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Watch New Health Picks

So far most of Trump’s appointments have been ordinary conservative hardliners or ethically-compromised rich people. But there’s a chance that some of his health care picks could be really interesting.

I’m not talking about Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price. As far as I can tell he’s an ordinary conservative hardliner (not to mention an orthopaedic surgeon), and pretty par for the course.

But I’ve seen three names mentioned as top candidates for FDA commissioner – Scott Gottleib, Jim O’Neill, and Balaji Srinavasan. I don’t know much about Gottleib, besides that he writes for Forbes about how Obamacare is bad. But either of the latter two would be shocking breaks with tradition and potentially among the highest-value political experiments of all time.

Jim O’Neill is a director at Mithril Capital and a former deputy deputy (sic) HHS secretary. He’s a (former?) board member of the Seasteading Institute, which hopes to create a libertarian utopia on a floating platform in international waters, and which recently signed a preliminary agreement with French Polynesia to begin pre-construction planning. He’s also a director of SENS, Aubrey De Grey’s collaboration to fight aging, and has proposed increasing the organ supply by paying donors. Also, I see him commenting on Eliezer’s Facebook feed sometimes, and he seems to be Facebook friends with Eliezer, Julia Galef, and, uh, me. Maybe he reads this blog? Hi, Jim!

Balaji Srinivasan describes himself as “a computer scientist, investor, entrepreneur, and academic”, and previously founded a very successful genetic testing startup; now he holds various Bitcoin-related positions. He’s famous (infamous?) for a piece called Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit, where he promotes “exit” over “voice”; he suggests Silicon Valley find ways to create an alternate society that escapes the dysfunction of the federal government and the rest of the country – both figuratively via new institutions like Bitcoin and eventually literally through possibilities like seasteading. He called the FDA “the man to beat – or escape, via exit – whether you want a new drug or to get to transhumanism”. And, uh, he also follows me on social media, which is definitely not a characteristic I expected multiple candidates for FDA director to have in common.

I worry that my more liberal friends won’t be sufficiently impressed. They’re thinking “Oh, more libertarians, like all those small-government people from the Bush and Reagan administrations”. My own view is that “libertarian” gets used to pick out at least two different clusters of people. One is rich crony capitalists who want a convenient excuse to cut their own taxes and roll back workers’ rights, but who fight tooth and nail against any decreased subsidies or increased competition that might threaten their own comfortable position. The other is people who are actually interested in using the power of competition to kindle innovation, improve access, bring down entrenched interests, and ultimately help regular people. The first cluster of libertarians has been around forever. O’Neill and Srinivasan seem to be part of the second. A principled, intelligent cluster-two libertarian getting the top job at one of the country’s worst bureaucracies would be practically unprecedented.

(and lest I try to weasel out of this one later, let me state for the record that if O’Neill or Srinivasan get chosen and are able to implement their preferred policies, but the US pharmaceutical industry doesn’t improve dramatically, I should accept it as a defeat for one or another hypothesis of mine. Either free markets don’t work in medicine, or I am so terrible at identifying principled intelligent libertarians that I might as well give up.)

Some important policies that an FDA commissioner like O’Neill or Srinivasan might be able to implement with high benefit and little cost:

1. Medical reciprocity with Europe and other First World countries (The Atlantic, Health Affairs, Marginal Revolution). Right now, Europe has a licensing agency about as strict as the FDA approving medications invented in Europe. Any pharma company that wants their medication approved in both the US and Europe has to spend a billion or so dollars getting it approved by the FDA, and then another billion or so dollars getting it approved by the Europeans. A lot of pharma companies don’t want to bother, with the end result that Europe has many good medications that America doesn’t, and vice versa. Just in my own field, amisulpride, one of the antipsychotics with the best safety/efficacy balance, has been used successfully in Europe for twenty years and is totally unavailable here despite a real need for better antipsychotic drugs. If the FDA agreed to approve any medication already approved by Europe (or to give it a very expedited review process), we could get an immediate windfall of dozens of drugs with unimpeachable records for almost no cost. Instead, in the real world, we’re cracking down on imported Canadian pharmaceuticals because the Canadians don’t have exactly our same FDA which means that for all we know they might be adding thalidomide to every pill or something. This is exactly the sort of silly anti-competitive cronyist practice that a principled intelligent libertarian could do away with.

2. Burdensome approval process for generic medications (SSC, more SSC). How come Martin Shkreli can hike the dose of an off-patent toxoplasma drug 5000%, and everyone just has to take it lying down even though the drug itself is so easy to produce that high school chemistry classes make it just to show they can? The reason is that every new company that makes a drug, even a widely-used generic drug that’s already been proven safe, has to go through a separate approval process that costs millions of dollars and takes two to three years – and which other companies in the market constantly try to sabotage through legal action. Shkreli can get away with his price hike because he knows that by the time the FDA gives anyone permission to compete with him, he’ll have made his fortune and moved on to his next nefarious scheme. If the FDA allowed reputable pharmaceutical companies in good standing to produce whatever generic drugs they wanted, the same as every other company is allowed to make whatever products they want, scandals like Daraprim and EpiPens would be a thing of the past, and the price of many medications could decrease by an order of magnitude.

3. Stop having that thing allowing companies to “steal” popular and effective drugs that have been in the public domain for years, claim them as their private property, shut down all competitors, and jack up the price 10x just by bringing them up to date with modern FDA bureaucracy.

4. Stop having that thing where drug companies can legally bribe other companies not to compete with them. I like this one because it sounds anti-libertarian (we’re imposing a new regulation on what companies can do!) but I think it’s exactly the sort of thing that the crony capitalists would never touch but which principled intelligent libertarians like O’Neill and Srinivasan might be open to, in order to bring more actors into the marketplace.

5. Stop thwarting consumer diagnostic products and genetic tests (SSC, more SSC). Srinivasan comes from the genetic testing world himself, so he’s likely to be extra sympathetic to this.

I notice that Jim O’Neill had (in 2014) a much more radical proposal than any of these: that the FDA should approve drugs based on safety but not efficacy; that is, drug companies have to prove that their drug isn’t dangerous, but they don’t have to do the long-term super-expensive studies proving that it works. This isn’t quite as crazy as it sounds – it just means we’d need to use academic studies and good judgment to figure out what works. We do this already in many cases – with drugs that were grandfathered in before the FDA existed (eg penicillin), or with drugs that the FDA approved for one indication but we use off-label but which we use for another indication (eg Prozac for anxiety). The best-case scenario is that a safety-but-not-efficacy regime would replicate that kind of careful skepticism across the board. The worst-case scenario is that we end up with a lot of ineffective drugs being used for a decade or so until science can catch up and prove them ineffective – something which is arguably already happening. Honestly this kind of policy is probably too revolutionary even for me – but in a world full of stupid regressive fear-driven bad ideas, it’s a bold revolutionary high-variance bad idea, and I respect that (see part 3 here for another problem with this idea).

The pharmaceutical industry stock index hasn’t moved much since some of these names started being floated. I’m not sure what to make of this; I wouldn’t have been able to predict which direction it would go, but I would have expected some direction.

One more really interesting potential appointment. Nature.com: Surprising Contenders Emerge For Trump’s NIH Chief. Most of the contenders aren’t that surprising: Collins is the current NIH chief, and Harris is a Republican congressman with an MD and a strong interest in health policy. One interesting idea of Harris’ is a pledge to lower the age at which researchers get their first grant, which would address a widely shared concern that we’re losing out on creative ideas because people have to spend decades learning to conform and playing academic politics before anyone pays attention to them. I guess this could be good (though see here, apparently the current NIH director supports this as well).

But one name stands out: Stanford statistician John Ioannidis, famous for promoting high quality studies and raising the standard of medical research. I don’t know what his administrative credentials are or what talents you need to run the NIH, but along with the Cochrane people he sets the gold standard for trustworthy bioscience, and having him in a high scientific position would do more to raise my confidence in the standard of US medical research than almost anything else I can think of.

I would say these picks raise my previously abysmal opinion of Trump, except that they all show the obvious hand of Peter Thiel. And I’m not sure it’s possible to raise my opinion of Thiel at this point without me doing something awkward like starting a cult.

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632 Responses to Watch New Health Picks

  1. Jacob says:

    One really radical proposition that you haven’t mentioned: removing the FDA’s coercive power to make pharmaceutical illegal, and instead selling those pharmaceuticals (just pharma, not controlled substances like heroin) with giant warning labels and a 200% tax or something. This means that most people will still use FDA drugs, but if you’re really desperate and have some crazy disease you can avail yourself of weird experimental drugs as soon as they’re out.

    I assume that this would require changing a law in congress and is outside the purview of the FDA chief, but I wonder if Jim or Balaji ever talked about something like that.

    • Jiro says:

      People are stupid. Doing that will lead to tragedy as the same people who believe in anti-vax theories now will end up self-prescribing drugs. (Not to mention causing problems with drugs that are controlled because they may cause birth defects, or create drug resistance, or other externalities.)

      • bbartlog says:

        Maybe. But how big a tragedy are we talking, here? Certainly at the current margin, failure to vaccinate is an insignificant cause of mortality in the US (although it’s possible that future cancer deaths that might have been prevented by Gardasil will end up being a different story). We already tolerate quite some significant externalities due to a general commitment to individual freedom – for example, the use of SUVs instead of cars causes several hundred excess pedestrian deaths annually, and that’s before we get in to more contentious areas like gun ownership. I’m skeptical that the excess mortality from this proposal would exceed a few hundred people per year, and the benefits could be significant.

        • Jiro says:

          I distinguish risk-taking and stupidity, even though in some technical sense you could classify them together.

          I also distinguish a small risk and a large risk, and I think you’re poorly framing the SUV example to make it look like a large risk by using absolute numbers rather than risk per SUV owner.

          • bbartlog says:

            My intent wasn’t so much to portray the risk from SUVs as large as to introduce it as a kind of lower bound. Since few people are even aware of this particular externality and even those that are will generally concede that it’s not an urgent public health issue, I’m more or less asserting that public health risks that only cause a few hundred deaths per year in a US-sized population are of relatively marginal significance and shouldn’t be a major factor in policy decisions.

          • Jiro says:

            The size of the risk we are willing to accept is related to the number of people producing the risk. It’s different if I do something and a hundred people die, or if hundreds of thousands of people do something, and a hundred people die.

          • Murphy says:

            @bbartlog

            I see a constant stream of shill newspaper pieces being pushed by “patients groups” (which happen to be sponsored by the “compassionate” company) which claim that the cruel health service won’t pay for [wonder drug] which Concerned Father quoted here is saying is the only hope for his dying daughter.

            I make a habit now of googling the QALY impact data for those drugs and the cost per year and almost always it turns out that the drug barely does anything, causes serious liver/kidney/other damage and for things being pushed by this kind of story, costs a half million per year per patient.

            The “patient group” (which happens to have an office in a building owned by the pharma company) is of course trying to get some drug past NICE which has a slim chance of extending a patients life by a week or so with 5 years treatment at 500K per year.

            Most people can’t understand stats.I’m sure someone will throw the word “patriarchal” at me over that statement but I’ll throw the words “simple reality” back at them.

            It’s sad but true. Most people can’t understand that the “wonder drug” actually only has a small chance of adding a few weeks of low quality life, they don’t have the mental tools to properly understand, they just see the world in newspaper headlines of “amazing treatment” and they do most of the work of convincing themselves that if they just raid all of the college funds for their kids and sell the house and convince their siblings to raid their savings and put themselves into endless debt then their wife will be ok and everything will go back to how it was before and then their wife dies anyway after screaming in agony for an extra few hundred hours.

            Desperate poorly informed people make poor choices and inviting them to harm themselves more and harm more people around them with those poor choices creates a lot more misery.

            giving the scammers free reign does not make society better.

            It seems many here even want to make it so that I can’t even search for that QALY data, because fuck it, we don’t need to know if a drug works or how well it works, we’ll assume the people who took a century to accept that washing their hands after dissecting corpses was a good idea and even longer to accept that bloodletting is almost never the solution… they’ll sort it out without any proper scientific trials and without anyone with any incentives to run proper trials.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            “I’m sure someone will throw the word “patriarchal” at me over that statement”

            could be wrong but I don’t think this is the type of blog comments section where that will happen

            and yes, people are very irrational over these issues. it’s a problem. not a solvable one either, not that i necessarily want it to be

          • Murphy says:

            Not quite the same meaning of patriarchal.

            In circles with a lot of very libertarian individuals whenever you suggest that in some fields it’s so easy to shoot yourself in the foot and so few people are mentally equipped to avoid doing so that it’s going to harm a lot more people than it helps someone declares it to be a patriarchal position.

            I like a vaguely libertarian default position unless there’s good reason to take another…. this is one of those cases where there’s good reason.

          • Iain says:

            The word you are looking for is probably “paternalistic”.

          • Murphy says:

            That gets thrown around too

          • “Paternalistic” is the usual term to describe some people making decisions for others on the theory that the others will make the wrong decision for themselves.

            Do you see anything wrong with using the term in the context you describe?

            I have never heard “patriarchal” used in that sort of context.

          • Aapje says:

            @Friedman

            Patriarchies tend to be very paternalistic, by having a strong behavioral norms.

            But many forms of paternalism are not patriarchal.

      • Tekhno says:

        @Jiro

        Doing that will lead to tragedy as the same people who believe in anti-vax theories now will end up self-prescribing drugs.

        Wait. Where’s the tragedy again? A healthcare policy that helps reasonable critical thinkers in bad times while letting reckless idiots doom themselves isn’t the worst “trade-off” I ever heard of.

        (Not to mention causing problems with drugs that are controlled because they may cause birth defects, or create drug resistance, or other externalities.)

        That’s more concerning to me, if these risks can be reasonably estimated.

        • Deiseach says:

          letting reckless idiots doom themselves

          We’ve had a case in the news here where a 16 year old in Cork died because he took a drug called U-4 which he bought thinking it was cocaine. It’s the first record of the drug in Ireland. Was he intensely stupid? Yes (and I say that even if it was cocaine or something else he bought). Did he deserve to die? Probably not. Now, the reason I’m quoting this is not alone for the “people do stupid crap with drugs even when they’ve been warned”, it’s that

          Describing the background of the drug, Dr Keenan said it was first patented as a “very strong painkiller” but had no legitimate use and so was never marketed.

          “U-4 is now produced in bulk in China and shipped to the EU and the States,” he said.

          So it’s a legal (if grey area) drug produced in China and can be bought by anyone, not just enterprising drug dealers trying to cater to the local market. And I’m sure there are scads of all kinds of drugs and pharmaceuticals that can be bought online from China and India. And I’m sure some proportion of the people who buy them will take the wrong dose or in combination with something they shouldn’t, and the difference between a dead “reasonable critical thinker” and “reckless idiot” will be very hard to define (since most people will think they are the reasonable thinker who can make their own decisions).

          Do you think that, even if they privately agree with the sentiment, any official or politician is going to state “Eh, if dumb people want to take junk that kills them, no skin off our noses”? The outcry would be massive and the upheaval more than any elected or other representative would want to touch.

        • Tekhno says:

          @Deiseach

          We’ve had a case in the news here where a 16 year old in Cork died because he took a drug called U-4 which he bought thinking it was cocaine. It’s the first record of the drug in Ireland. Was he intensely stupid? Yes (and I say that even if it was cocaine or something else he bought). Did he deserve to die? Probably not. Now, the reason I’m quoting this is not alone for the “people do stupid crap with drugs even when they’ve been warned”, it’s that

          But this simply doesn’t apply to the proposal where FDA exempt drugs would have a load of warning labels and a 200% tax on them. The kid died because people were selling the drug with no such information in place, meaning that fraud would be occurring under a new system. A warning message was issued by doctors after the fact, and did not come as part of the drug transaction as part of a legal regime. This is more a failure of enforcement.

          Ultimately, at what point are we okay with people having control of their own life and death and taking risks with the knowledge of possible death in mind? In this case, the kid was expecting cocaine, and got something else, with lethal results, so that’s out.

          But just how many fences do you need to add around something before we accept that someone chose the outcome? It’s arbitrary, but some level of signposting is going to be acceptable to the politically relevant majority of the populace if they think on it. We aren’t even asking that question or thinking about trade-offs in mainstream politics much. It all seems to be all or nothing.

          So it’s a legal (if grey area) drug produced in China and can be bought by anyone, not just enterprising drug dealers trying to cater to the local market. And I’m sure there are scads of all kinds of drugs and pharmaceuticals that can be bought online from China and India.

          Hmm. Under Jacob’s proposal the regulation on these drugs would be harsher, not less harsh, right? It would have to be sold through regular channels and subject to the warning information and discouragement tax scheme.

          (since most people will think they are the reasonable thinker who can make their own decisions).

          I don’t think this is true. Most people would rather trust some authority to decide what drugs are okay, and it would be a ballsy or desperate minority who would decide to go down this avenue.

          Do you think that, even if they privately agree with the sentiment, any official or politician is going to state “Eh, if dumb people want to take junk that kills them, no skin off our noses”? The outcry would be massive and the upheaval more than any elected or other representative would want to touch.

          But it’s weird though, because conservative politicians are willing to take the heat when proposing privatization of all sorts of things, where the opposition will say that they are simply leaving everyone poor and unfortunate to die and going full social darwinist.

          Why would a halfway measure be any more outrageous than full on “Let’s privatize medicaid” stuff? In this case you are providing care for people who would otherwise die, but also letting adults put their lives in their own hands if they want, with sufficient warning to make them culpable for it.

          • Jiro says:

            But just how many fences do you need to add around something before we accept that someone chose the outcome?

            I’m not really sure. But I can say that the number of fences needed is non-zero, and I think you’re being unclear about whether you oppose all such fences, or whether you just think this particular one goes too far.

            Why would a halfway measure be any more outrageous than full on “Let’s privatize medicaid” stuff?

            Privatizing Medicaid, to the extent it kills people, kills them from poverty, not from stupidity. Most people are not utilitarians, and will require that you make certain efforts to stop deaths by poverty and certain efforts to stop deaths by stupidity, even if the marginal number of deaths doesn’t balance out. A policy that produces fewer overall deaths, but contains insufficient anti-stupidity measures, isn’t acceptable.

            (This is also why most people won’t accept murder offsets. You have separate obligations to not murder, and to otherwise do good, and they can’t be summed together as “obligation to cause a net increase of at least X utilons”.)

          • Tekhno says:

            @Jiro

            I’m not really sure. But I can say that the number of fences needed is non-zero, and I think you’re being unclear about whether you oppose all such fences, or whether you just think this particular one goes too far.

            The number of fences that would be similar to legal culpability standards in most other realms of life seems to be a good starting place. It would probably be a good idea to make those consistent at some point anyway.

            Privatizing Medicaid, to the extent it kills people, kills them from poverty, not from stupidity.

            People treat these two things differently, and rightly so. A great many brilliant and wonderful people could tragically die of poverty due to bad circumstances, whereas no one of benefit to humanity wrapped a cape around their neck and tried to fly off the grand canyon. No one sheds tears for Darwin Award winners.

            This is even more reason for the public to not completely shut down such a proposal versus the privatization proposals which already carry some weight. So long as you set the level of regulation at the appropriate level, in this case, the other nine desperate people choose a plane instead/drug that works, and they fly/don’t die.

            Most people are not utilitarians

            Me neither.

            and will require that you make certain efforts to stop deaths by poverty and certain efforts to stop deaths by stupidity, even if the marginal number of deaths doesn’t balance out. A policy that produces fewer overall deaths, but contains insufficient anti-stupidity measures, isn’t acceptable.

            I think people are far more willing to accept deaths that are due to fault, which is why cars don’t come with speed limiters to the maximum national speed limit (perfectly feasible, since speed limiters already exist and are used for various other reasons).

            We all get to enjoy fast cars and be cheeky with the speed limits, because we categorize someone speeding on a straight motorway differently from some crazy loon overtaking on blind country bends at 100mph.

          • Jiro says:

            No one sheds tears for Darwin Award winners.

            The people who laugh at Darwin award winners don’t shed tears at Darwin award winners. This is far different from nobody doing so.

            I think people are far more willing to accept deaths that are due to fault

            The point is that people want separate efforts made to mitigate both kinds of deaths. The level of effort needed to make deaths caused by fault acceptable is less than that needed for other types of deaths, but the effort still must be made–you can’t compensate for a lack of such effort by making more effort in another area and noting that the overall number of deaths is low enough.

          • aakumar says:

            I’m late to the conversation, but I a few worries I’d have would be:

            1. It’s really hard to tax a random chemical enough to make it more expensive than FDA-approved drugs. The example of recreational research chemicals came up, and those are orders of magnitude cheaper than the drugs they imitate, even when ordered in relatively small quantities (1 g).

            2. IP issues seem pretty thorny, especially if the drugs aren’t approved for any general use. Can I patent chemical x for use in treating cancer if there aren’t any studies or approvals suggesting it’s effective for that use case? It seems like there could either be issues with patent trolls owning a bunch of Pharma IP with little invested effort (maybe this already happens?) or less incentive to innovate (but maybe still enough?).

            3. Lots of conversations about FDA regulation focus solely on new drug approval because those costs are enormous, but there is also a lot of ongoing work to ensure quality control for the approved drugs. It’s a little unclear to me what mechanisms would be used to ensure quality under the “consumers pick what they want” system. To some extent it feels like things could skew towards the state of the supplement industry, where quality control is a frequent issue.

            4. Another parallel to the supplement industry that worries me is faddish “gurus” promoting of being sponsored by unapproved drugs. I’m not sure that the reach of folks like Tim Ferriss, the Bulletproof Coffee guy, or Dr. Oz are so small that potential harms would actually be limited to the small subset of rational risk takers & Darwin Award winners that you mentioned.

            5. I think this was mentioned above, but some drugs have negative externalities. When anyone from my family in India gets sick, they can go to a pharmacy and get antibiotics without a prescription (or at least were able to a couple years ago when I visited). Antibiotic overuse obviously affects others more than the user, and seems harder to address within the patients choose what they want framework.

            All of that said, I think that the idea is interesting, but I think it’s really really tricky to get the details right. I’d be much more in support of a policy targeting access to experimental drugs for terminal or incurable conditions than blanket patient access to drugs of choice.

        • Murphy says:

          Replace “reckless idiots” with “desperate, terrified parents” and you might be on the right track.

          have any children in your family ever been diagnosed with anything deadly?

          Apparently there’s a very predictable set of reaction that people often fall into when something like that happens. They find out their little baby is unlikely to see his 18th birthday and a very common reaction is that they start grasping at straws. Anything. When there’s no hope they’ll take anything.

          I saw it in my sister in law, suddenly she was willing to believe anything that offered hope no matter how obviously bullshit.

          Miracle men, snake oil salesmen, charlatans, conman, butchers, monsters.

          It’s fashionable on this blog to pretend that nobody is truly evil but there are some people who are utterly evil by any reasonable measure.

          People who will plaster a smile on their faces as they seek out people who are in the middle of the worst events in their lives and then promise them that their baby absolutely can be cured of the incurable (with a cure which has been SUPPRESSED by BIG PHARMA and EVIL GOVERNMENT) but that in order to do it they need to sell their house, sell everything they have and get every scrap of money from anyone they can and give it all to a sketchy clinic in south east asia for the “miracle treatment”. (it’s always somewhere remote because bullshit looks more impressive the further away it is)

          If they’re lucky it may be simply syringes filled with colored water. if not then it can be cell-gunk injected into their brain followed by a painful death.

          if they’re very lucky then there will be some people in the family who react to tragedy in more constructive ways.

          Which is important because such families can have more than one child and many more lives can be destroyed by the truly evil preying on people when they’re at their weakest.

          • Tekhno says:

            But if the entire point is that they are desperate because they can’t get a potential lifesaving drug any other way, then either they die, or take a shot on an option that wouldn’t be there if this policy wasn’t implemented. There will certainly be conmen involved somewhere, but if the option isn’t there, because a certain drug is not certified, then they are goners anyway. The worst you can say is that they might maybe risk a more painful death, and that conmen might make off with money, but the best you can say is that they might not have to die at all, which they would have to if they are in that desperate category denied all options. We could tell a different sob story where they die in agony because the FDA doesn’t approve enough drugs that might have given them a last chance.

            The lives of non-desperate people who just try stuff recklessly (morons) and kill themselves are worth sacrificing to give others the chance to roll the dice when all FDA approved methods have failed.

          • Murphy says:

            You seem to have utterly missed the point. Often the reason they’re desperate is that there is no cure. If there was then they’d likely be getting it already from the conventional doctors. there is no miracle treatment. Indeed that’s the vast vast vast majority of such cases. There is no land over the rainbow where a cure exists. There is no magical Chinese clinic with any real cure.

            Of course the world is also full of nut-jobs who spin narratives where anything is possible only BIG PHARMA and BIG GOVERNMENT and EVIL CORPORATIONS are keeping the real cure under wraps or suppressing information about the true effectiveness or just not letting us sell it to you because they don’t want you to know about the healing power of crystal resonance waves and pyramids and miracle cures the EVIL FDA won’t let you buy!

            Just scumbag predators who smell fear and desperation and take them for everything they’ve got.

            Conmen are the primary group involved.

            It wouldn’t be so bad if the harm was confined to you but it’s not. first your family and anyone who you can get money out of is asset-stripped by conmen, the lives of everyone else around them fucked up, and any other children they have get their futures fucked up.

            They take sick people who may potentially have years of reasonably healthy life left on real treatments and convince them that if they go off their [real] meds and start on their magical treatment then they’ll be cured! and they believe them for a while because often real treatments make you feel crap and when they go off them they feel better, briefly. That’s another common one.

            Your best case simply does not happen. If it did then real doctors would quickly take note and use the treatment.

            I’ve talked previously about how if there was a better dramatically cheaper way of getting efficacy data on treatments then the pharma companies would already be using it to destroy their competitors, even off the books so they can avoid spending so much on failing to get things through conventional trials. Such a way either doesn’t exist or billion dollar corporations aren’t ruthlessly profit focused.

            There aren’t shortcuts to finding working pharmaceuticals short of nazi-level unethical experimentation on prisoners. if there was then companies would already be using them off the books somewhere in the world to avoid expensive failures in 1st world countries and almost nothing would fail efficacy or safety tests in the USA, the companies would be saving hundreds of billions.

            There are no advantages to what you want. None. it’s a myth. you’ve already bought into the bullshit from the first wave of conmen.

            Everything you believe on this issue is deeply deeply flawed. So much so you can’t even see it.

      • “People are stupid” isn’t always the worst reason for certain laws, but it’s usually insufficient on its own, and way way too flexible to justify almost anything.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Are you saying “Doctors can prescribe whatever they want” or “Patients can take whatever they want”? The latter needs changes to way more elements of the system than just the FDA.

      • Jacob says:

        Definitely “doctors can prescribe whatever they want”. If you can’t find a single doctor that will agree to let you take something, you probably shouldn’t be taking that. This isn’t about some radical freedom to kill yourself in creative ways, it’s about moving the decision point from a national agency with incentives to be very conservative closer to the actual person affected. A doctor knows something about both the drug and the patient, it makes more sense to give them more power to decide and the FDA less.

        • MartMart says:

          Would it work, or would doctors largely stick to prescribing what they already do, for liability reasons?

    • Deiseach says:

      if you’re really desperate and have some crazy disease you can avail yourself of weird experimental drugs as soon as they’re out

      That would last until the first person who bought a batch of something dies, whether it’s the fault of the new drug or not, and you have the tearful family all over the media demanding that Something Should Be Done.

