very enthusiastic about him, but because he worked for PBS at the time, and Romney had pledged to cut funding to PBS. A Romney presidency, therefore, would have not insignificantly increased the probability of his losing a job which he enjoyed. He would not have starved without that job, but it was still a probable, real life consequence, and one which a president would be in a position to effect.

        • LHN says:

          It’s entirely understandable to vote one’s pocketbook. That said, I wonder how likely major PBS funding cuts really were. Funding to the CPB originates in Congress, and it’s not as if President Romney is likely to veto a budget (assuming that budgets were even being passed in this hypothetical) over PBS.

          (Eyeballing historical appropriations, it’s not obvious that the CPB has done worse under Republican administrations, though I may not be looking closely enough. )

          The funny thing is that the specific example Romney gave, Sesame Street, is AFAIK no longer federally funded under the Obama administration. (Not because of defunding, but because the Children’s Television Workshop made a better deal with HBO.)

          More generally, federal appropriations are about 15% of PBS’s funding. (Not that I’d expect anyone to be excited about the prospect of their employer losing 15% of revenues. But I don’t know how likely that was to really happen.)

    • caethan says:

      Person B’s position assumes that you and your friends are in a position to make a non-negligible impact on politics. That may be true for, say, a local mayoral election, but if they’re arguing about the Presidential election, it’s more productive to treat the outcome as exogenous. It’s like watching a hurricane head towards the coast – sure, batten down the hatches and get ready for the worst, but don’t pretend that blowing into the wind is going to turn away the storm.

      • onyomi says:

        Well, but this hurricane is made of people. No one friend of yours who is planning to vote for the candidate who threatens you is going to make the difference, but they are part of the problem.

    • Kenziegirl says:

      I think position A as stated is too facile, and that might be why person B felt the need to push back against it. But the problem that A is highlighting, and it is a very real problem, is the tendency for both sides to become so entrenched in their positions, and demanding ideological purity at all costs, that there is no room for position C: Compromise. Getting things done requires people to work together. They may not agree with each other on everything, but they need to be able to set their personal feelings aside and find the common ground. Or at best they need to be able to bargain, “I’m willing to give up this if you give me that.” The major political issues of the day are hard. The solutions are going to be complicated and full of nuance, and no one is going to fully get what they want. The question is what is the solution that will provide the best outcome for the most people (and which people are they). Modern political and SJW discourse doesn’t seem to have any room for nuance or compromise, and I find that extremely disturbing.

      • gbdub says:

        There is also the issue with those who do believe in compromise, but think, “I demand 10 dollars from you, you want to give me 0, so you giving me 5 is clearly the best compromise”. Which is to say, if you want to argue against the status quo and for a compromise, you still have to convince those happy with the status quo that the compromise leaves them better off (or at least gives them something for what they lose).

        • Zombielicious says:

          Funny anecdote: you say this as an analogy, but I literally had this happen to me earlier this week. Some crazy person at work, same numbers and everything.

          Some people just have no shame whatsoever.

    • SUT says:

      Say I commandeer just one of Jay Leno’s 130 cars. It’s for a good cause – I need to go propose to the woman I love, drive my kid to the hospital, and get to work in the morning. Surely with all those cars, he won’t even notice it’s gone for the day and I’ll be much better off having used it. I’m a very careful driver so there is nothing to worry about. I can certainly see in this scenario Mr Leno refusing to prosecute even if he did find out.

      And now dozens of people like me are commandeering Jay’s cars, many for causes just as valid as my own. Jay’s starting to complain, even though he always has a car to drive himself, and even though the commandeering population actually has a safer collision rate than Jay himself. I have an urgent situation come up, do I still feel confident that I won’t be prosecuted as long as I have a good reason to explain myself when I get caught?

      The larger principle is: the amount of people committing the [victimless] crime matters. Most good people are happy to turn a blind eye in relatively unique circumstances but don’t want to put themselves in that role in perpetuity. In fact, that probably moral thing to do after commandeering the car is to be a volunteer security guard, instead of a guy who helps others to borrow Jay’s cars.

    • keranih says:

      Person B’s statement bothers me, in part because of my past experiences with those who support “righteous anger”. (In particular, those times when I’ve come unglued and had those same people chastise me for undue emotion still rankle.)

      But mostly (I think) it’s because B’s position is the weaker one, for a number of reasons.

      Firstly, an argument based on emotion, and/or delivered in an emotional manner, is more likely to be in error, than one which is derived and delivered in a more dispassionate manner. Do this too many times, and the repeated pattern becomes one of “angry people are wrong/liars” which does nothing to help advance B’s position.

      Secondly, as others have said, “cutting off” or insisting on not befriending opponents has an emotional effect on the opponents, and it’s not conducive to bringing them around to your side.

      Thirdly – if I insist that everyone I speak politely to and am friends with has to agree with my top five positions, to the same degree as I hold them (violent disagreements with fellow travelers about how far to walk today are a thing, even if all agree on the road and the direction), and in order of how I rank them, wellll…things can get cut down to a crowd of three PDQ.(*)

      Finally, it’s a tactic that depends on the other side not engaging in a like scorched earth policy – and here, I think, is the real rub. The people that B imagines as ‘having skin in the game’ aren’t the only ones. For everyone that might be deported, there is another who is struggling harder to find a job due to illegal immigration, or who fears violence from the immigrants, or who morns the loss of community from a changing culture. Some of these might rationally take precedence over fear of deportation, some might not, but there are real people with real emotions in the other side of the debate as well. There is always someone who feels as strongly.

      Gamefully swallowing down anger and breathing deeply past deep disagreements with friends is not a perfect solution. But it’s a better universal solution that serves us – and reality – better than the options.

      But hey, you don’t have to agree. We can still talk.

      (*)me, myself, and I

      • Jiro says:

        For everyone that might be deported, there is another who is struggling harder to find a job due to illegal immigration, or who fears violence from the immigrants, or who morns the loss of community from a changing culture.

        Actually, it’s worse than that.

        Some policies have concentrated benefits and diffuse harms, such as taxing a large number of people at a slightly higher rate to benefit a small group. (Or, perhaps, even letting in illegal immigrants at the cost of a marginally higher crime and unemployment rate for a much greater number of people.)

        We know of the phenomenon where government is full of these because the concentrated group is more easily able to lobby. But it becomes even worse here–requiring that your friends not disagree with positions that personally harm you is essentially privileging the concentrated benefit over the diffuse harm. On a societal level, this will have really bad effects.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Person B sounds like a real pill, frankly.

      Actually, let me back up and say something more useful: The problem with Person B’s approach is that if everyone followed it, the foundation of civil society would be completely destroyed. If you can’t be friends with someone who has different political opinions, might as well just pick up the guns and have the civil war now. That’s far worse than some hypothetical harm to whoever B is worried about (not to mention that most people with the attitude B has are completely uninformed about what the side they dislike is up to anyway.)

      • Corey says:

        Reality bubbles (not mentioned in the OP) make this hard to do, though. Eventually communication becomes impossible, as you get to the point where you’re trying to discuss paleo-anthropology with a young-Earth creationist.

    • Lumifer says:

      The answer clearly depends on where you live and what are the consequences of politics.

      I think this thread is in need of godwinning.

    • DavidS says:

      I think there are two things here in friend B’s position
      1. The ‘literally you can make a difference’ one (which runs into issues about whether your vote makes a difference, what the benefit of ending friendships is etc.)
      2. The ‘this issue matters enough to me that I can’t see it as a hypothetical talking-point – it’s personal.

      I pretty much agree with the critiques of (1) above. (2) is I think a huge problem. People can be quite inconsistent about whether someone’s politics is a reason for personal judgement/unfriendship, with a hefty dose of ‘my side is different from yours’ but I think also something fairly major about the Overton window. E.g. I think most people would see an advocate of e.g. slavery as beyond the pale, but think that vegetarians and pro-lifers shouldn’t not be friends with meat-eaters and pro-choicers even if the philosophical basis of that vegetarianism or pro-lifeness means consistently that meat-eaters and pro-choicers are supporting mass murder. More than that, the vast majority of vegetarians and pro-lifers themselves tend to do this to. What feels like an issue-worth-fighting-over obviously varies massively over time and individuals. And some big political movements seem to be less about changing the issues as making them have this intense personal feel.

      • Matt M says:

        I think this is also another way of perhaps spotting people who are exaggerating their own beliefs and/or engaging in over the top hyperbole.

        I would suggest that someone who really does believe abortion is the moral equivalent of murder could not possibly be friends with people who believe abortion on demand is a moral good and should be provided for free by the state. Someone who goes around saying “abortion is murder” but also is close friends with people who have had abortions strikes me as someone who does not truly believe what they are saying. Unless they also have a lot of friends who are murderers, I guess.

        • “Someone who goes around saying “abortion is murder” but also is close friends with people who have had abortions strikes me as someone who does not truly believe what they are saying. Unless they also have a lot of friends who are murderers, I guess.”

          I think there are two dimensions to this. One is how morally wrong you think an act is. The other is how obvious you think it is that it is that it is morally wrong.

          I’m thinking of a real world example not quite as extreme. I concluded years ago, on the basis of an account by one of my colleagues of her role in a legal change at the state level, that she was probably responsible for a larger reduction in human happiness than anyone else I knew.

          That didn’t make me dislike her, since it was obvious that that was not what she believed the consequences were of the legislation she had supported. And given how many intelligent people disagree with the relevant part of my views, I did not think she obviously should have believed it, even though I thought it was true.

        • JayT says:

          Lots of people still support their friends and family even after they have murdered someone. I think it is human nature to look the other way when it is someone you are close to that commits the bad act.

          Also, I think a lot of the people that believe abortion is murder are also people that believe you should “love the sinner and hate the sin”, so that is another reason someone could be friends with someone that has had an abortion.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m thinking less “someone who had one abortion in their teens and has since repented and regrets it terribly” and more “someone who wanders around denouncing anyone who doesn’t favor state-funded abortions as an evil monster who opposes women’s health all in defense of a useless clump of cells”

          • JayT says:

            Well, I would guess there aren’t a lot of people out there that truly believe abortion is murder and have militant pro-abortion friends.

            If there are, I would guess it mainly falls into the second category. They like the person, but believe they are badly misguided.

          • DavidS says:

            @Matt M

            I think this is clearly a special case:

            I’m thinking less “someone who had one abortion in their teens and has since repented and regrets it terribly” and more “someone who wanders around denouncing anyone who doesn’t favor state-funded abortions as an evil monster who opposes women’s health all in defense of a useless clump of cells”

            The thesis that people often don’t get on with people who denounce them as evil monsters is not very surprising. The first move in ‘don’t be friends with those you disagree with’ would have been made by the pro-choicer in this case. What’s more interesting is if they’d be friends with someone who strongly advocates for pro-choice but doesn’t condemn pro-lifers as monsters.

            On the broader issue of whether people really mean what they say about this sort of thing, I find this hard. Because the argument that people don’t often act like they think abortion/meat is literally murder, but so is e.g. the argument that people don’t act like they believe in the afterlife or for that matter that smoking/drinking/whatever has the consequences it does. I think breaking it down to one ‘genuine’ position and one ‘false’ one is oversimplistic. People are just inconsistent.

          • Anonymous says:

            The thesis that people often don’t get on with people who denounce them as evil monsters is not very surprising.

            Wait, hold on a second. That violates are deepest principles of freedom of expression. It’s not just the government, any consequences flowing from speech is simply wrong, wrong, wrong.

            Or have I misunderstood something?

          • Matt M says:


            It’s the most extreme case, but I think the general concepts can be applied almost universally.

            Here’s an example for you. As a teenager, one of my close friends suddenly converted to hardcore conservative Christianity. He then spent most of his time loudly trying to convert everyone in our circle of friends. Most of the circle got annoyed and ended their friendships with him – “Hey man, stop preaching to me already!”

            My friendship with him and respect for him increased, largely based on two factors I considered.

            1 – The fact that he was willing to lose friendships over this suggested his belief was in fact deeply held and legitimate, rather than some silly teenage phase.

            2 – Given that his belief is serious, the fact that he feels very strongly about my not going to hell is evidence that he respects me and values my friendship. Even if I don’t agree with him on the existence of hell, he does believe it, and given those beliefs, it makes perfect sense that he feels very strongly about me not going there to the point where he’s willing to risk annoying me from time to time in order to save my soul.

            Most people saw him as the bad kind of religious person – overly preachy, doesn’t know how to take no for an answer, etc. But I saw him as the only logically consistent one. If you believe not converting will cause your love ones to suffer in agony for literally all eternity, how could you not constantly be trying to convert them?

            So at the same time, if you believe abortion is murder, how could you possibly be friends with someone who advocates it as a totally acceptable thing to do. Nobody would be friends with someone who supported regular murder (even if they didn’t call you a monster, etc.). To take it one step further – if you really think abortion is murder, why wouldn’t you bomb an abortion clinic? If there was a house on your block where someone was routinely murdering people by the dozens and the authorities refused to do anything about it, wouldn’t you eventually take matters into your own hands?

          • DavidS says:

            Agreed that converting people if you think they’ll go to hell is morally consistent and essentially laudable.

            I think this depends on what you look for in a friend. I don’t prioritise that sort of hard-core moral consistency (though totally inconsistent/immoral people are annoying). Personally, I’d rather be friends with someone inconsistent than someone whose consistency drives them to act in an obnoxious way.

          • JayT says:

            If there was a house on your block where someone was routinely murdering people by the dozens and the authorities refused to do anything about it, wouldn’t you eventually take matters into your own hands?

            I live right near one of the worst neighborhoods in Oakland, where people are murdered by the dozens and little is done. I think it’s wrong, but I have no intentions of taking matters into my own hands. I think you overestimate how much people are willing to risk for their beliefs.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Matt M – Because people aren’t good, and our problem isn’t just that we haven’t gotten rid of all the bad people.

    • I’m tempted by the idea that personal relationships (both family and friends) are a very important part of the country. Eroding the social fabric over politics is costly.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      I like the next logical step to person B’s argument:
      “If you deny that privileged groups (for example white cis men) exist we can’t be friends. We can’t even have mutual friends.”

      “No enemies to the left, no friends to the right” is always a workable default strategy. It’ll take you a long way without any need for actual thought, saving a lot more time for taking “bomb ass naps”.

    • Lumifer says:

      It’s funny how almost everyone in this thread assumes that politics is something you talk about.

      In some places politics is what you do. If you take one side, you go to the central square, pile up a barricade of tyres and set them alight. If you take the other side, you call the authorities and tell them that your neighbour has been making Molotov cocktails and is preparing to go to that square. Kinda hard to be type A in this situation.

      • Chilly Willy says:

        I would guess a cultural expectation of preserving friendships and social bonds across political lines would help make doing those kinds of things unnecessary. Politics is best when it can remain something people merely talk about, whether in the legislature or the town square. I agree with you it’s hard to be type A in your situation, but I don’t think the fact it’s like this in some places has much (or any) bearing on how people in the US (or like places) should treat politics.

        • Lumifer says:

          Politics is best when it can remain something people merely talk about

          If politics is something your merely talk about, how different are you from a feudal serf gossiping about the affairs of lords?

          • LHN says:

            Given the many well-known cases of across-the-aisle friendships among people actually involved in governing, it seems pretty clear that actually doing something in politics isn’t inherently incompatible with civil relations with the opposition.

            It’s probably incompatible with an ongoing violent uprising. But that’s pretty much what the political system is set up to avoid, most of the time successfully. Dividing society into camps that won’t willingly interact with one another is a step away from politics, and towards war.

          • Matt M says:

            ” it seems pretty clear that actually doing something in politics isn’t inherently incompatible with civil relations with the opposition.”

            Of course this might also fuel speculation that they aren’t actually opposition and/or aren’t actually “doing something” at all…

          • Lumifer says:

            @ LHN

            actually doing something in politics isn’t inherently incompatible with civil relations with the opposition.

            True, but it is incompatible with treating politics as “something people merely talk about”.

          • Chilly Willy says:

            Sorry if it wasn’t clear, but by “merely talk about,” I tried to imply that passing legislature through debate and compromise is, in fact, merely a kind of talking (hence “in the legislature” as well as the street). I agree with LHN that politics is supposed to be a way of solving problems by talking (albeit enforced by police with guns, etc.) so as to avoid war (i.e. politics by other means).

            Regardless, my contention was more with the idea that the fact something happens to be worse or different somewhere else should influence how I think it should be handled in my own country by my fellow citizens. I really don’t think the way Syrians conduct their politics should inform how Brits or Americans conduct theirs. As another example, I don’t understand the common response to Americans complaining about gas prices that they should be happy given how much more it costs in country X, when it costs more because of a higher tax imposed (which is, in effect, the people of that country deciding to make gas more expensive for themselves). What has that to do with anything regarding an increase in price in the states? Why should the breakdown and failure of politics in other places suggest Americans are narrow-minded for wanting or expecting to keep their own politics civil (i.e. limited to talking)?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Chilly Willy

            People (the general populace) do not pass legislation. For legislators (who are what, 0.000…% of the population) talking might be the way to do politics, but I thought we were talking about more or less regular people.

            politics is supposed to be a way of solving problems by talking

            Huh? Politics is a system of arranging power in a society. Sometimes it works by talking, sometimes it works by defenestration, sometimes it works by bullets…

          • ChillyWilly says:

            Politicians pass the laws, of course, but regular people can talk about whom or what to vote for. They can organize into groups to become more effective mouthpieces. Even if votes are effectively worthless, I’m still a lot less likely to grab a gun if I have a ballot. Trump seems to be an example of people managing to vote against their betters’ wishes, so maybe votes can still have some effect. Defenestration and bullets are ways of arranging power, but talking is a better (nicer) way.

            I guess I’m saying the “best” in “politics is best when it’s talking” in my original post was meant to be doing a lot of work. I agree politics often happens by other means, but I’d rather live in countries with the highest talk to bullet ratios. Politics as talk is an ideal, but as ThirteenthLetter pointed out below, it’s the breakdown of communication and community with political opponents that makes your situation more likely.

            I completely agree that I wouldn’t be able to talk my way out of serfdom, but I disagree that American or European politics (which was what onyomi was implicitly talking about, right? Not politics in Angola or elsewhere?) has reached the point where fighting is a legitimate alternative to talking. Which is why I thought your comment that it’s strange to think about something being the way it normally is in your society (a society set up exactly to make that thing that way) instead of something else that it may often be elsewhere, was odd. It’s like being surprised people in Vancouver wear rain jackets, when people in the desert think of rain as something you try to collect, not something to keep away from you. My question, poorly worded, originally was: “In some places politics is something you do, not say,” “OK, but who cares? We’re talking about here, not there.” Why should we care?

          • It’s probably incompatible with an ongoing violent uprising. But that’s pretty much what the political system is set up to avoid, most of the time successfully. Dividing society into camps that won’t willingly interact with one another is a step away from politics, and towards war.

            +1 To me this is the definitive answer to the original question. Person B seems to be an advocate for war with the opposition. Whatever you think of friendship with somewhat with diametrically opposite views, it is good for peace in the world.

          • keranih says:

            Don’t have the reference, but one examination of the rates and methods of interpersonal violence between people in pre-industrial societies noted the efforts put into simply keeping persons A & B – who mutually hated each other’s guts – out of the same campsite. Places with higher population density don’t seem to have this same issue, as people just move to a different circle of friends/family and find other things to care about.

            I am very much against voluntarily moving (back) towards a society where we can not live along side people that we are in conflict with.

            However – if the option is physically going at each other with hammer and tongs, then social insulation from each other would be the better choice.

            However, I have observed, in every single church parish I have belonged to, that there are people who – to use the example above – absolutely rejected elective abortion as a legal or moral choice, and who continued to engage those who disagreed with them on this with love and charity.

            I can’t do this well – in small doses, yes, but not frequently. I have also seen this in some secular groups, so I know this kind of grace is not limited to active church goers.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Yep, and the first step down the road to the situation you described is “I could never be friends with someone who supports [Trump/Hillary].”

        I’d love it if we could avoid the situation you describe, but given that there have already been explicitly government-approved riots attacking Trump supporters that ship may have sailed.

    • LPSP says:

      I watched The Way We Were for the first time about two days ago. It occurs to me that it is relevant to this conversation, as Robert Redford’s character is largely A and Barbra Streisand’s largely B.