      The more likely outcome, as we’ve had a couple of cases over here, is that some new wonderdrug comes out in America, it’s hugely expensive, and families ask why their loved one can’t be put on a course of it (even though it costs €100,000 a year per patient and there’s no evidence it halts the disease or even prolongs life). I don’t know what the equivalent American situation would be, but if the insurance company refuses to keep paying out for new experimental drug because it says there is no evidence it does anything for your condition, then what? I would expect more media campaigns about “Make WundaSavior cheap and available for everyone now!” from sufferers and their families, but how effective would that be?

      And I don’t think the public would buy “you can take this if you want but if it makes you worse or kills you, we warned you so you’ve forfeited your rights and have no comeback”, given the recourse to the courts to sue for everything.

      • baconbacon says:

        That would last until the first person who bought a batch of something dies, whether it’s the fault of the new drug or not, and you have the tearful family all over the media demanding that Something Should Be Done.

        Thousands die annually due to an organ donor shortage which could be improved in numerous ways, but there is no outcry, on the other hand millions of parents panic every halloween about cookies baked by neighbors or apples being given out and refuse to let their kids eat them.

        I don’t know if there is an obvious method for predicting what the public will care about enough to act on.

    • grendelkhan says:

      Robin Hanson was proposing the idea about ten years ago, and Eliezer brought up the ‘some kindly grandma is going to die horribly and you have to own that’ objection you got in the sibling comments.

      • baconbacon says:

        EY’s argument is to absurd, some individual won’t ever drink Dr. Snakeoil’s Sulfuric Acid Drink because there is no market for it. Shops won’t ever carry it as there is no market for a product that kills people once they drink it*. Even if some people are actually dumb enough to eat/drink poison there has to be enough to actually make producing and distributing poison worthwhile (and also no liability for doing so either).

        “Yes, sulfuric acid is a horrible painful death, and no, that mother of 5 children didn’t deserve it, but we’re going to keep the shops open anyway because we did this cost-benefit calculation.” Can you imagine a politician saying that? Neither can I.

        Yes I can, and EY can because it happens all the time. A few hundred children die every year by drowning in backyard swimming pools, and yet pools are legal. Children get backed over in driveways every year and yet driveways and cars (and SUVs which often have larger blind spots and iirc are responsible for a disproportionate number of incidents) are still legal. Even when it comes to dangerous substances children die by ingesting stuff they find under the kitchen sink and yet those chemicals are sold at corner stores across the US with no major campaign to stop it.

        Finally pro gun politicians make such arguments every single election cycle, despite both intentional and accidental deaths by guns in the tens of thousands a year.
        *ok, yes there probably is for suicidal people, but it wouldn’t be sulphuric acid and it wouldn’t be marketed for arthritis

        • grendelkhan says:

          some individual won’t ever drink Dr. Snakeoil’s Sulfuric Acid Drink because there is no market for it

          You underestimate people. Here, read about Miracle Mineral Solution, marketed as a cure for everything from HIV to autism, purchased and consumed by a number of ill or desperate people, or fed to their children. It’s an industrial bleaching agent.

          A few hundred children die every year by drowning in backyard swimming pools…

          I think you may be underestimating what goes into public health. There are regulations on lifeguards in public swimming pools; accidental poisonings in children are way down over the last couple of decades (I’m guessing child-safe caps might have been involved); private pools and SUVs (which frequently come with backup cameras and proximity sensors nowadays) are considered things you do.

          If you die in a skydiving accident, it seems like it’s your fault. Likewise with having a pool and letting your four year old drown in it. (Remarkably rare! And bathtubs are surprisingly dangerous too!) Less so for buying Miracle Mineral Supplement and poisoning yourself.

          • baconbacon says:

            They ran websites using fake testimonials, photographs, and Seattle addresses, to promote downloadable books touted as containing secret cures as well as selling bottles labeled “water purification drops” with a brand name of “MMS Professional”.[36] The Washington State Attorney General’s Office filed suit, and in conjunction with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), secured a settlement of more than US$40,000, roughly $25,000 for state legal fees and $14,000 to be divided among 200 consumers.[37][38] In the ACCC legal action, the presiding judge described the cures as quack medicine and found the claims on the websites “false, misleading or deceptive”.[36][39]

            Several things leap out from the Wikipedia page, here we have fraud committed, which (presumably) no one is arguing for allowing. Secondly look at the size of the award. $40k across 200 people? The infamous hot coffee case against McDonald’s had an award of almost $3 million which was reduced to $600,000+ by the judge . Such a tiny judgment is typically indicative of little to no actual harm being done (though not always, it is a pretty strong prior). The Wikipedia article suggests one death connected to MMS and that death (apparently) occurred through misuse of the (admittedly shitty/terrible) product.

            I think you may be underestimating what goes into public health. There are regulations on lifeguards in public swimming pools; accidental poisonings in children are way down over the last couple of decades (I’m guessing child-safe caps might have been involved); private pools and SUVs (which frequently come with backup cameras and proximity sensors nowadays) are considered things you do.

            EY specifically says “can you imagine a politician saying that?”, which is the relevant point. Politicians come out and argue that the benefits of X are worth the costs all the time. Gun ownership on the right, free speech on the left, arguments for fewer regulations in spite of some costs are frequent in political discourse.

          • Deiseach says:

            baconbacon, I think you underestimate the harm this brand of snakeoil is doing.

            One of the things that the promoters (and there appear to be a couple of sets of different hyaenas, and I’m going to call them that because they’re scavenging off the misery of people so desperate for a cure they will torture and poison their children in the mistaken belief they’re being cruel to be kind) of this nonsense claim is that autism is caused by parasites, and that what this dilution or preparation of MMS does is kill the parasites.

            Evidence of which they provide with photos of the alleged ‘parasites’ coming out as black strings of tissue.

            Those are not parasites, that’s internal lining of the stomach and other digestive system being stripped by the stuff. Unfortunately, the parents who buy into this think that the bloody tissue their children are evacuating is evidence that this cruelty works, and until it’s too late they don’t listen to anyone.

            And how the suppliers get around selling this chemical is that it’s carefully sold as “water purifier” (which is a legitimate use) and not as a medicine. The “miracle cure for autism” pages of the websites are kept separate.

            Personally, I would be quite happy to see burning at the stake brought back for the peddlers of this garbage. But then, I’m channeling my inner inquisitor here.

          • baconbacon says:

            baconbacon, I think you underestimate the harm this brand of snakeoil is doing.

            The argument isn’t about harm or not, EY was specifically saying that the types of harm being done would lead to event/situation X where by the public outcry would be so much that politicians would be forced to shut down the system.

            Further such a situation shouldn’t be expected to mirror the markets in Hanson’s proposal. Markets are fundamentally about opportunity cost, the snake oil salesmen who went town to town selling turpentine (and perhaps worse) weren’t competing with penicillin, they were competing with “real doctors” that thought blood letting was a pretty great treatment and who prescribed cocaine and morphine pretty heavily. Crack cocaine isn’t the result of market mechanisms, it is the result of banning tons of softer drugs in addition to cocaine.

        • Jiro says:

          A few hundred children die every year by drowning in backyard swimming pools, and yet pools are legal.

          As I pointed out, that’s because people demand that if there is too high a chance of stupidity-caused deaths, they must be prevented separately from other sorts of deaths. Most people aren’t utilitarians and won’t be satisfied by reducing the total number of deaths; effort must be made in each area that demands it and you can’t skimp in one area and make up for it in the other.

          Even if more people die from swimming pools than would die from stupid people buying and drinking acid, that’s irrelevant. What you have to do is get the stupidity deaths from acid below the stupidity deaths from pools, and the other sorts of deaths from acid below the other sorts of death from pools (with adjustments for how useful pools are relative to acid). Getting the total deaths from acid below the total deaths from pools would only be demanded by utilitarians.

    • thetitaniumdragon says:

      It is a bad idea. Horrible, really.

      The reality is that even with the FDA people buy stupid shit. Without the FDA process, things would be massively worse. Doctors are ill-prepared to actually look at the scientific literature and decide what drugs are and are not safe, which ones are and are not efficacious.

  2. to-mah-to says:

    I’m not sure that I understand seasteading.

    One premise — the premise I sort of thought they were working toward — was that, by having a city not part of an existing nation, they could write their own laws and evade stupid anticompetitive regulations. But https://www.seasteading.org/floating-city-project/ now lists as an advantage: “a host nation will provide a place for a floating city within the existing international legal framework, with the associated protections and responsibilities.”

    https://www.seasteading.org/videos/the-eight-great-moral-imperatives/ talks about some ocean-related projects they want to work on, but all of those projects seem like they’d be easier to do if they just bought a couple of buildings in an existing shore city. If they did that, it would be easier to focus on research because they wouldn’t have to worry about their buildings sinking.

    • to-mah-to says:

      I guess there’s the idea of doing research on seasteading technology itself, so that future groups could build a fully-autonomous seastead using already-tested technology. But (1) that’s not what the webpage is advertising at all, and (2) I sort of don’t want humanity to build a sprawling network of seasteads.

      Here’s the thing about seasteads: what are they going to do with their waste? They could package it up and pay some nation to put it in a landfill. Or they could just dump it over the side — who’s going to stop them? They’re a bunch of libertarians, and they’re doing this seasteading thing specifically to avoid regulations.

      Scott’s “anti-libertarian FAQ” describes almost exactly this case: lots of libertarians making use of a shared resource, and no individual group has any incentive to preserve it. It doesn’t end well for the resource.

      • vV_Vv says:

        I guess there’s the idea of doing research on seasteading technology itself, so that future groups could build a fully-autonomous seastead using already-tested technology.

        I don’t understand what research is needed. It’s not like ships and rigs are exactly a new thing.

        Floating cities already exist, they are called “cruise ships”.

        • Leonard says:

          The research is needed to make a floating “city” that is (a) cheap enough for one person to buy, or perhaps a family, up to a very small clan; and (b) easy enough to operate that one person (family/clan) can operate it.

        • Matt M says:

          Ultimately, the desire is to have a floating city that can sustain itself indefinitely away from land. Cruise ships ain’t that…

          • vV_Vv says:

            Ultimately, the desire is to have a floating city that can sustain itself indefinitely away from land.

            You mean as some sort of closed economy? Good luck with that. (Fun exercise: estimate the ratio of industrially manufactured objects within 10 m of yourself that were not made in China).

            Or as trading with the mainland without directly going to a port? In principle you could do that with cruise ships as well.

          • Matt M says:

            I think the ideal would be that you can be a closed economy if you have to (as in, if the governments of the world, threatened by the obvious awesomeness of your libertarian utopia, declare you a pariah and literally nobody is willing to trade with you). Obviously that’s not the ideal situation.

            It’s like basically like any other attempt to be wholly self-sufficient. Terribly inefficient if you have other options, but suddenly pretty damn important if you don’t have any other options.

            I’m sure there’s some other technical reason why a cruise ship wouldn’t count, I don’t know, I’m not that familiar with the specifics of the idea (even as a pretty hardcore libertarian myself, I do consider it pretty weird and out there).

          • albertborrow says:

            @vV_Vv

            I think the real reason ships wouldn’t work as a closed economy would be that the problems with living on a cruise ship negate any profits gained from being a non-industrial worker. We have three aspects of the economy we could look at, transportation, manufacture, and business – only transportation and business have any business being on a ship that’s moving from place to place. In practice, we already have floating “cities” dedicated to transportation, but in these cases it’s a) more expensive or less comfortable than a plane or b) more profitable to ship industrial goods per pound than it is to ship people. So we tend to see very little people in the shipping industry – certainly not enough to call it a city, even if the total economic impact of one ship is probably greater than a small town.

            Consider business or services, then – what area is valuable enough to justify the cost of working on the sea? All I can think of is novelty.

            Now, if we’re talking about permanent settlements on the high seas, there are some things that are useful: as of yet undiscovered oil, and undersea ores. Whether or not these things could offset the fuel and maintenance cost of a floating city is up for debate, but these are resources only a significant application of technology could access anyway. My guess is that for the harder to reach resources, enterprising inventors will create a mechanical method of obtaining them, and we’ll just end up with bigger, more ambitious oil rigs.

            If sufficiently wealthy libertarians think they can found a city out there, then good luck to them, but I feel like the only way we’re getting something substantial on the ocean is if the cost of living there is equal to or less than living on land.

          • Spookykou says:

            They would probably want to compartmentalize things in a way that cruise ships normally don’t. In a cruise ship you lose the main engine and basically every thing on the boat stops working and you are pooping in trash bags in the dark.

          • Deiseach says:

            floating city that can sustain itself indefinitely away from land

            Growing food and providing enough potable water strike me as two big immediate difficulties. Maybe you can rig up a desalination station and have it running with your flotilla of ships/floating city to get your water, but growing crops (unless they’re expecting some sort of hydroponics marvel to work) is another thing.

            Possibly if they can farm plankton and krill, but again – scaling it up? Fine to do that on a small lab scale, getting it up to “can feed several hundred people over five years” is another thing.

          • Aapje says:

            @Spookykou

            You’re not supposed to be doing that on cruise ships? Oops, brb.

          • Murphy says:

            But what’s the advantage of that over, say, finding some poverty stricken little hole of a country, offering the local tinpot dictator or reigeim [big pile of money] in exchange for a deal where they give you, say, a square mile along one of their more remote and desolate coastlines and allow you to declare yourselves your own state and setting up there?

          • John Schilling says:

            Nobody ever actually offers that deal. If they did, the UN would probably not recognize the new “sovereign” state, and at the first complaint would probably vote to send in peacekeepers to protect the human rights of the workers being horribly abused by the evil capitalists in question. Also the tinpot dictator looks weak among the nationalistic segment of his own base for having traded away part of the sacred homeland for mere money, and is removed from power.

            The deal that is actually available is the one where your factory or city remains part of the tinpot dictator’s country, and every time he needs a new pile of money he looks over and sees a lucrative center of commerce and industry with lots of fixed infrastructure that can’t pack up and leave.

          • Murphy says:

            All of those same objections would seem to apply to a floating city. Even if it can move the tinpot dictator just needs to sit their warships in the way as they move troops on board.

          • Cypren says:

            @Murphy: Seasteading essentially relies on a well-established set of international norms regarding freedom of navigation and piracy. The bet being placed is that if a tinpot dictator attempts to commandeer your ship, the United States, China and other wealthy and well-armed countries will intervene because of the threat the precedent sets to their own shipping interests.

            Personally, I think this is a fool’s bet, because foreign governments aren’t likely to do anything other than make some noise at the UN about how this was an unfortunate tragedy that Really Shouldn’t Have Happened while emphasizing that those radical anti-government activists living on that boat were sort of asking for it.

            The most basic fundamental problem of creating a nation-state is, and always has been, national defense. Until you have sufficient force of arms to ward off the closest unscrupulous force determined to seize your property, you don’t have autonomy, just an illusion of it.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not sure how realistic a worry that is. Tinpot dictators generally can’t project force very well, and if you anchor your anarchist utopia within small-boat range of North Korea I’m tempted to say you deserve what’s coming to you.

      • patrissimo says:

        The point is not to avoid regulations, it’s to write new ones. Would you describe the American Constitution as being “to avoid monarchs”? It might be kinda true, but it’s also extremely inaccurate. The point of creating a Constitutional Democratic Republic to replace what the UK had was to make a better political system that would generate better regulations and let humans in the US flourish. In the same way, the point of seasteading is to create new political systems that will generate better regulations and let humans on seasteads flourish.

        As far as waste disposal, it is one of the large categories of questions that are answered by the two words “cruise ship.” If a question about “how do they do X…” comes to mind, and a cruise ship does X, then you should consider the question as answered.

    • Riothamus says:

      It looks like they have a couple of concerns. In this document, they list being nearer to shore and protection of sovereign waters:

      If you turn to page 30, you will find a first-pass list of potential host nations. Now we can compare these nations with this live piracy map. Here is another live piracy report.

      So it looks like they think the cost of a few regulations is lower than the cost of building without a seabed and with a navy.

      • shakeddown says:

        I love that “We want to go off and start our own community, but we’re worried about pirates” is a legitimate concern.

      • to-mah-to says:

        Yeah, but if they’re okay with obeying the regulations of their host nation, why aren’t they just building a city on land?

        What are they gaining, specifically, from building a seastead instead of a conventional planned city?

        • MartMart says:

          Exit rights?

          • shakeddown says:

            Are there any countries that don’t have exit rights? The US requires citizens to file taxes even if they move away, but don’t really enforce it, and I think Kuwait or somewhere in the area requires exit visas, but it doesn’t seem like exiting a country is ever really a problem. Or am I missing something?

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s one thing to be able to pack your bags and move to Mexico, and another to be able to pack your city and move to Mexico.

          • MartMart says:

            shakeddown:
            For some reason, I can’t reply directly to your comment, how does that work?

            Say you make an agreement with a friendly country to mostly leave you alone while you build gaults gulch. Your new city state prospers. Suddenly the host country decides that it wants to tax you and regulate you out of existence (maybe they had a change in government). As long as they put the cost below what its going to cost you to rebuild the city elsewhere, you’ll pay it.
            With sea steading you can move your whole city to a more friendly shore. There will be some logistical costs, but they will be much lower.

          • shakeddown says:

            You can’t reply directly because there’s a limit on comment nesting.
            (Also, oops, I didn’t realize you meant exit rights for the whole city as opposed to individuals. That makes more sense).

          • MartMart says:

            Shake: Thank you, still new here. I’ll try to be clearer next time.

          • vV_Vv says:

            With sea steading you can move your whole city to a more friendly shore.

            Unless a couple of warships of your previously friendly country show up and inform that you can’t leave. Oops.

            Or maybe you they let you leave, but as soon as you are in international waters you are raided by pirates. Oops. Or you are conquered by the navy of another country. Oops.

            But if you could somehow avoid all these problems, and you really wanted a moveable city, why don’t you just live in trailers, like the European gypsies traditionally do? You get the same benefit for a 1/100 the costs and the hurdles of living at the sea.

          • MartMart says:

            vV_Vv:
            The concerns you are posting to are real, and I don’t want to downplay them, but aren’t without complications.
            If a rich city is concerned about pirates, during what should be a relatively short move (say several weeks) it could hire protection. Depending how critical it is to other countries economy, it may not need to.
            The host country could threaten it militarily, but it would be much harder for it to do so and still maintain a favorable status in the eyes of the international community. Some countries don’t care about that, but many do.

            Moving trailers around is (much) cheaper, but doesn’t provide nearly the same benefits. To move things in trailers you have to dismantle your infrastructure. Dissasmble factories, pack warehouses and research labs, tear up or leave behind houses, roads, network/electrical/water/sewer etc. Then find new locations, build new buildings, reassemble all of that stuff. That is going to be rather expensive.
            With a floating city, your economic machine can largely keep on churning during the move, with minimum disruption. Your house and job may have moved to another continent, but the path between the two is exactly the same as it was before.

          • vV_Vv says:

            If a rich city is concerned about pirates, during what should be a relatively short move (say several weeks) it could hire protection.

            The only thing that could reasonably protected them would be the navy of some other country, which would involve difficult political lobbying at an international level, since presumably the country that they are leaving wouldn’t be happy. These kind of government machinations seem to be exactly the things that libertarians try to escape in the first place, so what’s the point of doing at an international scale?

            The host country could threaten it militarily, but it would be much harder for it to do so and still maintain a favorable status in the eyes of the international community. Some countries don’t care about that, but many do.

            In general it is internationally recognized that countries have a right to territorial integrity, and can use force to prevent unilateral secession. In practice it may vary, and secessionists might be able to muster support from foreign powers.

            But again, what is the point of doing this libertarian thing if you have to rely on government support when things get ugly?

            With a floating city, your economic machine can largely keep on churning during the move, with minimum disruption.

            Oh, you want to put heavy manufacturing and farming on a ship? Good luck with that.

            Honestly I thought that the idea was that these “floating cities” were to be primarily inhabited by nerdy workaholic programmers. But if your jobs consists in sitting at a computer all day, you could do it in a trailer as well as on a ship.

          • Murphy says:

            So, the host nation starts insisting on your city paying taxes and, just for arguments stake, they also try to impose some of their own rules on you.

            Lets say that you’re off the coast of Chile and most of your population is wealthy europeans and americans who’ve hired a lot of Chilean citizens to work as maids or laborers and over the years you’ve built up a bit of an underclass of long term Chilean residents and the children of americans and Chileans who are Chilean citizens themselves.

            Your residents aren’t perfect and there’s some background racism and discrimination against Chileans as well as a small but vocal set of assholes who want your sea-stead to be purely for full residents without local short term laborers who occasionally preach that you should “throw them all over the side”. of course you don’t listen to those guys and they’re a tiny minority.

            Chile tries to start taxing the city but at the same time they try to impose some of their own regulations like employment equality regulations.

            Your people start to get ready to move but of course there’ll be a faction who don’t particularly want to move who own property spread through all the structures and vehicles that make up your city.

            Chile can then declare they need to take control to protect the property rights of Chilean citizens, they can point to the horrible little nazi’s who’ve been calling to throw chileans over the side and they can point to the fraction of your population who don’t want to leave Chile. They spin it as if genocide is imminent if you’re allowed to “abduct” their citizens or theft if you try to strip the remainders of their property within the city buildings to leave them behind.

          • Your people start to get ready to move but of course there’ll be a faction who don’t particularly want to move who own property spread through all the structures and vehicles that make up your city.

            One feature of seasteads as I have seen them described is that they consist not of a single raft but a bunch of rafts next to each other. One advantage of that is that if there is disagreement among the residents, one faction can hire tug boats and leave, to reform somewhere else, perhaps with rafts from other groupings occupied by people who agree with them on whatever the policy disagreement is.

          • webnaut says:

            @Nornagest

            > It’s one thing to be able to pack your bags and move to Mexico, and another to be able to pack your city and move to Mexico.

            I was thinking the other day on how there are actually some drawbacks to being able to ‘carry it with you’. By ‘it’ I’m thinking of non-physical attributes like cultural norms, thought-space.

            In the 60s we didn’t have the extent of mass media/the internet, and when a person moved to a different country, they had to abruptly adapt, involve themselves in a new ‘noosphere’.

            Today however you can ‘live’ physically in one country while you live virtually in a different country altogether. You read the home country’s blogs/newspapers, watch their media, are vested in their concerns, don’t have to learn a new language to make contact with other human beings.

            People keep talking about minority ghettoization/silos but the problem has shifted, it is now virtual as well as a physical property. That changes the nature of the issue and it seems nearly nobody recognizes this.

          • Murphy says:

            That would seem to limit the size of your cities parts somewhat. No mega platforms owned by many people, just a raft of dingies.

        • Nornagest says:

          Well, you can dodge municipal regulations. That’s a big deal in places like the Bay Area where a lot of the regulations you might want to dodge come in at that level, though I’m not sure it outweighs the disadvantage of having to make a water trip every time you want to exchange non-digital goods or services.

          I don’t know if you still count as belonging to a US state if you’re outside its territorial waters but inside the American EEZ.

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            Hell even if you don’t actually dodge any regulations at all being able to build housing in the bay area without paying bay area land prices would turn a profit.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Well, you can dodge municipal regulations.

            Can’t you do the same with a charter city?

          • Nornagest says:

            Can’t you do the same with a charter city?

            Yes, but you can only found a charter city in places where there are not already cities; anchoring your city five miles off Manhattan offers opportunities that no possible location for a charter city can match (at costs that no possible charter city has to deal with, natch). If seasteading actually turns out to be technologically practical, then similar issues will quickly appear there, but you’d at least have first-mover advantage.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Yes, but you can only found a charter city in places where there are not already cities

            Urban areas, depending on how you define them, cover only between 1% and 2.5% of the US (source). Finding space doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.

            anchoring your city five miles off Manhattan offers opportunities that no possible location for a charter city can match (at costs that no possible charter city has to deal with, natch).

            So which cost-effective opportunities would be available to a floating city that wouldn’t be available to a charter city?

            If seasteading actually turns out to be technologically practical, then similar issues will quickly appear there, but you’d at least have first-mover advantage.

            If it is technologically practical, why aren’t people already doing it?

            As I said before, it’s not like naval technology is exactly a novel invention. Why are the only people interested in it some kind of weird ideologues? It’s not like reading Atlas Shrugged can teach you anything about ship and offshore platform engineering.

            Doesn’t this look like the proverbial twenty dollar bill laying on the ground in Times square?

          • Matt M says:

            “If it is technologically practical, why aren’t people already doing it?”

            Wait, I’m getting confused here.

            Is your objection “this is technologically infeasible and could never happen” or is it “who cares, we already have this, its called cruise ships?” These seem to be contradictory criticisms.

            The entire reason why funding/research is needed is because the goal is very ambitious and cannot yet be achieved with existing technology.

          • Nornagest says:

            Finding space doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.

            Finding space, full stop, is not a problem — you can still get vast tracts of wilderness for what’s basically chump change by real estate development standards, and even farmland isn’t that expensive. Finding space in economically interesting areas is a problem.

            Let me be clear, I don’t know if this would actually fly. But if I was trying to make a business plan for a seastead, and I wasn’t going for the blue-sky utopian schemes that were common in the earlier days of the seasteading concept, it would look something like this: develop some kind of floating infrastructure module that’s seaworthy enough for open ocean, anchor a bunch of them a couple miles off the most expensive urban area I could find (probably New York or San Francisco), and get a ferry service going. From there I might want to anchor the new district with services that you can’t get in the city proper (riverboat gambling etc. has a long history), or I might just sell real estate — the ferry bottleneck would be problematic, but real estate prices in cities like that are high enough that it might be possible to make floating modules competitive.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Is your objection “this is technologically infeasible and could never happen” or is it “who cares, we already have this, its called cruise ships?” These seem to be contradictory criticisms.

            It’s technologically possible to have movable (in fact, self-propelled) seaworthy floating structures that host a few thousand people, but nobody uses them as permanent settlements, and nobody seems interested in doing anything like that but a few ideologues who know nothing about navigation, ship-handling and naval engineering. Why is that so?

          • vV_Vv says:

            develop some kind of floating infrastructure module that’s seaworthy enough for open ocean, anchor a bunch of them a couple miles off the most expensive urban area I could find (probably New York or San Francisco), and get a ferry service going.

            And can’t you do that with a cruise ship plus some ferries and cargo ships? The cost of the whole thing would be about $ 2 billion at least, would you be able to compete with San Francisco rents?

          • Matt M says:

            but nobody uses them as permanent settlements, and nobody seems interested in doing anything like that but a few ideologues who know nothing about navigation, ship-handling and naval engineering. Why is that so?

            Because there is no obvious non-ideological purpose for doing so at the moment, with the current technology?

            You just seem to be thinking in an awfully defeatist matter here. Nobody has done it yet therefore it must be a dumb idea not worth pursuing? Really?

          • Nornagest says:

            And can’t you do that with a cruise ship plus some ferries and cargo ships? The cost of the whole thing would be about $ 2 billion at least, would you be able to compete with San Francisco rents?

            Yes, that is the question. The main obstacle here is the ability to drive down prices to the point where they’re competitive with land-based rent in inflated markets, after taking into account any comparative advantage you can offer (on the one hand) and all the assorted inconveniences of ocean living (on the other). I don’t think you can do it with off-the-shelf shipbuilding, though I haven’t done an actual cost analysis and could be wrong. Buying vessels used would be a lot cheaper, but without the ability to service them in place, you have big sustainability problems.

            The feasibility of this whole idea depends on solving those problems. If all you’re saying is that they are problems, I assume the seasteading orgs aren’t staffed entirely by idiots.

        • Riothamus says:

          I can think of a few reasons, which make sense as long as you assume that truly independent seasteads are the goal:

          1. This is going to be the beta-test of the concept. Maybe they want to work a few kinks out of construction and administration of such a place before going out further.