  11. Randy M says:

    How plausible is a drug that behaves radically different under less gravity? I’m thinking of a lethal chemical on earth that would be an addictive psychotropic on a space station.
    Not plot critical, but might be an interesting sci-fi touch to a project if it doesn’t seem too bizarre.

    • Anatoly says:

      Maybe it’s so addictive that if its supply to the brain is cut off even momentarily, death results? On earth when you stand up, the pressure of gravity forces much of your blood down, and various cardiovascular mechanisms kick in to offset this and restore the adequate supply to the brain (when they aren’t working well enough, that’s how people get lightheaded/dizzy/pass out when standing up quickly). But I guess it takes several seconds in which the amount of the drug available to the brain through blood suddenly decreases markedly. In space, there should be no such drastic effect.

    • 27chaos says:

      Blood pressure related, maybe? Some kind of super Adderall?

    • LPSP says:

      It’s an interesting conceit for a sci-fi novel, if you’re a writer you should run with it. Middle-finger any hard explanation, you’re only interesting in the realism of the consequences.

    • Eltargrim says:

      Perhaps instead of a biological response to gravity, the change in response is effected by other means? I’m thinking of radiation. Imagine a chemical that is psychotropically inert. Exposure to radiation induces a structural change to a similar chemical that is unstable, but wildly psychoactive. The relatively constant radiation flux in space ensures that the inert precursor is transformed to the psychoactive product at a rate that is practically unsustainable on Earth. As the product decays, it reverts to the precursor.

      This would, of course, require the precursor to be effectively harmless, as the conversion rate would never be large enough to convert the entire product.

      Not hard science by any means, but passes the sniff test.

    • dtsund says:

      If you’re willing to go sub-lethal, perhaps the drug could work everywhere exactly the same, but one of its side effects is permanently destroying the user’s sense of balance. Not a problem in zero gravity, but a major issue for anyone returning to a planet.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Well I’m not sure about lethal or psychoactive, but there could certainly be personality-altering chemicals which are “addictive” in the sense that you really don’t want to stop taking them while in space.

      Hormone treatment to prevent muscle and bone atrophy is something Wikipedia says NASA is already considering. If an astronaut at peak physical condition can deteriorate to the point where he can’t stand unassisted, you have to wonder what extended microgravity would do to a civilian couch potato. Doping could easily be necessary for anyone who doesn’t want to spend the rest of their life in space.

      And naturally, with that comes various personality changes including ‘roid rage.

      • Randy M says:

        I think it might be better to go the other way–something benign on earth, or maybe anestetic, but on the space station it becomes mind altering and addictive for some reason.
        But not something required for daily operation, as I want a smuggler to be involved.

        • Loquat says:

          It might work to have the effect be caused, not directly by changes in gravity, but by changes in the user’s microbiome. If you’re on a space station, you’re inherently cut off from any new supply of the normal bacteria you’d be exposed to on Earth, except for what you’ve deliberately brought up in probiotic pills and such, and you may have a much more restricted diet that affects the proportions of your various gut flora. So then you could postulate a substance that gets metabolized by different species of gut flora into products with markedly different effects on the human body.

    • Skef says:

      I am in no way an expert.

      The idea of a drug that itself behaves differently under weightless conditions seems tenuous.

      On the other hand, changes in metabolism under weightless conditions are well documented. So it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch that a drug could behave differently due to a competition with different metabolic products (or some such). Under that scenario the distinction would need to work out over a longish period of time.

      (I’m assuming your space-station would not have artificial gravity from spin or unspecified technology. If the drug is supposed to work differently under those conditions Einstein might have reason to quibble.)

    • AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

      Not plausible. At the scale humans work at, the electric field vastly dominates drug interactions.

      The only drug I can maybe think of is something that could counter peristalsis, which may be aided by gravity.

  12. Over9ine000 says:

    Some of you may have already seen this, but I found it quite entertaining:

  13. pku says:

    A few threads ago we brought up the issue that civil servants in China or the UK are much more competent than in America, since it’s considered a much higher-status job there (e.g. Humphrey Appleby, who may be an obstructive bureaucrat, but is an incredibly competent one). Another example I’ve seen is airport security in Israel compared to the TSA – in Israel it’s considered an important job, while in america it’s the worst job imaginable, and partly as a result of that there’s a huge gap in competence levels.

    So the question is: Can anyone think of other examples where jobs considered high-status in one place are better performed there? And what areas are there where american workers are unusually competent compared to peers in other countries?

    • cassander says:

      American doctors would seem a significant example.

      • Rowan says:

        I’m not aware of any country that considers doctors low-status.

        • keranih says:

          Well, there was the USSR, which paid them as one did plumbers and stone masons…(*)

          But then again, there is no more USSR…

          (*)I am completely open to the idea that stone mason requires as much investment of time and effort as physician. However, physician requires far better grasp of Latin, and far less standing in the rain over seeing drunken day labor, so that I expect the supply for one to exceed the supply for the other.

          • dndnrsn says:

            My understanding of the USSR – which is quite limited – is that stuff that would be rewarded with more money in the US or wherever was rewarded with official perks. A nicer apartment, for instance – I’ve read an anecdote from a judoka/coach about how, after he won the European junior championships, his family got moved to a much bigger apartment (and his parents stopped bugging him to give up competitive judo and become a doctor or something).

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          Contains evidence from fiction.

          English doctors were still low enough to be condescended to by some gentry in Christie’s 4.50 from Paddington, 1957. Harriet Vane’s village doctor father was apparently middle class, respected in the village and invited to the Pig Club, but nothing like as high status as our current US doctors. Mary Innes’s doctor father was apparently not well to do in Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes.

          In an earlier century English doctors were lower status yet. Perhaps sawing bones was manual labor.

        • cassander says:

          They’re never LOW status, but they seem to have unusually high status in the US, compared to what I’ve heard about, say, the UK.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            What have you heard about doctors in the UK?

          • cassander says:

            that working for the NHS is dreary, rigidly bureaucratic, and not very well paid.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            If it was that bad, I would expect fewer doctors to be immigrants (not just from India and Pakistan, but also from Germany and Australia). I think pay and stress varies massively depending on seniority; junior doctors work long hours for little pay, consultants (the equivalent of a US attendings) are fairly highly paid, and often have enough spare time to work privately to supplement their income. I don’t know why it would be particularly dreary work, and I have no knowledge of how bureaucratic it is. Regardless, supply for doctors vastly outstrips demand, suggesting it is still a pretty high status job.

    • The standard example I see offerered is K-12 teaching, where it is claimed that teachers are low status here, high status in some other countries such as Finland.

      I’m not sure it’s true. A competent teacher is high status in the classroom where he spends much of his time, and I think teacher in general is thought of as a mildly prestigious profession. K-12 teachers in the U.S. receive salaries above the median for the population as a whole but below the median for college graduates, at least as of a while ago when I looked up the numbers.

      But it is probably true that there are countries where their relative status and/or income is noticeably higher than here.

      • Matt M says:

        I think most people who make this argument aren’t necessarily familiar with the social dynamics of Finland (not that I am claiming to be either) and are simply assuming that higher salary = higher status.

        Which may be a fair assumption, but my guess would be that it’s not entirely that simple. It might also depend on what exactly you mean by status or “held in high esteem.” Lawyers are high status in that they make a lot of money compared to schoolteachers, but teaching as a profession is almost certainly thought of as more noble or what have you than lawyers in America…

        • fubarobfusco says:

          I think most people who make this argument aren’t necessarily familiar with the social dynamics of Finland (not that I am claiming to be either) and are simply assuming that higher salary = higher status.

          I don’t know much about Finland either, but my assumption was more like “higher credential requirements tends to imply higher status” — Finnish teachers do a master’s degree with a thesis requirement.

          • Matt M says:

            Really? I know a couple teachers (both my mother and best friend from childhood are teachers) and both of them insist that the profession is over-credentialed (as in, you’re either required, or simply won’t find a job without, a masters degree that you don’t actually need).

      • sohois says:

        To echo what fubarobfusco said above, from what I’ve read in the past its not the teaching profession itself that is high status in Finland but the teaching qualification. Finnish people can take a teaching degree in Finland and then simply walk into position they want, which inevitably leads to a load of really competent people taking the qualification. Equally inevitable, some will then decide after all that teaching is actually what they want to do and Finland ends up with some really competent teachers.

        This is opposed to systems in other countries where the only people who really take teaching degrees are those who already want to teach, and whilst many of them are of high competence it still greatly limits the talent pool.

    • Matt M says:

      I would guess this might apply to the military in America. Certainly in the “it is held in higher esteem” sense. Whether that translates to superior performance is anyone’s guess I suppose.

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      I’m not sure about other countries, but sports like basketball seem pretty high status in the USA and don’t seem to be very high status elsewhere.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        I mean, basketball is about as high status as any sport not named football can be in a country not named america.

        • Diadem says:

          I think you’re confusing status with money here. Football in Europe is not a high status sport. It is in fact traditionally considered a lower class sport.

          • nimim. k.m. says:

            There is a difference between a player in a major league and a fan who watches the games.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            This also might be a U.K. vs U.S. difference having to do with how formal and widespread class is.

            There are two ways to look at the question. One is, are the stars of the professional sport high-status? The other is, are the youth/amateur teams composed almost entirely of people who are high-status?

            I’m thinking here of sports like polo and yacht racing, which were regarded at one time as exclusively sports for not just the well-to-do, but the “well bred”.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            There’s a distinction between class and status. Even if professional footballers come from lower class backgrounds more frequently than say tennis players do, they can still be high status

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Certainly, and I wasn’t disputing that.

            I was merely pointing at the idea of a fictional stereotypical reaction to young Biff McMasterson, Jr. trying out for the football team from Biff, Sr. that might go “Muffy, We must put a stop to this football foolishness. It’s uncouth and vulgar. He needs to play a gentleman’s game. Why can’t he play tennis, or throw himself into golf?”

            The sport itself, in that context, is low-status, even though it might high status at the local plebeian secondary school.

          • Anonymous says:

            Even if professional footballers come from lower class backgrounds more frequently than say tennis players do, they can still be high status

            They can be high status within their class, but not high status in society at large. Look at the footballers’ wives: you do see pop stars who made it big, women who trade entirely on their looks, and so on, but never countesses or similar (unlike what you might in fact see with a stockbroker these days; I get the feeling as an outsider that well-heeled stockbrokers with the right Oxbridge background are this generation’s loaded Americans, to the old and less-moneyed upper class).

            The footballers and their wives are the kings and queens of the rabble, to express it brutally. Even most middle-class professionals sneer at them. (Although I do personally find that a large number of both sexes permit themselves to drool in private, this is not something expressible in public without fear for status loss, which is the crucial point here.)

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I should have probably made it more clear that I was responding to Diadem, not you. In any case, I mostly agree with you, though I don’t think football is especially low-status in the sense of being considered lower class; the rules were codified by British public schools.

            “society at large” means society at large, including lower class people. Being high status doesn’t mean being respected by middle class people, it means (as I understand it at least) being influential and respected (on the surface at least) by the media. Lots of people dislike Theresa May, that doesn’t mean she’s low status.

    • DavidS says:

      To address the premise rather than the question, isn’t there an issue that the Humphrey Appleby role in US simply doesn’t exist as a civil servant: that sort of seniority would be political. So the equivalent of Sir Humph is, I dunno, Leo McGary.

      • pku says:

        How does it (or at least a more junior version of it) not exist? I know people love to argue about, say, food stamps, but presumably there’s got to be someone in the government whose job it is to actually run the program – and they can’t switch everyone involved in running every program with every new administration, the government would collapse.

        • DavidS says:

          I’m in the UK and my knowledge of the US system is at least 50% from West Wing. So I don’t know. But point is that Sir Humphrey is an unfair comparison because there simply is no equivalent.

          My understanding is that you indeed have more operational and more junior non-political civil servants.

          But just speculatively, surely lots of top posts being taken by political people rather stops ambitious/talented people entering the industry. Just like it being off-putting for an ambitious young businessperson to enter a family busiess (not their own family) where all the top brass have the same surname. Or e.g. where the top brass of the Army in France just before the Revolution was all-noble so ambitious commoner rising stars either leave ir get really, really annoyed.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The impression I’ve gotten is that a lot of things that would be done by appointed personnel elsewhere are done by elected officials in the US, and there’s maybe less of a culture of official apoliticism among appointed bureaucrat types. Additionally the Commonwealth countries all have some positions that are tied up with the monarchy – they are generally as ornamental as the monarchy itself is.

        • BBA says:

          To take your example, the person in charge of food stamps* is the Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service, which is designated as a Senior Executive Service position. This means the position can be filled by either a career civil servant or a political appointee, with various rules and restrictions around each of them. (The SES is capped at 10% political, for instance.) There are three levels of political appointees – Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Under Secretary – between the Administrator of FNS and the White House.

          So there’s no Sir Humphrey. It’s not even fixed which jobs go to a Sir Humphrey and which to a Jim Hacker. But there are enough career civil servants to run the nuts and bolts of government while all the partisans are switched out between administrations (or in situations like when there was no Secretary of Commerce for a full year – those were dark times).

          *Technically, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It was renamed in the 2000s, partly as a euphemism but mostly because they went all-electronic and there are no actual stamps anymore.

    • You brought up bureaucrats in the UK and China, but my impression is that the status of government bureaucrats tend to be much higher in less developed countries. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to lead to more competency in administration, but instead competency in bribery. Maybe I am showing bias here based on journalists who love to highlight bribery but would be totally bored in talking about competence. Perhaps third world bureaucrats are more competent in third world countries than in the US, at administration as much as in taking bribes.

      But that brings up the issue about whether this is a good thing. I’ve often heard people bemoan how being a politician in the US is a low status job (and low paying), so we don’t get enough good politicians. The problem with this complaint is that the amount of competence per profession is pretty much a zero sum game. If more competent people became politicians, that means fewer competent people are in our labs and running our businesses. While I’d like to have competent politicians, I think it is even more important having competent folks looking into microscopes and running companies, so I don’t think it is a good idea to get more smart folks into government. I also suspect the respective status of politicians is one reason the US has a bit of a lead on Europe in science and business management.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Being a politician is very high status in the US; we get excellent ones. Being a good bureaucrat, or being skilled at governance, is not high status. Those skills aren’t terribly low status either, though; they seem largely unrelated to the skills that get play in the status game.

      • pku says:

        Presumably there’s a trade-off in corruption vs. competence, and having too much corruption undoes the competence advantage. US Healthcare seems to have a similar problem – someone above pointed out that you would expect american doctors to be better based on the status of the profession. While this is probably true, the advantage may be undone by the messed-upedness of american healthcare bureaucracy (and this is without getting into medical care vs. public health, which is a whole other issue).

  14. DEuSOXY says:

    hey, long time reader, first time commenting

    I feel like you (and by extension anyone who reads this blog) should try out I’d like to see y’alls thoughts on the site since most of you tend to turn the “critical thinking” dial in your heads up to 11 half the time.

    The site is a new social media platform based off of free speech and apparently a lot of “alt-right” people have swarmed onto it. I figured that even if it doesn’t warrant a post it’d at least be a fun way to kill a few minutes B)

    thanks for the consideration, keep on keepin on

    • Lumifer says:

      I’d like to see y’alls thoughts on the site

      The site didn’t show me anything useful but asked for my email and told me to get in line. After it was given an email, it told me that my place is #somebignumber.

      My thoughts? Wasted 30 seconds.

      • Yes, what is this about getting one’s e-mail before showing us ANYTHING. I like to look at a web site a bit to see if it is worthwhile before committing. There is so much dreck out there it isn’t worth spending a lot of time on a site until I see its worth. Why won’t they even advertise themselves before making demands? Maybe it is a great site despite that, but I hesitate to look any further.

    • Richard says:

      The world seems ripe for replacements for both the bird noises and the book of faces with less americanised political censorship, but I’m not convinced Gab is it. Giving it a try though.

      • Corey says:

        A new ReaganBook hit recently: codias dot com, don’t know how well it’s doing or how long until it’s overrun with trolls.

  15. J Mann says:

    Question: There’s some controversy over whether the Daily Caller should have released the name of the woman on video screaming at Nicholas Christakis. For example, see:

    Ok, but why is there a controversy? I get that the Caller shouldn’t have included a link to her home address, but what are the best arguments that you should be able to scream at person in public and remain anonymous? Is Christakis entitled to anonymity, and if not, why not?

    • hlynkacg says:

      I agree that posting the home address was a dick move. It’s fucked up when the folks at HuffPo or Gawker do it and it’s fucked up here. Beyond that, I don’t know.

      I’m vaguely reminded of the London and Stanley Cup riots in 2011 where people started “outing” rioters on social media with predictable results.

      • J Mann says:

        Thanks – I’m still kind of sympathetic to outing, although I guess it doesn’t have a limiting principle.

        This kid, for example, did his best to blow up a car. After he was identified, his family got some mean emails and moved out of their house for a while.

        The guys threatening them are certainly a-holes (even if, as I suspect, the threats were along the lines of “somebody should blow up your car so you know how it feels”). but overall, I guess I’d rather have fewer people lighting cars on fire even if it means more people sending stupid emails.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Sounds like we’re on pretty much the same page.

        • keranih says:

          Blowing up a car is a crime.

          Screaming like an under-napped infant at other adults is not.

          One identity is public need-to-know, one is gossip.

        • Jiro says:

          I guess I’d rather have fewer people lighting cars on fire even if it means more people sending stupid emails.

          The category which you will have less of is not “people lighting cars on fire”, but “those things which the mob on the Internet will think are as bad as lighting cars on fire”.

    • pku says:

      I think she is entitled to privacy, mostly because of the predictable results – once it became news, it was inevitable that publishing her name would lead to disproportionate threats and harassment.

      I’m inclined to say Christakis isn’t, mostly because she made a public proclamation in full awareness that it was, well, public.

      That said, I think it’s kind of horrible that a student can scream at a professor who is by all accounts a well-liked and very sympathetic person, get the professor harassed to the point where she (and her husband!) leave the university, without getting expelled.

    • dndnrsn says:

      The letter showed bad judgment and there should have been a mild talking-to for sending it. The student’s behaviour was unacceptable – you can’t treat people like that in a place that’s supposed to be an academic community – and I think she should have been punished with something like banning from social events for a period of time, that wouldn’t harm her education like suspension or expulsion would. Instead, they all (the Christakises and the student) got conscripted into the Culture Wars, thanks to technology. The harm any of the 3 has received from abuse of various forms far outweighs any harm they caused.

      • Homo Iracundus says:

        The letter showed bad judgment and there should have been a mild talking-to for sending it

        Are you serious. You can’t be. You wanted her given a “talking-to” threat for telling people not to get so violent about Halloween costumes they dont’ like?

        • dndnrsn says:

          She was in an official administrative position and it’s bad judgment to express personal opinions in a situation where you are speaking officially, or could be perceived as such.

          EDIT: I don’t mean a talking-to on the basis of the content of her letter. I mean a talking to like “hey, it’s dumb to send out personal opinions that piss the students off when you’re a residential admin.”

          That the students are getting pissed off (although I question your use of the term “violent” – I think the definition creep of that word is not a good thing) over stuff that maybe they shouldn’t be, is a different issue.

          • brad says:

            I somewhat disagree. If they wanted a glorified babysitter they could have gone with grad students , older undergraduates, or even random employees hired off the street. One of those three is what most other universities do for RAs. Instead Yale went with live-in professors exactly because there was supposed to be an intellectual element to the relationship rather than just an administrative one.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The colleges date from the 30s and so on (Silliman from 1940) and I suppose part of the problem is that, evidently, some of the students now do want glorified babysitters.

          • brad says:

            Is that their call to make? If you got into Yale you surely could have gotten into plenty of other schools. If you choose to go the one with this college system it seems to me you don’t have much room to complain about it.

          • Matt M says:

            “Is that their call to make?”

            The results (and similar results at many schools around the country) would seem to indicate that yes, it is – and it’s more likely that you will get your way if you aggressively scream at people than if you write a formal and dignified complaint letter or something.

          • dndnrsn says:


            Not that I disagree with you, but again, evidently, a lot of them seem to think that they shouldn’t have to choose between different priorities.

          • brad says:

            @Matt M
            I’d say don’t count your chickens before they hatch, but I get the sense that they aren’t your chickens. Instead it looks like you are wallowing in some sort of woe is me, all of my enemies’ chickens are going to hatch. Don’t think that’s any better.