          2. They may have already identified things that need development in terms of cost reductions and feasibility.

          3. Maybe they estimate that people will be willing to pony up for defense purposes only after the viability is demonstrated.

          4. Comparing with the U.S., of the coast still leaves you free of a lot of regulations. In particular, consider things like noise, zoning, labor, etc. If they built on unused land, they would still be subject to the rules of the county, territory, prefecture, what-have-you.

          5. Building cities on new land under different rules already exists as an idea.

          6. Maybe feedback from market research suggested that having to evacuate the city in case the whole thing sinks freaks people out enough that they want to guarantee a coast guard is nearby so enough people will even show up.

    • Furslid says:

      I think that the reason they want to be within a country first is that international law is really tough. Suppose they found Seatopia, the new libertarian nation. Now there are a huge number of problems that need solving right away.

      What countries recognize Seatopia? There are newer countries that have mixed recognition in the international community. A lot of countries might refuse to recognize Seatopia as it’s new and different than other countries.

      If people renounce their citizenship and move to Seatopia, what citizenship do their children have? What happens to them if Seatopia fails?

      What about extradition? What if some criminal flees to Seatopia? Under what circumstances do they get sent back? What if the nation they committed a crime in sends someone to retrieve the criminal? What if a criminal flees Seatopia to another country?

      What rights does Seatopia have under international law and maritime law? Every ship has a country of official registration. If Seatopia doesn’t have a flag are they pirates? Can Seatopia control any nearby water like a country?

      The questions go on and on. These are not easy questions to solve, especially with no proof of concept. An agreement with a friendly country can solve a lot of these problems long enough to get a proof of concept. They can get control of local waters. They can get passports from the host country. They can piggyback on existing extradition treaties. They can register ships under the host country’s flag. None of these are ideal solutions, but they are decent kludges for a trial run.

      Also, Seatopia is going to want easy access to an international airport. That’s an engineering challenge that isn’t going to be solved anytime soon.

    • patrissimo says:

      One premise — the premise I sort of thought they were working toward — was that, by having a city not part of an existing nation, they could write their own laws and evade stupid anticompetitive regulations

      This argument – that you can’t improve governance within a host country – proves too much. For example, by this reasoning, Hong Kong couldn’t have generated any value, since it was not a sovereign nation but rather a charter city leased from one host country (China) and operated by another (UK). Yet Hong Kong had a better legal system than the UK, and a much better one than China, it demonstrably caused more wealth increase than either.

      Sovereignty is not a 0 or 1; there are many degrees of autonomy to govern. The US has more autonomy than France because it is not subject to the EU. France has more than French Polynesia (it’s territory), which has more than the city of Oakland. Getting some degree of autonomy means that you have the opportunity to improve some amount of bad regulation, and make some improvement in the world. As Hong Kong demonstrates, the impact of a charter city can be quite significant.

  3. shakeddown says:

    My own view is that “libertarian” gets used to pick out at least two different clusters of people. One is rich crony capitalists who want a convenient excuse to cut their own taxes and roll back workers’ rights, but who will fight tooth and nail against any decreased subsidies or increased competition that might threaten their own comfortable position. The other is people who are actually interested in using the power of competition to kindle innovation, improve access, bring down entrenched interests, and ultimately help regular people.

    To me the split seems more like deontoligical v. consequentialist libertarians: The first group tries to make it harder for the government to do things and ultimately end up making more regulatory hurdles, since their purpose is to push the less-government agenda (which can easily become the less-government-I-dislike agenda, because of ordinary human flaws), so they just end up adding a bunch of regulation on government. The second I provisionally support, especially for cases like the FDA.

    And I’m not sure it’s possible to raise my opinion of Thiel at this point without me doing something awkward like starting a cult.

    Can someone explain why people in these parts like Peter Thiel so much? He seems like a pretty generic libertarian businessman (with the exception of supporting Trump, which doesn’t raise my opinion of him, and Scott Aaronson saying he seems smart, which does, but not by that much).

    • to-mah-to says:

      One narrative we could spin is that Thiel is a canny investor, and he “invested” in Trump early so that he could get rewarded with power and use that power for good. If this narrative is true, he deserves a lot of credit for handling the election much better than the liberals did.

      Another narrative we could spin is that Thiel supported Trump because he genuinely believed Trump was the better candidate, and if that’s the case then it seems like he mostly deserves condemnation but we’ll know for sure in four years.

      There’s also the thing where he drove Gawker into bankruptcy, and if someone wants to describe that as a great act of justice (as opposed to, eg, an attack on the freedom of the press), I could understand that perspective.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        I never understood this frame of the Gawker thing. What happened seems to be this: Gawker outed Thiel. Regardless of whether he was already outed or not, Thiel apparently did not like this, and ?swore revenge?. Gawker continued to do Gawkerish things, and ran afoul of the law with someone else. Thiel proceeded to use the justice system to clobber them into the ground.

        It seems to me, re: “outing people,” the person being outed has the final say. If the person did not like it, that’s the end of the moral discussion. Re: “drove Gawker into bankrupcy,” I don’t see how this is a freedom of the press thing. Gawker did a thing that was legally questionable enough for Thiel to get his revenge. Maybe do less of those?

        Am I missing something about this story, other than “Thiel is a rich evil libertarian space vampire, and therefore cannot be in the right here”?

        My personal esteem of Thiel is not nearly as high as Scott’s. I think a lot of rationalist folks’ judgement of this person are a bit clouded due to his EY connection. Of course, I would say this about EY himself, also.

        • lvlln says:

          I’ve always been confused by this as well. Gawker went into bankruptcy because a judge and jury that was, as far as we know, un-coerced, ruled that Hulk Hogan deserved to win the lawsuit that he brought against them. Thiel bankrolled the lawsuit, but that doesn’t change the fact that the lawsuit was won on its merits, not thanks to Thiel doing anything to manipulate the court.

          I’ve tried hard to find a reasonable steelman of the claim that Thiel killed Gawker in an act against freedom of the press, but the best I’ve been able to come up with is that without Thiel’s backing, Hogan wouldn’t have been able to afford the lawsuit and get the judge and jury to make its ruling. This has the problem of treating the lack of dispensation of justice as determined by a judge and jury as the truly just thing to happen, which I find unconvincing, as there’s no evidence that I’ve been able to find that what this judge and jury did was any less just than any other typical ruling. Of course, this could be saved by claiming that judges and juries in the US or Florida are in general or in cases involving the press unjust and thus Thiel enabling a judge and jury to make such a ruling was committing an injustice, but I don’t see people claiming that, and I don’t see evidence to that effect in any case. And even if that were the case, it would seem to me that the blame would lie on the judge and jury and/or the laws they were basing their ruling on, rather than Thiel, who was just enabling people to follow the rules as they are established in the US.

          A less charitable, but I believe likely more likely, explanation is that it just checked off a bunch of boxes such as a billionaire funding a lawsuit, the plaintiff being a bad type of person, and the defendant being a particular type of left-friendly publication, that many people just jumped to the freedom-of-the-press angle without really analyzing it critically. But that’s really cynical, and I really just hope I’ve been missing something obvious this entire time which makes the reasoning make sense.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Thiel proceeded to use the justice system to clobber them into the ground.

          Maybe people don’t like the reality that the US judicial systems allows you to get away with quite a lot of illegal stuff unless some billionaire holds a grudge against you.

          • Nornagest says:

            Maybe so, but I’ve never heard that argument in conjunction with the Gawker episode before now.

          • TenMinute says:

            \And they had to focus all their rage and indignation about that state affairs on this one incident, and use it to smear this one person. I understand.

          • guizzy says:

            If anything, this proves that the issue with the judicial system is more “Not Enough Thiels” than “Too Many Thiels”.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            If anything, this proves that the issue with the judicial system is more “Not Enough Thiels” than “Too Many Thiels”.

            Even if you think Thiel was in the right in this case (protip: the doctrines of both Judaism and Christianity seem to suggest that revenge is immoral except when God does it), I fail to see how more wealthy people using the justice system as a weapon would improve anything unless “number of lawyers” is a favorite metric of yours.

          • JL says:

            @ wysinwygymmv

            > Even if you think Thiel was in the right in this case (protip: the doctrines of both Judaism and Christianity seem to suggest that revenge is immoral except when God does it), I fail to see how more wealthy people using the justice system as a weapon would improve anything unless “number of lawyers” is a favorite metric of yours.

            You misread the parent. The suggestion isn’t that if your opponent has money that can get you unfairly convicted; it’s that unless your opponent has money, you’ll never get sued even if you deserve to.

        • Anaxagoras says:

          One point I’ve seen made that I’m not myself knowledgeable enough about the law to evaluate is that Thiel didn’t just bankroll Hogan’s suit, he worked to make it as destructive to Gawker as possible, even in ways that wouldn’t maximize Hogan’s expected damages. I don’t recall the details, but it was more than pushing not to settle. I vaguely remember something about some way of basically raising the stakes with fees or something such that Hogan would be in trouble if he didn’t win and didn’t have a billionaire backing him.

          Basically, not that Gawker didn’t really wrong Hogan (and for that matter, Thiel), but more that this alone didn’t seem to warrant destruction of the entire organization, setting aside whether they had it coming in the big picture. In The Control Group is Out of Control, our host says “Other than a few very exceptional large medical trials, there is not a study in the world that would survive the level of criticism I am throwing at Bem right now.” Bem’s still wrong, but the weapon wielded against him would work equally well against studies that are correct. Similarly, the weapon being wielded against Gawker would work equally well against almost all other publications.

          A lot of people considered it justice done when the authorities threw the book at OJ Simpson for robbing a memorabilia dealer. Ditto busting Al Capone for tax evasion. Obviously, tax evasion and robbing people are bad, but their punishments are clearly because they weren’t able to be nailed for their other crimes. When Peter Thiel used one winnable case to execute Gawker for their pattern of badness, he did a vigilante version of that, and I think it’s reasonable for people to be nervous.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Similarly, the weapon being wielded against Gawker would work equally well against almost all other publications.

            Not seeing the problem here, har har.

            It’s also worth pointing out that the “billionaire legal vigilante” is already a well-populated space in American political life; it’s just that it tends to be populated with left-wing billionaires operating through various foundations and advocacy groups. That doesn’t make it good necessarily, but it does make it a little odd that we are only supposed to be concerned about it now.

          • Anaxagoras says:

            There’s assuredly some publication you would rather not see obliterated. And even though obviously new ones will spring up to fill the vacuum, I’d really rather not have the norm in journalism be to never publish something someone powerful enough to destroy you wouldn’t like. Thiel was legitimately wronged, but there’s billionaires vastly more censorous and evil. See Dan Snyder and his crusade against Washington City Paper. Granted, he didn’t destroy them, but that’s more because he’s also an incompetent ass.

            Could you give some examples of left-wing billionaires vigilante activity? My impression has been that advocacy groups are a pretty bipartisan hobby. I would say the reaction is different because this is a very different sort of attack than what I can recall seeing before, and also because the target is media, and the media loves to talk about itself.

          • blaisorblade says:

            The lawsuit was indeed designed for destruction: Hogan’s lawyers phrased the claims so that damages could not be paid by Gawker’s insurance (while IIRC reducing the amount of damages). That made no sense for Hogan, but lots for Thiel. I understand Gawker would otherwise be fine (but I’m less sure of the details).
            So yeah, punishment was here excessive with respect to what would usually happen.

            Then, at least according to Gawker, just to make sure Gawker wouldn’t survive, the same lawyer continued with far more questionable causes. Goal: intimidate new buyers.

            And yes, the concern is that these tactics could be used against other publications.

          • stucchio says:

            Anaxagoras, the Southern Poverty Law Center (aka an activist group) used a similar (meritorious) lawsuit to shut down the Aryan Nations.

            https://www.splcenter.org/seeking-justice/case-docket/keenan-v-aryan-nations

            Exxon has been sued by an activist group over it’s speech about climate change:

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/exxonmobil-lawsuit-conservation-law-foundation-climate-change_us_57ec1512e4b024a52d2c5ae5

            You can almost certainly find billionaires behind these activists. Most likely this is what the parent meant.

            I don’t think billionaires were involved, but various activists did sue to have various revenge porn sites (pretty sure Gawker qualifies as one) shut down. So this is hardly unprecedented.

            https://mic.com/articles/29558/hunter-moore-lawsuit-anti-bullying-activist-gets-revenge-on-revenge-porn-king#.2Uc48X5Sd

          • albertborrow says:

            @blaisorblade

            Just how could these tactics be used against another publication? I understand that the lawyers were being exceptionally thorough, but there’s nothing they’ve done that’s been particularly un-lawyer-like. From what I could see, Gawker dug it’s own grave, hard with the whole:

            Q. Well, can you imagine a situation where a celebrity sex tape would not be newsworthy?

            A. If they were a child.

            Q. Under what age?

            A. Four.

            Thing.

            Even if Thiel intended and manipulated the trial to be exceptionally damaging to Gawker, can you imagine a scenario in which they would have won this thoroughly, had Gawker not played their cards extremely poorly?

          • Desertopa says:

            Personally, I hope that the Hogan case becomes a major legal precedent; I would much rather news publications see publishing injurious private information about individuals which has no social consequence beyond people’s personal interest in reading it as being much too risky to engage in. If they’re occasionally sued, but not for so much that they don’t remain solvent, then given that they’re not usually sued, they’re liable to keep doing it, whereas I’d prefer that they never do.

            Supreme Court precedent supports a constitutional right to privacy, but in spite of this, the only real protection most citizens have for their privacy, as most people understand privacy, is the disinterest of the rest of the populace. I for one would prefer for citizens’ right to privacy be upheld over others citizens’ right to buy access to the personal information of people who don’t want it disseminated. If every news publication which engages in this practice goes bankrupt, there will still be a demand for news and they’ll be replaced in the market by publications which don’t engage in it, so rather than fearing the consequences of the lawsuit becoming widespread, I’d rather see them become universal.

        • thetitaniumdragon says:

          I’m sorry, but you don’t have the right not to be outed. Period.

          You don’t have the right to stop anyone from saying any true thing about you.

          Ever.

          Now, if you want to keep something a secret, that’s fine. But if someone says some true thing about you, too bad for you.

          Don’t do shit you don’t want to become public knowledge. Or, at least, don’t do shit that, if it becomes public knowledge, will ruin you.

          A critical component of freedom of speech is the freedom to speak the truth.

          Using the legal system to attack someone in the way he did damages the legal system; the case was not meritorious, as was noted by others.

          • Aapje says:

            @thetitaniumdragon

            Legal right or morally right?

            I strongly disagree that telling the truth is always the moral thing to do. If you have a Jew hidden in your closet and a Nazi asks you whether there is a Jew in there, the moral thing is to lie.

            Outing a gay person does not typically result in death, but can have severe social repercussions. If the advantages of outing the person don’t outweigh the downsides, it is a moral wrong.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Your SSN is 296-87-1457. True thing!*
            Your checking account number at Bank of America is 01489467, and your brokerage account number at Merrill Lynch is 1483-1012. True thing!*
            In these accounts you currently have $3,450,130 available should it ever become necessary to ransom your 7-year-old daughter, who attends Westville Elementary and walks home along Glenwood Avenue. True thing!*

            *All true things invented for the purpose of this example.

          • Matt M says:

            “Using the legal system to attack someone in the way he did damages the legal system; the case was not meritorious, as was noted by others.”

            Except it was meritorious, as was noted by the actual court/jury who is responsible for deciding whether cases have merit or not.

            You have the right to out someone – that was never disputed. You don’t have the right to post videos of someone having sex without their consent. That is what bankrupted them.

          • thetitaniumdragon says:

            You need to learn how to make a real argument and not a strawman argument.

            If you cannot do that, you cannot call yourself a rationalist, and you’re just wasting people’s time.

            @Aapje: That is not even remotely the same situation.

            If you haven’t figured it out yet, the two situations have nothing in common. In fact, I said *absolutely nothing about lying*.

            What I *said* was that “You don’t have the right to stop anyone from saying any true thing about you.”

            What does that have to do with lying?

            Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.

            Lying to protect someone else has *nothing* to do with preventing people from telling the truth.

            Lemme predict your next move: you’ll admit that this was a strawman and rephrase it slightly. “What if you live in a country where the punishment for being gay is death and you out someone for being gay?”

            Okay. What if you live in said shitty country, and said government finds out you were protecting said gay person? They kill you.

            You *can* lie in that situation. And indeed, should. But you are not *morally obligated* to do so.

            Now, you can argue you are morally obligated to overthrow said government, but most people (including yourself, as you aren’t out there overthrowing said governments – unless, of course, you are posting from some third world country you are secretly undermining right now, in which case I apologize) are cowards, or at the very least lazy, which is how such governments gain power in the first place.

            And if someone in the first world outs you as gay? Well, too bad for you.

            Indeed, let me turn that around: do people have the right to lie and protect terrorists or criminals from the police?

            No. You go to jail for that.

            So obviously, lying to protect people is not even generally protected, and we laud people who turn in bad guys to the authorities.

            In a democratic society, the laws are rules which were agreed upon by society. You do not, in fact, have the right to opt out, and you should remember that it is those very rules of society which bar people from stabbing you in the neck and taking all your stuff.

            Civilization is a choice. If you choose not to be civilized, it is morally right that you forfeit the protections of civilization.

            In the end, it is a dick move to out someone as gay in some third world country, but it is not, generally speaking, illegal.

            In the first world? You have no argument at all. Some people will think less of you? Too fucking bad. It is their perogative to do so. You don’t have the right to control how other people think about you, and that is exactly what you are arguing you have the right to do.

            And indeed, many non-illegal things will make people think poorly of you – commit adultery? Many people will dislike and distrust you – and justifiably so. Hell, if you’re polyamorous, many people will think less of you.

            But neither of those things are illegal.

            You might want to keep them private, but you have no right to prevent someone from telling the truth about you.

            @Cerebral Paul Z: Yet another strawman argument.

            First off, that is not “information about” me in any meaningful sense. Those are arbitrarily assigned strings of numbers. Do they tell you anything about me?

            No, they don’t. So first off, this is a disingenuous argument on the face of it.

            Saying “I have $40,0000” or whatever in my bank account *is* meaningful information about me, and is quite different (obviously so) than, say, giving out someone’s password.

            Secondly, it is worth noting that it is not actually illegal to publish someone’s social security number – there are, in fact, numerous public records which contain things like SSNs, and while it may be illegal to acquire a SSN in certain ways (fraud, theft, ect.), publication of SSNs and similar information is not illegal.

            This is actually quite an important principle, as it could open people up to all sorts of nasty prosecution. The reason it is not illegal to publish this information is the same as why it is not illegal to publish classified information if you are not under some legal obligation to keep it secret – if some CIA agent leaves his folder of classified information lying around on a table in a cafe, you can publish that in the New York Times and there isn’t shit the government can do about it.

            If this were not the case, it would be possible to arrest people for repeating information which was known to the public, possibly arbitrarily, which is an extremely negative outcome.

            This is a much worse outcome, which is why it is important that you cannot do so.

          • thetitaniumdragon says:

            @ Matt M

            It really wasn’t meritorious. He’s a public figure, someone leaked his sex tape to the press. Gawker was unable to appeal the verdict to the full extent of the law because of a court ruling by a Florida judge.

            The size of the award was also completely ridiculous.

            Given Theil’s connections to people who have bribed public officials (such as Trump), it is far from unthinkable that the judge was bribed.

            Moreover, most observers agreed that the first amendment was on Gawker’s side, and that the ruling was basically because “Gawker are assholes”.

          • Aapje says:

            @thetitaniumdragon

            I chose a different frame, because I consider your framing disingenuous.

            Gawker was not forced to out Thiel. They chose to do so because they wanted to damage him. At that point, they did something legal, but something that is also immoral, IMO. Thiel got upset and also did something that is legal, that was meant to damage Gawker. Whether you consider this justifiable depends on how you feel about tit-for-tat.

            You defend one of these actions (the least defensible one) and call the other one immoral, even though both are legal and both were truth-based.

            I can come up with no system of moral philosophy where this is not hypocrisy.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Why not both? Thiel really cares about innovation in biotech industries. He knows Trump is not going to share all his ideals but this is a real opportunity for him to shake up the FDA and the healthcare industry. Thiel probably isn’t completely aboard the Trump train but it looks like he thinks Trump will be better where it counts.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      Can someone explain why people in these parts like Peter Thiel so much? He seems like a pretty generic libertarian businessman (with the exception of supporting Trump, which doesn’t raise my opinion of him, and Scott Aaronson saying he seems smart, which does, but not by that much).

      If Rationalism is “systematized winning”, Peter Thiel is probably one of the best rationalists out there, helped by the fact that he seems to share some of the beliefs of the rationalsphere. Naturally rationalists will have a high opinion of him.

    • Wrong Species says:

      If there is anything that Thiel is not, it’s generic. He’s a bold risk taker and and thoughtful contrarian. He’s libertarian but much more cynical than the archetypal young libertarian programmer. He’s basically a version of Robin Hanson that went in to investing rather than academia.

      • shakeddown says:

        Could you give some examples for that? That seems to be people’s impression, but I haven’t heard of him doing any specific thing that’s not generic for either a VC or a libertarian.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I think the idea of the idealistic radical libertarian Silicon Valley is a little outdated and a little misleading. I think the best representation of old school Silcon Valley politics is Elon Musk. He’s distinctly apolitical. Not libertarian because he does take money from the government for SpaceX. But to him, politics is a force of nature to be worked around. You don’t bother changing it. You come up with technology that skirts the borders of regulation(i.e. Uber). Mark Zuckerberg represents the new Silicon Valley. Politically self-aware and liberal but understanding of the necessities of working with conservatives. This doesn’t mean they are progressive lapdogs but it is why they supported Clinton. Thiel is the old school programmer in that he tries to work around politics but he is doing so with the goal of changing the political system. I don’t see any other people in Silcon Valley trying to do that. The guy who created Bitcoin is similar except he notably remains anonymous. Thiel has notably risked his social capital in a way that libertarian sloganeering doesn’t.

          • shakeddown says:

            Aside from supporting Trump, what has he done about this? He hasn’t created Bitcoin or Tesla or SpaceX. He invested in Facebook and helped found paypal, but a there were a bunch of other people involved in both who aren’t well-known. What is it that he’s said or done that differentiates him from the masses? I’m not trying to criticize him, I genuinely don’t know.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Seasteading is a good example. He also wants to get rid of the current university system and has given prizes to certain people who have pledged to use the money for start-ups rather than college. He’s also infamous for declaring that he no longer finds democracy and freedom compatible.

            Before the election, he was noted as being a contrarian eccentric. Of course, now he’s considered a billionaire super villain. The NYT had a pretty good interview with him recently.

            https://nytimes.com/2017/01/11/fashion/peter-thiel-donald-trump-silicon-valley-technology-gawker.html

            Also, asking what he’s done besides Trump is like asking Mrs. Lincoln what she thought about the play other than the shooting. It’s a big deal.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I’d say Paypal is itself as big a deal as bitcoin, even if ended up not living up to Thiel’s ambitions.

    • Can someone explain why people in these parts like Peter Thiel so much?

      Thiel is a smart libertarian with a very independent and original attitude. One of his projects was persuading productive people not to waste four years going to college when there was something else they wanted to do, by offering to subsidize them in doing it. Another is being an early supporter of the seasteading project. I believe that Paypal was originally a project to create a sort of anonymous ecash, based off Palm pilots, mainly for the use of people in the Third World who wanted to function out of sight of their kleptocratic rulers (my interpretation of an early talk on Paypal, probably by Thiel). It didn’t work out that way, but it was a clever idea.

      You refer to “generic libertarian businessman” as if it were a broad group. I can only think of one other major Silicon Valley figure who is a reasonably hard core libertarian. Off hand, I cannot think of any other wealthy libertarian who has put money and effort into original projects for making the world better, outside his own business–where making donations to relatively libertarian politicians or subsidizing libertarian scholarship count as unoriginal, although possibly useful, projects.

      • webnaut says:

        I’m sure I’m biased as all hell but it does seem to me that as Silicon Valley has become more liberal and less libertarian, it has become more boring.

        That is not to say liberals can’t program or that libertarians are all startup geniuses but something about non-mainstream politics makes for some interesting software.

        Some examples:

        Bram Cohen, inventor of BitTorrent, Libertarian.

        He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, inventor of Urbit, Jury is out whether the project will succeed, but it’s mighty interesting.

        Theo de Raadt, inventor of openBsd, Socialist Anarchist.

        John Perry Barlow, founder of EFF, Internet Revolutionary?

        Satoshi, Bitcoin inventor, Libertarian.

        Point is that people with interesting politics make interesting ideas in other areas too and I worry that this breed is dying out in Silicon Valley. It’s not a left/right thing, I think a monoculture is the surest way to kill Silicon Valley by consigning it to irrelevance, to throwing birds at pigs forever.

        • shakeddown says:

          Those ideas seem like they got interesting because they’re libertarian, though, not because they’re interesting for unrelated measures. Someone’s opinion on them seems to largely depend on his opinion of libertarianism in the first place.

          • webnaut says:

            I don’t think the quality of “interestingness” is related specifically to libertarianism, two of my examples were N-RX and left anarchist after all, I think it has more to do with any type of thinking that is on the margins.

            I mention political examples of this because politics is a strong motivator.

            Fringe thinking kicks up interesting results from the peripheral. A lot of it won’t work, but that which works is likely to have an unusually large impact because almost everybody else is foraging over a territory where the low hanging fruit is obviously being snatched up.

          • shakeddown says:

            I agree with the fringe thinking part, but don’t think it’s restricted to liberterianism – for example, Elon Musk seems primarily motivated by environmentalism.

            Ideally, we want strong ideologies that allows both strong (and varied forms of) belief, and technical solutions. Libertarianism is a better match for the first criterion than the second, so just moving away from it might be okay (especially since the low-hanging ideas are mostly taken) – but we also have the problem that it seems to be replaced with lukewarm default ideology (or SJ, which is worse on both counts).

            Liberterianism aside, what interesting new ideologies could give good opportunities and haven’t been explored yet?

          • Possibly some old ideologies.

            I’ve been saying for some time that one of the interesting things about this century is going to be watching some of the old civilizations come back online.

            For the last couple of centuries, almost everything interesting and new was coming out of European civilization. Japan was the first break in that pattern. Then China, first in Taiwan, HongKong, Singapore, and now on the mainland. Possibly soon India. Iran. The Islamic world. Latin America. With luck, each of them will be building its own version of a market society, and they are likely to be different from each other.

          • webnaut says:

            @shakeddown

            All the interesting but esoteric political belief systems with technical chops are going to be controversial. This would be the Dark Arts.

            A group who endorses biotech in-group supremacy for religious or political reasons could have a strong advantage in human genetic engineering.

            A utilitarian extremist could potentially create useful drugs with greater ease because they wouldn’t have ethical qualms about secret human research laboratories.

            These are hypotheticals but there is something here. I think by default almost any idea I come up with would be deemed unacceptable by society because otherwise it’d belong in the low hanging fruit area we talked about where ‘normies’ could snatch it up.

            Recall that blood transfusions and vaccines, if I understand their origins rightly, would have been considered deeply unethical, but they gradually became acceptable concepts in society.

            Consider nuclear power. This is a case where the public has got it totally wrong. A real innovation wouldn’t so much be an improvement in output or cost, but getting the public to accept a new perspective on it.

          • webnaut says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Old civilizations connecting to the Internet sounds Neal Stephen-esque.

            Do you have some blog posts or something related to this idea? It’s the subject of eternal fascination to me.

            I’m a big fan of The Diamond Age, I’ve written before on HN how there may exist sociopolitical cycles whereupon a ‘Return to the Diamond Age’ is not an unlikely event as it is currently perceived today.

            This is off topic but congratulations go to Patri for the memorandum with French Polynesia and the ensuing media interest. I look forward to reading his new book!

          • Tibor says:

            @David:

            Just out of curiosity, do you consider Latin America less European than the US+Canada? If so, why? True, the proportion of Amerindian population is probably higher in Latin America, but otherwise the culture in those countries also has predominantly (southern) European roots. Otherwise I agree with you.

        • IrishDude says:

          To add to your examples:
          Jimmy Wales, inventor of Wikipedia, libertarian
          Jeff Bezos, inventor of Amazon, libertarian
          Ross Ulbricht, inventor of Silk Road, libertarian
          Cody Wilson, inventor of 3d printed guns, crypto-anarchist

          • webnaut says:

            Seems like there’s a lot of Irish people on here, I too am of The Island.

            We should all have a meet-up one day, I think our patron Scott even periodically visits.

            Then we can plot to take over the country or something 🙂

          • IrishDude says:

            I have a strong Irish heritage, but I’m American, with my Irish ancestors coming over in the 1800s.

        • Nornagest says:

          A couple of those are quite recent, though.

          • webnaut says:

            This is a recent issue Nornagest, partly due to the broader political events Silicon Valley has become increasingly partisan. David Friedman may know more about the extent to which this is true.

            It looks from the outside as if progressives are rejecting their outgroups on the right, a social purge if you will.

            For every high profile case you could point to: Eich, Thiel, Lucky there are more semi-anonymous cases.

            I’ve heard that the CEO of Yahoo fired a large number of men and replaced them with women for instance.

            I don’t know if that’s true but it seems obvious to me that if you were a rightist it’d be intelligent to disguise your political affiliation.

          • Cypren says:

            @webnaut: Speaking as someone worked in Silicon Valley up until a few months ago, this is definitely the case. Some amount of economic libertarianism is socially tolerable (it is an entrepreneurial economy, after all), but there is a rigid orthodoxy on multiculturalism, LGBTQ rights, environmentalism, systemic racism and victimhood, and many other social justice causes. Making any comments that deviate from those acceptable views will invite immediate public shaming and scorn and typically some amount of pressure to terminate your job.

            I’ve personally watched the full wrath descend in two cases to coworkers, both of whom became targets for Twitter lynch mobs that escalated into threats to the employer. One person was fired over it. The other managed to keep his job only because he was the recipient of a mildly politically-incorrect comment that someone made to him; he was a mob target merely for having been a participant in the conversation and not immediately taking to Twitter to denounce the heretic himself. (Fortunately, he was sufficiently valuable to the company that the CEO didn’t bow to the pressure to can him. But it was gobstopping that he could likely have gotten fired if he weren’t such a valuable employee, merely for having been sitting next to someone else who espoused CrimeThink.) The employee who made the impolitic comment was of course fired for it in in an offering to appease the blood gods.

            To give an example of just how bad this has gotten, one of my coworkers at the Silicon Valley office of a Fortune 100 company — one of the most recognizable ones in the world — had a formal HR complaint filed against him for racial harrassment because he was overheard saying telling someone else that he was going out for lunch instead of eating the company-provided food because he “wasn’t a huge fan of all the ethnic food lately”.

            This is the primary reason why, despite trying to be dispassionate, I’m a lot less rational and more emotional when it comes to the Left than the Right, even though I have about the same amount of ideological differences with both. The Right is my fargroup; other than some relatives on Facebook, I don’t interact with them and I’m not affected by them. But I’m living a more or less constantly closeted life in a Left-dominated industry where any hint of discordance with the hive mind could immediately threaten my livelihood.

          • Matt M says:

            “had a formal HR complaint filed against him for racial harrassment because he was overheard saying telling someone else that he was going out for lunch instead of eating the company-provided food because he “wasn’t a huge fan of all the ethnic food lately”.”

            Hah! I actually caught myself about to say something like that a couple weeks ago, and then said to myself “holy crap – I better not” and instead just said something like “I just feel like going out”

            Amazing that my seemingly paranoid concern might have been justified!

          • webnaut says:

            @Cypren

            I believe it Cypren, there is a veritable torrent of similar stories coming out of the Valley. I’m sorry to hear about your ‘hermit status’ but that is probably a sensible position. It is smart to pretend to be in the in-group while keeping stock with your own ideas (so you don’t get assimilated), I wrote this several months ago on this same subject:

            “[The danger of] Occupational Bifurcation.

            A high number of programmers and geeks have politically radical or reactionary beliefs, often taking positions atypical of the party mainstream. They also have some forms of unique politics non-extant in the general population.

            Politically right wing individuals don’t make the same kinds of choices as left wing ones. This also applies to occupational niches.

            So we could wind up with SV corporations dominated by leftists, and others by rightists. The left would own things like social and healthcare, the right would own finance and the murderbot factories.

            I leave the conclusion as an exercise for the reader. ;-)”

            It’s not comparable to being fired from a job in RL but I later got my account shadow banned on HN for complaining there was too much political propaganda mixed up with the newsfeed. There was, there is. I never once posted news from right wing sites but there is a absolute waterfall of nonsense from blatantly partisan websites like Salon, MotherJones, DailyKos, HuffingtonPost on there. I don’t think a day goes by without one sided discussions about minority rights and women’s rights. SV’s most popular forum has gradually (but with higher speed after the election) shifted from having large numbers of libertarians to being nearly completely liberal. That’s not because the libertarians aren’t there anymore or converted to liberalism, it’s because they’ve been culled.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @webnaut

            We old libertarian cranks can still be found at Slashdot. It’s too uncool for all but a token few of the progressive crowd.

            I also worked for a Silicon Valley company up until a few months ago. I don’t know if the company is the same as Cypren’s, but the intolerance is the same.

          • webnaut says:

            @Nybbler

            Thanks for the Slash Dot suggestion. I wonder if this is a reversible phenomenon. Not feeling particularly good about it.

            Relations of all kinds are becoming more antagonistic in Europe and America, I think only genuine economic progress could prevent it from getting more so.

            As usual this lends credence to Thiel’s ideas about tech stagnation its implications for political unity.

            @IrishDude

            At least you’re here in spirit!
            #shamrockempire

        • Bram Cohen says:

          Why do people keep thinking I’m a libertarian? I’m not a libertarian.

          • webnaut says:

            @Bram Cohen

            Apologies then Bram. How would you describe yourself politically?

            My general thesis is that unusual political stances are correlated to other characteristics i.e. intellectuals and innovators tend to hold diverse beliefs across many subjects, not just a few.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      To piggyback here, I really don’t understand how Thiel literally finding a way to bankrupt a company because he didn’t like something they said is in line with the supposedly sacred “Argument gets counter-argument, never a bullet” principle.

      He didn’t even convince a lot of people that what Gawker did to him was bad. He used someone else’s case to destroy a company while working behind the scenes.

      This seems absurdly hypocritical to me, but maybe I am not seeing clearly.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        To piggyback here, I really don’t understand how Thiel literally finding a way to bankrupt a company because he didn’t like something they said is in line with the supposedly sacred “Argument gets counter-argument, never a bullet” principle.

        I don’t think outing someone against their will, or posting someone’s sex tape without their consent are exactly what I would construe as “an argument”. That being said, I don’t defend the morality of his actions (which are sort of neutral to me), just the coolness of them.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Whatever Happened To Anonymous:

          I don’t think outing someone against their will, or posting someone’s sex tape without their consent are exactly what I would construe as “an argument”.

          I think there is a direct argument that Hulk Hogan, reality TV star who raises himself up as a paragon of virtue, is actually a philanderer and does it in a sleazy manner.

          I think there is also an implicit argument, that Hogan is a public figure and seeks publicity and therefore his actions are of interest to the public. Contained within that argument is another argument having to do with the need for a free press in order that all information available about an issue not be propaganda.

          I’m not saying those are necessarily winning arguments, but I think they are there.

          That being said, I don’t defend the morality of his actions (which are sort of neutral to me), just the coolness of them.

          I’m not actually interested in whether Gawker deserved the judgement against them, whether it was moral to bring suit, etc. I’m far more interested in whether attempting to bankrupt a company for releasing true information that you don’t like fails Scott’s bullet test.

          I think it is clearly a bullet by Scott’s definition. I think if an outside interest had sued Mozilla because it thought they were discriminating against gays by continuing to employ Eich and somehow won a judgement that Scott would have called it a bullet. The question is how close to “argument” is what Gawker did?

          To me the whole thing is in some clearly uncertain territory vis-a-vis his argument.

          Mostly I never bought the expansive definition that Scott was trying to bring to the table that there was this extremely bright line that should never, ever, ever be crossed. There are things over there that are clearly out of bounds, but there is a lot of stuff that is contextual.

          But given Scott’s vociferous support for a bright line, it strikes me as odd that Thiel at the least edging up to it doesn’t make him question his support for Thiel.

          • Drew says:

            I’m not actually interested in whether Gawker deserved the judgement against them, whether it was moral to bring suit, etc.

            Theil used legal actions to take out Gawker. The specifics matter. Some legal actions are just. Others are abusive.

            Suppose that, instead of a privacy-invasion suit, Theil had produced evidence that Gawker had helped conceal the acts of a serial killer. With the personal knowledge of its CEO.

            He helps the family of the victims bring suit. That would still be a legal action. But helping the family of murder-victims is an obviously good act.

            If, in contrast, Theil had filed thousands of nuisance suits, that wouldn’t have been laudable.

            In reality, he helped someone win an invasion of privacy sex tape.

            The precedent is just, “Don’t piss off billionaires and also commit acts worth millions of dollars of civil damages. The billionaire might help your victim get recourse to the court.”

            I can live with that. The only regrettable thing is that ‘access to the courts’ apparently requires backing from a billionaire.

            In a just world, Gawker would have had to face this court case before Theil’s involvement.

          • hls2003 says:

            I’m guessing you’re not a lawyer. I don’t mean that snidely – just that if you’re in the legal profession, you see what Thiel did as completely unremarkable. There are many companies whose sole service is to invest funds in litigation for a share of the payout. There are even more attorneys whose sole job is litigation funding (i.e. contingency agreements). Large law firms provide tens of millions of dollars of pro bono work to replace litigation funding (admittedly I doubt many would see Hogan as a charity case). Or to put it outside the civil litigation realm, government funds public defenders because access to an attorney in a criminal case is a Constitutional guarantee.

            Thiel did nothing to bankrupt Gawker that a hundred other persons or institutions couldn’t have done just as well. And really, Hulk Hogan didn’t bankrupt Gawker either. A jury found that Gawker did that to itself.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            In a just world, Gawker would have had to face this court case before Theil’s involvement.

            Would capitalism function in a just world? Wage theft amounted to more in dollar value than physical thefts in 2012 as an example. Imagine if all those unfortunate workers sued! How many businesses would go under? Could the US economy survive?

            That’s just wage theft. Imagine all the other crazy things people would bring to court if access to the law were increased…

          • shakeddown says:

            I suspect that world wouldn’t have much wage theft in the first place. Whether the american economy would survive that is up to your general perspective on the economy.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah “think of the poor companies that make their employees work without pay” is somehow not inspiring a lot of sympathy in me for your case.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            My point has apparently gone whooshing over people’s heads while they gaze steadfastly at their shoes.

            What activists did to Mozilla is utterly unremarkable. Attempted boycotts happen all the time. Some are successful and some aren’t.

            That has precisely fuck-all to do with the fact that Scott objected to those actions on the grounds that they were a “bullet”. Thiel’s actions, under Scott’s rubric, are also a bullet, and therefore supposed to be out of bounds.

          • Jiro says:

            1) I don’t consider Thiel’s actions to be a “bullet”. Everyone is supposed to be able to get justice under the law; if nobody gets it and a billionaire manages to buy justice for a deserving person, the problem isn’t the billionaire buying justice, the problem is the lack of justice for everyone else.

            2) Outing Thiel can itself be considered a “bullet”.

          • Matt M says:

            “Outing Thiel can itself be considered a “bullet”.”

            Especially given that their own self-admitted justification for outing him was that they didn’t much care for his political opinions.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Jiro

            HBC is particularly calling out Scott’s endorsement of Theil, this is not a general argument about Theil’s actions or the morality there in, it is an attempt to hold Theil’s actions to the standards as set by Scott, in this essay.

            So, from what I understand of that essay, your point 2.) isn’t relevant, just because the other side uses bullets that is not a justification for you to use bullets. More generally, I don’t think anyone would argue that Gawker did not regularly use ‘bullets’ as per Scotts definition, but again, his position is, ostensibly, a meta level position against the use of bullets, not the AC position of ‘they use bullets so I am going to use bullets’.

          • carvenvisage says:

            @HBC

            On the point of thiel ‘not liking’ true information which was released, are you roleplaying as an Ayn Rand villain or something?

            Because outing someone just is a bullet. There’s nothing subjective or touchy feely about it. ‘Well opinions could differ on that’. Sure, but reality doesn’t differ on it. Outing someone=bullet. No ifs, no buts, no appeals to the unknowability and mysteriousness of this reality we call life. Han shot first, water is wet, the pope is a catholic, bears do shit in the woods, and outing someone is a bullet.

        • Jiro says:

          just because the other side uses bullets that is not a justification for you to use bullets.

          Scott said that an argument shouldn’t be met by a bullet. Scott didn’t say that nothing should be met by a bullet. If outing someone counts as a bullet rather than an argument, Scott did not rule out responding with another bullet.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jiro/@spookykou:

            Which leaves us in the position that bullets are very hazily defined and one is in the very murky territory where people say “their actions were a bullet, but mine are pure (or defensive)”.

            Eich funded someone else’s campaign for legal action to continue to deny gay people marriage rights. If that’s a bullet, then responding with a bullet is justified.

            Who gets to decide what is a bullet? When is it a bullet to make public information that is already well known?

            Again, I’m not arguing in favor of Gawker. I’m just illustrating that this supposed bright line principal is not very bright at all.

          • Spookykou says:

            Jiro, first, you have shown time and time again in the comments here that you have almost no respects for our host in terms of his epistemic virtue, you regularly deride him as being biased. I have no idea why you are trying to argue that Scott is being virtuous/consistent here, except that you are still viewing this argument as a proxy for how virtuous you think Theil is or isn’t. I imagine if the terms of the argument were changed you would not hesitate to ascribe the opposite position to Scott from what you have done here.

            I assume it must be the latter, because you clearly didn’t bother to go back and reread/read the essay if you think that,

            Scott said that an argument shouldn’t be met by a bullet.

            makes any sense.

            First, what is a bullet?

            When Scott calls rhetorical tactics he dislikes “bullets” and denigrates them it actually hilariously plays right into this point…to be “pro-bullet” or “anti-bullet” is ridiculous. Bullets, as you say, are neutral. I am in favor of my side using bullets as best they can to destroy the enemy’s ability to use bullets.

            In a war, a real war, a war for survival, you use all the weapons in your arsenal because you assume the enemy will use all the weapons in theirs. Because you understand that it IS a war.

            -AC

            But I think what I am actually going to say is that, for the love of God, if you like bullets so much, stop using them as a metaphor for ‘spreading false statistics’ and go buy a gun.

            -Scott (following a list of groups who are widely regarded as successful who achieved success without turning to the behavior AC lauds)

            Now, and this is really important, you should notice that ‘bullets’ mean false statistics/malicious lies.

            They are a metaphor for bad arguments, not real world actions.

            Second.

            So let’s derive why violence is not in fact The One True Best Way To Solve All Our Problems.

            examples/explanation…

            Every case in which both sides agree to lay down their weapons and be nice to each other has corresponded to spectacular gains by both sides and a new era of human flourishing.

            Again, this part is important, he is expressly arguing against negative tit for tat behavior with your enemies.

            Also, really important in this section, he is building a timeline where in people have been getting nicer and nicer and that in particular, the people capable of coming together and agreeing to lay down their arms for the common cause, are the people who advance/flourish the most.

            He actually gets all the way to the point in this time line of niceness where people agree, well read,

            So again we make an agreement. I won’t use the apparatus of government against Protestantism, you don’t use the apparatus of government against Catholicism. The specific American example is the First Amendment and the general case is called “liberalism”, or to be dramatic about it, “civilization 2.0”

            now, this is IMO a step down from what Theil did, because I assume this means enacting laws specifically to hurt others, but it is certainly nudging and winking at me suggestively. He didn’t use the apparatus of government he used a government apparatus.

            Third,

            Scott did not rule out responding with another bullet.

            Well, the essay isn’t technically a list of rules, but.

            Andrew thinks that liberals who voluntarily relinquish any form of fighting back are just ignoring perfectly effective weapons.
            Let me name some other people who mysteriously managed to miss this perfectly obvious point.

            The early Christian Church had the slogan “resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39), and indeed, their idea of Burning The Fucking System To The Ground was to go unprotestingly to martyrdom while publicly forgiving their executioners. They were up against the Roman Empire, possibly the most effective military machine in history, ruled by some of the cruelest men who have ever lived. By Andrew’s reckoning, this should have been the biggest smackdown in the entire history of smackdowns.

            And it kind of was. Just not the way most people expected.

            Also skilled at missing the obvious: Martin Luther King. Desmond Tutu. Aung San Suu Kyi. Nelson Mandela was smart and effective at the beginning of his career, but fell into a pattern of missing the obvious when he was older. Maybe it was Alzheimers.

            So perhaps I am being too harsh on Theil, to contrast him with Aung San Suu Kyi and her ilk. After all, all Aung San Suu Kyi had to do was fight the Burmese junta, a cabal of incredibly brutal military dictators who killed several thousand people, tortured anyone who protested against them, and sent eight hundred thousand people they just didn’t like to forced labor camps. Theil has to deal with people who outed him on the internet. Clearly this requires much stronger measures!

            The above quote edited for impact.

            Now, the extent to which this essay sheds light on how Scott should or shouldn’t feel about what Theil did is vague. Nothing in it is directly comparable.

            However it is, I thought, painfully clear on how he feels about ‘responding in kind’ and the use of ‘bullets’. The meta principles of being nice, and civil, are in Scott opinion not just morally superior, but actually superior for achieving an end, once you have reached the level of liberalness in a society in which they work.

            Personally I think that what Theil did is very strange/hard to categorize and a consequentialist reading(I think Scott is still kind of consequentialist?) would be mostly ok with it. However I am inclined to believe that this at least in part reflects a rare example of Scott’s human fallibility.

          • Jiro says:

            Scott actually said that arguments shouldn’t be met with bullets. If he really intended that nothing should be met with bullets, as you are trying to imply by your editing for impact, why didn’t he say so?

          • Spookykou says:

            Several things.

            First, Scott is making a general case that arguments should be met with arguments, not malicious lies (bullets).

            This does not, at any point directly speak to real world censure(legal action) and or other actions. So we can’t know 100% for sure if Scott thinks it is or isn’t ok to take the action Theil takes.

            However, in the sections I brought up before, I think there is a clear and repeated theme, that violence and tit for tat negative behavior is wrong/counter productive. From this, I assume that Scott in general would be opposed to this kind of behavior, and in particular is opposed to the ‘they hit me so I get to hit them back’ mentality, that you are espousing here.

            Edit: He even opens with, drawing attention to the fact that he is not stooping to AC level, by using ‘bullets’ against him, just because AC believes in the use of, and uses ‘bullets’.

            I really feel like this point is made clearly, multiple times.

          • carvenvisage says:

            @spookykou

            The metaphor just doesn’t stretch remotely that far. The bullet metaphor is a loose illustration, not a watertight delineation. If you shift the context that much it’s long broken.

            Here’s the main differences between the situations:

            Thiel was able to target his revenge at the organisation which attacked him, and no one else.

            Scott was talking about groups of people using (utterly indiscriminate) tactics, which heavily degrade the shared environment which we rely on to make progress, for no useful or positive purpose.

            _

            I’d also argue that outing someone out of spite is quite different from donating to a political cause, along the normal lines of the political process.

            Where there not people donating in the opposite direction to eich? Was his act a unilateral defection? Or a normal part of the process?

            _

            Eich was basically punished for being on the losing side of a partisan dispute, and having confidential records leaked.

            We have an ordered system for resolving partisan disputes. Maybe it’s not a good system, but eich was playing by the rules of the game. A game which led to his loss. At this stage he accepted the ruling of the agreed on mediating process, and did not seek extrajudicial means to promote his cause or punish his opponents. He now lives in a land with that many more laws he disagreed with.

             

            The people who went after him won, but they weren’t happy with that. They went after him for daring to oppose them. (This is literally terrorism).

            That’s a hell of a bullet.

            _

            It’s also a betrayal of the good faith people who were sceptical about gay marriage or worried about a slippery slope, but held their noses or extended some trust and voted in favour for the sake of equality under the law. 100% guaranteed, there are people who voted in favour, who would not have, if they thought they were handing out a license for people on the tide of history to purge their political opponents.

            Good luck getting them to vote in your favour next time. (Maybe they’ll even vote against you to spite you, seemingly irrationally. Welcome to trump.)

            It’s also a betrayal of those good faith liberals who assured people that there was no slippery slope on the books. The kind of eminently good and decent people who can change sceptical minds, and get things done politically. Well done making them into liars, and good luck mobilising them with the same enthusiasm next time. Welcome to trump.

             

            In contrast, thiel took targeted revenge against a supposedly progressive organisation for outing him as a homosexual as, you guessed it, a punishment for sitting on the opposite side of a political divide.

            That’s not part of the formal provisions for resolving differences, like donating is. There’s no symmetry there. Liberals were donating against eich. Thiel was not outing liberals.

            Welcome to.. people thinking twice before they out someone.

            _

            _

            So Thiel took 1. carefully targeted revenge, against someone for 2. unilaterally attacking him, and 3. going out of bounds to do so. 4. in a normal, precedented manner. 5. not in contravention of any interpartisan Geneva convention. 6. in a direction for the better rather than the worse: We don’t want people attacking their political opponents just because they are their political opponents. We do want people to think twice before exposing people’s personal lives to hurt them.

            The people who ousted eich took 1. indiscriminate revenge (this is huge, the main ) against someone for 2. participating in the normal political process, symmetrically, just like their allies. 3. They had not been attacked or harmed by eich, -in fact they had won. With 4. an innovative new way to strike at enemies outside accepted bounds 5. in contravention of the necessary civility and acceptance of the other side’s right to peacefully campaign that is the cornerstone of a peaceful democratic process, and if it comes to it, basic order and stability.

            In reality there’s almost zero resemblance. Eich was attacked, completely unprovoked, in an unprecedented, out of bounds, destabilising way.

            Thiel was targeted by a similar but lesser unjustified attack, and later took the opportunity to retaliate, in a normal, in bounds, stabilising way.

            _

            Maybe you don’t agree with the proportionality of it, but I think Malcolm X’s stance on revenge is at least defendable-

            “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery”

            What’s the expression?- “an armed society is a polite society”. Same principle rederived.

            _

            Eich was reasonable, peaceful, courteous, obeyed the law, respected everybody, and never laid a hand on anyone. For this, his opponents tried to send him to the cemetery.

            Thiel was reasonable, peaceful, generally courteous, obeyed the law, and didn’t respect everybody, but hey 4 out of 5 isn’t bad.

            Gawker, an organisation which was aggressive, nasty, evidently didn’t obey the law, and disrespected everybody, put their hands on him, so he sent them to the cemetery.

            _

            _

            Last point. Scott listed that long list of people in response to someone laughing contemptuously at the idea of not using every dirty trick in the book. It’s a rebuttal to that treachorous, dangerous, and just plain retarded idea. It doesn’t constitute a statement of pacifism from Scott.

            And even if it did, it wouldn’t commit Scott do demanding pacifism of everybody. (quite hard to enforce, as it happens). Gandhi can be a pacifist without condemning soldiers fighting hitler. MLK can be a pacifist without condemning people acting in self defence.

            I don’t read Scott’s essay as a declaration of pacifism though. Dishonest rhetorical tactics can be bullets, but they’re not the definition of bullets. A fired Bullet is a hostile action which does damage. That includes dishonest rhetorical tactics, but obviously it also includes literally shooting your political opponents, with actual bullets, and everything else on the spectrum in between. So yeah, bad arguments gets counterargument, not bullet. If someone is honestly mistaken, you don’t go killing their dog any more than you go killing their family, and by extrapolation of the same principle, you don’t lie about them, push false statistics, drive yourself and your movement into a ‘superweapon’ armed frenzy, etc. Dishonest rhetorical tactics are just one kind of bullet.
            _

            edit: how does editing

            ‘deal with people who aren’t as feminist as he is’

            to

            ‘deal with being outed’

            not completely change the meaning?

            _

            _

            edit: the essential point is that tit for tat doesn’t work if someone tits you, and you tat someone else entirely. It works great if you can tat the person who tit you.

          • Spookykou says:

            Well that post seems to go off into quite a few different things, but as to the part that seems to be in reply to me, I think there might be some confusion

            I was responding in particular to Jiros claim that the in favor of niceness essay did not shed any light on Scott’s opinion on ‘If they use bullets can I use bullets’ and I feel like it does, do you disagree with that point?

            I have tried to, with each response, to hedge the extent to which the essay actually speaks to what Theil did and how much Scotts previously stated ethics should effect his opinion of Theil.

            However, looking at the totality of Scotts writing, and the particular kinds of things he seems to like and dislike, I can at least understand, and (I think) agree with HBC that this particular case, while strange, probably should trigger some red flags with regard to Scotts ethics.

          • carvenvisage says:

            I was responding in particular to Jiros claim that the in favor of niceness essay did not shed any light on Scott’s opinion on ‘If they use bullets can I use bullets’ and I feel like it does, do you disagree with that point?

            Sorry, I don’t understand the question. I can’t see where Jiro said that.

            I will say that “if they can use bullets I can use bullets’ is a very broad expression”. If someone uses bullets (defined as hostile actions which do damage) on you, I believe you’re entitled to use bullets on them, so long as you don’t shoot anyone else in the process. But certainly not entitled to start using tactics which degrade the environment for everyone.

            If someone defects against you, you can defect against them. That’s tit for tat. It’s not tit for tat to start using deleterious tactics that defect indiscriminately against everyone, because you’ve been wronged at some point.

            That’s also roughly what I take Scott’s position to be.

            I think Scott also has a forgiving and perhaps even pacifistic bent, but that that’s a standard he holds himself to, not other people.

            -Just because a person turns the other cheek when they’ve been slapped, doesn’t mean they believe it’s wrong to hit back.

            And if a person believes retaliation is justified, that doesn’t mean they think it’s ok to defect indiscriminately against everybody, because that’s not retaliation- it’s not retaliation or hitting back unless the person you hit is the same person who hit you first.

            So I think the inconsistency you think you’re seeing is a mirage.

            Well that post seems to go off into quite a few different things, but as to the part that seems to be in reply to me, I think there might be some confusion

            It’s all in reply to you. Hopefully the above makes it easier to decipher. (if not I can clarify anything which is unclear, if you want)

          • Spookykou says:

            I wholly disagree with your take on Scott’s writing.

            I would be deeply saddened to learn that your interpretation of Scott’s beliefs was accurate, his dedication to meta level principles in the face of the particulars of the object level conflict, and the desire to maintain those principles is singularly the most impressive thing about Scott, in my opinion.

            I doubt we can reconcile our readings as they are so different.

          • carvenvisage says:

            how did what I said contradict your characterisation of Scott?

            very confused

            Could you lay it out?