            The Christakises left, which is unfortunate, but the university publicly supported them, the college system is still in place, and by all accounts alumni (read: donors) across the country are not being shy about telling administrations what they think.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            by all accounts alumni (read: donors) across the country are not being shy about telling administrations what they think.

            This is kinda whistling past the graveyard, given how the administrations keep giving in to the students’ demands, despite the massive financial penalties. Look at Mizzou, for example: a massive contraction in student applications, donors leaving, heavy criticism from every side, and they’re doubling down instead of backing away. Look at Yale, which is quietly giving in to student demands for change even if it didn’t explicitly go after the professors. Et cetera.

            I’ve noticed this more generally. News media viewership contracted by fifty percent when they dropped their pretenses of objectivity and went all-in against Bush. NFL viewership is down since they endorsed National Anthem protests. Game journalism has lost massive amounts of readership in the recent unpleasantness. And yet, all of those groups continue to double down on their politics. Capitalism is failing: for an awful lot of organizations and companies, including ones you wouldn’t think would be politicized, giving the outgroup another kick at every opportunity seems to be worth the massive financial and reputational damage they suffer for taking a side.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ ThirteenthLetter

            How’s that “capitalism is failing”?

            Capitalism does not require everyone to be interested only in money and nothing but money. If anything, capitalism says that if you piss off your customers (which you certainly can do), you will suffer the financial consequences and that, indeed, seems to be the case.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Lumifer: Fair point. Maybe I should rephrase that as “stereotypical capitalism is failing.” If these greedy businessmen were really only interested in money like the uninformed stereotype would have it, they wouldn’t be so eager to stick their thumbs in the eye of half their audience.

          • Randy M says:

            One expects capitalism to be a system by which businesses maximize profits. This doesn’t preclude individuals from having greater concerns, but does seem to be working towards something other than what it would be expected to if companies are leaving money on the table.

          • pku says:

            @Thirteenth Letter: Isn’t the NFL ratings more likely to be because they’re a few weeks into the season (or something schedule-related, in any case)? Even if politics is affecting them, I would expect the effect to be statistically insignificant compared to that.

          • JayT says:

            I think the beginning of the season usually gets some of the highest ratings. According to this link almost every game is down from a comparable game last season. Especially striking is that the first Monday Night Football game of the year was down 30% from last year, and that was Kaepernick’s first game of the year, so I think that it’s very likely that politics was in play here.

        • Fahundo says:

          News media viewership contracted by fifty percent when they dropped their pretenses of objectivity and went all-in against Bush.

          People ditched old media in droves in favor of the internet during Bush’s presidency. I’m not sure you can attribute all of that to a media bias against Bush. Bush was also president during the years things like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube were being invented.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            It’s a little hard to re-run history and say “what if there hadn’t been the Internet back then.” However, trust in the media has been steadily collapsing, and you can’t blame that on the existence of Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube; the existence of social media, no matter how crappy, did not put a gun to the TV networks’ heads and order them to go all in for their favorite politicians.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      It’s wrong to aggressively publicize the student’s name worldwide for shaming purposes, just like it would be wrong to aggressively publicize the name of someone who vandalizes a window. But that doesn’t mean that the police should ignore the vandal, or worse, hold a press conference announcing that vandalism has been decriminalized, anyone who disagrees with this will be arrested for hate speech, and a committee of prominent vandals will now be advising the City Council.

      The university should have punished the student and made it clear this behavior won’t be tolerated. But the punishment should be minor and proportional, taking into account that dumb kids do dumb things sometimes and it shouldn’t be the end of the world. In the end we got neither of these things: a crappy online tabloid delivers nuclear punishment to someone who doesn’t deserve it, and the university hands over the keys to the place to the dumb kids so they can make the whole place dumb.

  16. Anatoly says:

    Some countries show English-language movies and TV shows with subtitles.
    Other countries dub them.
    The former kind seem to have much better knowledge of English by their population, as measured e.g. by being able to talk to a random stranger on the street in English.

    E.g. Israel has subtitles, Russia has dubbing. In both countries kids study English from 2nd grade till they graduate high school. In Israel one is able to ask locals for directions, order coffee at a cafe or food in a restaurant, etc. In Russia it’s mostly futile to try outside the two largest cities and often won’t work inside them.

    France has subtitles, the Netherlands has dubbing. I’m told that, strikingly, in Belgium the Dutch-speaking population uses subtitles and has excellent English, while the French-speaking population uses dubbing and the knowledge of English is very poor.

    Is this a causal link? Is the choice of subtitles/dubbing in fact a strong/primary factor in how well the population ends up knowing English? Alternatively, is there in fact poor correlation and it only seems strong because of cherry-picking? Alternatively, are there more important underlying factors that encourage both English and subbing?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      It is definitely causal: good English causes subtitles.

    • BBA says:

      My guess is that dub/sub is a question of how many speakers the language has and how economical that makes the extra expense of producing a dub. There are far more speakers of French and Russian than there are of Dutch and Hebrew, thus the former get dubs and the latter get subtitles.

      Israel is a bit unusual in that even TV shows in Hebrew are subtitled in Hebrew (or at least they were when I was there ~10 years ago).

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Your explanation does not explain the facts, at least the facts according to Anatoly. He claims that the French don’t dub, despite their large population, and that the Dutch and Walloons do, despite their small populations. (And that the Flemish don’t use the Dutch dubs.) [I suspect that Anatoly is wrong, both about who dubs and about who speaks good English, but it does not go to throw around explanations without acknowledging the incompatibility of the facts they try to explain.]

        • BBA says:

          I figured that for a typo. It certainly goes against the knowledge I have. A few years ago Télévision Française 1 produced an action-comedy series called Taxi Brooklyn that was filmed in America, in English, and then dubbed into French to air on TF1.

        • Anatoly says:

          Yeah, it was a typo, sorry. I meant to write that the French have dubbing and poor English, while the Dutch have subbing and good English. And that the same effect reproduces for French- and Dutch-speaking populations in Belgium.

      • Diadem says:

        I don’t think this is correct. Dubbing really is not that expensive, and The Netherlands + Flanders are small, but not that small. About 23 million people have Dutch as their first language.

        In fact dubbing is sometimes done in The Netherlands. Foreign children’s movies generally are dubbed, and then they are released twice: Once dubbed and once subtitled. (A tip for foreigners in The Netherlands: If you go to a cinema, and you see a movie listed twice, always go to the version that says “(OV)” and not “(NL)”).

        If it’s cost effective to both dub and subtitle a movie that is released for a relatively narrow audience, I don’t think the extra cost of dubbing is in general a problem.

        Subtitling is just a strong preference in Dutch audiences. Foreigners from countries where dubbing is the norm, and who live in The Netherlands, seem to strongly prefer it as well, once they are used to it.

        I am probably biased, but I suspect that subtitling is simply a superior system, but it’s hard to switch to once everybody is used to dubbing. Audiences not used to subtitling will probably prefer dubbing, so no movie distributor wants to be the first to switch.

        • Jiro says:

          Dubbing really is not that expensive

          If you’re familiar with the state of anime in the US, it is full of cases where dubbing actually is too expensive and subbing is not.

          • Diadem says:

            I’m not saying that dubbing isn’t more expensive that subtitling.

            But Dutch cinemas can apparently run dubbed and subtitled versions of children’s movies simultaneously, for the same price. I don’t doubt the dubbed version is slightly more expensive to make, but it can’t be many dollars per ticket, or they wouldn’t be able to sell the tickets for the same price.

            No doubt there are small arthouse movies (is that a term in English? I mean small independent movies) for which dubbing would be too expensive. But for major releases, it is clearly profitable because it’s already being done.

            It was difficult to find numbers, but apparently high quality movie dubs cost about 100 euros per minute. So say 10k for the average movie. A typical blockbuster movie will easily sell half a million tickets in The Netherlands, and probably about half that in Flanders? So dubbing will clearly not be a significant cost for large movies, though it might be prohibitively expensive for small ones.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Subbing is almost certainly a prerequisite to dubbing, in the sense that once you have translated the script for dubbing it is trivial to add subtitles to an un-dubbed copy. Further, because of things like lip flaps, dubbing is sometimes limited in its ability to translate a line well (in the sense of producing a good-sounding dubbed line). This gives you an audience (but not the whole audience, because some people don’t like subtitles) that prefers subbed films over dubbed ones, and an essentially free sub. Thus, it is no more (or at least not much more) costly to the distributor to release a dubbed copy and a subbed copy. It may be more costly to the cinema, but they can probably adjust the timing so as not to have two theaters running the same film at once if such a thing would not be profitable.

          • nimim. k.m. says:

            >once you have translated the script for dubbing it is trivial to add subtitles to an un-dubbed copy

            Not necessarily. You have to account for the fact that quite often subtitles can’t be full translations of the spoken dialogue, especially fast-paced dialogue; often a direct translation would mean that the screen would be filled with more than two lines of text or subtitle texts would be changing uncomfortably fast.

    • pku says:

      I think you’re wrong about France – they have dubbing, not subtitles (at least for TV).

      I think the causal link goes the other way – countries that learn english more/are more open to learning other languages are less likely to bother dubbing.

      • Diadem says:

        Yeah the original post has France and The Netherlands switched in its example. France dubs, The Netherlands subtitles. The part about Belgium is given correctly.

        And it seems to be ridiculously obvious that subtitling improves English skills. More exposure to a language always improves your skill in that language, and is in fact one of the best ways to learn a language. If you truly want to learn English, go live in the UK for a while.

        That doesn’t mean there couldn’t also be a causality the other way. Causality can go both ways. But I’m not convinced, because, like I pointed out in another reply, subtitling / dubbing isn’t just done for English, but for all foreign languages. Our news will subtitle a speech from the Chinese president, and that’s not because they think a significant number of people will be able to follow the original Chinese. Even on radio they won’t dub him, they’ll just first transmit the original and then the translation.

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:


      I picked up a bit of Japanese from watching subtitled Dragonball Z episodes in the early 90s.

      In the late 80s when I was watching Godzilla movies, they were dubbed and I learned no Japanese.

      • JayT says:

        When I went on a trip to the Galapagos Islands a few years back my tour guide told me that he learned how to speak English from watching the Simpsons. I think it’s definitely possible to get a feel for a language by watching shows with subtitles.

  17. We received the results from our employee satisfaction survey.

    2/3 of our department is either disengaged and looking for new work, or didn’t bother to respond.

    Mandatory meeting tomorrow to improve morale.


    What employee engagement techniques have worked for the various posters here? I wonder if anyone has stumbled across a working “this job is no longer a nightmare” strategy.

    Our major difficulty is that we are a middle-skill A/R function responsible for oversight of an offshore company. This is…uhhh…challenging.

    • keranih says:

      Dude. You don’t want to be asking *me*. You want to be asking the guys in your shop who are having a good time.

    • Matt M says:

      One thing is for certain, the mandatory meeting, the tone of which (no matter how hard you try to make it not be) will certainly be “why aren’t you malcontents happier!!!???” will only make things worse.

      These things probably happen best when they’re gradual rather than through some grand sweeping gesture or initiative.

    • Loquat says:

      I can offer the general rule of thumb that management, when giving feedback to employees about their performance, should include praise for what they’re doing right, not just criticism of what they’re doing wrong. My employer even has a program where one can submit praise for something a co-worker did and they’ll receive a minor prize and recognition on the company intranet, department newsletter, etc.

      Beyond that – what are the actual problems making employees unhappy?

    • Lumifer says:

      Are you familiar with the Gervais Principle?

    • Incurian says:

      I can think of a few causes for nightmare jobs.

      A. Your company is terrible. You hold unnecessary meetings which only get people further behind on their work and provide little in the way of guidance or coordination. The bureaucratic nature of the organization makes doing simple tasks complicated. Your co-workers are untrained and apathetic. You are not provided the proper resources to accomplish your tasks. Everything happens last minute because nobody plans ahead.

      B. Nobody cares about you. You are nothing but a number, a small cog in a big machine. Your boss doesn’t know your name and doesn’t care about you; he didn’t let you leave early when your daughter was sick. Nobody knows or cares about your aspirations or interests. Your ideas are ignored. Harassment and bullying are rampant because only the toxic leaders get promoted. You’re not sure how you’re doing at work because you don’t get any feedback, positive or negative.

      Depending on where you are in the organization, you may not be able to influence A, but you can always influence B. I don’t think you need a strategy to engage with employees. Just talk to them and treat them like PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT. This has three effects:

      1. The feeling of being cared about improves morale and will likely elicit requited feelings of caring about the company. When people work because they want to, not just for a paycheck, they do better work.

      2. When your employees feel like they can talk to you, they will come to you with their problems (personal and professional). This allows you to receive feedback about the employee and their perceptions of the company or tasks at hand.

      3. When you have a relationship with your employee you are more likely to give them feedback which helps them adjust their behavior accordingly.

      This is not to say that you should become close friends with your employees, that has its own problems, but there is a happy medium.

      • A Kind Of Dog-Octopus says:

        This is all great.

        When people feel helpless and stifled by the inertia of a painfully inefficient process, they’re going to be disengaged. Getting shit done feels good. Wading through fragile and burdensome process doesn’t.

      • Great stuff.

        I am a peon. I submitted my resignation today and was one of the “Disengaged” people. When I took the survey, it told me I was disengaged, then gave me materials and told me to make myself more engaged.

        That pissed me off. About as much as the all-corporate email asking us to wear flair (I shit you not).

        My interest is more….how to prevent this nightmare from happening again. I think a lot of the angst is driven by upper management, a great example being how they removed the water cooler because it promoted excessive fraternization.

        But I think a lot might be a middle management role, too. We technically had our best year ever, but almost everyone feels like they just spent the last year and a half in Gitmo. Even our sunniest, rosiest people look like they have painted on smiles barely concealing broken souls.

        That’s to say nothing of the contrarians like me. It’s unprofessional, but we just cuss and run our mouths so other departments can hear us, and we just don’t care anymore.

        I guess I am wondering if this is something our team leads and middle managers could have prevented, or if we were just screwed no matter what we did. Like, say, Poland. Poor Poland.

        • Incurian says:

          Leaders at all levels can mitigate the effects of upper management, but they can’t reverse them. Also, the more awful the upper management is, the more likely middle management is to be suffering the same way you are. It extremely draining for middle leaders because they have to deal with the same bs, and on top of it they have to work twice as hard to keep the shit from rolling downhill on to you.

        • Loquat says:

          all-corporate email asking us to wear flair

          they removed the water cooler because it promoted excessive fraternization

          Upper management sounds deeply confused about what does and does not promote employee satisfaction, and prone to issuing stupid decrees. I suspect there wasn’t much middle management could have done about that.

        • Deiseach says:

          the all-corporate email asking us to wear flair

          Oh, God. You can always tell when one of the higher-ups has been to a conference and/or read the latest guru, can’t you? 🙂

          I was going to ask how did the mandatory “the beatings will continue until morale improves” meeting go, but it sounds like we can tell without asking.

          Middle management can’t do much when they’re hobbled by stupid crap like “take out the water cooler, there’s too much standing around yakking with other departments and not enough working at their own desks!” and then they also send around stuff about brainstorming and synchronising and looking at things from a different angle so try and get the perspective of someone outside your department.

          We had a touch of that ourselves about “too much mixing with other departments”, which is stupid: problems with tenants come up that mean we need to talk with Roads, with Environment, with Planning, etc. (and vice versa; we often get queries from Environment about fly-tipping with ‘this name was on something found in the rubbish, is it one of your tenants?’) so basically people simply ignored upper management disapproval and continued on as always.

    • Deiseach says:

      Mandatory anything never improves morale. Most people do not appreciate being dragged away from a desk full of work to sit and listen to a higher-level boss or hired-in speaker lecture at you for half an hour to an hour about something you have no control over, then have to go back and both catch up on the work you had to set aside and deal with the new work that piled up while you were being talked at.

      If two-thirds of your people were that brassed off, things really must have come to a sorry state, but it’s the higher-ups with the real power that should be getting the tough questions about “so what are you going to do to improve this?” and not the coalface guys, unless the higher-ups will actually listen to what, and make the changes that, the people at the coalface are talking about.

      What employee engagement techniques have worked for the various posters here? I wonder if anyone has stumbled across a working “this job is no longer a nightmare” strategy.

      Don’t know any specific techniques. I’ve had jobs I loved and jobs I hated; the hated ones I even called in sick sometimes because I just could not stand the thought of going there to work, the loved ones I even enjoyed Monday mornings because the work was interesting.

      What does not help:

      (1) big vague aspirational mission statements and things like giving lip-service to policies like “work-life balance” (because Management read in a book or heard in a talk by the latest management guru this was a good thing for workplaces to have) but in practice there’s a snowball in hell’s chance of you getting time off or being able to reliably say “I have a free weekend” or not have to take an armload of files home in the evening to work on at home

      (2) Something goes wrong, it’s your fault (whether or not you have the responsibility or the power over it), something goes right – not even a ‘thank you’

      (3) Bosses or people with the power not being there/available when all you need is their signature on the poxy piece of paper so you can finish this thing but instead it’s lying on their desk for three days while they’re at a conference or the other end of the country, and no, you can’t go ahead without the signature or else see number (2)

      What does help:

      (1) Being treated like a human being and not a piece of machinery that can walk

      (2) Bosses/higher-ups listening to what the people at the coalface have to say and asking their opinion/input before implementing big changes

      (3) Clear chain-of-command without it being “I’m the boss and you’re the peon” attitude so everyone knows who is responsible for what, who to go to with a problem, but Jack is as good as his master

      (4) Interesting and varied work. You don’t need huge money in the paypacket to make the job enjoyable (though it doesn’t hurt), and contrariwise, a big salary will only outweigh being treated like crap for so long.

  18. Gazeboist says:

    A while ago (I think it was in an open thread, but I guess it could have been a links post) someone made a list of puns on “Anonymous”. I couldn’t find it; does anybody have a link?

  19. keranih says:

    Forgive me if this has been asked already too recently –

    What is your favorite SF trope? You know, the one where you read the first two chapters (or just the back blurb) and you go jimminie, I’ve read this eighteen times before! I must purchase this novel NOW!

    I am a sucker for “mil SF focused on NCO of dubious moral qualities but consummate professionalism who leads a quarreling crack team through difficulties and gathers in noble/expert characters of the Other Side along the way”. And yes, this is A Thing.

    Examples are Ash: A Secret History, the Novels of the Company by Glen Cook, and (of late) Tanya Huff’s Confederation series. Oh, and Seven Samurai (and the Western remake).

    (David Friedman – I think CJC’s Chanur series almost counts as this – and her Mri (Faded Sun) series absolutely does.)

    Other thoughts?

    (Now that I’ve said this all, I’m not sure this is just a SF trope. Pretend it is.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      Not an SF trope but a fantasy trope: I’m a sucker for anything with the Devil as the hero, or at least non-villainous protagonist.

      The SF/hard boiled detective subgenre… not sure if it counts as a trope, but that one.

      The technical puzzle story; think Heinlein’s Andrew Libby stories, or most of Asimov’s Robot stories.

      • keranih says:

        Please tell me you’ve read Mike Cary’s Lucifer graphic novels.

        Re: SF Detective – have you seen KKR’s Retrieval Artist novels?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yeah, the Retrieval Artist stuff is good; I’ve read a few of the novels and the stories in Analog. I’ve never gotten into graphic novels, so I haven’t read Cary’s Lucifer.

    • pku says:

      Pure-Good (but not stupid) character (e.g. Superman, Vimes, Tavi, Ender) alongside machiavellian manipulator (e.g. Vetinari, Gaius Sextus, Graff) , in a way that has both of them turn out to be right in their own ways (no strawmen!). Also, I approve of yours (and need to get to seeing seven samurai sometime).

      General Trope: The tomato surprise. I love it.

      For those unfamiliar with it, it is best demonstrated by this joke:

      When I was small, my mother warned me every day never to open the cellar door. She said that horrible, unspeakable things would happen to me if I ever opened the cellar door. I was frightened, but I still so desperately wanted to know what was behind the cellar door. So one day when my mother was away, I summoned up all my courage and opened the cellar door … and you’ll never believe the things I saw! Flowers! Trees! Other children!

      • Joe W. says:

        I’ve always liked the tomato surprise too, never known its name before.

        This webcomic is a nice example, I think.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        Yeah, but I don’t see it standing alone. There’s an elephant sized plot lurking somewhere in there. It’s a good opening for a What Does He Do Next, or How Did This Come About, or What Does the Mother Want and Hey, She Was Right All Along [when the narrator is revealed as a talking tomato and is attacked by the other kids].

    • Wrong Species says:

      I wouldn’t say my favorite trope but an underrated one: Planet of hats

      Sci-fi is at it’s best when it tries to play with new ideas. Aliens are a good way to contrast these ideas with our own. However, worldbuilding is really hard, as I’ve learned from experience. There are a million variables to consider and even then, someone is going to criticize your setting for not being as diverse as Earth. Planet of hats allow writers to explore these simple ideas without the unnecessary details. A good example is probably “Darmok” in Star Trek, where they had a group of people who communicated in a way vastly different than our own.

      • pku says:

        Have you read the Draco Tavern? It’s a pretty good exploration of this trope (bartender runs earth’s only alien bar, interacts with various hats from other worlds).

        • Gazeboist says:

          Also (naturally) a good example of the “I heard it in a bar” style of science fiction and especially pulp. And proof that Niven is a much better at short stories than novels.

      • Urstoff says:

        The Tamarian language always struck me as really dumb. I mean, they were already using a standard vocabulary and grammar (hence, “when the walls fell” versus” “walls the fell when”). How would they ever develop such a grammar only then to use it in a completely ellipitcal way?

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          An extremely limited vocabulary extended through a massive number of idioms?

          Or possibly all non-idiomatic use of language stopped at some point in their history. Or possibly non-idiomatic use of language is something like baby-talk; performed by very young children, but generally non-sensible to adults.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Remember that there is still have the universal translator. It translates any grammar to our own. What it couldn’t do was translate metaphors.

          • Urstoff says:

            Yes, but presumably there is still a grammar to translate. Unless the universal translator is just guessing, but then the metaphors wouldn’t make sense.

          • Matt M says:

            The Universal Translator is one of those Star Trek techno-miracles that it’s generally best not to think too much about.

        • John Schilling says:

          How would they ever develop such a grammar only then to use it in a completely ellipitcal way?

          I’m curious as to how they ever reached the point of building starships without a straightforward way of asking for the 9/16″ socket wrench.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The engineers and technicians speak straightforward language, but aren’t allowed contact with aliens or indeed any of the higher castes of society, aside from a caste of translators to give them their instructions. “Darmok” is a society where the humanities majors rule.

          • Deiseach says:

            You really don’t think there could be an allusion reference to a 9/16″ socket wrench? What about the name of a legendary maker’s well-beloved and trusty wrench which passed into lore as the name for all such instruments of that type, as Durandal is named and Excalibur is named and Rain Dragon is named?

            When requesting the 9/16″ socket wrench, one states “[Name of Trusty Tool] wielded by [Famous Engineer, as we might say Weyland] when he triumphed!” and then Clueless Apprentice gives you the wrong one, to which you respond in the appropriate manner, fitting the action to the word: “[Name of tool corresponding to the unwanted one] cast aside by [Famous], despairing!”

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            The Witch-king of Angmar was annoyed no end when the stupid orcs brought out Grond, Hammer of the Underworld, when he’d quite specifically asked for Klonk, Spanner of the Underworld.

          • roystgnr says:

            It would be amusing if they *were* speaking in a straightforward manner, but something about their language managed to trigger some universal translator bug and make it spew out etymologies instead of simple equivalents.

            Our hypothetical starship engineer says “That thing will heat up the dilithium, up to a thousand Kelvin” and the translator spits out “The folkmoot from the land of ice, hot rising of the two stones of metal, rising toward the swollen hundred of the Baron of Largs.”

          • Jaskologist says:

            Shaka, when the engine rattled. Mirab, with a 9/16″ nut untightened.

          • M.C. Escherichia says:

            More than this, one needs to be able to say things like, “adjust the sine-wave of the magnetic envelope so that anti-protons can pass through it but anti-gravitons cannot”. Tamarian seems inadequate for the task.

          • Deiseach says:

            More than this, one needs to be able to say things like, “adjust the sine-wave of the magnetic envelope so that anti-protons can pass through it but anti-gravitons cannot”. Tamarian seems inadequate for the task.

            Take it away, Poul Anderson and Uncleftish Beholding:

            It is the bernstonebits that link, and so their tale fastsets how a firststuff behaves and what kinds of bulkbits it can help make. The worldken of this behaving, in all its manifold ways, is called minglingken. Minglingers have found that as the uncleftish tale of the firststuffs (that is, the tale of firststuffs in their kernels) waxes, after a while they begin to show ownships not unlike those of others that went before them. So, for a showdeal, stonestuff, glasswortstuff, potashstuff, redstuff, and bluegraystuff can each link with only one uncleft of waterstuff, while coalstuff, flintstuff, germanstuff, tin, and lead can each link with four. This is readily seen when all are set forth in what is called the roundaround board of the firststuffs.

            You don’t want anti-gravitons to pass through: so, “Hodor at the Raven’s Cave!” for whatever reference used for anti-gravitons, but you do want anti-protons, so the same kind of reference of passing through, gaining entrance, one gets in while the other doesn’t.

            If French can manage with “four twenties and sixteen” for “ninety-six”, I’m sure Tamarian can manage to construct some kind of numbers 🙂

          • Matt M says:

            Are you suggesting that Abe Lincoln was French?

          • Edward Morgan Blake says:

            There is a Star Trek verse novel that explains that. The Tamarians have a separate language for talking-about-things, but it is Not Done to use it to talk-to-people-about-people

        • caethan says:

          Extensive allusions are not exactly limited to fictional peoples.

          Ask a Chinese manager how many people he needs to do a job and he’s likely to reply: “Han Xin commands the troops.” That means “the more, the better”, the reply given by Han Xin, a general of the 3rd century B.C., when his emperor asked him how many soldiers would be required to accomplish a certain objective. Ask the manager how old he is and he might reply er li, which means “I stood still,” a reference to a famous remark by Confucius: “At twenty I was hungry for knowledge, at thirty I stood still …”

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            “The whole city [of Constantinople] is full of [arguments about Theology], the squares, the market places, the cross-roads, the alleyways; old-clothes men, money changers, food sellers: they are all busy arguing. If you ask someone to give you change, he philosophizes about the Begotten and the Unbegotten; if you inquire about the price of a loaf, you are told by way of reply that the Father is greater and the Son inferior; if you ask ‘Is my bath ready?’ the attendant answers that the Son was made out of nothing.”

            — St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Deity of the Son

          • Incurian says:

            I hated this trope until I spent a great deal of time trying to communicate with non-native English speakers and realized how idiomatic my own speech was. Now it seems more plausible.

          • Loquat says:

            Reminds me of a social media post by a foreign acquaintance years ago, complaining about people who explain one idiom with another idiom.

            Other Person: (subject of discussion) is just icing on the cake.
            Him: Wait, what does that mean?
            Other Person: It’s like… gravy.

          • LPSP says:

            I laughed out loud at Loquat’s example.

            Reminds me of Bill Bailey’s line about dentist lingo and how to freak them out back. Anytime the nurse asks you if anything’s alright, respond “The pheasant obscures his threshold”, see how they react.

        • Edward Morgan Blake says:

          The Tamarian language always struck me as really dumb

          Who else has noticed that conversational American English is entirely too much like Tamarian? And in fact, just about every living language, as used day to day, is very much like Tamarian.

          It’s full of commonly used phrases and terms that mean the opposite or at least different from their literal meaning, and requires a shared cultural and shared media context to explain their meaning.

          It really shows up when trying to have an open ended “get to know you talk about whatever” conversation with an intellegent person who speaks literal English well, but comes from a very different cultural context.

          That particular ST:TNG is interesting in showing the flaws of that fictional setting, in that the “universal translator” should have rendered most languages like Tamarian.

      • Matt M says:

        I actually hate this trope.

        I mean, I agree with you that worldbuilding is hard, but I would then see this as something of a “necessary evil.” One of the things that bothers me most about Sci-Fi is that humanity is always portrayed as (even after uniting under one universal government) a diverse melting pot of races, cultures, tradition, languages, etc.

        And yet somehow, every other race in the universe consists of a monolithic race/ethnicity/culture/tradition/language, etc.

        It’s also somewhat awkward in the sense that if these races were actually real, the way they are treated and referred to would be considered incredibly racist and inappropriate. #NotAllKlingons

        • pku says:

          More sympathetically, you could interpret this as the human narrators having massive outgroup homogeneity bias, which you would expect when it comes to an actual alien species.

          • Matt M says:

            Narrator aside though, even in-universe we see characters who are presented as outstanding moral representatives of humanity that do not hesitate to apply stereotypes to individual members of alien species – and aside from the brief subversion here or there (DS9’s long-running effort to reform the Ferengi into humanity), nobody ever seems to have a problem with this.

            The fact that Sisko can simultaneously be a dedicated historian of the American civil rights movement while also being all “man everyone knows you can’t trust those sneaky Romulans” strikes me as a little odd.

          • Wrong Species says:

            This is the 24th century. Racism has been dead a long time and they aren’t as hyper aware of it as we are. Maybe if they had a long history of abusing other aliens they would be but it’s certainly not something they give much thought to. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they are going to go out and treat aliens like dirt but it does mean they are more likely to be “casually speciesist” with their language and attitude.

          • Matt M says:

            Well, at the risk of obsessing too far over one individual example, the reason I used Sisko as one is because there’s a whole episode where he refuses to use a holosuite program based in the 1950s because he is so sensitive to the fact that he is black that it bothers him that in the real 1950s he wouldn’t have been allowed to visit such an establishment.

            And yet, he doesn’t come across as at all bothered by the fact that everyone judges entire alien races in a stereotypical manner – and even indulges in a little of it himself on occasion.

          • LHN says:

            It’s not at all uncommon for people to be sensitive to their own group’s past treatment while confidently asserting that their understanding of Those People isn’t the same thing at all.

            That probably wasn’t the intent in every case where a Trek character engages in speciesist stereotyping. But it pretty clearly was when it comes to Sisko’s arc regarding Jake’s friendship with Nog. Which begins with him discouraging his son from associating with the Ferengi (when Jake and Nog get in trouble together, clearly it’s Nog’s bad influence), and culminates with Sisko’s giving Nog a recommendation to Starfleet Academy.

            (Followed by Jake guilting Nog into using his shady capitalist ways– and his filthy unnecessary-to-a-good-Federationer money!– to get his dad a present.)

          • Seth says:

            @LHN – to be fair to Sisko, if his kid is hanging around with the nephew of the local unsavory and shady black-marketeer, it’s not speciesist for a parent to think that’s likely not a good situation.

            But on place like DS9, there should be a huge number of aliens who don’t fit their species cultural “hat” very well. That’d be why they’re out in the boondocks. Maybe Vulcan slackers who want to be hedonists, Klingons who’d rather run businesses than be warriors, Ferengis who want to see the universe instead of accumulating piles of credits, etc.

          • LHN says:

            @Seth It’s not, but as I watch the scenes they’re shaded as him being unfairly judgmental rather than properly protective.

            DS9 does have the decidedly unmilitaristic Cardassian Garak (“a simple tailor”), Nog and later Rom drifting away from Ferengi culture, and the occasional guest like the Klingon lawyer who fights his honor battles in the courtroom.

          • Urstoff says:

            Garak was a former intelligence officer, IIRC, so he was still very Cardassian in that sense.

            Now that I think about it, though, the Cardassians seem pretty similar to the Romulans. If you’re going to do the racial characteristic trope, at least make them different from the other established races.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I’ve heard rumors that when the show was first pitched they were going to have Romulans in place of the Cardassians, but with TNG still running the producers were under instructions from Paramount High Command to maintain strict separation.

          • Matt M says:

            The Cardassians are probably the least offensive non-human Trek race in this regard in the sense that they take a little bit from several other races and have no huge distinct quirk of their own (and that we get to know enough of them well enough to learn that outliers do in fact exist)

            I’m also partial to the Bajorans, who always struck me as a much more realistic, non-utopian version of what humanity will probably be in the future (still stuck with old traditions, still dealing with factionalism, likely to pick a fight with an alien race that is technologically and militarily superior, etc.)

        • Aegeus says:

          There was one throwaway line in Dragon Age which I absolutely loved. You can ask a party member to tell you about his people (as one tends to do when you’re the protagonist of an RPG), and he’ll say “What, should I give you a broad stereotype of my people, like ‘City elves tend to be impoverished thieves living in the slums?'” (my character was a city elf).

          IIRC, the various races in that game were sort of nation-of-hat-ish, but I was still very happy that they called out that trope.

          • Deiseach says:

            To be fair, a very quick broad-brush treatment is the easiest way for someone to describe their background. It gets complicated when you’re asked “So what happened in that thing last week where one lot of you got into a fight with the other lot of you? What was all that about?” and you have to go “Okay, to explain this, I’ll have to start in the twelfth century…”

            “Slum dwelling poor thieves” is the short and simple version when you and your interlocutor don’t have the time or patience for the three-hour “introduction to my culture and history” lesson.

          • LHN says:

            That’s actually all entirely accurate re the City Elves in Dragon Age as well, who have a whole history and mythology underlying their going from Tolkienesque immortal magical beings to downtrodden ghetto-dwellers.

            (And their cousins the Dalish Elves will insist on giving you the full “back in the twelfth century” version.)

          • Aegeus says:

            Accurate, perhaps, but I think “It’s pretty fucking rude of you to ask me to stereotype myself” is still a fair answer. I wasn’t a typical city elf, and he wasn’t a typical Qunari.

        • I can’t remember the title, but there was a Poul Anderson novel where aliens formed symbiotic triplets– one was rather like an elephant, one was a bird, and the third was a monkey. There were different cultures with different attitudes about how flexible the triplets should be.

          Yes, Vinge was influenced by Anderson.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          Is it possible that this recognition of diversity is an artifact our culture’s atomistic individualism? It seems to me that other cultures might have a much more uniform conception of what it meant to be a [individual of culture]. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that if you asked a Jormviking what Jormvikings were like, the reply would much more likely be something like “fearless, fierce and strong of arm” and much less “we’re all individuals, so we’re not all “like” anything.” Ditto for Spartans, Athenians, Persians, 18th century englishmen, chinese, etc, etc. I think it’s possible that a lot of cultures would value this sort of general aspiration of a specific ideal. Under that theory, mature enlightenment-style individualism seems rather more out-of-place than cultural uniformity.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s definitely possible. I met a lot of international students in grad school who absolutely did not hesitate to use cliches and stereotypes to describe their own people/culture. This was especially common with Asian students, (and of course the cliche is that Asian societies are generally more collectivist than western ones)

          • Gazeboist says:

            Sure, but would you, coming from a culture heavy on atomistic individualism, meet a group of five Jormvikings and conclude they’re all “fearless, fierce, and strong of arm” in the same way, or at least in the same proportion? They may all point to the same ideal sort of person, but you or they could likely recognize that each instance is not fully representative of that ideal.

          • In the execution scene from Jomviking saga all of them come across as brave, but they respond to the situation in quite different ways. One of them insults the enemies who are executing them. One of them takes being killed as the opportunity to perform a scientific experiment on the location of consciousness. One tricks the enemy into crippling one of their own people. …

            And, of course, the Young Jarl and his father Jarl Hakon come across as very different people.

    • Gazeboist says:

      I really like casual transhumanism. Good examples of this can be found in the works of Alastair Reynolds; with the exception of Pushing Ice, which briefly steps into advocating for transhumanism, and Century Rain, where the possibility never appears, all of his novels that I’ve read have a great deal of transhumanism flying around without it really bothering much of anyone. His short stories are not always great in this regard; he sometimes falls into the trap of creating a war between heavy transhumanists and originalists, and then having the originalists go transhuman later.

    • Incurian says:

      NCO of dubious moral qualities but consummate professionalism
      gathers in noble/expert characters of the Other Side
      quarreling crack team

    • Urstoff says:

      Derelict spaceships (distinct from BDO’s).

    • LPSP says:

      – Motley group of weirdly-empowered renegades, not necessarily bad guys but certainly not on the side of the Law, planning raids and getting up to shenanigans

      – Lone high-powered figure exits stasis or suspended animation, plot follows his attempts to learn what’s changed

      – Perfectionistic flamboyant demiurge follows a morally dubious quest to unravel world’s secrets, creating beauty and causing uproar at once, battling occasionally with an old friend/rival/sibling who’s douchy but fun and gives less fucks

      – Anything with one or more complicated, hyper-compartmentalised, ravishly autistic systems of classification which interact with the character’s statuses and motivations, the locations of the setting and powers/technologies

      None of these things are sci-fi specific, because frankly none of any kind of fantasy-slash-speculative trope is era/explanation specific. They could occur equally likely in a historical kitchen sink, modern/superhero and futuristic story alike.

      Scrolling up through the thread, I’ll also had that having lots of funny species and peoples with a predominent theme or gimmick (Planet of Hats) is a favourite of mine, and really helps build depth into a setting. And as a notable extension of the first and last of the hyphenated points I raised, settings where there’s lots of different types of overlapping powers, where characters can have an ability from group A and an ability form group B, work wonders.

      The best example of a setting that accomplishes these two points is the manga One Piece. Generic superhuman feats like strength, speed, jumping, toughness and so on are one system that can be simply strengthened through training (certain body types have a natural headstart, and normal humans can be born gigantically big to grant extra power in return for being a larger target). Then there are the “Haki” mind-projection techniques, which are personality dependent and one of which is genetically limited to certain personality types – these abilities allow generic extrasensory perception, the ability to strike intangible shapeshifters and deactivate powers, and the ability to knock people out with a glance or spoken word. Finally the major powers come from eating cursed “Devil Fruits”, of which a person can only eat one or die and which inflict a weakness on the eater (they lose strength and consciousness when submerged in water) – in return for a hard superpower like turning into a wolfman or some form of telekinesis. Between this and the many different species in the setting (fishman, borrower-esque tiny people, true giants, mermen, animal folk, longarms and long legs) there are a million different ways to empower characters and create interesting matchups and scenarios.

      • Incurian says:

        Sounds like you would enjoy Revelation Space.

        • LPSP says:

          It’s by a Welsh guy, so that’s an immediate plus. 😛

          You wouldn’t be able to give me a brief blurb wouldja? Wikipedia’s summary is too synoptic/spoilerising.

        • Incurian says:

          It’s primarily about humanity several hundred years into the future, which has fractured in to a few groups: spacers, colonists, cybernetics-enhanced, and possibly others. I think most of the novels are actually tangential to the main plot, which revolves around the discovery and investigation into one candidate for the “great filter.” The setting is interesting, and the stories are mostly good too. It’s kind of hard to describe without getting into spoilers or turning it into a synopsis, but I think all four of your bullets are very well represented.

          • LPSP says:

            That’s certainly interesting. Flicking through the thread, Revelation Space has been characterised as about galactic cycles of extinction. That’s a plot neutral at best for me; apparently also the writing dips in later books? Regardless, I’ll see if I can acquire a book or two come the holidays.

      • LPSP says:

        Petty post-edit: For the post-stasis scenario, change him to it (no reason it can’t be a woman) and reword to remove “plot” (it can just be a normal event or element to the story).

      • LPSP says:

        Fleshing this out with examples I realised I like that others here have shared along with further reflection or refinement of expressed tastes:

        – Mundane issue in an alien/fantastical world (thank you, hlynkacg); how exactly does a wizard get his clothes ironed, two tense branches of a ninja clan passive-aggressively spying on each other, pretty much every good episode of Red Dwarf and so on.

        – Huge scale differences between sentient and hominid species. I watched Zootopia for the first time yesterday and one of the most exciting bits of the setting is the architecture and infrastructure needed for gerbilmen to live alongside elephant and giraffe people.

        – The broader “functional Black Box” discussion, I realise, is one of the more interesting aspects of the Devil Fruits from One Piece – many powers seem comical or useless at first (turning into rubber, rearranging things within a small area, producing soap on command) which can be stretched into incredible forces with creative ingenuity and deeper understandings. Make your circulatory system, diaphragm and lungs rubber to increase their elastic threshold and thus massively jump the supply of oxygen to your muscles. Learn to swap nervous engrams in the confined area to exchange consciousnesses/personalities. Soap that leaves people physically soft, slippery and rubbery, unable to fight back. The strongest case example is the “Push” fruit, which sounds as useless as it is useful.

        – Generally following the progression of a raid or operation by a group of varied specialists – this is a refinement on the motley crew trope above, as in truth no combat or “one-off event” is required. It could just be the life-span or cycle of an industrial mission or research tank, or of course a police procedural/mystery. Specialised powers beyond the mundane help of course.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I’m a big fan of incomprehensible Lovecraftian aliens.