          • Spookykou says:

            If someone defects against you, you can defect against them. That’s tit for tat. It’s not tit for tat to start using deleterious tactics that defect indiscriminately against everyone, because you’ve been wronged at some point.

            This is almost the exact opposite of Scott’s opinion as I understand it.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Oh. There either shouldn’t be a comma there, or it should say ‘just because’. I’m saying that defecting against everybody because one person defected against you isn’t tit for tat, and that that’s the underlying meta level principle which argues against malicious lies etc.

            “It’s not tit for tat to start using deleterious tactics that defect indiscriminately against everyone, just because you’ve been wronged at some point. Tit for tat is about punishing defection, not turning against everyone”.

            Hopefully that clarifies or corrects it?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @carvenvisage:
            The argument is:

            Scott’s not in favor of tit-for-tat as an operating principle, no matter how carefully targeted.

            He is in favor of niceness and community.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            He does ban some commenters though. So he is clearly not averse to using (minor) bullets.

          • carvenvisage says:

            @HBC @Spookykou The part I quoted in my latest post is the part I think Scott agrees with. -He recognises that there’s a difference between true tit for tat and using malicious tactics that hurt everybody. (The original phrasing and lack of paragraph break was extremely unclear)

            He has condemnded malicious tactics that hurt everybody (against)

            he has presented his vision of niceness community and civilisation (for)

            afaik he has never come out against true tit for tat (neutral?)

          • Spookykou says:

            HBC linked this somewhere else in the thread which I think might be slightly more direct.

          • carvenvisage says:

            The only connection I can make from that to my post is that mechanical difficulties can arise with tit for tat in a system where many people can act at once and not know other people are acting at the same time. If that’s it, I don’t see how that’s a significant objection. Yes if you don’t think things through bad things can happen. Half of my my original point was that thiel did think things through, targetting gawker in a precise and controlled manner.

            Tit for tatatatatatatattatatatatatatatatatat……………………………………………………………………………………………………………etc, due to coordination difficulties, is a potential failure end state of tit for tat, just like getting overrun by defectbots is a failure mode for ‘niceness communication and civilisation’.

             

            edit: but more importantly, saying something people don’t like is not really a defection in the first place.

            If someone is genuinely going out of their way to hurt people, that is a defection, and should be disincentivised. If thousands of people send someone hate mail who sent strobe lights to epileptics, or something more malicious, it’s good if it accomplishes the job.

            More likely it wouldn’t, and such messages aren’t effective ways of tatting in the first place.

            So then we would have to appeal to the community appointed tatters, the police and judicial system, who can tat such people on our behalf.

            That’s a major function of the police and judiciary- to take the freedom from people who defect against society.

          • Spookykou says:

            @carvenvisage

            I am happy to agree to disagree, and as I said, I desperately hope that you are wrong.

            Edit: the disagreement has not changed at any point as far as I can tell…

            and his position on tit for tat was unknown

            I have full throttle opposed this idea, from the beginning, the only reason I even responded to Jiro, was to say that I thought his opinion was clearly against tit for tat.

            Addendum:

            it’s good if it accomplishes the job.

            this is exactly the kind of object level thinking that I desperately hope Scott does not support.

          • carvenvisage says:

            @spookykou Sorry I posted my last post before it was ready and edited significantly after it was down.

            _

            What do you hope I’m wrong about? Presumably not that Scott doesn’t recognises a difference between tit for tat and defectbot mode? Because there’s a huge difference.

            I said Scott was for niceness community and civilisation, against defect mode, and his position on tit for tat was unknown (I guesses neutral, with a ? to mark that I didn’t know). Do you disagree with one of those?

            I’m sorry to harp on about this but I really want to figure out what the specific disagreement is. I don’t know what it is we can agree to disagree about.

             

            _

            edit:

            thanks for the edit. I’m off to bed lol. Will think more about it tomorrow

          • carvenvisage says:

            @spookykou

            Scott: Every case in which both sides agree to lay down their weapons and be nice to each other has corresponded to spectacular gains by both sides and a new era of human flourishing.
            Again, this part is important, he is expressly arguing against negative tit for tat behavior with your enemies.

            It says every case in which both sides have agreed to lay down their weapons and be nice to each other has led to spectacular gains, not that each time people have unilaterally disarmed themselves against aggressors, things have gone for the better.

            As such it is not an argument against tit for tat at all.

            In a highly ordered society, you can outsource and formalise the need to disincentivise malicious + harmful behaviour, and deprive people who are using their power to do damage, of power, to police, judges etc. That’s a vital part of civilisation, and I’m sure Scott isn’t against it.

            _

            You also said bullets are a metaphor for bad arguments, not real world actions. That is contradicted in the last line of the ‘spirit of the first amendment’ post.

            Bad argument gets counterargument. Does not get bullet. Does not get doxxing. Does not get harassment. Does not get fired from job. Gets counterargument. Should not be hard.

            Why would bullets be a metaphor for bad arguments only? Even assuming that you mean to include ‘malicious lies’, etc, under that heading (which are not arguments at all), I think it’s still pretty clear that most of the harm from malicious lies doesn’t come from breaking the deontological rules of rationality, but from the damage it causes (A. directly and B. to the moral health of the user).

            And bullets in real life are the delivery mechanism of a damaging action (shooting someone), of an entirely different kind than lying about someone. The nature of the damage they do is different, so what they have in common is their damaging nature.

            _

            (see my first post for why I think the MLK quote isn’t doing anything like you think it’s doing. Also where I point out that ‘being outed’ is completely different from ‘having to exist in a world where people are less feminist than them’)

            _

            _

            To expand on the point about tit for tat in an environment without great security and stability, I’m going to use a relatively low stakes example. (relatively low stakes, high stakes in absolute terms.)

            Lets say that at school, one child is bullying another, and that the teachers aren’t able or interested in disincentivising them for whatever reason (i.e. in perfoming their necessary role of punishing bad behaviour so it doesn’t happen, just like the tit for tat strategy in the iterated prisoner’s dilemma)

            Ideally speaking, what’s the best order of preference for these outcomes?:

            A. No one does anything, that kid keeps on bullying that kid forever.

            B. Someone gets angry and beats the bully up until they stop (and stops thereafter)

            C. someone gets angry and beats the bully up, but remains hateful of the bully, and attacks them intermittently for some time (not necessarily physically).

            D. Someone tries to reason with the bully, and miraculously succeeds. The bully stops but is never punished for making the other kid’s life miserable.

            E. Someone tries to reason with the bully, it predictably doesn’t work. The bully continues to torment the other child, but is never punished.

            F. Someone learns from the bully’s example, generalises it, and starts lying about and/or beating up everybody, including the bully, claiming that this is in the cause of fairness, perhaps even using the words tit for tat. -You beat someone up, I beat someone up. We’ll see who gets tired first! (Hint- everybody else)

             

            My preference order is:

            C >= B > D > A=E > F

            Or to put it another way: Malcolm X >= tit for tat > pacifist intervention > non intervention > “lets have 2 bullies instead of 1”

             

            A pacifist who is categorically against tit for tat would be more like

            D > E > B > A=C > F

            successful pacifist intervention> unsuccessful pacifist intervention> tit for tat> unnecessary use of violence> greater proliferation of violence

             

            I’d guess Scott’s preference order would be something like (very roughly- gonna be at least partially wrong, no doubt)

            D> B > C> E > A > F

            Succesful pacifist intervention > restrained tit for tat> tit for two tats > ineffective intervention, continuation of miserably status quo> people stand by and do nothing > going crazy and attacking everybody (because it makes you feel good and/or you’re frustrated).

             

            What Scott seems to be arguing against, in his ‘niceness community and civilisation’ article, is: ineffective tactics and/or self indulgence, of an indiscriminately damaging nature, as a result of witnessing unfairness, putatively on the behalf of justice.

            F is by far the most morally wrong, and the most unambiguously wrong. -Under any genuine moral scheme, even insane ones like absolutist pacifism*.

            *distinct from absolute pacifism in that it demands that everyone else follow it as well. I think absolute pacifism as a personal moral code is usually quite admirable. In any case Scott is neither, but he double super definitely isn’t the latter.

            _

            So how is Scott a hypocrite for denouncing F, but not denouncing B/C (/using your social capital to get the teacher’s to do something)?

            The situations are not remotely similar, and Scott has never come out against tit for tat (I’m now pretty certain of that), rather he’s come out for better and more pleasant ways to do things, so long as the circumstances allow it. (explicitly arguing that they are not just morally better, but more effective, and that the other way is in fact ineffective.)

             

            Also, you said yourself that you think a consequentialist reading would mostly be ok with it, which is THE meta-ethical principle for Scott. Is it good? then it’s good. Is it bad? then it’s bad. I’m pretty sure that notion plays a large part in his meta-ethical grounding.

            _

            _

            P.S I never said that Scott thinks ‘it’s good if it accomplishes the job’, and it’s not ‘object level thinking’ anymore after you rip it from context and leave it as a string of words disconnected from the bloody object level, which could mean completely different things in different situations.

            For one thing, in my moral scheme, part of ‘the job’ Is to disproportionately punish people for unprovoked aggression against others. Scott is both a lot more utilitarian, and less of a believer in disproportionate revenge, than I am, so if Scott said those words in that sequence, he would probably mean something completely different. To Scott, ‘the job’ doesn’t involve scaring people straight.

            Also, if you pluck that statement from its context, it sounds a whole lot like a meta level (pseudo)principle that ‘the ends justify the means’. Or at the least can be interpreted as an endorsement of ‘moral luck’, the idea that whether it’s wrong to play Russian roulette with someone else’s head or not, depends on which chamber the bullet ends up in.

            I’m not sure if that’s what you were implying, but to be clear that’s not what I think. I believe that (obviously) things are morally good or bad based on the intentions, due diligence/consideration, etc, that went into them, -the things that actually go into the moral decision, not based on how things happen to shake out after the fact. If you ‘play Russian roulette’ with someone else’s head, obviously that’s wrong whatever end’s up happening.

            A more precise way to state what I meant by ‘if it does the job, it’s good’, would be, ‘if hatemail is a useful punishment or disincentive to sending epilepitcs strobe flashing lights, it’s probably a net positive, (according to my values, and understanding of what’s useful, and what’s likely to have deleterious knock on effects), if people send people who do such things hate mail, because, (based on the specific of the situation) 1. their emotional distress isn’t anywhere near as bad as causing people epileptic fits. not in the ballpark 2. they’ve earned it 3. they might learn something (this behavious is a big deal, people hate it) 4. very low or zero expected collateral damage.

            A lot of that meaning is implicit in the context. Plucking a small sentence fragment out doesn’t give you the object level thinking for the case. Never mind a general ‘kind’ of object level thinking.

            (Also for the record not even I endorsed that particular piece of object level thinking, because I said it would probably be ineffective. Which means I didn’t endorse hurting people a little who cause epileptic fits for the sake of it, so long as there’s no collateral damage, I endorsed hurting them a little if it will cause them to stop causing people much worse suffering, and there’s no collateral damage.)

            In any case I think it’s a bit overwraught to “desperately” hope Scott doesn’t endorse ‘that kind of object level thinking’ (what it was actually saying in context not how one might read that string of words divorced from the object level context it existed in relation to)

            I mean ‘It’s okay to hurt people a little, in order to stop them hurting others a lot, so long as there is no collateral damage’, is a necessary principle for lying to Nazis looking for jews at your door, because doing so will on average hurt their careers a little.

            _

            _

            edit: in that very post (niceness community and civilisation), Scott says

            So let’s talk about how beneficial game-theoretic equilibria can come to exist even in the absence of centralized enforcers. I know of two main ways: reciprocal communitarianism, and divine grace.

            Reciprocal communitarianism is probably how altruism evolved. Some mammal started running TIT-FOR-TAT, the program where you cooperate with anyone whom you expect to cooperate with you. Gradually you form a successful community of cooperators. The defectors either join your community and agree to play by your rules or get outcompeted.

            Divine grace is more complicated. I was tempted to call it “spontaneous order” until I remembered the rationalist proverb that if you don’t understand something, you need to call it by a term that reminds you that don’t understand it or else you’ll think you’ve explained it when you’ve just named it.

            (emphasis added)

      • TenMinute says:

        literally finding a way to bankrupt a company because he didn’t like something they said is in line with the supposedly sacred “Argument gets counter-argument, never a bullet” principle.

        There are so many red flags in this sentence, I’m not sure where to start.
        Firstly, the process of civil law is not “a bullet”. Hiring people (or just asking people like me) to burn down Gawker’s office and execute the entire staff? That’s a bullet.
        You should be happy civil law exists for situations where someone has been wronged.

        “because he didn’t like something they said”. Suddenly it’s not ok to be angry about outing/misgendering, etc.? Suddenly “freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences” no longer applies?
        Not to mention the sudden 180 on the total threat-and-boycott-worthy immorality of posting celebrity sex tapes. Or were the rules laid down in “the fappening” conveniently forgotten when a (fucking white) male was the victim?

        Thiel didn’t bankrupt the company. He quadruple-tag-teamed them with Hulk Hogan, the US legal system, and a jury of Gawker’s peers.
        On the other side? A bunch of sordid propaganda rags afraid they won’t be able to lie and bully people as much any more, who were reduced to publishing increasingly hysterical bullshit in a desperate attempt to manipulate public opinion as the truth came out?

        That you actually said “literally” before your absurd hyperbole makes me think you’re either being very subtle, or some little clickbait-implanted subroutine piggybacking on your brain wrote it for you.
        If it’s the former, congratulations. If it’s the latter, I’m sorry, and might I suggest surgery?

        • AnonEEmous says:

          the situation doesn’t reflect excellently on Thiel. Still, at the end of the day, he “used someone else’s situation” in that Gawker violated that person’s civil rights and that person sued. The flaw is just that this person, despite being a famous millionaire in his own right, wasn’t capable of getting the cash together to file suit. And frankly, given how terrible Gawker actually was, is it really bad that they got taken out in a totally legal and fair way?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @TenMinute:

          Take it up with Scott.

          Also, Gawker is in fact bankrupt. As in literally. Not figuratively literally. Literally literally.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Also, Gawker is in fact bankrupt. As in literally. Not figuratively literally. Literally literally.

            Could you say that again a few times? It’s just so lovely to read those words.

          • BBA says:

            Kotaku and Jezebel are still around, and most of the Gawker.com writers just moved their logins to Deadspin Concourse. Basically everyone except Nick Denton made it out unscathed.

        • wysinwygymmv says:

          Any post beginning with “There are so many red flags” needs fisking.

          There are so many red flags in this sentence, I’m not sure where to start.

          And then you listed three.

          Firstly, the process of civil law is not “a bullet”.

          Obviously begging the question. @HeelBearCub was up-front about the fact that he believed there’s a gray area in SSC’s non-standard use of the term “bullet”. This was, in fact, the entire point of the comment to which you replied. Furthermore, your argument was of the form:
          A is not an element of X. A is not identical to B. Therefore, B is not an element of X.
          Which is obviously an invalid argument. Your objection to “bullet” is unjustified.

          Thiel didn’t bankrupt the company. He quadruple-tag-teamed them with Hulk Hogan, the US legal system, and a jury of Gawker’s peers.

          You’re trying to refute the claim that “[Thiel] literally [found] a way to bankrupt a company.” I do not see anything about this statement that implies the non-participation of other parties; in fact, “finding a way” suggests that Thiel accomplished this through means other than putting himself through law school and bringing the suit all by his lonesome. As an English-language utterance, @HeelBearCub’s statement seems to me utterly consistent with the facts of the case and not in any way a red flag.

          Finally, your objection to the use of “literally” was due to “absurd hyperbole”. To me, it seems that “so many red flags” would constitute “absurd hyperbole” given the final number of “red flags” (3) and the number you’ve actually justified (0). So in this case, it seems you were once again citing a “red flag” that shouldn’t qualify as such, and furthermore that it’s hypocritical of you respond as you did to @HeelBearCub’s comment given your objection to “absurd hyperbole”.

          Unfortunately, there are no surgeries to correct the “jerk” disorder.

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        The only reason Theil got involved was that Hogan couldn’t afford the risk of spending money on the case and losing. If the courts have become so expensive that a millionaire balks at the price, the only villains are the people who made it so expensive in the first place.

        There’s an ugly hypothetical where an angry billionaire funds *every* lawsuit, thus turning the expenses of the court against Gawker, but there’s no evidence that’s what happened here.

      • Chalid says:

        As an aside, did Gawker actually out Thiel in the sense of spilling something he was keeping a deep dark personal secret, or did they out him in the sense of printing something which was common knowledge to everyone who knew Thiel? Not that either is good, but the first is much worse and is where most of the stigma against outing comes from.

        • Matt M says:

          IIRC that’s a matter of dispute. I think Gawker said “this is no big deal because everyone in his circle already knows this anyway” and his position was “no not really and even if so, publishing it to the entire world is inappropriate”

          • Protagoras says:

            I’m with Thiel on this. “Everyone in his circle already knows it” is a terrible excuse for spilling secrets. Trivial inconveniences are a major force preventing people from doing things; for lots of prominent public people, there are plenty of trolls and generally awful folks who would happily target and harass them if they knew where the target was and why to harass them, but who can’t be bothered, or just don’t think of, doing a simple web search to dig up that info. Putting information in news that goes out to millions of potential trolls is thus a very different thing from something simply not being a particularly well-kept secret. Compare the real name of our blog author, which he continues to prefer people not mention around here, and which we therefore shouldn’t mention (for good reasons!), no matter how many of us know it, or how seemingly trivial it is to figure out.

        • Deiseach says:

          As an aside, did Gawker actually out Thiel in the sense of spilling something he was keeping a deep dark personal secret

          My opinion, in reading the article, was that it wasn’t so much about “Hey, did you know Peter Thiel is gay? Now we have another gay icon to admire as a role model!” as it was “Hey, rich white conservative homophobes who venture fund Thiel, did you know he was a lousy stinking faggot? Yeah, how do you like them apples?”

          You can say I’m reading too much into it, but it does have an undercurrent to me that “Thiel is too clubby and cosy with these conventional types, he should be working for LGBT representation in financial circles instead of concentrating on making money. Well, let’s force his hand a little, shall we? If he can’t discreetly pass for straight anymore with his homophobe pals, he’s going to have to get with the programme with the rest of us gay kids!”

          Venture capital is a business about risk — but only the right kinds of risk. Unproven technology? Fine. A host of rivals? No problem. A gay founder? Oh, hey, wait a second. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But someone else, somewhere else, might take issue with it. That’s VC thinking.

          “Of course he’s gay. Why would you mention that?” Here in northern California, where intolerance is the only thing we can’t tolerate, even alluding to someone’s sexual orientation is suspect. (Even if, like me, you’re gay yourself.) Yet as one venture capitalist put it, “The VC industry is headquartered in Menlo Park, not northern California.” On Sand Hill Road, like funds like. The clubby ranks of VCs are mostly straight, white and male. They instinctively prefer entrepreneurs who remind them of themselves. At best, it’s a wrongheaded sense of caution. At worst, it’s prejudice with a handy alibi.

          The effects are hard to document. VCs fund so few of the companies they talk to that it’s hard to prove a case of discrimination; there are a hundred reasons why they might pass on any given startup. But gay and lesbian entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to agree it’s real. PlanetOut, the gay and lesbian portal, had to buy out Sequoia Capital, which had come to regret its investment in the company, before it found braver VCs and eventually went public. And really: How many out gay VCs do you know?

          I think it explains a lot about Thiel: His disdain for convention, his quest to overturn established rules. Like the immigrant Jews who created Hollywood a century ago, a gay investor has no way to fit into the old establishment. That frees him or her to build a different, hopefully better system for identifying and rewarding talented individuals, and unleashing their work on the world.

          I think this explains why Thiel was annoyed with Gawker; he wants to make money in order to pursue his projects, not be an activist for LGBT start-ups, and they were trying to push him in a direction they thought his influence and money should go (“That frees him or her to build a different, hopefully better system for identifying and rewarding talented individuals”). Few people take well to being pushed.

    • esrogs says:

      Scott Aaronson saying [Peter Thiel] seems smart

      In case anyone else was wondering whether this person was committing the classic Scott Alexander / Scott Aaronson confusion… they weren’t.

      From Aaronson:

      [Thiel] laid out the conclusions he’d come to from an extremely quick look at the question, then quizzed me as to whether he’d gotten anything wrong. He hadn’t.

      From that conversation among others, I formed the impression that Thiel’s success as an investor is, at least in part, down neither to luck nor to connections, but to a module in his brain that most people lack, which makes blazingly fast and accurate judgments about tech startups.

      http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?cat=42

    • James Miller says:

      Thiel is a big financial supporter of anti-aging research and friendly AI so if you think funding in these areas has an extremely high positive marginal impact you’re going to love Thiel. And if, like myself, you also support Trump and cryonics (Thiel is a member of Alcor) then you are ready to join a Thiel cult.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Can someone explain why people in these parts like Peter Thiel so much? He seems like a pretty generic libertarian businessman (with the exception of supporting Trump, which doesn’t raise my opinion of him, and Scott Aaronson saying he seems smart, which does, but not by that much).”

      Extreme competence + agreeing with me on some unusual political opinions + being one of the first people to support causes like AI goal alignment.

      • thetitaniumdragon says:

        And how do you know that makes him competent, and not incompetent?

        Let’s look at his history:

        Attacks someone for saying something true about him, causing them financial ruin.

        Supports Donald Trump, who is a deeply corrupt tax evader.

        Donald Trump had a “charitable foundation”. But as we all know, it was fraudulent and used to pay people off fairly frequently.

        What makes you think Thiel is any different?

        I mean, the obvious conclusion is that Thiel is a horrible person with some crazy ideas (and/or tries to appeal to crazy people with his ideas so he seems less crazy to them).

        Here’s another way of thinking about it:

        What are the priors that Thiel’s outgroup is the US government?

        Pretty high, I’d say. Extremely high, in fact.

        If you think about his supporting Trump as a means of harming the government, his actions make perfect sense.

        He is, after all, a businessman who has a hatred of the press and people who point out true things that he finds personally inconvenient – much like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. This ordinarily noxious view, thus, becomes something acceptable, even desirable to him.

        Indeed, Trump, being deeply corrupt, is useful for Thiel not having to deal with the government, and weakening the government, while bad, is something Thiel would personally like.

        He has a history of trying to harm journalists who have said things he doesn’t like.

        It seems much more likely this is his goal than anything good.

        • shakeddown says:

          I think the arguments about his competence were based off his business ventures, where most people who know the details seem to agree his success is due to competence rather than luck.

  4. Thursday says:

    My own view is that “libertarian” gets used to pick out at least two different clusters of people. One is rich crony capitalists who want a convenient excuse to cut their own taxes and roll back workers’ rights, but who will fight tooth and nail against any decreased subsidies or increased competition that might threaten their own comfortable position. The other is people who are actually interested in using the power of competition to kindle innovation, improve access, bring down entrenched interests, and ultimately help regular people.

    Why not just call the first group crony capitalists? To paraphrase Thomas Sowell, they like the profit side of free enterprise, but don’t like the loss side.

    The real divide among actual libertarians is between “principled” libertarians, like the younger Robert Nozick or Bryan Caplan, who take a hard line against interference with anyone doing as they please, and utilitarian libertarians, like J.S. Mill or Milton Friedman, who just think that more individual freedom leads to greater overall welfare.

    • Thursday says:

      What is perhaps more interesting that “right wing” political parties in the West tend to be a grab bag of different people opposed to the left liberal bloc: crony capitalists, libertarians, religious conservatives, people who have just been burned by the left on specific issues. It’s not that these groups have absolutely nothing in common substantively, but, from a broader perspective, they aren’t exactly natural allies either.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Counterpoint: the Right still seems way more ideologically coherent than the Left does.

        • Thursday says:

          the Right still seems way more ideologically coherent than the Left does

          Explain.

        • Chrysophylax says:

          The Left seems like a cluster of people who think that they (or other groups) are being treated badly and want the government to intervene. This unites the social axis (protection of minorities) with the economic axis (protection of poor people and workers), especially since ethnic minorities are often poor.

          The Right seems more like an opposition coalition: social conservatives aren’t usually against strong government, only against government intervention in their favoured issues (for example, they tend to be pretty hawkish and keen on invasive morality laws), and free-market types aren’t particularly traditionalist.

          What am I missing? I do remember once seeing the picture flip, with the Right seeming more coherent than the Left, but I’ve forgotten what my insight was.

          • Desertopa says:

            I feel that the right wing is n some respects the more ideologically coherent, and I’m not sure if my reasoning is the same as yours was, but this is my perspective.

            People on the right wing don’t agree with each other about everything, but they tend to share a sense that certain values are objectively right, and should be enforced on people whether they believe in them or not, and alliances exist between differing groups within the right wing in support of various shared values of this type.

            On the left wing, there seems to be more of an explicit value that people should be allowed to believe and behave as they like, except that there are implicit values that people are held responsible for conforming to anyway. People are allowed to believe as they please, as long as they don’t act as if these beliefs are literally true, and they can behave as they please as long as their behaviors don’t conflict with implicit liberal values.

            Both wings generally act to enforce their morality on others whether they agree with it or not, but this behavior is more consistent with the right wing’s explicit ethos.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think that’s outgroup homogeneity bias. Right-Libertarians and the socially conservative right are pretty far apart, and right-wing populists are far from either.

          • Thursday says:

            I know. I too have trouble seeing how social conservatives and libertarians in particular have that much in common. Unless Scott has some super wisdom to share on this, I’m sticking with my original assertion.

          • Matt M says:

            ” I too have trouble seeing how social conservatives and libertarians in particular have that much in common. ”

            The alt-right is kinda sorta attempting to bridge this gap.

          • Thursday says:

            I don’t think the alt-right is all that libertarian. In fact, I’d say that the alt right is a grab bag of all the non-libertarian, non-mainstream groups on the right.

            The nearest to a unifying idea I can find that takes in all of the right (crony capitalist, libertarian, religious conservative etc.) is that they are all more tolerant of inequality than those on the left. And really that’s about it.

            There are all sorts of inequality though, so the right isn’t very unified, while equality is equality.

          • Matt M says:

            I’d say that the alt-right is the most libertarian of any strain of right-wing thought that I’m familiar with. At the very least, it includes a large amount of former libertarians who have not formally denounced libertarian principles.

            There’s a decent amount of former Ron Paul people who are now alt-right. I guess you can take the Salon position and say “they were never real libertarians, it was all a smoke screen for racism from day one!” if you want, but I’m not sure that fully explains it.

            The alt-right’s primary unifying objective, as far as I can tell, is to annoy the left. A lot of libertarian principles annoy the left, so they end up being included in the alt-right “platform”, such as it is….

          • Randy M says:

            There are all sorts of inequality though, so the right isn’t very unified, while equality is equality.

            True, in theory every leftist will fight equally until every bump is leveled and trough filled in no matter the context.
            In reality, it is a fractious coalition that is likely to turn on itself over issues of priority and perceptions of certain factions being ignored for too long.
            Are feminists, gays, muslims, and blacks united against the establishment pressing down on them all, fighting for equality–or each fighting for their own interests using the rhetoric of equality?
            Probably a mix of both, of course.

          • Thursday says:

            The alt-right’s primary unifying objective, as far as I can tell, is to annoy the left.

            You’ve misread the alt right.

          • baconbacon says:

            There are all sorts of inequality though, so the right isn’t very unified, while equality is equality.

            Equality = Equality? There are dozens to hundreds of potential definitions of equality, equality of opportunity, equality of outcomes and equality before the law being three different ones that have been prominent at different times in history.