      I know a lot of people differ on this point, but for me I feel that most of the time alien species in SF make more sense as human offshoots. They generally have hominid, if not outright human, physiology and psychology and are often interfertile with humans. Their cultures are similar if not identical to historical human societies. And if they have more or less advanced technology the magnitude of that difference is still, at most, about as different as the Maori and British. Why bother making them aliens in the first place?

      (This applies to a lesser extent to alien bugs, squids, robots, etc. It’s nice to at least have them not be humans but you’re still just copy-pasting Earth critters.)

      Aliens which are sufficiently alien in form and capability, and whose motives we do not or cannot easily understand, pose much more interesting questions.

      • cassander says:

        You will love Peter Watts’ Blindsight.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I liked what I read of it. Never finished the story, and got spoiled on the ending, but plan to at some point.

          The only real weakness that I noticed in the story was the personalities of the human characters. Maybe it was the point, but I really disliked all of them. And they act like it’s a mystery why the ship vampire doesn’t want to spend time with their neurotic asses.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            at the risk of further spoilers…

            Gur aneengbe, Xrngba, vf haeryvnoyr. Ur qbrfa’g gehfg be yvxr gur inzcver, naq cebwrpgf gung srryvat bagb gur erfg bs gur perj. Va snpg, ur’f gur bar vfbyngrq sebz rirelbar, naq gur erfg bs gur perj ner pbbcrengvat jvgu gur inzcver gb xrrc uvz vfbyngrq sbe cybg ernfbaf qverpgyl eryngrq gb uvf zvffvba ebyr.

          • cassander says:

            Well, those human characters aren’t exactly human, now are they? But in Abby case, you might prefer the sequel, Echopraxia.

        • Deiseach says:

          Read an extract of it, disliked the whole concept so intensely it never hooked me into reading more.

          Though now I can’t help imagining that, as the ultimate creatures of curved time/space, the vampires replacing humanity will find their match and nemesis in the Hounds of Tindalos 🙂

          • cassander says:

            Would you mind elaborating? It’s my favorite science fiction novel, I loved the premise and concept, I’m curious what about it turned you off so intensely.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            I’d also like to hear what you didn’t like about it. The first book turned me off Watts too, but couldn’t put my finger on why.

    • Anonymous says:

      What is your favorite SF trope?

      Mars (or conceivably Venus, or Jupiter) is (just barely) inhabitable and populated by scantily-clad humanoids who fight with rayguns but also swords, as well as bizarre monsters with too many feet. An Earthman accidentally ends up on the planet (if at all possible, I prefer the reason to be a crashed Flash Gordon-ass rocket) and becomes some sort of crazy warlord or hero.

      I’ve seen it called Planetary Adventure; anyway, A Princess of Mars is obviously the canonical entry.

      • Aegeus says:

        I do like the “Venus is covered in rain forests” trope in old sci-fi, and I’m a little sad that space probes have killed it stone dead.

        • Anonymous says:

          Exactly! Mars should be mostly one huge red desert; Venus should be damp and jungle-choked. If I can have a Victorian English guy wearing a burnous and a ceramic saber flying through the jungle on a magic carpet with a weird, glowing alien huqqa on it, I’m entirely happy.

          (Gullivar Jones, of course, goes to Mars and the carpet is how he gets there in the first place, but I like it better that strange Venusian wires woven into the carpet are what give it lift and that the guy, as I said before, crash-landed his bulbous rocket on the planet originally.)

    • John Schilling says:

      Competence Porn

      , straight up. From the collected works of Robert A. Heinlein to, yes, Andy Weir’s The Martian. Used to be, this was pretty much central to SF as a genre. Less so now, but it’s what I look for. And it has started moving into other genres, e.g. technothrillers and police procedurals.

    • Deiseach says:

      More in the science fantasy vein, but “dead alien civilisations while the new, young races squabble in the ruins of vast ancient forgotten glory and establish their raw yet vital colonies on the New Frontier In Space”.

      Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” did this with added poetry, C.L. Moore did it with Northwest Smith in the good old pulp tradition. M. John Harrison’s “Viriconium” stories from the New Wave.

      For hard SF, not so much the engineering and ‘how can I keep this as rigorously in accordance with known scientific principles as possible?’ (although I appreciate some of that), but again some smack of the Sensawunda. The cynical or nihilist attitude where we get grubby (or oily, or other ichors) dystopias is tolerable in small doses, but I can’t read pages of it. China Miéville is a good writer, but for those reasons I can’t read his work. Verne, on the other hand, is the grandfather of this.

    • HircumSaeculorum says:

      I’m a big fan of memetic hazards or ideas that are harmful in and of themselves. The King in Yellow is my central example of this, but madness-inducing Lovecraftian horrors/Greek gods and the Total Perspective Vortex in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are too, as are the infectious universe of “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” and the titular wallpaper in “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

      • Anonymous says:

        Have you read the SCP Antimemetics stories? I think you’d like them.

        • HircumSaeculorum says:

          SCP Antimemetics

          No, I can’t say I have. Does the SCP Foundation even have an antimemetics division?

          • Anonymous says:

            Does the SCP Foundation even have an antimemetics division?

            The first rule of Antimemetics Division is you’re not allowed to make that joke.

            Start here and go from there.

    • Zombielicious says:

      Probably the whole “galaxy caught in cycles of extinction from some more ancient and advanced lifeform that allows sentient life to grow and harvests it when it reaches a certain point” thing. Most famously done by Mass Effect and Star Control 3, but you can see lesser variations of it in so many things – Halo, Babylon 5, Fire Upon the Deep, etc.

      Btw, if anyone knows the origin of this trope, or just more stories that do a take on it, I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to trace its development for a while now…

      • LHN says:

        It’s really convenient for a star-spanning story, since it explains the Fermi Paradox and why the species you meet are mostly in a relatively narrow tech development band. (The advanced species are at most decades or centuries ahead, not a million years.)

        (Though honestly, I wish Mass Effect had treated the end of the first game as the resolution to the Reaper problem and just gone on to tell stories in the resulting universe.)

      • Anon. says:

        The Revelation Space series does this very well. It builds up to it though.

    • Skivverus says:

      Don’t know that it’s common enough to be called a trope (and it’s certainly not confined to science fiction), but I rather enjoy those stories where it’s from the perspective of (some of) the alien(s), commenting on human culture, illuminating their own more by what they take for granted than by exposition.

    • hlynkacg says:

      What is your favorite SF trope?

      That’s a tough question, but if I had to pick a favorite it’d probably be “Used Future” / “Completely mundane issues in a fantastic setting”. For instance, I’d fallen in love with the crew of the Nostromo long before the titular in Alien monster showed up, and my own fiction has been heavily influence by that “space trucker” aesthetic.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      Black boxes – Mankind has encountered complex alien systems, and has figured out how to extract value from them at hideous cost, but true understanding remains elusive. Examples: Hinterlands, Roadside Picnic, Project Long Stairs. I eat this stuff up like candy, but examples are extremely rare.

      Lovecraft versus humanity – Eldritch horror exists, people are trying to stop it and usually failing. Examples: Hellboy, A Colder War.

      Heists, raids, general fireteam-based military action. No Rourke’s Drift though, I’ve read that too many times.

      • LHN says:

        Black boxes – Mankind has encountered complex alien systems, and has figured out how to extract value from them at hideous cost, but true understanding remains elusive. Examples: Hinterlands, Roadside Picnic, Project Long Stairs. I eat this stuff up like candy, but examples are extremely rare.

        Frederick Pohl’s Gateway would be another of those.

      • keranih says:

        no Rouke’s Drift

        Heh. Well, in that case, skip the first of Tanya Huff’s Valor series, and pick up the rest. The second one is Black Box – well, it’s a Yellow Box, but still.

        An older one, and not *quite* Lovecraft, but GodStalk by PC Holden had a lot of those elements.

      • Anon. says:

        The Reynolds novella Diamond Dogs is a good Black Box story.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          I’ve read two of Reynold’s novels, and enjoyed them massively. Been meaning to pick up more; The synopsis of Diamond Dogs I read a long time back was an inspiration for a story of my own I’d like to write.

      • Anon9 says:

        Algis Budry’s classic novella Rogue Moon is Black Box.

      • HircumSaeculorum says:

        Black boxes

        Have you tried Peter Watt’s Blindsight? A fantastic book, right up the alley of a lot of people here, and available for free online.

        Other examples I can think of: Arthur C. Clark’s Rama novels (the 2001 novels also being black box novels in the most literal sense), and Mike Brotherton’s Spider Star. Jack McDevitt’s Omega Cloud novels might qualify, too.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          yeah, I’m a big Watts fan, and Blindsight is one of the best sci-fi novels I’ve ever read. Come to think of it, though, Blindsight isn’t very black-boxish. The story involves a mystery, but it’s resolved in fairly short order. To me, Black Box stories involve a far larger scale of mystery.

    • Matt C says:

      Thanks to keranih and everyone in this subthread for lots of promising-sounding suggestions.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      by Glen Cook

      I read Bleak Seasons almost 15 years ago, and enjoyed it despite being totally confused about what was going on. Are the rest of the books pretty similar?

      • Protagoras says:

        There are a few different narrators over the course of the “Black Company” series. In none of the others are the narrators quite as confused as Murgen in Bleak Seasons. Honestly, the books narrated by Murgen are not my favorites. I don’t know if that means you’ll like some of the others even more, or if it instead means that our tastes are completely different and you might not like the non-Murgen books at all.

        • Homo Iracundus says:

          I mean, not having the time-shifty problem of “what is happening when, and who the hell are all these people it shall be going to have happening to” would have made it more enjoyable. I’ll give it a shot, thanks!

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      My favorite … well, it’s larger-scale than a trope, and unfortunately rare … is When Genres Collide. Star Wars 1977, Firefly, Babel-17, The Butterfly Kid. ‘Collide’ as in strike sparks out of each other, with a “But of course!” effect. Part of it (most? all?) is using the tropes and plot of one genre in the setting of another.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Closed loop time travel, where events are set in stone, and it’s only a question of how we get there. Although, I didn’t care much for The Time Traveler’s Wife, so maybe I actually just like Tim Powers’ “Anubis Gates” and Babylon 5.

  20. Orphan Wilde says:

    Does anybody here follow The Archdruid Report?

    I’m curious to know if he offers any more substantive arguments anywhere that technology has gotten worse. (I agree that people fetishize progress and linear perspectives of history, but disagree that this extends as far as he wants to take it.)

    Mind, the average instance of a given product has definitely gotten worse, but I’m pretty certain this is a result of a combination of regulation (if not for the proliferation of computers, the US would have a per-capita energy consumption roughly equivalent to, if not less than, the 1930s today, so much has regulation reigned in the amount of energy all our products consume) and luxury goods being made more affordable (read: slightly worse) to fulfill a larger market segment.

    Washing machines are an excellent example. The average washing machine is slightly worse than the average washing machine of the 1950s. A washing machine that costs as much as the 1950’s washing machine cost, however, is significantly better.

    • Matt M says:

      “A washing machine that costs as much as the 1950’s washing machine cost, however, is significantly better.”

      Isn’t this the much more relevant comparison?

      In the 1950s, the “average washing machine” should probably include data points such as “washing the clothes in your sink” (or however people who didn’t have machines washed clothes). Why get hung up on what the average machine quality is when it’s obvious that the average “method by which clothes are made clean” has unquestionably improved significantly.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Why do you think the average instance of a given product has gotten worse? What is better about a 1950s washing machine compared to a 2010s washing machine? It’s certainly not capacity, nor is it reliability. It’s not reduction in damage done to clothes, nor is it cleanliness of clothes.

      The biggest retrogression I know of is fairly recent, and it’s cycle time, which is a regulation-driven trade-off against water use.

      Taking the other white goods — ovens/ranges, dishwashers, and refrigerators — I again fail to see retrogression, though dishwashers suffer the same regulatory cycle-time/water-use tradeoff.

      Tools have perhaps seen the greatest “retrogression”, but that’s precisely as you say; the market has been flooded with low cost low quality tools which are often good enough for very light use. The professional tools haven’t changed much, if at all, in either real price or quality.

      • Matt M says:

        I’m not familiar with the Archdruid Report, but left-leaning libertarian Jeffrey Tucker has written on this topic more than a few times – exclusively from the angle of “the government is making our products worse.”

        Here is one such example of many. This one is about water use, which you mentioned above – but others are about energy use, banning “dangerous” cleaning chemicals, and other various environmental initiatives that necessarily result in product downgrades.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I thought everyone knew about removing the flow-restrictor from showerheads. Although my current 2.5 gallon head is fine in that regard, at least for me. Dangerous cleaning products require a little creativity; yesterday’s lye-based oven cleaner is today’s lye-based grill cleaner (absolutely not for use on anything indoors, no sir), for instance.

          Though drain cleaners are as dangerous as ever, at least outside California; I can still get both sulfuric acid and lye drain cleaners at Big Orange. Just avoid the ones which claim to be safe and go for the ones with the scary warnings. (and don’t use both on the same clog, or you’ll be the poster child for the next regulation)

          These are regulatory retrogressions, though, not technological ones.

          • LHN says:

            [Y]esterday’s lye-based oven cleaner is today’s lye-based grill cleaner (absolutely not for use on anything indoors, no sir), for instance.

            Likewise, anyone whose dishwasher went south around 2010 (I spent six months thinking we needed a new one, because changing detergents certainly wasn’t helping!) might be interested in knowing that yesterday’s dishwashing detergent is today’s “Fryer Boil-Out” under the same widely-known detergent brand.

            The old commercial boxes always had instructions for the latter use. Now it’s the only on-label use, but the formula didn’t change– so far at least. And suddenly glasses aren’t cloudy and aluminum isn’t turning black.

            (But I’m hanging on to our fifty-year-old toilets until I’m much more confident in the modern versions’ ability to do more with less. They say the kinks have largely been worked out, but thus far I’ve seen too many that needed a plunger constantly at the ready.)

          • Loquat says:


            I can personally recommend Toto brand low-flow toilets; we had two 30-year-old toilets replaced a couple of years ago and have barely touched the plunger since. (I don’t remember which model we chose, but definitely not the top of the line.)

          • LHN says:

            Glad to hear it. Toto is the brand I frequently hear recommended, and if we ever do get around to a replacement it’s probably what we’ll go with, so it’s good to hear some confirmation.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        Why do you think the average instance of a given product has gotten worse?

        Effectively, I’m taking other people’s word on it. (I don’t really care, but some people seem quite convinced on the matter.)

    • Nicholas says:

      I do, and I don’t have any object level defenses that I’m aware of, but here’s a meta-level tip: If you haven’t yet, grab a copy of Green Wizardry. In the book, Greer reveals that there are about 20 books that are basically The Sequences: He expects everyone who’s heard of him to have started with them, and thus thinks it’s basically a waste of time to go over any of the information contained therein, except in the most cursory reference. Whenever he lobs out an argument in an “of course Bob” kind of way, it’s reasonable to assume he thinks it’s covered by one of those books.

  21. Orphan Wilde says:

    Related to the other comment, but separated for topical reasons:

    Does anyone know how much the cost of things is decreasing, on an annual basis, as a result of improving technology? How would I go about disentangling that from inflation, and would it even be possible?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Is that just productivity? That’s a fairly standard measure. Or do you mean something else?

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        Productivity is generally measured in terms of GDP per capita, which is measured in terms of dollars spent; if we reduce the cost of a good by 50%, and sell twice as many, GDP per capita won’t move at all.

        Indeed, our GDP might begin regressing if we get too good at producing things cheaply.

        • This is wrong, GDP per capita will increase. While the GDP is measures in dollars, it is measured in constant dollars; the GDP price deflator is specifically designed to adjust for your scenario.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            No it isn’t.

            If somebody actually adjusted for my scenario, per-capita GDP would be millions of dollars as a result of cell phones.

            The price deflator is just a tool for calculating price changes that are a result of inflation.

          • Jiro says:

            If somebody actually adjusted for my scenario, per-capita GDP would be millions of dollars as a result of cell phones.

            If you’re going to calculate per-capita GDP this way, you need to have a base value, and “the base value at the moment cell phones first appeared in the market” is a poor one, although the correct one is not obvious.

          • Anonymous says:

            Don’t think it matters much where you set the zero point. Think about constant dollars, which constant dollar is a matter of convenience, it never actually matters to the argument.

    • AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

      The cost of thought not located in the human brain is improving quite a good deal each year. Better hardware makes a single part(like a sort) of a thought cheaper to do, and the thoughts more complex with software.

    • bluto says:

      You could look at the changes in the Hedonic Quality Adjustment in the CPI. It’s not perfect, but it’s broken down by product/industry.


    It turns out that the advice to people with chonic fatigue/myalgic encephalomyelitis to execise and get therapy of the “just ignore your symptoms” variety was based on extremely bad research.

    Excuse me if this has already been posted.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Here are the original study and the reanalysis. It looks to me like the original results mostly hold up. Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy did significantly better under the relaxed outcome measures used in the original article and non-significantly better under the stricter ones used in the reanalysis. Let’s call the proportion of patients who satisfy the relaxed outcome measures the “improvement rate” and the proportion of patients who satisfy the stricter outcome measures the “recovery rate.” Then we have:

      With CBT:
      22% improvement rate
      7% recovery rate

      Specialist medical care alone:
      7% improvement rate
      3% recovery rate

      It’s true that the difference in what I am calling the recovery rates falls short of significance (p=0.107), but this is largely because the study turned out to be underpowered. It’s still a pretty big effect pointing in the right direction. Taking the two together, it looks to me like CBT should remain the frontline treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome.

  23. BBA says:

    This year’s MacArthur Foundation Fellows were announced today. If the pattern set by the last two years holds, one of them will be somehow involved in next year’s Tony winner for Best Musical. Any bets as to which one?

  24. Anita Restrepo-Sanchez says:

    Given the subjects of this blog, has anybody here read yet former Association for Psychological Science president Dr. Susan Fiske’s defense of psychology research against the “methodological terrorism” of it’s self-appointed “destructo-critics”:
    Mob Rule or Wisdom of Crowds?

    I think she makes an excellent case. What do others here think?

    • Lumifer says:

      I find myself sympathetic to Andrew Gelman’s view. No empress likes when hoi polloi point out she has no clothes (and her ass isn’t in great shape).

      • Anita Restrepo-Sanchez says:

        And who is this Gelman?


        I see he’s not even a psychologist, so who is he to argue with an expert in the field? His post seems to be an example of the sort of agenda-driven sniping by “online vigilantes” attacking “individuals, their research programs, and their careers.”

        And Gelman notes that the “paradigm” in which Fiske is working is “followed by Roy Baumeister and John Bargh, two prominent social psychologists”. If it’s followed by prominent people in the field, then who is Gelman, as someone outside the field, and thus a non-expert in these matters, to declare the paradigm “dead”?

        And nowhere does he address that his Internet-based “open discussion” is a recipe for every random person to present their individual interpretations of the data (rather than leaving that to the experts), leading always to unending disputation which prevents the expert concensus that gives us settled science and a clear, authoritative understanding of which position is the Truth.

        • Lumifer says:

          As I pointed out before, you need to learn to troll better : -) Maybe practice at some of the dumber forums..?

        • nimim. k.m. says:

          Taking the question at the face value, Prof. Gelman is a respected statistician, specializing in Bayesian statistics in the context of social science. I started following his blog because he (together with other authors) wrote an excellent textbook [1] on Bayesian statistics which I throughly enjoyed.

          In regards of criticism of statistical methodology in a specific field as psychology, I’m much more inclined to refer to people with doctorates in statistics than psychology. Guess who teaches statistical methodology to whom?

          [1] Andrew Gelman, John B. Carlin, Hal S. Stern, David Dunson, Aki Vehtari, and Donald B. Rubin. “Bayesian Data Analysis” (3rd edition). Chapman & Hall/CRC, 2013.

    • Oort says:

      Agree with Lumifer and Gelman. Psychology has a long history of systemic bad methodology and low standards of evidence, and the traditional discourse Fiske writes about has, for the most part, failed to fix or even acknowledge the problem (although I don’t know about APS specifically).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Okay, this is the point at which I realize I was wrong and you were actually a troll all along.

      You should feel good about yourself, because you did a great trolling job and I was really uncertain for a long time. But you’re still banned.

  25. Robert Allen says:

    Hey slatestar folks. Long time reader, first time poster. I’ve got this idea for an effective giving tool where people who want to give to the most effective charity take a quiz and it tells them the best ones to give to. The idea is I do the hard work of researching the charities which do a really great job of using the money effectively, and they just have to tell the tool what their moral priorities are, so they can find out what charities are best at pursuing the kind of aims they think are most important.

    I’ve spent a little time working out some questions, which you can see below. But any ideas of ways to improve them or additional relevant questions would be much appreciated.

    Select the statement that most resonates with your sense of mortality.


    a) Saving as many lives as possible should be of the highest priority
    b) Focusing on improving quality of life is better than just saving lives
    c) Human life and well-being should not take priority over the lives of other living things.


    Select the statement that most resonates with your sense of mortality.

    a) We should focus our efforts on improving conditions for the least well off humans.
    b) The natural environment should take precedent over human well-being
    c) Improving the well-being of animals in captivity is more important than the well-being of humans.
    d) There is no point trying to improve human well-being, we should focus on efforts to prevent existential threats to the whole human race.


    Select which scenario you think the level of suffering is highest, and thus should be the one where the most resources are dedicated to solving.

    a) You are a child dying of an infectious disease due to lack of access to clean water and sanitation. You do not understand why you are in such agony.
    b) You are dying of a cancer of which the survival rate is very low. As an adult, you understand the nature of death and have to face the prospect of not-existing.
    c) You have woken up to discover all of earth is to be destroyed by an asteroid. The death will be relatively quick, but you must face the prospect that not only yourself, but everyone you’ve ever known will die.

    Also if you think the questions are too leading in any particular direction, feel free to let me know and suggest better ways of wording them.

    • Deiseach says:

      you must face the prospect that not only yourself, but everyone you’ve ever known will die.

      News just in: you and everyone you’ve ever known will die anyway, since as of yet, death is still the end. You might want to re-word this a bit to emphasise the “you knew abstractly you would die, but now you know concretely it’s going to happen really, really soon”.

      • Chilly Willy says:

        Or that “Not only will you and everyone you know die right now, but the human race and everything you’ve ever considered worth caring about will cease to exist.”

        • Robert Allen says:

          Yep, that’s what I was going for with that one, just tried to make it as concise as possible and I guess it lost most of it’s meaning along the way

          • ChillyWilly says:

            That’s what I assumed you meant, but always nice to laboriously unpack things, I guess.

            To get back to your original point, I was going to suggest a Likert scale instead of multiple choice — it may be less frustrating for gray areas / appearance of arbitrary either/ors, but on the other hand I supposed I would be tempted to vote every moral concern as a 10/10 importance because I like to appear morally concerned.

            How many charities would you include? I’m trying to gauge how many questions it would take to get a sense of somebody’s moral priorities. I’d say 10, but only because I’m too lazy to take long surveys.

          • Robert Allen says:

            To keep it simple and quick to fill out i’d try to keep the number of questions to a minimum, maybe 5 to 10. As for number of charities I’m not too sure, but again for simplicities sake I’d probably keep the number fairly low, so for each area of moral priorities I could pick the very best most effective charity that gets the most money to where it’s needed as a % of donation. Like the mosquito net charity Scott likes to bring up on occasion.

      • Finger says:

        I think the Centre for Effective Altruism might be looking for software developers and project managers to hire–get in touch with them and maybe you can get paid to improve that tool (and do other EA software projects)

        • Robert Allen says:

          Fantastic, thanks! – I’ll have a look around the tool, it does seem to be pretty similar to what I had in mind.

  26. Irishdude7 says:

    All police should wear body cameras while on patrol. People given the right to engage in force that would be considered wrong if done by those not wearing a badge, should have to be very transparent about how that authority for force is used.

    Does anyone have good arguments against police wearing body cameras? Too costly? Too intrusive of the officer’s privacy?

    • Sandy says:

      My initial thinking was that police would be less likely to make judgement calls in dangerous situations because of the awareness that their actions will be recorded and scrutinized on camera. Sometimes this will lead to deaths because officers hesitate and do not act quickly enough.

      But it turns out bodycams might increase the rate of police shootings because officers now have their reasons for engagement captured on video so no one can doubt them. And this apparently leads to more dead blacks and Hispanics than whites and Asians, which suggests officers have been holding back all along, if the findings are correct.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Beat me to the punch.

        On paper it sounds like an awful idea, letting people pick apart an officer’s moment-by-moment actions after the fact. But then you remember that happens after a controversial use of force anyway. At least in this scenario there’s an unequivocal record that makes things more difficult to spin.

        Body cameras seem like a great example of technological win-win scenarios. It should discourage inappropriate uses of force against civilians, bribery and the rest. But it will also give cops confidence that taking down criminals won’t end up with them crucified on the national media.

      • Irishdude7 says:

        Hmmm, from that article:
        “Surprisingly, we found that the use of wearable video cameras is associated with a 3.64% increase in shooting-deaths of civilians by the police.

        The professors found almost no link between cameras and shooting deaths in 2013 and 2014. The difference between those years and 2015, they surmise: Officers grew more comfortable using the devices in the field. ”

        That seems like weak evidence of a significant body camera effect on increased shootings. Two years there was no difference, and one year there was a very small 3.6% increase in shootings. I don’t know if the authors tried to control for variables but it’s possible that police shootings increased in response to an increase in violent crimes that justified lethal force from 2014 to 2015.

        “We explain that video recordings collected during a violent encounter with a civilian can be used in favor of a police officer as evidence that justifies the shooting. ”

        Video recordings can only be used in the officer’s favor if that video evidence actually justifies the shooting. If not, it’s video evidence the officer engaged in an unjustified use of force, in which case the officer should be held accountable in the same way a civilian would be held accountable for an unjustified use of force. The video should make prosecution easier.

    • Skivverus says:

      Too easily turned off? Then again, you asked for good arguments, and I’m fairly sure I’m too biased in favor of them to come up with one.

      I’d be curious about a camera integrated into their firearms: every time they take a shot, it takes a shot, so to speak, and unless I’m missing some complications with the mechanics (recoil effects on the picture could be mitigated by taking the pictures at the trigger point just before the explosion, and discarding them if no explosion actually occurs), it would display exactly who they were shooting.

      Same deal for tasers, though I’m not sure how well this would work for nightsticks.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Rifle and Helmet-cams, basically go-pros bolted to a standard accessory rail, were already becoming fairly wide-spread in the military before I left. You’d need some additional work (and redesigned holsters) to mate them to handguns but I don’t see any reason, aside from cost, you couldn’t make them work.

    • LHN says:

      Arguably it’s too intrusive of citizens’ privacy: every cop walking or driving by becomes part of the panopticon, giving anonymous tips becomes effectively impossible, any potential stoolie has to worry that the video will fall into the hands of the people he’s squealing on. (If the cop says Lennie the Snitch told him about the Don, well, the cops’ll say anything, boss, I’m your guy! If the Don has it on video…)

      I’m tentatively in favor of body cameras, because I increasingly suspect that the panopticon is unavoidable anyway and recent events have pushed me towards thinking the benefits of recording police activity exceeds the cost. But I think the costs are likely to be real.

      • pku says:

        You could avoid the liability problem by having undercover cops without guns. Regarding the costs, do you have any idea how to estimate what the costs (in terms of money for body cameras for everyone, or at least all cops in roles that might end up in them shooting someone) are?

        Also, I’m pretty sure the Don shouldn’t be trusting a guy called Lenny the Snitch anyways. Presumable Lenny’s mom was a Harry Potter fan, but still, nominative determinism and that.

    • keranih says:

      People given the right to engage in force that would be considered wrong if done by those not wearing a badge

      Well, all of us are given a right to engage in force, and there are more of us, engaging in more incidents every day, so why stop at just the cops?

      (Having said that, I agree that the state and its actors should be held to higher standards.)

      The part of me that is into total information technology *really* wants lots more people enrolled in lots more data-gathering methodologies all the time, every day. Not just cops, not just employees, not just teachers, not just students, not just doctors, not just patients, everyone. Yes, one of the things I’m looking forward to when I die is a God’s eye view of all the world and all the things in it, so I can finally, definitively, figure some shit out.

      The part of me that is a more rational human runs screaming from the idea that there would be cameras constantly filming *at all*, much less that anyone would be suggesting that they make more such cameras.

      So, on the whole, I can see the utility, but we should be prepared for both the negatives we can forsee and those we can’t predict yet.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ keranih
        The part of me that is into total information technology *really* wants lots more people enrolled in lots more data-gathering methodologies all the time, every day. Not just cops, not just employees, not just teachers, not just students, not just doctors, not just patients, everyone. One of the things I’m looking forward to when I die is a God’s eye view of all the world and all the things in it, so I can finally, definitively, figure some shit out.

        Heh. I always liked the part of middle school where after the teacher graded the papers and handed them back full of red ink, she went through and told us the right answer to each question. It was great to get all those puzzlements cleared up and off my mind. I hoped appearing before the judgement seat of God would be like that.

        The part of me that is a more rational human runs screaming from the idea that there would be cameras constantly filming *at all*, much less that anyone would be suggesting that they make more such cameras.

        My instinct (ah, Privilege!) is just the opposite. I see an objective record as defense if I’m falsely accused of something. An alibi if I wasn’t present; a picture of the real criminal if it wasn’t me; if it was me and I was there and I did it, showing what I was defending myself from. Well, more likely in my real case, a dash cam in my car showing what really happened.

        I’d happily wear an ivory locket containing a curl of my grandmother’s hair and an invisible body cam at all times. The point is, my dash cam or my locket — the film remains in my own possession. No one else can claim the camera wasn’t turned on or the film had been lost.

        • keranih says:

          I can’t really come up with a reason for not permitting people to wear such a thing, if they want to. Certainly, as you’ve said, there would be advantages.

          But that’s not what we’re talking about – and that wasn’t what I meant when I talked about data gathering.

          What is proposed is that some people – the OP said cops, I suggested everyone – wears these things not-optionally. And they don’t belong to the individual, they belong to the data collection agency, which in the case of the cops is The State.

          Who I don’t trust to not burn my eggs with a cold pan in Antarctica.

          • Matt M says:

            “I can’t really come up with a reason for not permitting people to wear such a thing, if they want to.”

            Didn’t Google Glass basically get abandoned due to a combination of film studios raging about their copyrights being violated and young women going into hysterics over potential sexual harassment?

          • Protagoras says:

            I never had one myself, but from the various reports and reviews it kind of seems that google glass got abandoned due to being expensive and terrible more than anything else. And for that matter, “abandoned” may be premature; google still seems to be working on a non-terrible (and perhaps cheaper) version, and others seem to be working in that area as well.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ keranih
            And they don’t belong to the individual, they belong to the data collection agency, which in the case of the cops is The State.

            Ah. I’m not sure how we get from current hardware to anything worse than what The State already has — except perhaps in tracking down someone they are already after. They already know where you last used your credit card, bought gasoline, drove past a speed trap machine. Putting a GPS type bug in the camera each person is mandated to wear, would be feasible — useful once they know who to track.

            But who in The State is going to watch all those flims of what everyone is doing, to find if anyone is doing anything illegal?

          • keranih says:

            @ Matt M –

            Clearly my imagination is lacking in scope.

            @ houseboat

            (And can I say how much I adore your screen name? I have, for some time…)

            But who in The State is going to watch all those flims of what everyone is doing, to find if anyone is doing anything illegal?

            Here I must defer to CS Lewis, and his observation that there are no more horrific gaolers and tyrants than those who would imprison us for Our Own Good.

            They already choke the lists, those who would volunteer to Hunt Down the Offenders Against Humanity, Good Taste, and Right Thought.

            If you can’t identify, among your social set, those who would mark people for the gas chambers and the fires, because Someone Has Decreed it to be so, and the Decree is only Common Sense…

            it is very possible that such a person is yourself.

            And if you’re going to get in a huff and say that such is only nonsense, blabber-dash, and the stuff of rabble-rousers and hysterics…

            well, yes, it always it. Until it isn’t.

          • Matt M says:

            “But who in The State is going to watch all those flims of what everyone is doing, to find if anyone is doing anything illegal?”

            The Stasi and the KGB didn’t seem to have a big problem finding people to do this stuff (although the fact that neither regime is still around may be relevant)

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @houseboatonstyx – “But who in The State is going to watch all those flims of what everyone is doing, to find if anyone is doing anything illegal?”

            …slightly different context, but are you following the Youtube Heroes situation?

            Incentivisation and crowdsourcing are a hell of a thing.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ keranih
            And can I say how much I adore your screen name?

            Ah, thanks. I meant it as a backwater from the flaming crowd, but LiveJournal didn’t allow enough characters for ‘the’, so they get credit for the Baba Yaga touch.

            Does your screen name have a story?

            those who would volunteer to Hunt Down the Offenders Against Humanity, Good Taste, and Right Thought

            Not vintage Lewis. Maybe in the collection when he was complaining about Christmas carollers, at best. He did the same idea much better (and shorter) using Robber Barons.

            If you already knew your target, you might follow his cam and catch him privately kicking a dog, or something. But with so many places bugged and videoed already — and with a candidate’s own supporters secretly recording things like “47%” and “bitter clingers” — nothing that’s said or keyboarded has much privacy as it is.

            Crowd-sourcing a target’s emails (Palin’s, Hillary’s) works because these are already public figures. But enough watchers to find if any random people anywhere are smoking joints or getting blow jobs … the hours wouldn’t work out.

          • keranih says:

            @ houseboat

            “Kerani” is from Kipling, mentioned in one of his introductions, meaning ‘writer’.

            Depending on the venue and my lousy memory for passwords, I sometimes change a vowel or add a silent letter.

            That wasn’t actually a Lewis quote, but my paraphrase. (Here, although you might have meant this already.)

            But yeah, it only works if all of us are engaged in watching all the others for infractions, rather than minding our own business and leaving others to do the same.

            The practical downsides to this sort of benign neglect in an environment where even just a few people are actively looking for opportunities to harm others (terrorists and petty crooks alike) are rather sobering to consider.

            (edit: stooopid close tags)

          • On the general issue of the time cost of surveillance, I’m not sure people are allowing for the use of technology. For a simple case, consider wiretaps.

            The main limit on wiretaps in the past wasn’t getting court orders, it was that they were very expensive. Someone has to spend many, many hours listening to conversation much of which was irrelevant in the hope of catching a relevant bit.

            That problem has been solved. Use speech to text software to convert conversation to speech, have a computer run through the text looking for keywords signalling what you are interested in. Years ago I did some back of the envelope calculations and concluded that it would be possible to tap every phone in the U.S. (thinking of the line from “The President’s Analyst”) at quite a modest cost in hardware. It would cost even less now.

            For the video equivalent, you use face recognition software to identify your target in the panopticon video data and have a computer look for patterns that suggest something of interest to you. Once you have a clue as to the time of the events you want to spy on, you look at them in the video data.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ David Friedman
            For the video equivalent, you use face recognition software to identify your target in the panopticon video data and have a computer look for patterns that suggest something of interest to you.

            That, like my other examples, starts with you already knowing who you want to target, or at least having a seed picture of him or of his stetson and mask or whatever.

            Then, computer assistance can be very useful. But it still takes a lot of man-hours to look through what the computer offers you, to find something of interest.

            Hm. I suppose you could have the computer search for pictures of bongs in use, to get a set of random smokers committing this crime in supposed privacy.

            Or, more useful for K’s dystopia, watch news of a protest and have your computer find the protesters, show you where each one is and what each one is doing now.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Read an article in the alt-weekly that boiled down to “other times the police said they were going to adopt something that would reduce abuses or increase transparency, and it generally hasn’t.” I think this is partially reasonable – the behaviour of some police departments has not inspired trust, to say the least.

      I suppose it really depends on who controls the camera, who keeps the footage, and a lot of other issues. If, say, the cameras are prone to running out of juice quickly and accidentally stopping recording, you’re going to both have the obvious technical problem, as well as some officers using it as an excuse to say something like “whoops, I forgot to charge it” (switches it off and proceeds to hit prisoner with phone book).

    • Odoacer says:

      It could limit officer discretion. Instead of letting the letting off a first time shoplifter, e.g. a kid who shoplifted one small item, with a stern warning, the officer now has to enforce the law to the full extent.* This will make many more people criminals and add many more costs in time and money to their lives, as well as give people another reason not to like or trust the police.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ Odoacer
        Instead of letting the letting off a first time shoplifter, e.g. a kid who shoplifted one small item, with a stern warning, the officer now has to enforce the law to the full extent.*

        Who is going to make the meta-rule that says “enforce to full extent”? What is the full extent on a first time shoplifter (I doubt it is shooting)? Who is going to try to enforce that meta-rule, and how? With what likely result? We can’t even get police punished for big deal things, much less for letting a shoplifter off with a lecture.

    • S_J says:

      Elsewhere on this thread, people have asked how much we can trust the Officer/Department to provide video.

      After all, the recording equipment might fail unexpectedly. [1]

      However, there is another angle to the whole problems.

      There are something like 22,000 police agencies in the U.S. (Variations of City Police, County Sheriff’s offices, State Police agencies, State Game Wardens, State University Security departments, U.S. Marshalls, U.S. DEA, U.S. FBI, U.S. ATF, U.S. Customs Agents, U.S. Postal Inspectors, etc.) [2]

      Of these agencies, a small number see events that can be called Officer-involved-homicide. That is, a fatal shooting by an officer. (Usually, the deceased person is a Person Of Interest in some sort of investigation. Even if the investigation began as “random citizen jaywalking”, escalated to “same citizen reacts vociferously to officer and attempts to take firearm from officer”, the citizen in question is still officially a Person of Interest.)

      Most years since 2010, the numbers of such officer-involved-deaths run between 390 and 450. During those years, total homicide numbers in the range of 13,000 to 14,000 were reported. [3]

      A quick glance at the numbers show that most Police Departments in the United States don’t see an officer-involved homicide during any given year.

      This may also explain why it would be so hard to bring in the same level of technology (and consistency of data storage) across all 22,000-or-so Police Agencies in the entire nation.

      It’s a good idea in the abstract. But implementing it well–even on the level of all City Police in jurisdictions with populations above 500,000–is a challenge.

      And verifying good data-handling will also be a challenge.

      [1] Blast from the past: in the days when the Internet was all dial-up, and some people in the U.S. wondered if various U.S. Government agencies might have stuff to hide…

      In April of 1993, There was a confrontation between Federal agents of the ATF and some sort of religious commune near Waco, Texas.

      After the flames settled down, and after years of effort litigating a Freedom-of-Information-Act lawsuit, the ATF produced some documentation. Including documents that had not been presented to the Congressional inquiry on the matter.

      But a good deal of video evidence had simply disappeared. Stolen, mislaid, or otherwise unable-to-find. The last time it had been verifiably in the custody of either the ATF or the FBI was the day in April 1993 when the final assault on the compound began.

      That video, and those photos, might have helped citizens figure out how the fire started that day. A fire that was fatal to 70-some adults and children inside the commune.

      Anyway, agencies with Police power will likely have the ability to make information disappear. Unofficially.

      Even if the officer in question isn’t mucking around with his own equipment.

      Kind of makes me wonder what was on those videos. And why it was so long before the ATF and FBI admitted that the video was simply unavailable…

      [2] Most of the numbers I’m quoting here came from the Crime in the United States reports published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, available here.

      [3] This number was actually reported by the FBI as “Justifiable Homicide by Officer”.

      A different set of government statistics, the cause-of-death statistics maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, list approximately the same numbers for “Homicide; Legal-Intervention” during those years. I conclude that most Officer-involved-shootings are reported as “Justifiable Homicide by Officer” in the FBI stats.

      Whether or not the label “Justifiable Homicide” is accurate is up for debate…but the underlying numbers are hard to dispute.

      For those who are interested in percentages, those numbers put officer-involved shootings in the range of 2% to 3% of the total homicide figures in the United States.

      A noticeable figure. Even a figure which will cause people to worry whether their next interaction with a Policeman will turn into a life-threatening situation.

      But not one which indicates that death at the hands of a Policeman is the highest cause of death for any social, ethnic, or economic group.

      • Matt M says:

        The government has always done a great job of “releasing” documents/video/audio that has been heavily redacted/edited/altered such that they can claim openness and transparency without ever really having to show the public anything they don’t feel like showing them.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The FBI count of police killings is not exhaustive. It is only a total of those voluntarily reported by police departments to the FBI. There is a list of which departments report, from which one might extrapolate an actual estimate, but I have not seen such an exercise.