          • Thursday says:

            Are feminists, gays, muslims, and blacks united against the establishment pressing down on them all, fighting for equality–or each fighting for their own interests using the rhetoric of equality?
            Probably a mix of both, of course.

            Yes, the Democratic coalition consists of people who are ideologically disposed towards equality, plus a bunch of people who feel personally aggrieved that their groups aren’t equal with the white married heterosexual sorta-Christian mainstream.

            So, for example, you’ve got left wing blacks vote for the Democrats for left wing reasons, but also right wing blacks who vote for the Democrats, for essentially black nationalist reasons. As a right wing Christian, I’ve often wondered if I would vote for the BJP if I lived in India. Likely not. Though I don’t don’t think I’d go so far as to vote for a left wing party.

          • Thursday says:

            Equality of opportunity always means a substantial difference in the results. I.e. it’s another form of inequality.

          • baconbacon says:

            Equality of opportunity always means a substantial difference in the results. I.e. it’s another form of inequality.

            Equality of outcome means a substantial difference in the amount of inputs, so its just another form of inequality then.

          • Thursday says:

            Results are what determines status, so they are all what anyone cares about.

            Of course, the best way to reconcile all this is for everyone to be sitting on a pile of rubble. Or better yet all be dead.

          • Mary says:

            “Yes, the Democratic coalition consists of people who are ideologically disposed towards equality,”

            As defined by the Democrats.

            One notes that at the very least, it tends to mean grave inequality between the power of the ordinary person and that of the bureaucrat in charge of enforcing equality.

          • Thursday says:

            One notes that at the very least, it tends to mean grave inequality between the power of the ordinary person and that of the bureaucrat in charge of enforcing equality.

            The goal really is equality.

          • baconbacon says:

            The goal really is equality.

            What definition of equality?

          • Thursday says:

            What definition of equality?

            The only kind of equality that matters to people. (This has already been answered.)

        • FerdJ says:

          I’m not seeing that, being more inclined to lean their way. There’s the Libertarian-right, the religious right, foreign-policy hawks, fiscal conservatives, economic protectionists, etc. All of whom are often in disagreement with each other. And somehow, the Republicans who take office tend to be the crony-capitalist types or the kinda-Republican-but-still-wants-to-be-popular-at-DC-cocktail-parties types. Except for Trump, and nobody I’ve met seems to have any solid idea which way he’s going to go.

    • The real divide among actual libertarians is between “principled” libertarians, like the younger Robert Nozick or Bryan Caplan, who take a hard line against interference with anyone doing as they please, and utilitarian libertarians, …

      I think the distinction between, roughly speaking, natural rights libertarians and consequentialist libertarians is an important one, but why do you put Bryan Caplan in the former group?

      • Thursday says:

        Caplan rejects utilitarianism. That’s why.

        • I reject utilitarianism. But I base my arguments for libertarianism primarily on consequences, not on natural rights. What evidence do you have that that isn’t equally true of Bryan Caplan?

          It’s a very common mistake in this context to assume that utilitarianism is the only form of consequentialism.

          To quote Bryan, “Utility matters, but it’s far from the only thing that matters.”

          Which is a fair statement of my position as well.

          • Thursday says:

            OK, but I don’t think he’s a consequentialist either.
            http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2013/03/bad_science_a_c.html

            Open to being convinced, if you have other evidence.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Thursday
            Your link points to another link here: https://www.cato-unbound.org/2013/03/06/bryan-caplan/plausible-libertarianism-philosophy-social-science-huemer

            To the extent Bryan Caplan’s description of Huemer’s take is describing his own, it seems he straddles the rights-based and consequentialist takes on libertarianism:

            “How does Huemer make his brand of libertarianism plausible to libertarians? He escapes objections to rights-based libertarianism by turning the “Non-Aggression Axiom” into a “Non-Aggression Presumption.” He escapes objections to consequentialist libertarianism by taking this Non-Aggression Presumption seriously. The result is a position immune to all of the standard counter-examples to rights-based and consequentialist libertarianism.”

            Basically, the stance is there should be a strong presumption against using aggression against others, unless terrible consequences would result.

          • You are probably correct that he isn’t a pure consequentialist, but then neither am I. I simply think consequences are important, I have better arguments for why what I favor produces good consequences than for why it’s morally correct, so prefer to use them.

            But what do you see as the alternative? If “consequentialist” means “consequences are the only thing that matters,” is the alternative “consequences don’t matter”?

          • Thursday says:

            @Irish Dude
            Fair enough, though a strong non-aggression presumption seems to me to lean more towards the deontological end of things.

          • Thursday says:

            BTW, almost nobody thinks that consequences are totally irrelevant to morality. Other considerations may have priority, but that doesn’t mean consequences are never important.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      It’s worth remembering that there’s a lot of space between some kind of hardcore natural rights type justification of libertarianism and outright utilitarianism.

      • Thursday says:

        OK, so there are hybrids. Meh.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          Not just hybrids – “natural rights” and “utilitarian” are not the only kinds of moral consideration that motivate people.

          • Thursday says:

            But those are by far the most common considerations that motivate libertarianism.

          • @Thursday:

            I don’t think so. Replace “utilitarianism” with “consequentialism” and you get closer.

            I am often described in this context as a utilitarian. The one entry in the index of my Machinery of Freedom for “utilitarian” is “utilitarian, why I am not.”

            In my experience, arguments for libertarianism usually take the form of some mix of “it produces desirable consequences” and “it is just.”

          • Thursday says:

            arguments for libertarianism usually take the form of some mix of “it produces desirable consequences” and “it is just.”

            I’m fine with that amendment.

    • grendelkhan says:

      Why not just call the first group crony capitalists?

      Because they’re very insistent on calling themselves libertarians and declaring their principled support for using the power of competition to kindle innovation, improve access, bring down entrenched interests, and ultimately help regular people.

      I don’t think you get to rename people like that. It’d be like insisting that Republican Christians are Mammon-worshippers and refusing to call them Christians, despite that being the name on the tin, y’know?

      • Thursday says:

        they’re very insistent on calling themselves libertarians

        I strongly question whether this is an accurate characterization. The label I tend to hear from these people is pro-business.

        They may use libertarian rhetoric, but then they’ll use any kind of rhetoric that’ll help them get their way.

        • Matt M says:

          While I think the label of “libertarian” has generally increased in public esteem in the last few years, you’re right that there are quite a few “pro-business” republicans who still strongly disassociate from it due to things like their presidential candidate building his campaign around the issues of legalizing marijuana and forcing people to bake gay wedding cakes.

          For as much as everyone loves to associate libertarians with Ayn Rand, it’s worth remembering that she famously dismissed them as “the hippies of the right” and rejected the label entirely.

          • their presidential candidate building his campaign around the issues of legalizing marijuana and forcing people to bake gay wedding cakes.

            I don’t think Gary Johnson built his campaign around forcing people to bake gay wedding cakes. That was merely an issue on which he took a position that many libertarians disapproved of.

            So far as Ayn Rand and libertarianism, Orthodox Objectivists are likely to reject the libertarian label, as she did. Most people influenced by Rand, however, are not Orthodox.

          • Matt M says:

            David,

            Would you disagree with the notion that legalized drugs and gay rights were the two areas in which Johnson worked hardest to distinguish himself?

            As libertarian myself, perhaps I am biased towards only seeing the flaws and I just wasn’t paying attention when he campaigned hard on the notion of lower taxes or something, but I’ve never noticed that. I’ve been following him since 2012 and those always seemed to be the two issues he was most passionate about.

          • @Matt:

            I didn’t follow the campaign closely enough to say what he campaigned hardest on. The one issue I remember noticing was marijuana legalization.

            My memory is that he also made a point of his performance as governor, which involved cutting spending and related things.

          • Matt M says:

            David,

            I recall that being a major theme in 2012, but much less so this time around. But the fact that we both, as casual observers, identify being pro-marijuana as his #1 issue, says something.

  5. TheWackademic says:

    1) Point of clarification: Francis Collins has tried to lower the age of researcher independence. See: https://www.nih.gov/sites/default/files/about-nih/nih-director/articles/collins/scientists-need-shorter-path.pdf. So far as I know, Collins’ efforts have been mostly unsuccessful, and Harris hasn’t proposed anything specific or unique that hasn’t already been tried.

    2) I would really like to see several (but not all) of the changes that you proposed actually implemented. However, I don’t think any of these changes are likely to occur. I think that regulatory capture is too powerful of a force for one iconoclastic FDA director to overcome.

    3) Point of contention: what would a drug approval process that evaluates only safety but not efficacy look like? For instance, let’s say I have a pill I want to get approved. You take it – then you get violently ill and puke your guts everywhere. You get bone marrow failure and your white cell count crashes. Your hair falls out, your pee turns grey, and you get constant diarrhea. Oh, and a few people who take the pill end up developing cancers that they wouldn’t otherwise have developed. This pill sounds pretty unsafe, right? If you therefore decide not to approve it – you just failed to approve cisplatin, a life-saving and highly-effective chemotherapy drug. “Safety” by itself doesn’t mean anything – you need to look at efficacy as well for a coherent drug approval process.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks. I’ve linked some of your thoughts in the post.

    • habu71 says:

      Re: safety and effectiveness, mostly I suspect this would apply to psychiatric meds, where proving effectiveness can be really hard. With a cancer drug, it seems (comparatively) simple to prove effectiveness. You have a nice, almost binary test of whether the drug worked or not – “Are they still alive after X amount of time?”. It also looks to be relatively simple to precisely define the group of people you should test it on – “Do you have X type of cancer?”.
      For psychiatric meds, neither of these things is necessarily true. Best example of this I can think of are Scott’s post on SSRI effectiveness.

      • spudtowards says:

        Except that’s rarely the case. Cancer drugs have wildly different efficacy for the same subtype of cancer (Herceptin for HER2+ breast cancer for example). Some patients don’t respond. Some respond great, others respond great and then it ends up lacking any effect.

      • Mary says:

        There’s already been one cancer patient (luckily for him, a cancer researcher) whose life was saved by genetic sequencing to discover the mutation. They found that although he had leukemia, the mutation was more typical of renal cancer.

        Every attempt to treat it as leukemia had failed; he made a marvelous recovery when treated as a renal cancer patient.

        Not until cancers are classified by mutation rather than organ will that be true.

    • you need to look at efficacy as well for a coherent drug approval process.

      Interesting point. But the implication is that the requirement for approval should be either safe or sufficiently efficacious to justify its dangers. That’s a slightly weaker requirement than Scott proposed, not a stronger one.

    • Erebus says:

      Note that drugs are not approved in a vacuum — they’re approved for specific indications.

      Safety testing is amenable to standardization. The agency could use something along the lines of a point system, which would apply to every drug candidate without exception. (Adverse effects graded by likelihood and severity, and then assigned a certain number of points, with “point allowances” for different indications — for instance, 150 for the treatment of mild anxiety, 2000 for aggressive cancer treatments and “last line of defense” antibiotics.)

      …This sort of thing can be easy, transparent, reproducible, and fair.

      Efficacy, on the other hand, is impossible to standardize for in tests. It’s far more vague and amorphous, generally. (For e.g., see flibanserin and sarepta.) In fact, I’d go so far as to say that efficacy is manifestly impossible to fairly and reproducibly assess.

      In any case, look at the history of the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry prior to 1962. What many called the Golden Age of the industry. There’s your answer.

      • wysinwygymmv says:

        Isn’t it weird how “golden ages” always seem to occur near the beginning of a process before diminishing returns have set in?

      • Chrysophylax says:

        Points-based systems seem like a bad idea. Who decides how many points things cost? Is “severe” diarrhoea comparable to “severe” lower back pain? It seems wiser to use something like DALYs (which are a bit better, since at least we’ve been using them for decades – see here) or willingness to pay for treatment.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I think it would be a bad idea to replace the drug approval process with one that evaluates only safety, but it seems like you get most of the benefit and little of the downside if you add safety-only as a second track in addition to the current system.

    • Cliff says:

      Prior to 1962 this was the law- approval based on safety testing but not efficacy. Is no one here aware of that?

      • Is no one here aware of that?

        I not only am aware of it, I mentioned and linked to Peltzman’s old article analyzing the effect of the change.

        • Cliff says:

          Where? I just did a text search for your name and don’t see it. I would think this should be mentioned in the original post. It’s strange to hear people asking whether such a thing would be possible or how it would work.

          • In a comment on a recent post, and much earlier in an extended discussion of the article. A quick google found the old comment in May of 2015 but not the newer one, so it’s possible that for some reason it didn’t appear–occasionally there is a glitch when I post something here. If so I apologize for my complaint on your comment.

    • Alessandro Sisti says:

      As far as I know, what O’Neill wants is to allow drugs to be marketed before they’ve gone through a Phase III trial—that’s the biggest and most expensive trial done near the end of the FDA’s approval process. This probably isn’t the best link, but Reason has more info here.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      This can be solved by making safety a sufficient but not necessary condition. If you can prove it’s safe, you’re good to go. If you can’t, but you can prove that its efficacy makes it worth it, then you’re good to go, too. If you can’t prove safety or efficacy, perhaps its better you not manufacture it. I’m foreseeing a possible problem with non-safe drugs being considered too much of a risk to be worth developing, but I don’t really know enough about the dynamics of this area to be sure.

      Also I keep reading cisplatin as cisplain.

  6. mj says:

    “I like this one because it sounds anti-libertarian (we’re imposing a new regulation on what companies can do!)”

    I am wondering if #4 only sounds anti-libertarian and in fact is not? Or are you saying that a libertarian is basically (only) an anarcho-capitalist? The libertarian label easily stretches to the point of including a principled classical liberalism position. I don’t think you can make the claim that a regulation, simply by being a regulation which prevents a company from doing something (in this case preventing anti-competitive practices) is anti-libertarian. However, #4 may never have been needed if your listed #1, #2, and #3 (and even #5) were implemented earlier (or were never needed to begin with). Consequently, it seems existing problems preventing drugs coming to market more cheaply/efficiently or needing to prevent monopolistic practices by big Pharma are a direct result of government intervention that distorts the marketplace. The real question for most libertarians regarding regulation is what are the trade-offs between using free markets or government intervention to facilitate/solve a problem. Many libertarians, including myself, think governments can accomplish (some) good but the problem is that government intervention runs the risk of doing a lot of bad things – due to knowledge problems, political motivations, pandering to voters and a host of other items. Case in point is the problems with the FDA and the now needed (libertarian) changes.

  7. Itai Bar-Natan says:

    Stop having that thing where drug companies can legally bribe other companies not to compete with them. I like this one because it sounds anti-libertarian (we’re imposing a new regulation on what companies can do!) but I think it’s exactly the sort of thing that the crony capitalists would never touch but which principled intelligent libertarians like O’Neill and Srinivasan might be open to, in order to bring more actors into the marketplace.

    Could you clarify why this works and why you think a libertarian would oppose this? From a naive libertarian perspective this wouldn’t work at all: Bribing companies to not compete with you would simply incentivize companies to be potential competitors, which encourages new actors to enter the marketplace as much as allowing them to compete directly, and should not be sustainable in the long run.

    • Sparky Z says:

      Well, it is currently working, so either it’s not “the long run” yet or one of your assumptions is wrong.

      I’m just reading about this now, but it looks like this is a form of patent settlement, meaning it only occurs after the Company A has already sued the Company B (the competitor) for patent infringement. If Company B has to reach the point where they’re bringing the drug to market, it sounds like they have to invest just as much up front as if they were going to compete anyway. And Company A could always call their bluff, so it would be really risky to “pretend” to compete for the sake of a payday. Company B has to be willing to actually produce and sell the drug as a fallback. So I don’t see how it really changes the incentives for Company B.

      I’m not actually a libertarian, so take this with a grain of salt. But I think the libertarian case for opposing this is simply that it “short-circuits” the market mechanism so that everyone benefits *except* the consumer. It’s the same objection a libertarian would have to an industry cartel or government-enforced monopoly. In a fully anarcho-libertarian utopia, that sort of rent seeking (or at least rent finding) is theoretically impossible because the fully-efficient market would eliminate it. But in the system we have now, that sort of rent seeking is possible. Making it illegal would be a step in the right direction, bringing the market mechanisms more in to line with the libertarian ideal.

    • baconbacon says:

      Could you clarify why this works and why you think a libertarian would oppose this? From a naive libertarian perspective this wouldn’t work at all: Bribing companies to not compete with you would simply incentivize companies to be potential competitors, which encourages new actors to enter the marketplace as much as allowing them to compete directly, and should not be sustainable in the long run.

      It works because the competitive field is already heavily limited. A bribing company can estimate the number of competitors that can make it through the political process to force the bribe, and that number is often in the low single digits.

  8. Ninmesara says:

    What exactly is your opinion on Thiel now, except that he obviously has as a very accurate crystal ball? Do you respect him as a “force for good” or merely as someone who is going to make himself even richer out of the situation?

    • Do you respect him as a “force for good” or merely as someone who is going to make himself even richer out of the situation?

      I can’t speak for Scott, but I think it is clear that although Thiel may be in favor of making himself richer, that isn’t all he is in favor of. The two projects I mentioned earlier (seasteading and paying people not to go to college) were pretty clearly attempts to make the world better in interesting ways, not attempts to make himself rich.

      • Ninmesara says:

        Yes, Scott has answered it’s this in a comment above. I still find it a little odd that these justify such a high level of praise, but they are certainly interesting as you say.

    • dsotm says:

      Two of Thiel’s more prominent investments are Facebook and Palantir, now admittedly it is easy to articulate a position from which both of these can be viewed as a “force for good” but that position would not be very libertarian.

  9. cassander says:

    >ordinary conservative hardliners

    I would think that, by definition, one cannot be both an ordinary conservative and a hard line conservative. I mention this not to be pedantic (it is pedantic, but that’s not why I’m doing it), but to illustrate a broader point, the extremely common, and I feel very wrong, to attribute extremeness to the current crop of republicans. I first noticed this tendency back during the bush years, where there arose a strange trend of labeling bush administration officials as “arch conservatives”. I’ve never met an arch conservative, have no idea what an arch conservative is, but from what I’ve been told, they’re all terrible. That fashion eventually faded, but the tendency remains.

    This trend has gone hand in hand with the claim that “those old fashioned republicans were sensible people who I disagreed with, unlike the current crop of extremist reactionaries.” Putting aside the fact that that those same people often said the same things about the older crop when they were in power (e.g. the strange new respect Harry Reid grew for Mitt Romney), the basic premise that the republicans, or anyone else, is moving to the right is nonsense on stilts. With the exception of gun control, there’s not a single position where the modern GOP is to the right of where it was 20 years ago.

    But Cassander, you ask, what of healthcare? Didn’t the republicans refuse to pass the ACA, basically the same law they wrote in the 90s? No, they did not. there were various republican alternatives to the ACA, the most prominent of which is usually the heritage plan which had almost nothing in common with the ACA. It had no employer mandate, no exchanges, a much more moderate mandate, did not require spending any new money (on paper, at least) and didn’t use pretend cuts to medicare to pay for itself. It also included tort reform.

    Aha, you say, but what do DW-nominate? That proves republicans are moving to the right! No, it doesn’t. Nominate measures congressmen against one another, not any objective standard. Imagine the only political issue in the US was the number of buttons on military uniforms. Extreme republicans want 8, moderates of both parties want 6, and extreme democrats want 4. Then there’s an election, the 8 buttoners get voted out and a bunch of super extreme 2 buttoners get elected. In such a world, both parties would unquestionably be moving left, but nominate would show them moving right. Why? Because before the election, the scale runs from 4-8, with some republicans clustered at 8 and others at 6. After the election, the scale runs from 2-6, with all the republicans clustered at 6. In other words, now all the republicans have the most extreme possible position even though they haven’t moved. With buttons, though, we have an objective scale to measure against. On other issues we do not, and nominate cannot measure what is claimed it measures.

    So, can we please drop the illusion that politics is moving rightward?

    • Wrong Species says:

      I think immigration is the counter-example. Sure, Republicans have been speaking out against illegal immigration for a while now but their walk didn’t follow the talk. Republicans punished them for this and now some have dared to name legal immigration as something that should be reduced.

      • cassander says:

        They didn’t actually do anything about immigration one way or the other. The situation has been the same for a long time, democrats in favor of reforms, a group of republicans favor of more or less similar reform but not particularly enthusiastic about it, and another, more committed group of republicans either opposed or afraid of constituents that were opposed who managed to keep any sort of deal from happening. Bush’s ’07 immigration reform died more or less exactly the same way as Obama’s did. Technically, Obama’s bill got further in that it actually passed the senate.

        • Wrong Species says:

          But now we have a Republican president who is vocally against amnesty and a Republican controlled congress who is willing to follow him on that.

          • hls2003 says:

            I’m not sure the counter-example is entirely on-point. Yes, Reagan signed a bipartisan Congressional amnesty in 1986. But that bill included multiple enforcement provisions (e.g. criminalizing employers using illegal labor) and was billed as a “never again” solution. If you go back before the 1986 amnesty, for example to the 1960’s or 1970’s, I believe that being “vocally against amnesty” for illegal immigrants would probably have been a non-controversial mainstream position among both parties; and certainly would have been consistent with Republicanism. To cassander’s point, the current position of Democrats – which seems to me to damn all enforcement measures, attempts to limit legal or illegal immigration, and deportation as racist and inhumane, and to actively impede the enforcement of existing law via means like sanctuary cities – seems like a much more radical policy position than Democrats would have taken before, even in the 1986 amnesty which (falsely) promised to undertake most of those enforcement measures. So I think his point about Democrats moving to a position of “2” on a 4-8 point scale (and thus pushing the window left) seems to apply to immigration also.

    • Spookykou says:

      I thought hard line just meant uncompromising, not more extreme/farther right/radical/etc.

      So an ordinary but hard line republican would be somebody who is just uncompromising on otherwise ordinary republican positions?

    • wysinwygymmv says:

      So, can we please drop the illusion that politics is moving rightward?

      Only if we simultaneously drop the illusion that politics is moving leftward.

      But wysinwygymmv, you ask, what about (insert argument to the contrary)? The watchwords of the left are “liberty, equality, brotherhood.” Unless politics is actually moving in the direction of liberty, equality, and brotherhood (I am deeply skeptical), the notion that politics is moving leftward is not justifiable.

      • Spookykou says:

        unless politics is actually moving in the direction of liberty, equality, and brotherhood (I am deeply skeptical)

        Does this have a temporal component? Do you actually believe that the world does not have more liberty, equality, and brotherhood than it did, say, a hundred years ago?

        • wysinwygymmv says:

          In the off-chance you read this, that’s a complicated question. In many ways, yes. In many ways, no.

          If you’re working 60 hours a week at jobs you don’t like to make ends meet, then from my perspective, that seems like not so much liberty. That’s not to mention that absurd proportion of Americans actually imprisoned. In other countries — well, libertarians like to claim that rural workers voluntarily go to the cities for a better life, but little to no evidence is ever provided for this. Rural low-tech farmers in developing countries have a lot of disadvantages, but they do have more personal autonomy and control over how they spend their time than sweatshop labor. Surveillance systems and the interconnectedness of everything as well as just better transportation leads there to be fewer zones of lawlessness where autonomous groups can try to make their own thing happen out of the way of existing security forces.

          We also have stuff like “free speech zones” and minor municipal civil infractions that are used to break up street protests. You could say it’s better than dogs, but the dogs actually worked on the side of the protesters: brutality against peaceful protesters is part of what made the civil rights movement effective. “The system”, if you will, has adapted to protests by finding innocuous, non-violent ways to nullify them.

          The presidential election we just had in the US should go to show that at least there it seems like brotherhood is on the decline — for many people, voting Trump was just a middle finger at the political other. “Race realism” is becoming an intellectual position again. The refugee crisis seems to be stoking a lot of nativism all over, and the causes of the refugee crisis in the first place seem like they might be described with great understatement as “a decline in brotherhood”. WWI and WWII seem to represent egregious lapses in brotherhood. The cold war and numerous US/Soviet proxy wars likewise. There was no shortage of ethnic conflicts in the 20th century. Murder and other violent crime seem to have decreased, but see above about freedom — there’s probably a bit of a trade-off involved there.

          Equality is inarguably, objectively lower than it was 100 years ago or any time before or since. It’s not even an ethic any more for most people — it’s been “a rising tide lifts all boats” for quite a while, now despite the fact that this approach is obviously causing an ecological crisis (and doesn’t seem like it can last much longer in terms of economics, either).

    • Chrysophylax says:

      One can be ordinary as hard-line conservatives go, unlike a hard-line conservative who wears a clown suit and wants to declare war on Canada.

      I’m pretty sure you’re wrong about DW-NOMINATE. You’ve totally ignored one of its main features: NOMINATE tracks shifts over time by using members of Congress who survive elections. It will assume that the 4-buttoners and 6-buttoners are pretty much the same after the election as before, and will correctly claim that the 2-buttoners are to the left of both.

      This is why it can be used to compare different Congresses that share no members: you can chain through the intervening Congresses to get a fairly good idea of which people are aligned with which others (at least on the economic axis, which is dominant – the secondary dimension varies in interpretation and so positions on it can’t be directly compared).

      • cassander says:

        So DW nominate (which is distinct from nominate) requires a more complicated explanation, but it’s still wrong. IT’s based, first and foremost on the assumption that the opinions of legislators don’t change over time. This is demonstrably wrong. Here are all the people who voted for the defense of marriage act in 1996. Not a small number of them are now vociferously for gay marriage.

        More damning though, is that legislative votes don’t happen in a vacuum. Going back to the button example, if there are only one of two 8 button supporters, there won’t be any 8 button votes because leadership doesn’t like wasting everyone’s time with bills that are sure to be defeated. Most of the time the 8 buttoners will be forced to vote with the 6 buttoners, for lack of better options, and the nominate method will make that look like the 6 buttoners are getting more extreme, not the 8 buttoners less. even using benchmark legislators, the measure remains fundamentally flawed because how one votes is affected by how others vote. That doesn’t make nominate useless, but it doesn’t do what is claimed.

        • Chrysophylax says:

          NOMINATE is the name of the whole system, encompassing the Weighted, Dynamic and Dynamic Weighted variants.

          It does not assume fixed opinions. NOMINATE permits legislators’ ideal points to move over time. Most legislators barely move and such movement as there is is slow and steady. (This is based on assuming that legislators never move, then allowing higher and higher powers of movement. Quadratic terms and up weren’t better than linear terms and the movements were small.)

          You’re ignoring the six-buttoners’ votes. It’s a probabilistic model. A six-buttoner is much more likely to support a five-button bill than an eight-buttoner is. The model can and will detect that the six-buttoners are closer to the four-buttoners than the eight-buttoners are, because the moderates on both sides are much more likely to support compromise bills.

          A simple example: D!, D, d, r, R and R! are Congressmen, ranked from left to right, and B1…Bn are bills. The Democrats all vote for B1, the Republicans vote against, so B1 is judged to be a liberal bill. Similarly, B2 is conservative. But for B3, D! and R! vote against, while D, R, d and r vote in favour. B3 is judged to be a moderate bill. Adding more and more bills, we see that d and r are most likely to “cross the aisle” and support bills favoured by the other side, while D! and R! never do, but do sometimes vote against compromise bills. NOMINATE figures out who’s who pretty easily.

  10. Bram Cohen says:

    You’ve met Jim O’Neill. He came to one of your bay area meetups and came with the group to eat.

    • habu71 says:

      I’m really hoping Scott didn’t remember this and instead he just happened to be Facebook friends with this random guy who might head up the FDA. Very funny.
      One shouldn’t get your hopes up though. I was at an ANS conference in November where one of the undergrads from my school got really excited because the individual who came by and talked to her and looked at her poster was a nuke guy known to be in consideration for being head of the Department of Energy.