        Here is a list of 1200 killings by police that received press coverage in 2015. I don’t know why the coroners produce so much lower a number, but they probably just don’t produce as much precision as ICD-10 allows.

    • Corey says:

      One’s I’ve seen (I don’t necessarily agree with them, but none are crazy):

      – A day-to-day fishbowl for cops to live in, with superiors possibly scanning for, say, off-color jokes and getting people fired over them

      – Privacy issues for citizens who interact with the police (e.g. “I saw on the bodycam-video website that Maisy’s husband got the cops called on him during an argument”)

      – Police are generally assumed to cut corners and just write down whatever was supposed to have happened after the fact (e.g. “smelled marijuana”, “dog alerted”, “subject was combative” etc.) People didn’t seem to mind too much as long as nothing serious went wrong. They won’t be able to do that with a video record. (Though it seems to me that having a video record would make honest paperwork easier, or the paperwork could be delegated to interns who review the video).

  27. Irishdude7 says:

    Hillary Clinton proposes a top 65% tax rate on inheritance:

    I’m against all taxes, but I’m particularly against the government feeling entitled to more of the property of very wealthy people than the family, friends, or strangers that the wealthy person would choose to give it to. Does anyone feel a tax rate higher than 50% if justified?

    • bluto says:

      I’d strongly prefer a property tax of some sort, if we as a society decide it would be better to reduce concentration of assets. I could see an argument for a higher tax on investment gains (either capital gains or estate tax) if inflation were removed from either gains, as well (with the effect of a higher rate but only on the real gain).

    • pku says:

      It seems like a pretty good idea – the government gets a lot of money, and it doesn’t seem too hard on the billionaire’s kid to have him inherit just 400 million dollars instead of a billion. Obviously there’s limits to this idea, in terms of both overall economic efficiency and personal property rights, but this seems fairly moderate and reasonable.

      • Homo Iracundus says:

        How about the farmer’s son who has to give away half the family farm at firesale prices, just because his father died and half of what his family owned now belongs to the state?

        • Protagoras says:

          Clinton is proposing a 65% inheritance tax on billionaires. If the farm was worth over a billion dollars, not crying a lot of tears over the son having to break it up. There’s no mention of changing the rules for exempting small estates from tax, which at present exempt estates up to $5.45 million. I suppose at that level it’s theoretically possible that there could be a very large family farm that would be valuable enough to be adversely affected by inheritance tax, but nobody has ever provided an actual example of one that had to be sold to pay such taxes.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            She proposes lowering the limit to 3 million. At the $6000/acre value of US farmland (in the core agricultural corn belt), an average size (440 acre) farm comes in just under the limit on the value of the land alone.

      • onyomi says:

        It’s the opposite. Inheritance tax is unusually harmful because it forces people to break up functioning businesses. It’s not just “poor trust fund baby gets 10 million instead of 20 million.”

        • Protagoras says:

          Can you cite any examples where this has happened?

          • keranih says:

            Yes, but I’m not listing them here, as they are small businesses known personally to me. Besides, they’re still antecdata – we need a broader view/survey.

            Death taxes are worked into most estate planning, and assuming an orderly progression of events, can be seen coming long enough out to shift funds and/or orderly liquidate non-essentials to prepare for the tax hit.

            Sudden deaths to young-ish professionals/business owners during a time of moderate crisis for that business (mergers, dissolving partnerships, local downturns, weather events) are hard blows to come out from under. The effect of the death tax may not be fatal in and of itself, but it doesn’t *help*.

            Edit – one coping mechanism that obscures easy measurement of this sort of thing (ie, a simple survey that says “how many small businesses go out of business in the year following the death of a partner/owner?”) is that loans taken out to pay the death tax are a thing, and sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

        • DavidS says:

          I’ve wondered about this (as instinctively I think inheritance is one of the best places to tax if you can do so efficiently). If the business is estabished enough to have a high value wouldn’t the logical solution be to sell equity?

          More broadly, I’m interested in the implications of family businesses passing down generations. Presumably such businesses are both in a good and bad way ‘less capitalist’: people are likely to be more cautious and conservative than in other companies as losing the family silver is worse than losing an equal-sized new company.

      • cassander says:

        You could achieve the same effect, with a lot fewer lawyers involved, simply by taxing inheritances as income and the sale of inherited wealth normally without stepped up basis.

        • Do you also tax gifts as income? If not, there is a strong incentive for wealthy people to transfer before death.

          If you do tax gifts as income and are trying to implement a progressive tax system, there is an incentive for wealthy people to transfer over a period of many years, keeping the annual amount below what triggers the high tax bracket. That doesn’t work very well for transferring a billion but works fine for a million over twenty years, especially if there are several heirs to divide it among.

          • cassander says:

            Gifts are taxed.

            > That doesn’t work very well for transferring a billion but works fine for a million over twenty years, especially if there are several heirs to divide it among.

            This does does happen. I know because I personally benefitted from the practice. But it requires that the assets in question be highly liquid and divisible, and as you say, caps out at a quantity of money far below current estate tax exemptions.

    • keranih says:

      The primary problem, as I see it, is that we have this idea that there is a largish pool out there of filthy rich people who have so much money that the gubmint could snatch away 9/10 of it, and in any practical sense, it wouldn’t matter to those rich people, because they’d still have more money than God.

      And while those rich people might have worked for it, their kids surely didn’t, and it Would Do Those Kids Good, were their trust fund to dip (a lot) lower. After all, it’s just money, right?

      And sure, there are some of those people, whose funds are pretty much entirely liquid/transferable, and who leave it all to the kids in a lump sum.

      But honestly, most people with that much money are either really smart, or smart enough to hire really smart people to watch their money for them. They will route around tax rules in a heartbeat, and figure out how to shift those liquid funds elsewhere and into something that goes to the kids more or less intact.

      Who this rule will hammer is those kinda rich people with illiquid assets – art, f’zample. Or land. Or a family business. Things that you can’t sell 65% of – you have to sell the whole thing, or none of it. They are going to lose that thing, and because they are in a position where they HAVE to sell, they’re going to lose even more.

      Oh, and you can forget the odd million going to the homeless cat shelter or the new cathedral roof repair, too – Unca Sam needs his cut of that, too.

      TL;DR – it won’t raise that much money, because those who can restructure their assessts to avoid the tax will, and the majority impact will be on the people we didn’t aim at hurting with this.

      • Matt M says:

        “Do not envy a worthless heir; his wealth is not yours and you would have done no better with it. Do not think that it should have been distributed among you; loading the world with fifty parasites instead of one, would not bring back the dead virtue which was the fortune.” – Fransisco D’Anconia

        On a more serious note, the idea of “the rich person/their kids won’t really miss an extra 400 million” is rich given that we have to counterbalance that with the idea that such a sum WOULD make a difference to the federal government. I can’t remember the exact stats and don’t care to look it up right now, but I remember watching some Youtube video that ran the numbers and came up with something like “We could confiscate the wealth of the 50 richest people in America and it wouldn’t be enough to run the government for more than six months”

        The heir who loses out on 400 million is going to miss it MUCH more than the average American is going to enjoy the “benefits” of the extra $1 per person the federal government can now spend on their behalf.

        • Anonymous says:

          On a more serious note, the idea of “the rich person/their kids won’t really miss an extra 400 million” is rich given that we have to counterbalance that with the idea that such a sum WOULD make a difference to the federal government.

          Related to this, anyone who favors the taxes in question would do well to consider whether they really lead to less concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a very few.

          The idea that government is a magical exception in cases like this is a dangerous one.

          • keranih says:

            “Gubmint is what we do together.”

            That we assume “knitting circle” and not “lynch mob” is left as an exercise for the reader.

          • onyomi says:

            I would take it further: on average, a dollar spent, invested, or saved by a rich person (or any private individual) is more likely to make society a better place in general than one spent by the government.

            No, I can’t prove that. But I think most people never even consider the possibility.

          • pku says:

            The idea that government is a magical exception in cases like this is a dangerous one.

            About 76% percent of government spending is on various social services, and that’s if you assume the military provides no value to society. By contrast, average charitable giving is somewhere around 3%. Even if the government is fantastically inefficient and half the money goes to waste, and private industry is a 100% effective charitable heaven, that’s still thirteen times better. So no, it’s not a dangerous idea – it’s just a realistic one.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I doubt you’re comparing like to like. How much of that social service spending would be considered “overhead” if we evaluated it like a charity?

          • “Even if the government is fantastically inefficient and half the money goes to waste, ”

            There are worse things than waste. Quite a lot of government expenditure–enforcing the War on Drugs and Tariffs are two obvious examples–is spent making the world worse.

          • John Schilling says:

            About 76% percent of government spending is on various social services, and that’s if you assume the military provides no value to society. By contrast, average charitable giving is somewhere around 3%.

            Bob runs a business that directly and indirectly employs 10,000 people producing useful goods and services, and donates nothing to charity. Bob’s sons have to liquidate 65% of the business to pay the estate taxes, leaving only 3,500 people gainfully employed.

            The government uses its tax windfall to hire 2,000 new bureaucrats and social workers to administer the expanded social-services programs that subsidize 4,500 more chronically unemployed people who produce nothing.

            Sorry, but on this one I’m with Gordon Gekko. Sometimes charity is just what we use to fill the niches where greed isn’t good enough.

          • Finger says:

            “evaluations of government-sponsored school and work programs have found that some three-quarters of those have no effect.”


          • IrishDude says:


            Interesting article. I wonder how good the studies for the six evidence based government programs are and how transparent the process will be on evaluating the impact of the interventions.

        • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

          We could confiscate the wealth of the 50 richest people

          No. That would be insanely stupid to do. If you think the government needs a 56% voting share of Google you are a moron. Repeat 48 more times.

          Rich people don’t have money, they own industries. Government is really terrible at running nationalized industries.

          • Matt M says:

            Oh I agree that it’s stupid.

            The point of the video was to suggest that people who think that the problems of government can be solved by “steal more money from rich people” have absolutely no understanding of the scale of government spending in comparison to even the wealthiest private individuals.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            I’ll admit I read the tone wrong, what with being 3am and all, but I don’t think it can be said enough that wealth taxes is a backdoor for nationalizing the means of production and what have you.

      • pku says:

        The “we shouldn’t make laws about x because obviously everyone we want to target will just avoid it” argument is dumb when it’s about abortion, and it’s dumb here. And the “the government wouldn’t have much use for it” part just seems like a blatant case of scope insensitivity.

        • Matt M says:

          Saying “the government wouldn’t have much use of it” is in direct response to the argument of “those rich heirs won’t even miss it.”

          You can’t tell me that a person “won’t miss” 50% of their inheritance but that at the same time the government will derive great value from confiscating that inheritance so that they can increase their total revenues by 0.01%

          In another topic, we recently discussed how so much bad regulation gets passed because small groups with a vested interest have more incentive to lobby for some sort of subsidy than all taxpayers have incentive to argue against their taxes going up by a few dollars or the cost of some product going up a few cents due to protectionism or whatever.

          Well this is the same logic, just applied in the opposite direction. Should we really steal 50% of someone’s wealth in order to provide the equivalent of $1 per person in increased government spending?

    • I really like the idea of inheritance taxes except for one important detail, which I’ll get to in a moment. What tax could be less onerous than one that takes from dead people? Yes, it really takes from heirs, not dead people, but I have a hard time feeling their pain. Why do children of the rich deserve more inheritance than children of the poor? While I think the inequality angle of the Left is greatly over-played, it certainly is true that those that inherit in no sense deserve their wealth. If we want to decrease inequality, then doing it at death is probably the best way. And I think decreasing inequality is a good thing — it’s just that most of the methods to do this are much worse than the problem. And as far as breaking up businesses, it is not difficult to incorporate businesses so pieces of it can be sold instead of the whole.

      Now for the problematic detail. Figuring out how much value there are in estates is a very complicated process, and greatly raising the tax would greatly raise the effort spent on the valuation. And even more important, the easiest assets to hide are very mobile assets like jewelry. A high tax on estates would encourage a much higher proportion of assets in these mobile assets. These kind of assets are not very productive for society, so we’d be discouraging more productive uses of assets.

      Hillary’s proposal itself I find somewhat contemptible. The US government wouldn’t make much money on such a tax (on just billionaires) — the purpose of the tax is to signal that Hillary is willing to attack rich people. It is similar to her proposal of a minimum 30% tax on million dollar income. It is about class welfare, not rational government.

      • Matt M says:

        “While I think the inequality angle of the Left is greatly over-played, it certainly is true that those that inherit in no sense deserve their wealth. ”

        This is the wrong way to look at it. The issue is not whether the heirs “deserve” the wealth or not – the issue is whether or not the person who legitimately earns wealth has a right to choose how it is disposed of after their deaths.

        If you work hard and earn a lot of money, you should have the right to dictate what happens to said money in the event of your death. If you want to give it to your children, that should be your prerogative. If you want to give it to a random poor child, that should be your prerogative. If you want to give it to a charity, that should be your prerogative. The fact that virtually no one (not even elite limousine liberals) wants to give it to the state is telling.

        • This is the wrong way to look at it. The issue is not whether the heirs “deserve” the wealth or not – the issue is whether or not the person who legitimately earns wealth has a right to choose how it is disposed of after their deaths.

          No I think you (and Gbdub below) are looking at it wrong. The Federal government already takes a trillion or two per year. The question isn’t how much they take, it’s how they take it (at least that is what I am arguing, any increase in estate tax should be accompanied by a decrease elsewhere).

          It is a lot less onerous to take money after death than before death. Tax on income clearly has bad effects, in my opinion, in discouraging productive behavior. Perhaps a large inheritance tax would discourage some folks whose main focus is to leave a big estate, but I think most people want money when they are alive, not after they die.

          Although as I said, the difficulty of valuing the estate makes it a lot worse.

          • Matt M says:

            “It is a lot less onerous to take money after death than before death.”

            This is non obvious. The revealed preferences of billionaires seem to indicate that they place a large value on being able to direct the disposition of their estates even after their death. If they really believed that money was useless to them after they died, they’d spend more of it while alive or not bother drawing up complicated wills and estate plans, etc.

            In any case, you are changing the argument. I specifically quoted you commenting on whether the heirs “deserve” the wealth.

            Do you agree with me that whether or not the heirs deserve the wealth is irrelevant to the matter at hand then?

          • Do you agree with me that whether or not the heirs deserve the wealth is irrelevant to the matter at hand then?

            No I do not think it is irrelevant. I wasn’t changing the argument. My point is that it doesn’t make sense to say that a particular tax is too onerous when ignoring the level of how onerous are its competitors.

            Most of the Federal budget currently comes from individual income tax. This tax distorts the economy because it discourages work, and it takes money from people who would rather spend it elsewhere (since I don’t notice people donating to the Federal gov’t when their taxes go down).

            We could shift some of this tax burden to estate taxes. This of course has the downside that people would rather direct their estates elsewhere. But I think this has the same moral weight as the income tax, where people would rather use their money for other than taxes. But the estate tax has other attributes. I don’t like it because it is so complex and encourages mobile assets. But I do like it because it is less onerous to take someone’s money after they are dead than beforehand. And because the money goes to heirs that don’t deserve it any more than the poor. And in fact, taxing estates has the good effect of reducing inequality by taking from the non-deserving rich.

            I don’t think that many of the rich doing the responsible thing and having complicated estate plans shows that they consider death taxes to be as onerous as living taxes. If I was rich, I’d do that too, because I would rather decide where my money goes, instead of depending on inheritance by Stirpes. And I would prefer my money to go to the charity of my choice instead of the government. But the government rightfully has other priorities. And that doesn’t mean the death taxes aren’t a lot less onerous than living taxes.

          • Matt M says:

            ” And in fact, taxing estates has the good effect of reducing inequality by taking from the non-deserving rich.”

            You are trying to have your cake and eat it too here. You are simultaneously arguing that

            1. It’s less onerous to take money from a dead person than it is from a living person

            2. It’s morally superior to take money from an undeserving heir than a deserving entrepreneur

            But you can only be taking the money from one or the other – the money cannot belong to both the deceased and the heir at the same time. My point is that the heir is irrelevant – what an estate tax does is take money from the deceased by depriving them of their right to dispose of their property post-death as they see fit.

            Now if you think this is not a right that people should have, simply come out and say so. Your assertion that this is “less onerous” is entirely a subjective value judgment. Let us hypothesize a rich person whose ordinal value rankings go something like this:

            1. Leave 10 million dollars to heir (taxed at 35% so the heir gets 6.5 mil)
            2. Spend 10 million dollars on a yacht
            3. Leave 10 million dollars to heir (taxed at 60% so the heir gets 4 mil)

            Your new increased tax, in this case, simply causes them to buy a yacht instead of leaving the money. Government gets less revenue, the deceased gets less utility than they otherwise would have (because you forced their hand to take preference #2 instead of preference #1), etc.

          • You are trying to have your cake and eat it too here. You are simultaneously arguing that

            1. It’s less onerous to take money from a dead person than it is from a living person

            2. It’s morally superior to take money from an undeserving heir than a deserving entrepreneur

            I don’t understand how you can’t see that they are both true, and both applicable to inheritance. You have been arguing that it is important to allow people to give the full amount of their estates to whoever they choose. I think that income taxes are worse than estate taxes, both because choices of the living are more important than those of the dead, and because the usual choice is to give the money to undeserving rich.

            Of course my comment is totally subjective, just as your ranking of choices is totally subjective. But I find it hard to believe that much of anybody cares as much about income when they are dead as much as income of the current time. Your subjective judgment is apparently that they care MUCH MORE about income after they are dead, since you prefer the status quo of the vast majority of taxes coming from current income. It would be useful if someone came up with a study on most folks’ preferences. In the meantime, I guess we have subjective judgments.

          • Matt M says:

            If the proposition up for debate was a dollar-for-dollar replacement of current income taxes with estate taxes, you may convince me to agree with that – but it seems abundantly clear this is not what Hillary – or any politician who argues for increasing estate taxes, intends.

            My point is that the actions of many people with large estates exhibits a clear revealed preference for inheritance. If they wanted to spend all their money while they were alive, they could do so. The fact that they choose not to indicates they value directing the money to X after they die more than they value doing it currently while alive.

      • Gbdub says:

        Why does the government “deserve” the money any more than the heir? Why should they have a greater say in what happens to it than the heir? I don’t think the answer is as clear cut as you seem to believe it is.

        And anyway, all the assets, except tax advantaged ones like a 401k, have already been taxed – why should the government get another bite at the apple? Most of the assets will still be taxed as capital gains if they are sold, and if they aren’t sold, they are being just as productive (or not productive) as they were in the hands of the original owner.

        Inheritance taxes just seem to be a punitive tax on death, taking a chunk of liquid assets at a significantly higher rate than they’d otherwise be taxed, and forcing illiquid assets to be broken up or sold inefficiently.

        • LHN says:

          Inheritance taxes just seem to be a punitive tax on death

          Maybe they hope it will serve as a deterrent.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            Damn it, there was a very old (2006?) Marginal Revolution post about that. There was a great natural experiment on estate taxes and death timing caused by a law change, and now I can’t find it or remember what the results were.

            On the other hand, there’s a lot of very interesting tangentially related MR posts on estate taxes.

          • LHN says:

            [Librarian reflex: activated] Here’s an academic paper examining the issue, though their results are inconclusive:

            This paper examines data from U.S. federal tax returns to shed
            light on whether the timing of death is responsive to its tax consequences.
            We investigate the temporal pattern of deaths around the time of changes
            in the estate-tax system periods when living longer, or dying sooner, could
            significanlly affect estate-tax liability. We find some evidence that there is
            a small death elasticity, although we cannot rule out that what we have
            uncovered is ex post doctoring of the reported date of death.

            Kopczuk, Wojciech, and Joel Slemrod. “Dying to save taxes: Evidence from estate-tax returns on the death elasticity.” Review of Economics and Statistics 85.2 (2003): 256-265.

      • Zombielicious says:

        There are a few obvious problems with implementations, which have already been hinted at. If you know 100% of your estate (for sake of argument) is going to get transferred to the government, you’ll just be incentivized to give it away right before you die. Death is just a technicality, and it makes planning inconvenient since people who don’t want it to go the government then can’t wait until they’re actually dead, they have to pick the right moment to transfer the assets.