      And then, well, the job went to somebody else instead.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Really? Okay, new rule: if somebody I meet is going to become head of the FDA, they have to wear a nametag to this effect or something.

      • Deiseach says:

        Let’s hope you use this superpower for good.

        “I was your plain, everyday, ordinary rationalist with a hum-drum career. Then my friends introduced me to Scott Alexander, and now I’m Chief Head of Really Important Stuff at a major university/multinational/branch of government! You too can have your life changed for the better by spending time basking in his aura of incredibly persuasive application of reasoned criticism to theoretical and practical nostrums – it worked for me, it can work for you!”

        🙂

  11. sourcreamus says:

    Tom Price may be ethically challenged but the link you provided does not prove that. His broker bought a stock as part of a portfolio re-balancing that Price did not know about until after he introduced the bill. The total amount invested in the company was around $2,700 and he is a multi-millionaire.
    I know it is not germane to the rest of the post but I do think we should be careful of casting aspersions on people’s honesty without good evidence. This is especially important when writing about the administration of someone as ethically challenged as Trump.

  12. dawso007 says:

    “I notice that Jim O’Neill had (in 2014) a much more radical proposal than any of these: that the FDA should approve drugs based on safety but not efficacy; that is, drug companies have to prove that their drug isn’t dangerous, but they don’t have to do the long-term super-expensive studies proving that it works….”

    This is essentially what the FDA does now. Ioannidis himself has recommended massive studies with enough power for efficacy and safety. The FDA currently resorts to haphazard post marketing surveillance without any organized pharmacosurveillance (PS). Without a PS system safety reporting comes down to anecdotal reports and the plaintiffs bar to detect fairly biased signals. There are much better PS systems in other countries and just the beginning of a system here for controlled substances.

  13. mj says:

    I agree with you, but paying off competitors would work in a distorted marketplace that makes such action profitable – and currently we have plenty of distortions. That is why 4 of the 5 recs are pretty good because they remove initial government intervention that contributes to inefficient (and within a free market, unsustainable) actions by firms. I thought I posted a comment that talked about #4 not being needed if most market friendly recs were implemented but I don’t see it.

    As an aside from a self-described libertarian, a regulation is not per se anti-libertarian because is prevents a company from doing something so I would have to ask Scott the same question – why does he think this is anti-libertarian? #4 would still be needed if there remained enough distortions promoting such action after changes are made at the FDA. But overall, paying off competitors is a symptom of a problem. #4 addresses the symptom and not the problem.

  14. sourcreamus says:

    How much freedom does the head of the FDA have to determine policy? It will be interesting to see how much a libertarian agency head could get done if he is not supported by the permanent bureaucracy. In my experience the head of an agency tries to implement a couple of high profile projects and lets the rest of the agency take care of itself.

    • hls2003 says:

      I haven’t taken the time to review all the legislation empowering the FDA, but I suspect that legislation would be the primary constraint. For example, the FDA’s Web site states:

      The Kefauver-Harris Amendments of 1962, which were inspired by the thalidomide tragedy in Europe (and the FDA’s vigilance that prevented the drug’s marketing in the United States), strengthened the rules for drug safety and required manufacturers to prove their drugs’ effectiveness.

      I haven’t personally confirmed whether this blurb accurately reflects the language of the 1962 statute, but it doesn’t seem unlikely; and if so, note that the FDA says the statute “required manufacturers to prove… effectiveness.” Agencies cannot (legally) choose an interpretation or policy direction that expressly violates laws passed by Congress. Even Chevron deference doesn’t allow contradiction, it just expands the agency’s power in supposed grey areas.

    • Jordan D. says:

      The head of an agency can accomplish bupkis without support from the rank-and-file, but reasonably intelligent people can usually get some buy-in.

      So assume, for a moment, that there has been a terrible, terrible mistake and I am named and confirmed as head of the FDA. The FDA is an executive, quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative agency, regulating a broad spectrum of stuff, but my primary agenda is to enact a big change on medicine and get many more approvals, much faster, much cheaper.

      I have a few tools at my disposal, and a few hurdles to pass.

      1) Internal Agency Policy – The FDA has a certain amount of discretionary power; it can decide how quickly to process applications, where to fall on edge-case rulings, how many filings it requires, etc. As head of the FDA, most of that work would happen below me, but I would set the tone. If I make it known, for example, that getting more drugs through, more quickly, is the ticket to career advancement, people will adjust standards accordingly. I’d also have underlings who could be doing audits of lower offices, getting individual directors on board and telling me who is going to need to be routed around or replaced.

      2) Regulation – Regulation isn’t as easy as it looks, but it’s still an important tool. A lot of the statues Congress passes are broad, intended to be filled in by regulations which spell out the way the spirit of the statute will be enacted. (FDA regulations are published in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations). As FDA head, I could do things like head over to 21 CFR 320 and say “Man, the requirements for bioequivilence studies are too strict. We’re gonna do a rulemaking to amend that section and pare it back.” This is a time-consuming process with a lot of public hearings, but in the end it allows the FDA head to significantly increase or decrease the work which has to be done to get new drugs to market.

      3) Advisory Powers – The head of the FDA has a certain amount of clout in the press and academic circles, which I can use to promote my agenda. I would also be called upon by Congress in considering new legislation, and have the ability to promote new legislation- ultimately, possibly the most important power at my disposal.

      Hurdles:

      1) Statute – The FDA Commissioner probably (I haven’t read many of the statutes, lacking infinite time) can’t do something like decide to stop mandating efficacy testing. If a statute says the FDA has to do it, courts will hold the FDA to it whether the agency likes it or not. If I want to enact a huge, broad, sweeping change, I’m going to need to sponsor a bill through Congress- and probably get enough Senate Democrats on my side to pass it.

      2) The head of the Dept of Health – The FDA Commissioner is ‘subordinate’ to the Secretary of Health. That doesn’t mean I’d have to do what they say, but it does probably mean that I need to cultivate a good relationship with them and they almost certainly get to review regulatory changes I want to make.

      3) Congress – One of the nastiest parts of being head of a major agency is that legislators, federal and state, will constantly want to meet with me and try to press me on decisions- and it’s a hard, hard thing to just say ‘no’ to a legislator. Navigating the seas of politics and keeping my sails straight is possible, but it’s scuppered strong, smart people before.

      4) Special Interest Groups – With the Trump Administration’s advent we get the traditional shuttering of many Republican special interests and the blooming of Democratic ones! It’s not too difficult to resist lobbying from groups who oppose my strategies (it’s a little harder to weather media attacks from them), but this means court challenges to changes I make, and it means that staff below me who I fire get a free megaphone to explain why they were dismissed for trying to keep the public safe from my extremist corporatism.

      5) Time – Everything takes time. Little changes take time. Big changes can take years. An FDA head has 8 at the outside, but probably a much lower average between turnover and the possibility of a one-term. The politicians all want immediate results on every pet issue, the media is hounding you on every pet issue, but even a slavedriver Commissioner can only make things move so much faster before they start running into legally-set time-frames, which themselves take forever to change.

      TL;DR – the FDA head’s powers are broad, but there’s a lot of work to do, and it’s going to be a bit like excavating in a minefield.

  15. Matt M says:

    I wonder if the main difference with Trump in regards to appointees is that he’s less likely to reject a “risky” candidate who has something potentially “disqualifying.”

    For a traditional politician, it would seem that appointees are all risk, little reward – particularly lower profile departments and positions. If they do something crazy and start a scandal, you’ll be tarred – but if they’re smart and effective nobody notices or really cares much at all. So the incentive is to appoint a well qualified relative moderate largely free from scandal and not having a history of any particularly controversial positions.

    But consider Trump, who got elected being unconventional, having controversial opinions, and doing about 100 things the media insisted “disqualified” him. If he meets someone he likes who seems to have good ideas, some random schmo isn’t going to be able to talk him out of appointing that person by saying “but look, he supported seasteading! that’s a crazy libertarian thing! CNN will crush us if we appoint him!.” People who have stuff in their pasts that might otherwise be “disqualifying” may suddenly find themselves on the table if Trump is making the decision.

    • TenMinute says:

      Not to mention the media will spend the next 8 years starting scandals to tar and feather Trump anyway, and he’ll be tossing lots of bones to keep them focused on him.
      There’s never been a better time to get some disruptive guys appointed: he tanks, they spank.

    • zz says:

      Old conspiracy theory: the major parties colluded to nominate Trump and Clinton in a bid to get a third party in the White House so the country could actually get something done.

      New conspiracy theory: the major parties colluded to elect Trump so he could draw fire while making better-but-controversial people in positions that mattered. Thiel: “In a world that’s changing so quickly, the biggest risk you can take is not taking any risk.”

      • Iain says:

        Have you watched any of the Senate confirmation hearings? Which of Trump’s actual nominees would you classify as “better-but-controversial”? None of the interesting people in Scott’s post have actually been nominated.

        • zz says:

          I was more thinking one to two levels down from Senate-confirmed positions; the people who aren’t necessarily ordinary conservative hardliners or ethically-compromised rich people. The people who are really making the decisions, insofar as the highest-level people are choosing between alternatives presented to them. According to the conspiracy theory, Trump should make maximally-criticizable nominations in positions that either (a) don’t particularly matter or (b) aren’t going to require doing anything terribly interesting.

          I realize this is deeply inconsistent, which is why it’s a conspiracy theory.

          • Iain says:

            Okay. All the reporting I’ve seen indicates that Trump hasn’t gotten around to filling a huge number of those “one to two levels down” positions, but that’s exactly what you’d expect to see if this were a Trump conspiracy, isn’t it? Conspire away!

  16. tailcalled says:

    [O’Neill is] also a director of SENS, Aubrey De Grey’s collaboration to fight aging,

    Am I the only one who thinks this might be huge? If he gets chosen, we might see good ways of combating aging soon, right?

    • nelshoy says:

      I don’t know much about Aubrey De Grey, but I know a fair bit about aging and the processes that cause it. I think we’ll probably see AGI before any grand cure for aging, but I’d love to have my mind changed.

      • Space Viking says:

        I was convinced by Aubrey de Grey’s book, but look up one of his many talks to get an outline of the SENS Foundation’s approach.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Depends on what you mean by soon?

      Research into aging is challenging for an obvious reason: you have to wait for your model organism to actually get older. In the lab I was in we used yeast, which was fine for the sort of questions they were asking, but ultimately you need to move to higher organisms. For a non-doxxing-enabling hypothetical:

      Let’s say you wanted to comb through a library of every FDA approved compound to see if they increased lifespan. You’d probably want to start with yeast, since that’s by far the easiest, and do a high-throughput screen assaying replicative lifespan. That part’s not too bad: you can make an RLS curve over a weekend, though following up on the hits would take more time. If you had funding it would be a pretty cool study.

      After that, though, you’d probably want to move to mice and it rapidly becomes less fun. This study on Rapamycin*, for example, took almost four years just in terms of how long the mice lived**. That means at least four years before you have publishable results, assuming you find anything.

      Past that, my knowledge of drug testing is very limited. Hopefully already being FDA approved would make clinical trials easier but I don’t really know for sure. What I do know is that the study itself would take a ridiculously long period of time, given how long-lived humans are.

      *The Target of Rapamycin, or TOR, pathway is huge in aging research.
      **To clarify, none of the mice lived for four years: actually less than three and a half years. But they did two cohorts a year apart, the second of which got out to 1000 days.

  17. nelshoy says:

    What’s the explanation for the system being as bad as it now? Why weren’t common-sense measures like cross-agency approval implemented decades ago? Is it stupidity, evil, unforseen consequences, or the system being very difficulty to change?

    Methinks one of the latter two.

    • Spookykou says:

      Can you unpack ‘unforeseen consequences’ in this context, are you talking fear of them, or are these unforeseen consequences just making it difficult to change.

      Is your position that people know how to improve these institutions but bureaucratic inertia makes it impossible for people to make positive changes to government, because I am not sure if that is more or less depressing than the idea that our government is just incompetent/corrupt.

  18. zebreck says:

    Balaji Srinivasan has also repeatedly suggested replacing the FDA with a “Yelp for Drugs.” Whatever you may be hoping for, I don’t think you should be expecting anything good from someone with ideas of that quality.

    • Matt M says:

      Do you think the existence of Yelp has made restaurant selection a better or worse proposition for the average uninformed diner?

      • Spookykou says:

        I think the existence of Yelp has made eating with my friends more annoying as they want to waste 15 minutes walking to a 4 star instead of eating at a 3.5 star restaurant right here and I am so insensitive to restaurant quality that the 3-5 star range is largely indistinguishable to me.

      • zebreck says:

        I think the problem with this question is the wide delta between the ability of your average human to tell the difference between food they like and don’t like, vs their ability to tell the difference between drugs that do or do not work as advertised. Humans are really, really bad at this (see homeopathy) and, well, garbage in garbage out.

      • zebreck says:

        I feel like any correlations that can be made in the vastly simplified problem space where everyone involved already knows the things they’re taking are safe and effective have doubtful applicability to the proposed problem space where the FDA doesn’t exist and all we have are yelp ratings for unknown compounds.

    • IrishDude says:

      Consumer feedback on drugs seems pretty useful. I don’t think you captured the totality of Balaji’s thoughts either, but if you want to point to where you found him suggest what you say he did, I’d appreciate it.

      • zebreck says:

        Originally through Repsectful Insolence on scienceblogs, but he was kind enough to link to the google cache of tweets made by Balaji, who has since deleted his entire twitter history save a single tweet. Feel free to peruse his thoughts yourself of course, but “a yelp for drugs” seems a reasonable shorthand for, at the very least, his twitter related thoughts on the subject.

        http://archive.is/https://twitter.com/balajis*

        • AnonEEmous says:

          is yelp for drugs meant to replace or supplement

          if the first then

          look i really want it to be true that that could work but I don’t see it being so

          if the second then

          sounds good i guess

        • IrishDude says:

          Note that Twitter won’t contain long-form thoughts, so what is found there are just snippets of a person’s beliefs on a topic. If you have a long-form response from Balaji about this subject that would be more informative.

          Nonetheless, here’s a couple of Balaji’s tweets:

          “Some will, but can do vastly better than FDA w/ a Yelp for Drugs, including MD star ratings (like all other products).”

          “New tech allows far better regulation than the FDA. Scan a drug barcode, get 1,000 worldwide MD opinions and 1 million patient self reports.”

          Both tweets reference that what would be better than the FDA is not just consumer feedback, a la Yelp, but to have informed medical opinions from MDs to help consumers make decisions on drugs. So, expert opinion, combined with user feedback, is what he suggests could do better than the FDA. But even in these tweets, he doesn’t suggest ‘replacing the FDA’, just noting other mechanisms that could do a better job.

          Well, I pretty much agree with the above tweets, as well as this one:

          “There is risk, but if you can skydive or jump off a bridge, you should be free to take an experimental treatment.”

          My body, my choice. Don’t let drug companies commit fraud in what they put in their products, otherwise let individuals choose what substances they want to put in their own body.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            people who do those things are doing them for fun, not out of desperation to find a cure. Those things also induce a natural fear reaction in almost all people, as opposed to popping some questionable pill. Your body, your choice, but you’re the top percent.

          • zebreck says:

            I think we’re talking past each other here. My point is that, to me, the primary use of the FDA is as a machine that ensures arbitrary compounds are reasonably safe and at least as effective as placebo before they’re allowed to be sold to consumers. The use of double blinded placebo controlled studies, and multiples of those, is the only way to meaningfully do this. This process cannot be successfully duplicated by a Yelp-like system. Any attempt at doing so by ensuring only qualified opinions are represented is going to inevitably lead us to a form of bastardized peer review. Any attempt at doing so by ensuring massively open access to public opinions is going to result in Moloch having direct access to your metabolic pathways.

            If you, and he, AREN’T talking about replacing the regulatory aspect of the FDA with Yelp, what aspects ARE you talking about replacing/succeeding that way?

    • Moon says:

      There should definitely be a Yelp for drugs. But it should not replace the FDA. Or better yet, better records should be kept by doctors and clinics of what drug and what dosage work for how many people with what condition.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        What you are really saying is we need better flow of medical information. The information already exists in medical records of some sort.

        This is ballbuster of a problem to solve in our medical care system. ACA and HIPPA both have components designed to move the system towards universal EMR, but their are too many independent players to allow it to happen easily.

        At least this is my sense.

  19. Deiseach says:

    drug companies have to prove that their drug isn’t dangerous, but they don’t have to do the long-term super-expensive studies proving that it works

    In an ideal world.

    In the world we’re currently living in, I wonder if drug companies wouldn’t find some way to churn out cash cow drugs – something a step up from nutriceticals and cosmetic company claims – they won’t do you any harm, you can stay on them for years, but they’re not doing much of anything something over the counter (or even a good vitamin supplement and lifestyle change) wouldn’t do as well and cheaper.

    But they’re officially licensed, your health insurance will pay for them, and your doctor will write you a prescription if you nag them because hey, it’s not like it’s going to kill you or anything.

    If they got weeded out via “science …catch[ing] up and prov[ing] them ineffective”, fine, but I wonder if companies would not argue they need these kind of mass-market drugs to subsidise the expensive research on the really effective new drugs, the way they argue they need to extend their patent on their current popular best-seller because the sales of that are what is paying for the next generation of drugs?

    • Spookykou says:

      As somebody who wants and fails to get the particular prescription drugs that I think would help me from my doctor, I think it is important to remember doctors exist.

      • AmitDeshwar says:

        I’m curious what drugs you’re looking for.
        In my experience, with the exception of opioids, most drugs are ridiculously easy to get prescribed.

    • Matt M says:

      “something a step up from nutriceticals and cosmetic company claims”

      Isn’t the fact that such products exist and we do not live in a crazy dystopia where people are going hungry because they spend all their money on overpriced yet worthless ginkgo biloba supplements sort of proof that this wouldn’t be a big deal.

      I keep hearing that without the FDA, somehow my grandmother will be tricked into spending her entire life savings on sugar pills that promise to cure her cancer and yet obviously don’t work. Yet products like that already sort of exist – they’re just a little sly about exactly how they word their advertising. And my grandma still manages to have her life savings, despite being a pretty suggestible person willing to fall for all kinds of new agey scams (don’t get me started on the “healing crystals” one of my aunts convinced her to buy…)

  20. Deiseach says:

    I would say these picks raise my previously abysmal opinion of Trump, except that they all show the obvious hand of Peter Thiel.

    But should you be impressed that Trump managed to impress, or at least invite aboard, Peter Thiel? 🙂

    • Chrysophylax says:

      I think that’s a mark against Trump. Thiel seems to have figured out that Trump had a meaningful chance of winning and decided to back him early, hoping to get influence over Trump’s decisions. This seems to have worked out very well for him. But if Trump were pro-Thiel’s-positions, rather than pro-Thiel, he’d be doing lots of other weird good things. This looks to me like cronyism, something Trump is known for.

      • suntzuanime says:

        He is doing other weird good things. For example, he called CNN http://pastebin.com/hhHN11YV and refused to take a question from them at his press conference.

        • Nornagest says:

          For all I’d like to see most of the news media ride the clickbait train straight to hell, the banned phrase shows few signs of moving us in that direction. About the only thing I have to be happy about in the whole debacle is that the original attempt at turning it into a superweapon fizzled — but while I’d rather have a bipartisan slur than a partisan superweapon, I’d much rather not have either.

          • suntzuanime says:

            NOTE:The post to which this post was responding has been heavily edited, leaving this post somewhat unresponsive.

            No, it’s more content rich than that. It applies to news organizations and reporters, and it makes a pretty specific claim about them, that they disseminate falsehood irresponsibly, which is a reasonable claim to make in this case. You’re complaining about “fascist” as a partisan slur in 1920’s Italy.

          • Nornagest says:

            Eh. That’s what the phrase says on its face, but does anyone actually use it that way? A lot of the news in question really is false, or at least slanted, sensationalized, and reinterpreted to the point that it might as well be — but if you wanted to predict how the phrase is going to be used today in /r/politics (on the one hand) or /r/The_Donald (on the other), you’d have a much easier time just cross-referencing with who the news outlet in question supported in the last election.

          • suntzuanime says:

            “Eh. That’s what the phrase says on its face, but does anyone actually use it that way? A lot of the news in question really is false, or at least slanted, sensationalized, and reinterpreted to the point that it might as well be — but if you wanted to predict how the phrase is going to be used today in /r/politics (on the one hand) or /r/The_Donald (on the other), you’d have a much easier time just cross-referencing with who the news outlet in question supported in the last election.”

            Yes, someone does use it that way. Specifically, the President-Elect, in the incident I was referencing.

          • Nornagest says:

            That usage is also consistent with my “check who they supported” heuristic.

          • suntzuanime says:

            “That usage is also consistent with my “check who they supported” heuristic.”

            Nornagest shocked to find that people are more focused on exposing the shortcomings of their political enemies than their political allies.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not saying that the phrase gets leveled at politically opposed media (which would be totally unsurprising), I’m saying it gets leveled at politically opposed media regardless of that media’s quality. If Trump had taken questions from CNN and refused them from, say, HuffPo, that would be evidence that he’s using it selectively. Or if he’d called out a particular story by CNN.

          • suntzuanime says:

            “I’m not saying that the phrase gets leveled at politically opposed media (which would be totally unsurprising), I’m saying it gets leveled at politically opposed media regardless of that media’s quality. If Trump had taken questions from CNN and refused them from, say, HuffPo, that would be evidence that he’s using it selectively. Or if he’d called out a particular story by CNN.”

            Oh, you were lacking context. Yes, he was calling out a particular story from CNN.

            CNN and Buzzfeed were the two outlets with low enough standards to run with the bullshit kompromat story. CNN is also notable for giving Clinton the debate questions ahead of time, which is not technically http://pastebin.com/hhHN11YV but speaks to their particularly low levels of journalistic integrity.

          • Nornagest says:

            Okay, yeah, that’s better than the average use of the phrase.

          • Moon says:

            The banned phrase was originally used by mainstream Center or Left media, in order to denote news that is just plain lies.

            But Right Wing media are mainstream– despite their own claims to the contrary/ So the Right Wing controls almost the whole political narrative at this time. So Right Wing media has taken over the term. When they use it, they mean news in a Center or a Left of Center media outlet, that they don’t like, even when it is 100% true– especially when that news points out Right Wing media’s own lies.

            I went onto the world news reddit yesterday and was unsurprised to find that it was extremely heavily pro-Trump and pro-Putin. Almost all social media, as well as other media today, is that way.

            In fact, even the NYT constantly bashed HRC. The fact that the newspaper technically endorsed her does not mean that it had a positive effect on her campaign. It did not.

            On reddit and everywhere else, almost all references to the banned term mean “news that is Center or Left of Center in political orientation. That is, what is called “mainstream news” by the mainstream news. But the actual mainstream news is really Right Wing News.

            But Right Wing news, since it controls the national narrative, can convince almost anyone of anything. And so it convinces its consumers that it is not the mainstream news– that it is instead some poor beaten down underdog that its consumers should rally to the defense of. Poor underdog that has gotten voters to elect 2 Houses of Congress and a president that are Right Wing– not to mention most governorships and most state legislatures.

            Fox News is the most trusted national news channel. And it’s not that close.
            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/03/09/fox-news-is-the-most-trusted-national-news-channel-and-its-not-that-close/?utm_term=.d90e3c4ad572

          • Nornagest says:

            Reddit? Okay, let’s talk Reddit. The first two pages of http://www.reddit.com/r/all as of this writing contain the following:

            “The official portrait of some guy who sucks.” [picture of Trump, from /r/EnoughTrumpSpam, the anti-Trump subreddit that ironically produces more Trump-related spam than anything else]

            “Donald Trump has assembled the worst cabinet in American history.” [/r/politics]

            “The Most Unqualified Embarrassing Leader in American History” [/r/EnoughTrumpSpam again]

            “The official portrait of our President should be the #1 most upvoted post in reddit’s history.” [photo of angry-looking Jack-o-lantern; /r/EnoughTrumpSpam again]

            Yep, that’s a right-wing death grip, all right.

          • psmith says:

            I think I saw A Right Wing Death Grip open for Kvelertak in 2009.

          • Moon says:

            Those posts are specifically named so that the reader knows they are anti-Trump posts. Of course you can always find some of those if you look.

            I am talking about posts on e.g. World News with articles that relate to e.g. Putin, but do not give any indication of what the point of view of the poster are. That’s where I find the heavy duty Right Wing bias in the comments. And I mean like 97% pro-Trump and pro-Putin. Not a subtle bias at all. It’s just the standard bias in any World News post or {banned term} post.

            Of course, if you look for posts with titles that clearly state a bias, then those posts have that bias.

            My point is that, looking for posts with neutral titles or articles, I turn up a lot of posts where the commenters are heavily pro-Trump– and where people are down voted if their comment is not pro-Trump.

            3 of your 4 examples are from /r/EnoughTrumpSpam
            I guess the name says it all. Reddiit on the subject of politics is almost all Trump spam. And so people have formed a single subreddit where they hope to get away from that.

          • Nornagest says:

            /r/all is Reddit’s sitewide list of hot posts. Anything on there needs the support of hundreds or thousands of users over a short time, and posts from all subreddits are eligible, including ones like /r/conservative. It would be very strange to find several anti-Trump posts on that list and no pro-Trump ones, if the site as a whole had such a right-wing bias.

            If for some reason you specifically want posts with neutral titles and anti-Trump comments, though, they’ve never been easier to find; if you didn’t see any while you were there, you must have been linked to a pro-Trump thread and never ventured outside of it. Reddit’s balkanizing, just like every other site these days. But that doesn’t mean one side doesn’t exist, nor that it’s been forced into some kind of tiny ghetto, whatever conclusions you’ve jumped to from /r/EnoughTrumpSpam’s (massively misleading) name.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nornagest

            Reddit changed the /r/all algorithms specifically to get fewer The_Donald posts, so I would not trust that as a reflection of what is popular on Reddit.

            Reddit’s balkanizing, just like every other site these days.

            Very much so, for example, /r/news began censoring comments about the Orlando shooting for SJ reasons.

            /r/news is one of the biggest subreddits (15th in subscribers), so if it is controlled by SJ moderators, it’s quite unfair to claim that reddit is right wing in general (The_Donald is 143rd in subscribers, btw).

          • Matt M says:

            “Reddit changed the /r/all algorithms specifically to get fewer The_Donald posts”

            This is why it’s hard to take Moon’s criticisms seriously.

            Consider the following:

            1) Reddit does not want to be known as a site that is unreasonably biased towards Trump (as an aside, they probably don’t particularly want to be known as biased in any direction, but pro-Trump is probably the worst of them all)
            2) In this case, the perception matters more than the reality (you can loudly insist you aren’t biased all you want, what really matters is if people think you are)
            3) Therefore, if you’re anti-Trump, the best thing you can do is loudly scream to everyone how biased reddit is in favor of Trump, regardless of how true it is
            4) The louder you scream, the more people start to pick up the idea and “reddit is a pro-Trump cesspool” becomes a meme
            5) To counteract this (or maybe they genuinely start to believe it themselves), reddit now messes around with its algorithms to have less pro-Trump material, assuming it will satisfy all the screeching leftists
            6) It doesn’t satisfy them. Go back to #3 and repeat indefinitely.

        • sneakysly says:

          You think this is a good thing? The mind boggles.

      • Matt M says:

        “But if Trump were pro-Thiel’s-positions, rather than pro-Thiel”

        For Trump, this might very well be the same thing.