        The similar problem is that taxing heirs isn’t much different from taxing whoever else they would have decided to give the money to. Assuming the tax would be on any money left after death, you’re punishing people who would have liked to have left it to charity, or just other random people, as much as people leaving it to their direct offspring. People seem unusually willing to say “you can’t leave this to your kids, it has to go to the government,” but it sounds a lot weirder when you make the equivalent statement, “this money can’t go to charity or anyone else like that, it has to go to the government.” Which leads back to the first problem – if you think you have a better use for it than the government, you’re forced to transfer the money before you actually die or else risk it being “wasted.” (Assuming you think you have a better use for it than the guv’ment does.)

      • “Why do children of the rich deserve more inheritance than children of the poor?”

        They don’t. But if the rich are entitled to their money, they are also entitled to decide who gets it.

        • nimim. k.m. says:


          edit. Seriously. The concept of ownership is something the society collectively agrees on (which also includes practicalities like taking into account the ability of owners to make their claim to stick). Why deciding on who gets it is deemed such an obvious sacrosanct right in this kind of discussions?

          Currently in my country the law specifies very strict limits to what extent you can disinherit your spouse and offspring. The common understanding here seems to be that your children have a birthright to certain percentage of your property (after being taxed by the government).

          • keranih says:

            The cross-confusion on values might be related to the US definitions of rights, in which property (as well as life and liberty) were things which can not be removed from a person by government action without a demonstration of due process.

            This has been weakened over the years – we also have rules concerning the disinheriting of spouses and minor children – but the idea that the State has a legit right to some of your stuff is less well received in American than in other places.

    • brad says:

      The inheritance tax should be eliminated and instead we should get rid of the rule that transfers at death reset the basis for the purpose of capital gains.

      • That makes sense, but we should also index the basis, since the present system can result in your being taxed on capital gains you didn’t actually make.

      • rmtodd says:

        No, changing the rule that the basis resets at death is a horrible idea, for this reason: it would mean that your ability to do your taxes correctly depends not just on how good your record keeping is, but how good your ancestor’s record keeping was as well. At least with the current “reset-on-death” rule, you have the opportunity to record the correct basis at the time you inherit the asset.

        • brad says:

          If you don’t know the basis you could always pay cap gains on the full amount. Or the estate could, and transfer the asset with a new basis.

          I can’t think of any justification for deferred cap gains simply disappearing at death. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that the transfer should trigger an immediate gain and the basis transfer shouldn’t even be an option.

          • I can’t think of any justification for deferred cap gains simply disappearing at death.

            But rmtodd just gave a very good reason for basis resets at death — it can be administratively very hard to find the original basis.

            Although an immediate gain at death might be a good thing too — maybe as a substitute for estate taxes. I wonder what the difference in taxes received would be.

    • Anon. says:

      The transfer [estate] taxes are highly distortive of economic activity. In fact, they probably do the most damage to output and income per dollar of revenue raised of all the taxes in the U.S. tax system. There are two reasons. First, they are an additional layer of tax on saving and investment, activities that are highly sensitive to taxation and very likely to shrink in response to the tax. Second, the transfer taxes are levied at very high, steeply graduated marginal tax rates on a very narrow tax base. The high rates discourage saving and investment at the margin, while the average tax rate and tax revenues are held down by the credit. A tax that has a large differential between its average and marginal tax rates does far more damage per dollar of revenue raised than a flatter rate tax on a broader base.

      • I don’t buy this at all. I skimmed the report, and I saw not one comment that most people are more concerned about tax while alive than after they die. All their quantitative analysis would have exactly the same answer if the money was taken when still alive. That is nuts. If you put a tax on someone’s big chunk of capital when they are still alive, this would have a bad effect on the economy. That is what they are measuring. That is much different from a tax on capital after they die.

    • John Schilling says:

      This is an appeal to what I call “Disney Economics”; the belief that great wealth takes the form of Giant Bins of Money held by greedy rich people to no good purpose. It’s a really silly idea that leads to worse-than-silly policies.

      Billion-dollar fortunes are the result of effort and sacrifice on a vast scale. There’s a purpose to that, and the purpose is rarely “make it so me and my nephews can swim around in piles of money”. The purpose may be colonizing Mars, or curing disease, or uniting humanity through social media. It may be something mundane like running a huge energy corporation that employs 50,000 people while providing light and heat to millions.

      It is very likely a purpose that will extend beyond the natural life of the original billionaire. If he choses to leave billions to his biological offspring – which increasingly isn’t the option – it is likely because a billion-dollar going concern is seen as more useful to the end goal than bits and chunks sold at auction to pay the tax, and the person trained from birth to run the concern as better qualified or more trustworthy than some stranger.

      I. It isn’t obvious to me that the sum total of the goals of the nation’s billionaires is any less laudable than the (actual) goals of the nation’s government. Nor that the government has the superior moral claim to the billions in question.

      II. If the goals of the billionaires and the governments are roughly in alignment (diseases should be cured and everyone should have a good job), then this just adds layers of bureaucratic inefficiency to little purpose.

      III. If the government’s goals are at odds with the billionaires’, how does this work again? The billionaire has to work and sacrifice to create the billion dollars that will be left to the government on their death. They have to conspicuously not consume it in the form of hookers, blow, and megayachts. They have to not refocus on shorter-term goals that they can see completed in their lifetime, nor transfer it to trusts and trusted allies in their lifetime. They have to not move it out of the country where it can be devoted to long-term good elsewhere. They have to not devote it to lawyers, lobbyists, and political campaigns aimed at tearing down the government that circles like a vulture to tear apart their life’s work.

      Incentives matter. Hillary and her supporters seem determined to incentivize the nation’s billionaires to doing much less long-term good for America, in exchange for an occasional windfall with which Hillary’s preferred government can do smaller amounts of long-term good.

      I cannot help but suspect that the reason for this might be that Hillary and company can imagine taking credit for the little bits of good they can do with the wealth stripped from the occasional billionaire’s carcass, but loathe the thought of actual billionaires taking credit for the good done with private fortune.

      • Anonymous says:

        Giant Bins of Money held by greedy rich people to no good purpose

        Bah! Kid talk! No man’s poor who can do what he likes once in a while! And I like to dive into my money like a porpoise! And burrow through it like a gopher! And throw it up in the air and let it hit me on the head!

        …or to put it a different way, I have to say I’m acutely uncomfortable with the idea that wanting to bathe in umpteen fantasticatillion dollars is a bad goal, as much as I agree that few if any wealthy people actually have that ambition. I can’t think of any rigorous way to defend disallowing it that doesn’t end with me not being allowed to own a sofa.

        Besides, if nothing else, wouldn’t three cubic acres of money act as a powerful load balancer on the economy, sort of like that article about Smaug preventing the gold economy in Middle Earth from collapsing?

        • Three acres of paper money, fiat money more generally, would represent a massive interest free loan by the billionaire to the rest of the society.

          • onyomi says:

            This is one thing which seems never to come up in discussions of millionaires and billionaires “hoarding” money.

            Sure, if they invest it wisely the benefits to society are obvious. But if they just bury it underground or, better yet, burn it, they are essentially making everyone else’s money worth more. It’s like earning a bunch of interest-free IOUs and sitting on them for a very long time or even forever. The IOU writers are better, not worse off, as a result.

            In terms of how the use of money benefits or doesn’t benefit society and the economy, I guess it goes something like:

            wise investment>hiding under a mattress>frivolous consumption>unwise investment>spending on something actively harmful (which, as you say above, I find the government much more apt to do than private individuals)?

          • Anonymous says:

            While the “cubic acre” is admittedly dubious as a term, I believe the accepted idea is that the Money Bin has a square three-acre footprint with a vertical side as great as the other two (≈110m, I believe).

            On the other hand, it seems to consist mainly of coins.

        • Homo Iracundus says:

          If the dwarves had just made paper IOUs for all the gold Smaug was keeping safe for them, they could have kept their empire running quite handily.

          It’s a bit like “Goldfinger”. “Oh no, you’ve irradiated all the gold in Fort Knox. Now we… can just let it sit there like we always do, but now nobody will try to steal it. Thanks supervillain!”

          • onyomi says:

            But only if no one finds out your gold is inaccessible due to radiation, or dragon, right?

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            Why does it matter? You don’t need to move the damn stuff to trade it.
            I mean, in the Dwarves’ case a lot of their wealth was in arms & armor and such, which would be a significant loss. But the big pile of gold and gems? As long as everyone knows how much is in there, it doesn’t matter who’s guarding it.

          • CatCube says:

            But if people don’t believe that they (dwarves, post-Goldfinger USG) can access the gold, they won’t accept certificates drawn upon it. What’s the difference between that and say, issuing money drawn upon unmined gold? “We have a bunch of core samples saying there’s gold in that mountain. Here’s a gold certificate against it.”

            With fractional reserve banking, there is a certain amount of fiction behind a gold-backed currency. However, like all fictions, there’s a limit to how far you can stretch it before people go, “Oh, c’mon!” Look at the Star Wars prequels.

          • Matt M says:

            ““We have a bunch of core samples saying there’s gold in that mountain. Here’s a gold certificate against it.””

            This is basically what it’s like to own a stock in a gold mining company.

          • ChillyWilly says:

            This is basically what it’s like to own a stock in a gold mining company.

            Except in this case the gold mining company does not own nor has rights to mine the mountain. They just know the gold is there.

          • CatCube says:

            This is basically what it’s like to own a stock in a gold mining company.

            ChillyWilly covers my first of two responses to this. People expect that you both de jure and de facto own something you’re drawing against, and while the dwarves can make a good argument that they legally own the gold under the mountain–like the Dali Lama can make a good case that he’s legally the ruler of Tibet–nobody is going to confuse that with them actually having access to it.

            The other is that few people treat stock certificates as good as cash, since there’s a much greater risk in owning a gold-mining company compared to having the money. I mean, most mines are holes in the ground into which the owners pour money. Just because the gold is in the ground in the mountain (and, unlike Tolkien’s dwarves, it’s not really as sure a thing, since the geological report can be wrong), doesn’t mean that it can be profitably extracted. You take the risk that your gold company stock will turn out to be worth zero, if the company goes bankrupt and all the assets end up sold to pay the creditors for mining equipment, shaft sinking, payroll, etc.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, a certificate claiming ownership of dragon-hoarded or irradiated gold would be worth something, but a lot less than gold which you can easily access.

    • Corey says:

      Death, like land, is a very non-distortionary thing to tax, because its elasticity is zero.

  28. onyomi says:

    Can this please stop being a thing?

    I thought the Samuel L. Jackson ad attacking Romney was bad enough, but this is just ridiculous and comes, ironically, from the type of person who is likely to claim “our democracy” is “broken.” So we’re going to fix it by voting however rich, famous, actors with no particular expertise tell us we should vote?

    The last Oscars was really, really bad too.

    I think this is really harmful to American cultural unity. I actually am pretty ambivalent about US cultural unity, but to the extent anyone still does care about it, I think we should really rethink the appropriateness of having entertainers publicly, overbearingly lecturing everyone on political questions.

    Fortunately, this one is so heavy-handed I think it has a good chance of backfiring.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      >really harmful to American cultural unity.
      Yeah, I don’t think the “people” who’ve been trying to destroy it care about that.
      And the only reason they still use the overbearing lectures is because they can’t arrest their victims yet.

      • Montfort says:

        Yeah, I don’t think the “people” who’ve been trying to destroy it care about that.

        Surely we can agree such individuals are actually people, no quotes necessary, regardless of other disagreements about what they might care about or wish to destroy.

        • Homo Iracundus says:

          You know, I’ve been reading up on the early soviet union and Boris Pasternak (getting ready to finally read Dr. Zhivago after only ever seeing the movie).

          It turns out seeing enough biographies that end with “the Union of Soviet Writers requested all members to denounce the author and call for the death penalty” makes you pretty unsympathetic to totalitarian social revolutionaries.

          Acknowledging each others’ humanity isn’t a unilateral choice. Putting on a pretense of civility while they call us rats to be exterminated doesn’t do any good, because it will never be reciprocated.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Why does that “rats” thing remind me of something?

            Oh, right


            (or take your pick of Nazi propaganda)

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            When Marian responded “But that was Shakespeare, Herr Minister!”, Goebbels screamed into his face saying, “And I am Joseph Goebbels!”

            Wow, those guys were really bad at their jobs. I mean, it really rubs in just how little artistry they had in everything they did.

            Only one percent of the world’s population, with the help of their capital they terrorize the world stock exchanges, world opinion, and world politics.”

            God damn one percenters.

          • Montfort says:

            You might do well to at least put on a pretense of civility here, I understand that to be part of the commenting rules (when they existed).

            But, also, let’s be clear that the people who called for the execution of authors, the people who tried to use their hollywood fame for political influence, and the people who called other people rats are all separate groups with little or no overlap. The political opinions of people who oppose Donald Trump are quite varied, and while you might find some who are some flavor of anti-free-speech absolutists, nearly all of them would say it would be evil to execute authors for writing books.

            Have you considered that your outgroup(s) might appear much more homogeneous to you than they are?

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            Let’s see, that cartoonist won the Pulitzer Prize for this, “and also received the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for his cartoons related to social justice issues.”
            The former are given out by a “19-member board (of) major newspaper editors and executives and six academics, including the president of Columbia University, (and) the dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism”
            He’s also been given an honorary degree for it, so hey.

            It turns out that when a group organizes to officially confer prestige on someone for dehumanizing the people they hate, those people draw conclusions about the group and its motives.
            Especially when that same group still honours Walter “Stalin Did Nothing Wrong” Duranty, which neatly ties us back in to the whole soviet/lefty thing of justifying purges.

            Remember Scott’s Muggeridge bio review?

            Wise old [Bernard]Shaw, high-minded old [Henri]Barbusse, the venerable [Sidney and Beatrice] Webbs, [Andre] Gide the pure in heart and [Pablo] Picasso the impure, down to poor little teachers, crazed clergymen and millionaires, driveling dons and very special correspondents like Duranty, all resolved, come what might, to believe anything, however preposterous, to overlook nothing, however villainous, to approve anything, however obscurantist and brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the confident expectation that one of the most thorough-going, ruthless and bloody tyrannies ever to exist on earth could be relied on to champion human freedom, the brotherhood of man, and all the other good liberal causes to which they had dedicated their lives. (“Chronicles of Wasted Time,” pages 275- 276.)

          • Montfort says:

            Horsey won the Pullitzer in ’99, when he was mostly doing cartoons about Monica Lewinsky, and again in ’03, when he was making fun of Bush. His honorary degree (from Seattle University) was earned in 2004. The cartoon you linked is from 2014, when he was a finalist for a third Pulitzer and won the RFK award – both, however, awarded on the basis of a few selected cartoons published in 2013, visible here (of course, his work is not very flattering of people he disagrees with, but they are actually people in each of those cartoons).

            The Pulitzer committee is not organized to reward dehumanizing people, though, like many humans, they probably overlook or even enjoy it when it’s directed at their opponents.

            But even if it were all as you say, that’s 19 Pulitzer board members, 60 journalists for the RFK award, and some deans at Seattle University (presumably also at least a few people on the board of the LA Times). The group you are talking about still does not plausibly include either Soviets or Hollywood stars.

            And of course, in your additional edit you mean these same 19 members of the Pulitzer board declined to later revoke Duranty’s award. They issued a statement on it, which in fact did not justify any purges:

            In its review of the 13 articles, the Board determined that Mr. Duranty’s 1931 work, measured by today’s standards for foreign reporting, falls seriously short. In that regard, the Board’s view is similar to that of The New York Times itself and of some scholars who have examined his 1931 reports. However, the board concluded that there was not clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception, the relevant standard in this case. Revoking a prize 71 years after it was awarded under different circumstances, when all principals are dead and unable to respond, would be a momentous step and therefore would have to rise to that threshold.

            The famine of 1932-1933 was horrific and has not received the international attention it deserves. By its decision, the board in no way wishes to diminish the gravity of that loss. The Board extends its sympathy to Ukrainians and others in the United States and throughout the world who still mourn the suffering and deaths brought on by Josef Stalin.

          • Matt M says:

            “Revoking a prize 71 years after it was awarded under different circumstances, when all principals are dead and unable to respond, would be a momentous step and therefore would have to rise to that threshold.”

            Gonna file this away the next time we have a public debate on how quickly we need to tear down a statue of Robert E Lee.

          • DavidS says:

            First off, I think these sort of ‘celebs tell you what to think is silly. But calling them totalitarian social revolutionaries is begging the question. What’s the evidence that Joss Whedon etc. are totalitarian or for that matter social revolutionaries? The article is about them encouraging people to vote for one of the main two candidates against the other, and clearly the less ‘revolutionary’ and more ‘establishment’ option.

            In terms of the rat thing: I don’t think it’s ever helpful to call people rats. But you’re talking in terms of very vague ‘us’ and ‘them’, when the ‘them’ is a specific cartoonist and the ‘us’ he’s targeting is fairly narrow (Nazis, KKK, White Power – not exactly the mainstream right).

            Also the ‘isn’t unilateral’ point: the cartoonist could presumably say he’s targetting specifically people who don’t acknowledge others’ humanity. So if you then don’t acknowledge his and label him and a vague group of others apparently including Joss Whedon as pseudo-people then I’m equally justified dehumanising you and whatever group I categorise you in, and then others can dehumanise me… real ‘eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind’ territory.

          • “Revoking a prize 71 years after it was awarded under different circumstances, when all principals are dead and unable to respond, would be a momentous step and therefore would have to rise to that threshold.”

            For another example of the same issue, consider the question of whether Martin Luther King should have had his doctorate withdrawn when it was discovered that his thesis was in large part plagiarized from an earlier thesis by another student. It wasn’t.

            In both of these cases, the person retroactively pardoned was someone popular with (especially but not exclusively) the left. Are there any parallel cases on the other side, where it was clearly established that a prominent figure did not deserve an honor he had gotten?

            Or in other words, is this a pattern of people the left likes not being held to the same standards as others or merely a pattern of not going after people after they are dead?

            It occurs to me that I can think of at least one example–the controversy over Cyril Burt after his death. That was a much less clear case than the others–the state of the debate is suggested by the title of a book on it: Cyril Burt: Fraud or Framed?

            If I correctly remember, the relevant professional society condemned him after his death and later retracted the condemnation when it turned out the evidence against him was considerably weaker than claimed.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            Muggeridge continued,

            “My wife’s aunt was Beatrice Webb. And so one saw close at hand the degree to which they all knew about the regime, knew all about the Cheka (the secret police) and everything, but they liked it. I remember Mrs. Webb, who after all was a very cultivated upper-class liberal-minded person, an early member of the Fabian Society and so on, saying to me, `Yes, it’s true, people disappear in Russia.’ She said it with such great satisfaction that I couldn’t help thinking that there were a lot of people in England whose disappearance she would have liked to organize.”

            Some things never change. Except now they’re film stars who do publicity tours for North Korea and Venezuela instead of the USSR.

          • Anonymous says:

            Some things never change. Except now they’re film stars who do publicity tours for North Korea and Venezuela instead of the USSR.

            Actually, many of them are still cultivated upper-class liberal-minded Fabians named things like Webb…

            Probably more of those than the the sum total of movie stars regardless of political affiliation, anyway.

          • Montfort says:


            I doubt the specific guidelines the Pulitzer committee uses on the question of revoking prizes will be very helpful on the entirely different and largely tradition-based question of what public monuments people like and dislike. But perhaps the spirit of the rule will get some people to think a bit more long-term and about both sides instead of “I don’t like him, bring his statue down.”

            @ David Friedman,

            I have a hard time believing Duranty is popular with anyone these days, actually.

            I don’t think the default decision is to revoke awards, and somehow Duranty and MLK Jr are unusual in having escaped that fate – I would say, rather, in general committees do not like revoking their awards (e.g. Nobel Prizes cannot be revoked).

            @Homo Iracundus,

            Yes, the soviets did a lot of bad things and had many fellow-travelers, I agree. My whole point is that, just as it is incorrect to see within every right-leaning person the tendencies and evils of Francoists, Nazis, etc. it is similarly incorrect to see in every left-leaning person the evils and tendencies of the Soviets and their fellow travelers.

            Quoting sections of things written about Soviet fellow-travelers and then asserting things are just the same today without a colorable attempt at demonstrating the similarity is just assuming the conclusion.
            Do you have a video or other account of a Hollywood star stroking their chin, voicing approval of North Korean crimes?

          • Matt M