        Does anyone claim to be really certain what Trump’s own personal beliefs on the most relevant issues of the day actually are? Trump seems to form his own beliefs by selecting from the ones that people he knows and trusts tell him are good. For better or worse, I think he really does see himself as CEO and the CEO’s role as one where you gather up a bunch of smart people, have them all argue their own proposals against each other, and then you wisely pick whatever one you like the best.

        For all the hysteria about his cabinet, they seem to me to be among the most ideologically diverse cabinet members we’ve had in my memory. And it seems he wants it that way. He likes conflict and arguments and such. He is not beholden to his “own” beliefs, if such things even exist for him.

        • Chrysophylax says:

          Deiseach proposed that this news reflects well on Trump. I don’t think it does because I don’t think Trump has the property of systematically choosing good ideas. I think he has the property of systematically trading favours. This occasionally leads to good outcomes, but is a) generally a bad thing and b) something I already believed.

          Your suggestion that he adopts opinions from people he trusts actually raises my opinion of him significantly, because my previous hypothesis was that he thought whatever felt high-status, and I’m now much more uncertain about his decision algorithm.

          • Deiseach says:

            Deiseach proposed that this news reflects well on Trump.

            Oops, I didn’t mean to sound that highly positive! I intended more “For those who admire Thiel (or whichever other putative pick) would this mean your opinion of Trump would be raised?”

            I like Thiel (in a very strictly limited sense) for taking on Gawker because I think that Gawker was trashy yellow journalism crossed with the worst snobbery of the social diarist, but I’d have cheered on Asmodeus if that had challenged Gawker (and it’s only Gawker that’s gone under; the other elements of Denton’s media empire are still around, so far as I can tell), so it’s not really unstinting approval of Thiel and his ideas as a whole 🙂

      • Thursday says:

        Trump probably went for Thiel because he’d take any high status person on as a supporter.

        However, Thiel probably jumped on the Trump train for a couple reasons: 1. Trump is very un-PC; and 2. Trump was the Republican nominee. I can easily see a PC-hating, Republican friendly libertarian going for Trump.

  21. Cecil Harvey says:

    I work in pharma advertising. I find the proposal of testing based on safety and not efficacy. How about an approach that does a little something to quell its worst effects:

    1) once proven safe, allow it on the market, but forbid any and all advertisements of it. Findings can be published in the medical journals and pharmacy manuals, but no actual paid advertisements.
    2) as a carrot, allow them to advertise only for indications for which the drug is proven efficacious.

    This isn’t perfect, but it could be better than what we have now, and bring life-saving drugs to market faster. The whole “key opinion leader” thing would be a mess for this sort of thing, so we’d probably want to do something about that.

    (Frankly, I’d ban all consumer advertising for anything that requires a prescription; we have decided as a society that some class of drugs requires a prescription by a physician to consume, why should the consumer be advertised do if they can’t actually make the decision? But changing this is just undoable under either party control today.)

    • Nornagest says:

      why should the consumer be advertised do if they can’t actually make the decision?

      Why do ads for kids’ toys run during kids’ shows, if kids don’t have disposable income?

      • suntzuanime says:

        Banning consumer advertising aimed at children also sounds like a good idea.

      • Spookykou says:

        +1

      • Cecil Harvey says:

        There’s a bit of a difference here. The force of law prevents consumers from buying prescription drugs. My 7-year-old daughter gets money for her birthday, and can (within reason) spend it as she pleases.

        I’m not defending the practice of advertising to kids. Far from it — it’s illegal to target minors for alcohol and tobacco ads, for example. And yes, the companies find ways to subvert the law subtly, but I’m so sick of “Ask Your Doctor About…” ads.

        • Nornagest says:

          My 7-year-old daughter gets money for her birthday, and can (within reason) spend it as she pleases.

          Yeah, that can happen, but I think begging is probably a bigger driver of sales. I didn’t start getting money for birthdays until I was about twelve, for example, and by then I’d aged out of the Saturday morning cartoon market. (Are Saturday morning cartoons still a thing?)

    • shakeddown says:

      I find the proposal of testing based on safety and not efficacy

      You find it what? I’m guessing something negative.

  22. MostlyCredibleHulk says:

    CNN article says:

    Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, according to House records reviewed by CNN.

    Trump’s team press release claims that it was $2,697.74 and that even that was not his initiative but his stock broker’s without his prior knowledge or instruction. But even if he was somehow involved – are we really talking about under $15K (and most possibly just about $2.7K) stock package of a person who owns at least middle six figures in investments, and probably is a millionaire net-worth.

    I mean it’s admirable that we’re taking “not a single cent” position here, especially given ample and clear evidence of insider trading being epidemic in Congress and government, but are we really going to apply this consistently this far? I mean, are we going to call any person whose portfolio has even a cent of investment in something somehow related to their job ethically compromised now? Or is there a limit where we say if somebody works for years on some legislation then a small investment out of six-or-seven-figures portfolio is maybe not the main driving force behind it?

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yeah, it seems like kind of small ball. The way I could see it mattering is if it’s part of a pattern, where he does this sort of thing all the time and it adds up, and he just happened to get caught this time. This seems like a story where we need crucial context, and unfortunately we can’t trust the media to give it to us.

  23. Jack V says:

    That is interesting. I’m not yet convinced, but I understand the point, and it makes more sense than I expected. All your specific suggestions sound good, as far as I can tell without much expertise.

    Re #4, maybe a test for libertarians is to ask, “is there any new law you would enact”? If it’s something protectionist, consign them to the crony-capitalist bin. If it’s something like this, listen to what they have to say.

  24. michelemottini says:

    I think that some kind of drug approval reciprocity with the EU was part of the TTIP, that is the very first thing that got killed by Trump election

    • FeepingCreature says:

      It’s not something that needs to be negotiated as part of a trade agreement, since each side of it is strictly positive sum.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Isn’t going to happen, Trump or no Trump (that is, the US would have weaseled out of such a treaty provision), because every time it comes up, the FDA whispers “thalidomide”.

      • michelemottini says:

        Yes, lowering trade barrier is (or should be) positive sum, but in reality none does it without negotiations.

        Specifically: would the US accept drugs certified in Europe without reciprocity? Would the US accept the European certification process without any say whatsoever on it (and vice-versa)?

        Certification is one the ‘non tariff’ barrier to trade that the latest crop of trade agreement tried to tackle, but they already were not doing that great, and Trump election killed them off

  25. MawBTS says:

    I didn’t agree with Dilbert guy when he described Trump as the “high risk, high reward” candidate, but this could be a promising sign of a High Reward Trump. Hard to imagine a Clinton administration picking guys like this.

  26. caethan says:

    Makes me wonder if Greg Cochran’s post had anything to do with this.

  27. Anders says:

    The idea of approving drugs on the basis of safety rather than efficacy sounds interesting in principle. However, the main advantage of the current policy is not that it keeps ineffective drugs from being marketed; the main advantage is that it forces the drug company to produce the kind of evidence that can be used to make an informed decision about whether using the drug is a good idea.

    If I were the head of the FDA, I would consider a policy where a new drug is required to undergo studies to prove that it is safe, and also enough studies to give physicians sufficient evidence to decide whether the drug is useful. However, the company should be allowed to legally market it even it the studies fail to show efficacy. Presumably, nobody would buy it and no insurance company would feel the need to cover it, but it could still be legal.

    On another note, an important policy that the new FDA head should consider, is to require all randomized trials to be run by third-party companies, independent of the drug manufacturer. If these third party companies suppress or tamper with evidence, they would lose their credibility, FDA would stop considering their studies for regulatory purposes, and they would quickly go out of business.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      > the main advantage is that it forces the drug company to produce the kind of evidence that can be used to make an informed decision about whether using the drug is a good idea.

      The problem is that “forcing” them to produce that evidence makes getting a drug to market much more expensive, which in turn results in fewer good drugs being created.

      The idea of only requiring that the drug be proved safe, is that we can figure out how well it works after it’s been legalized.

  28. Sniffnoy says:

    Tangential, but there seem to be a number of these “Two types of libertarians” distinctions. (Note: There’s going to be quite a bit overlap in what follows.)

    Scott has already noted the “actual libertarians” vs. “really just crony capitalists” distinction. (This one generalizes a bit — “actual libertarians” vs. “really just wants to be rid of a few particular laws and claims to be a libertarian”.)

    There’s a substantial cultural difference at least between the Red Tribe libertarians and the Blue Tribe (“Grey”) libertarians, and it seems to me that they focus on different things.

    Others above have noted the difference between deontological libertarians and utilitarian ones. This distinction I think generalizes a bit to deontological libertarians vs. libertarians for whom libertarianism is supposed to achieve something in particular, who will agree when the naive libertarian approach succeeds at achieving this thing but disagree when it doesn’t. (E.g., markets should be competitive; but if deregulating a market fails to make it competitive, is it better to do nothing, or to start engaging in some trust-busting?) Similarly you have the thin libertarianism vs. thick libertarianism distinction, which seems related.

    One I’ve noticed recently is that, well… I’d always thought of libertarianism as fundamentally individualistic, right? Like, libertarianism, it’s a form of liberalism, it’s a very Enlightenment sort of thing, and so a fundamental thing there is protecting the individual harmless weirdo from the oppressive conformist group.

    But I’ve noticed recently that there seems to be a form of libertarianism — or something calling itself libertarianism, anyway, I’m not a libertarian so I’m not going to go into what counts as libertarianism and what doesn’t — that doesn’t seem to care about this. (Again, this distinction overlaps with those above, etc., not going to bother to go into that here.) Like, there’s a form of pseudo-libertarianism in the US that seems to just say, oh, it’s the federal government that’s bad (not exactly a very transferable political philosophy!), but you do see people calling themselves libertarian and making an argument for a principle of local control, which would justify this. (E.g., here Simon Penner refers to it as “soft-libertarianism” in the comments.)

    The problem here is that, in the US at least, it seems that it’s often local governments that do the most to represent the conformist village and make life difficult for individual harmless weirdos, and the federal government that has to come in and put a stop to this! Now to my mind the obvious libertarian response to this is “That’s kind of a stupid structure, isn’t it? One layer of government that persecutes people and a different one that stops them? Increase efficiency, get rid of both.” But it seems there’s a form of libertarianism or pseudo-libertarianism that’s OK with this on the basis of, local control is better. Not sure what to make of that.

    • shakeddown says:

      A case in point was the libertarians from a couple of OTs back who were taking Swiss federalism allowing people to deny their neighbor citizenship for being annoying as an example of how localizing government is a good thing.

    • BBA says:

      I call them States’ Rights Libertarians. Like previous incarnations of “states’ rights” it’s a primarily white Southern phenomenon, and there are only a few particular rights the proponents are interested in.

      To me the entire premise is absurd – states don’t have rights. People have rights, states infringe them. (I’m dismissive of the notion of “Israel’s right to exist” for the same reason.)

      • Jiro says:

        there are only a few particular rights the proponents are interested in.

        Somehow I don’t think Swiss citizenship laws fall in that category.

      • Cliff says:

        Well then whenever you hear that you can substitute “Israelis’ right to exist”

      • Furslid says:

        I call shenanigans on this. One of the most high profiles states rights issues is the decriminalization of marijuana. Obviously a hard core racist issue that only southern whites could care about.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          Decriminalization of marijuana is a state issue only because the Feds right now oppose it. If the feds decide to decriminalize, then suddenly people who support decriminalization will start complaining that racist southern whites are oppressing marijuana users and will ask the Supreme Court to put a stop to it.

          Compare gay marriage.

        • BBA says:

          Nobody on the left would ever describe themselves as supporting “states’ rights” – that term is too fraught with unfortunate connotations. Some may grumble halfheartedly about federalism, but Raich cuts both ways and most are happier with it than without it.

          Principled supporters of federalism, on the left or on the right, are a rounding error compared to the fair-weather federalists I’m describing here.

          • Furslid says:

            Yes, and principled libertarians of any stripe are a rounding error too. But those who want states to be able to oppose federal law and are libertarian exist. The other example might be the free state project.

          • Cypren says:

            Principled supporters of any meta-level position are extremely rare and nearly unheard-of in professional politics. Most people are only interested in principles to the extent that they result in their preferred outcomes; politicians then follow suit to get elected.

          • Furslid says:

            Right, and it just pisses me off that the canned response to any argument that some state should be able to disagree with the federal government is racism.

            Yes, segregationists had 50 years ago and slavery supporters had 150 years ago supported states rights. However, those are not the only issues possible, and they aren’t exactly modern issues.

      • Matt M says:

        I think you’re deliberately confusing different issues here.

        Statements like “states don’t have rights, individuals do” is something I wholly agree with, but deals with the question of the proper relationship between a government and the individual. It’s a philosophical question about how people should associate generally.

        But “states rights” as used in the context of American political discussion is about the proper relationship between two different units of government in a federal system. This is a more legal and practical question about the best way to delegate authority and responsibility down in a particular system of government. In a legalistic sense, these states DO have rights – the constitution pretty explicitly says so.

        I also think you’re wrong about “there are only a few particular rights the proponents are interested in.” It’s true that the argument only comes up in favor of issues where a given state conflicts with the federal government, but these issues vary wildly from state to state. I certainly expect the tenor of “but states rights!” objections will be very different in the next 4 years than it has been in the previous 8…

        • BBA says:

          My point is that “States’ Rights Libertarians” aren’t libertarians at all. They only care about their particular object-level issues and, since they’re opposed to federal government action in these cases, claim to be against government action in general, when in fact they’re completely fine with the government acting in ways that help them.

          This goes back to the antebellum days, when nullification was a fundamental right when the South tried to nullify tariffs, but grossly unconstitutional when the North tried to nullify the fugitive slave laws. Or vice versa.

          • Matt M says:

            I think there are plenty of principled libertarians who would support the concept of “states rights.” Tom Woods literally wrote the book on Nullification, and supports it unequivocally, on both left-leaning and right-leaning issues. Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center seems willing to take the side of the state over the federal government in any and all disputes.

            Sure, there are plenty of people who also wave the banner for their own pet cause exclusively, but I think it’s unfair of you to tar everyone with that brush.

            It’s entirely consistent with libertarianism to say “my desired end goal involves all power resting with the individual, but that’s going to take some time – so in the meantime I’ll support bringing power as close to the individual as possible in which case giving it to the state is clearly superior to leaving it to the federal government”

      • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

        Of course “states rights” is a packed expression for “political decisions should be taken at the level of the least possible centralization and federal centralization is way too high for this kind of question”. This idea is not some kind of crazy libertarian invention, it is:

        The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

        Of course, the Constitution does not describe all possible centralization/federalization levels, but it mentions at least three – federal, state and “people”. And specifically mentions the issue of federal level being inappropriate for some questions. That’s what “state rights” is all about. Yes, it does not mean the sum of its words – but “guinea pig” is also not a pig from Guinea.

    • IrishDude says:

      Before considering myself AnCap, I was more of a “state’s rights” libertarian. The main appeals with devolving government down to more local levels are that:

      1) Local government seems like it would be more responsive to local preferences. Nebraska doesn’t get its voice drowned out by California. Plus, your vote counts as 1 in tens of thousands instead of 1 in tens of millions.

      2) Local variation allows experimentation. If a state comes up with a bad rule, it only affects that state (vs bad federal rules that affect all states) and other states can look at that as an example of what not to do. If a state happens to come up with a good rule, other states can observe the goods effects and copy the rule.

      3) It’s much easier to move across localities than it is to move across nations. If the rules in your town suck, move two towns over where they have rules that better align with your preferences.

      4) Because it’s relatively easy to move to a different locality, this creates stronger incentives for the localities to try hard to make good rules.

      As to the types of libertarian, those aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive categories. My ancap worldview springs about equally from my moral foundations and my economic beliefs on the consequences of markets for law, security, and arbitration.

    • jhertzlinger says:

      “Which is better—to be ruled by 1 tyrant 3000 miles away or by 3000 tyrants 1 mile away?”—Mather Byles

  29. Anatoly says:

    Lengthy post from David Gorski at Science-based Medicine, with heavy criticism of O’Neill and Srinivasan:

    https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/donald-trump-vs-the-fda-be-afraid-be-very-afraid-of-the-loosening-of-drug-approval-standards/

    • suntzuanime says:

      Seems intellectually shallow and epistemically arrogant, uses the slur “woo” to avoid having to actually contend with any heterodox ideas. Not worth the read.

      It’s not really surprising what the sort of person who uses the word “woo” thinks about the idea of reforming the FDA.

      • jhertzlinger says:

        The ratio of bulshytt by Establishment supporters to bulshytt by Establishment critics might be different in psychiatry and oncology. He might be posting from experience in a limited field.

    • MawBTS says:

      David Gorski’s similar to PZ Myers. Readable when he’s on technical subjects, but he has a lot of toxoplasma in his brain.

      • Anatoly says:

        That strikes me as an unfair comparison. PZ Myers is notable for having gone all in on culture wars and social justice, and for nurturing an incredibly aggressive and groupthinky commenting section. I’ve been reading Gorski for a few years, and I think he mostly or wholly stays on medicine and alternative medicine and sometimes pseudoscience. I’d say he’s like PZM when PZM talks about creationism, which is the least objectionable part of PZM’s output I can think of.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      I think some of the concerns are valid, but:

      1. He uses the word science way too much, even when it seems entirely superfluous.
      2. He doesn’t quite explain how less stringent requirements for drug approval are in any way unscientific. Testing only for safety is not a change in methodology, just in selection criteria.

    • Cypren says:

      The Gorski article spends the vast majority of its time in very shallow ad hominem attacks that presume the reader shares his tribal affiliations and sense of what constitutes “obviously” correct right-think. He makes a few actual logical arguments throughout the mess, but it mostly strikes me as @suzuntuanime said of being arrogant, shallow and prone to strawman his opponents. It’s more bias confirmation for his own team than writing designed to argue or persuade.

  30. Percentage says:

    Any pharma company that wants their medication approved in both the US and Europe has to spend a billion or so dollars getting it approved by the FDA, and then another billion or so dollars getting it approved by the Europeans. A lot of pharma companies don’t want to bother, with the end result […]

    This seems confusing. If a pharma company was willing to spend a billion in one market, why wouldn’t it subsequently spend a billion in the other market? Especially because there is less risk in spending the second billion, since the pharma company already has a pretty good clue that the second set of trials will probably turn out well. But pursuing both markets at the same time seems riskier but faster.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.”

    • Chalid says:

      I know nothing about pharma specifically, but generically, there might already be a competing product or products in the other market, so you couldn’t get the same level of profits there. The fragmentation of approvals into regions might provide a convenient mechanism for companies to legally collude to charge monopoly prices.

      (Again, pure uninformed speculation on my part)

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      Because the expected income from that market, while in patent, is less than a billion?

      • Percentage says:

        Right, and I wonder why that happens. If the first billion is spent on trials whose outcome is uncertain and yields a profitable drug, then the second billion is a less risky investment with all the upside of the first billion. Chalid’s point makes sense, but then I wonder why the existing competing products didn’t already cross markets. Probably this picture is too simplified, and the two markets are different in enough ways that a profitable drug in one might not be profitable in the other, though the reduced uncertainty in running the second batch of trials seems like a big discount to a pharma company.

        • baconbacon says:

          I am totally speculating here and admit a reasonably high likelihood that I am wrong, but my hypothesis is that while a lot of the superficial rules appear the same the political rules (i.e. unwritten) are not only different, but being known as a european pharma company creates an additional series of hurdles in the US and vice versa that only a handful of companies can deal with.

          • Matt M says:

            Yes, I would imagine this is the case. I’d guess it’s not that the trials themselves are different, but rather the way you prepare for the hearings and such is. I interned at a pharma company once and talked to an old timer in their regulatory division and they told me that back before the age of computers, they used to send like 20 paperboxes worth of materials to the FDA for this stuff. While the content is largely similar, I’m sure the formatting and the emphasis and the needed relationships are all different.

        • Squirrel of Doom says:

          I imagine timing is important. Patents last for 17 years. It takes around 10 years to get your drug approved in one market, leaving 7 years of making money.

          Yes, you can be fairly certain that a trial in the other market will work, but if you only have 2-4 earning years there, it might not be good enough.

        • Murphy says:

          The FDA does in fact accept the results of clinical trials conducted abroad as long as they meet minimum requirements:

          http://www.fda.gov/downloads/RegulatoryInformation/Guidances/UCM294729.pdf

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            I wonder (but will not research) how often that happens in practice.

          • shakeddown says:

            This raises a question that bugs me sometimes: What do small non-aligned countries (e.g. Israel, Australia, Singapore) without the resources to fund a government agency the size of the FDA do drug approvals?

          • Matt M says:

            This is confusing the issue. The physical place you conduct the trial in is almost irrelevant. In fact, it’s currently a major issue within the medical ethics community. The allegation is that big pharma is conducting more and more dangerous trials in impoverished nations where they can offer ridiculously small incentives in American dollars, and impoverished people who don’t understand the risks and who are used to living on twenty cents a day will happily sign up.

            The FDA doesn’t really care about this so long as you test a sufficient number of people of different races such that you can ensure your drug won’t kill people of all different colors.

            It’s really not that the trial itself has to be different to get approved by different places – it’s the nightmarish bureaucratic approval process (that starts only when your trials are all done) that’s unique and different and time consuming.

            Some of the governments of these countries are starting to push back though. Some have negotiated jobs programs out of it (as in, you can’t conduct your trial here unless you manufacture the drug here too). Others are (allegedly!) taking bribes from the companies in the traditional/direct form.

            The small countries typically leech off of either the FDA or the EU, either completely (if they approve it we automatically do) or at least mostly (send us what you sent them and we’ll look at it and probably approve it but maybe bribe us if you want this to go faster). Occasionally, a small and/or ethnically distinct country may require you to do a small trial in their own country (I want to say Japan and China do this most often) simply to prove it isn’t dangerous to their people.

          • Murphy says:

            If you look at a breakdown of costs the lions share is phase 3 trials. If they’re reusable then that’s most of the problem solved.

            Japan has started requiring safety trials done on Japanese people but tgat actually makes complete sense since they were running into a lot of unique side effects or drugs that didn’t work well in their population. There can be surprisingly large differences between populations.

  31. psmith says:

    Gelernter for science advisor? What does SSC make of this?

    • Deiseach says:

      Are people just throwing names out there that they either think, or don’t really think but it makes a good headline*, would fit in with Trump’s supposed world-view?

      I’m beginning to think half these names being floated aren’t even known, much less being considered, by the Trump potential administration, they’re being pulled out of a hat by journalists looking for the next “EMPIRE OF DARKNESS SELECTS EVILNESS CZAR FOR IMPORTANT PORTFOLIO” news story in advance of the inauguration.

      *”fiercely anti-intellectual computer scientist”? I had to read the story before it was changed first to “has decried the influence of liberal intellectuals on college campuses” and then further made milder as “a vehement critic of modern academia”. So he isn’t, as it might seem at first glance, anti-intellectuals qua intellectuals, or anti-intelligence, or anti-intellect, it’s the old ‘liberal/left bias in academia’ thing going on.

  32. shakeddown says:

    Re increasing the Organ supply by paying donors: Is there any evidence that that would help much? Paying for blood donations apparently helps, but the margin is small enough that some studies showed the opposite. Paying for organ donations seems like it wouldn’t help unless you offered very large sums, at which point you could lose cost-effectiveness. (e.g. Paying 300K for an organ that gives someone ten QALYs just about breaks even on the QALY/dollar exchange even before you factor in the other medical costs. And that’s about what I’d naively expect it would take to get people to sell organs).

    • cassander says:

      I imagine it depends a lot on the organ. I’m sure a lot of people would be willing to sell kidneys or livers, especially if they knew they would be able to buy them back some day.

    • Cliff says:

      I believe there is. Iran started offering compensation recently and I think there are others that do. I imagine it would improve supply the most from organ donors but yes it wouldn’t take much to get more kidney/liver donors which would save so many lives. Also, the limit on supply drives doctor and hospital compensation through the roof. So total costs would not increase, you would just be redirecting some of that money to the donor.

      • shakeddown says:

        the limit on supply drives doctor and hospital compensation through the roof

        Why would this be? I’d actually expect it to go the other way – if the organ supply rises, demand for surgeons who can do organ transplants and for relevant medication goes up and the price increases.

    • You don’t have to sell them when you are alive. One option is to sell the right to harvest your organs when and if you die under circumstances that make it possible. For a grim but entirely possible example, consider someone dying of an incurable disease who will still have lots of good pieces of his body left when he goes. The ability to leave an extra hundred thousand dollars to his wife and kids might easily persuade him that he doesn’t need to be buried entire.

    • Furslid says:

      Why do you assume that you buy the organs at death rather than an option on organs while someone is alive?

      Suppose you go to renew your driver’s license. You can either a) pay a 40$ license renewal fee or b) check the organ donation box.

      • grendelkhan says:

        Suppose you go to renew your driver’s license. You can either a) pay a 40$ license renewal fee or b) check the organ donation box.

        This is a magnificent idea and now I’m sad that it’s politically impossible.

        • Matt M says:

          Somewhere (I want to say France) just made it opt-out versus opt-in. In other words, you have to deliberately ask to be excluded from organ donation, and if you don’t, the state will just go ahead and harvest them.

          • Spookykou says:

            Yes, an opt out system increases the number of donors at basically no cost, it is a very high impact low effort intervention.

          • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

            It may be practical but it looks ethically questionable. That’s a kind of thing commercial companies get sued for and hated for – important conditions hidden so one needs to know about them before you can change them, and usually when you (or, in this case possibly, your relatives) care about it, it’s way too late to do anything about it. Presuming that your body belongs to the State unless you took special measures to prevent it does not sit well with me.

          • Spookykou says:

            Presuming that your body belongs to the State

            Seems like a pretty aggressive reading of, you need to check a box saying you don’t want to donate organs after your death when you get your drivers license/state id (and without one of those it is still not assumed that you are an organ donor).

            But I also have zero moral attachment to my corpse, so I am far from representative of Americans on this issue.

          • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

            Imagine you are buying, say, a car and among other stuff you’re signing there’s a checkbox that says if you crash this car and die, the car company gets your body. For investigating the crash and later maybe using as crash test dummy or whatever they like to do with it. And of course nobody tells you about it unless you find it by yourself by thoroughly reading every page of the contract (which you always do anyway, don’t you?) Would you think it’s a bit underhanded practice and object to the presumption that buying a car implies giving your body to the car company?

            Maybe you don’t care about the destiny of your body after your death but many people (including your relatives or other close people) may do so. You are welcome to replace this with some other condition you do care about and see if it works for you.

          • baconbacon says:

            Seems like a pretty aggressive reading of, you need to check a box saying you don’t want to donate organs after your death when you get your drivers license/state id (and without one of those it is still not assumed that you are an organ donor).

            When someone gets to set the conditions on your choices of what to do with your property they are acting as an owner of that property. There is no moral difference (in my view) between saying “check this box and we won’t harvest your organs” and “check this box and pay a $10 processing fee and we won’t harvest your organs” and “check this box and pay a $10,000 processing fee and we won’t harvest your organs”.

          • Spookykou says:

            If you are incapable of seeing the practical differences between assumed consent that ‘organ donor’ can be printed on your government issued ID and assumed consent to ownership over your body, I am not sure how to attack that problem.

          • Matt M says:

            “When someone gets to set the conditions on your choices of what to do with your property they are acting as an owner of that property. There is no moral difference (in my view) between saying “check this box and we won’t harvest your organs” and “check this box and pay a $10 processing fee and we won’t harvest your organs” and “check this box and pay a $10,000 processing fee and we won’t harvest your organs”.”

            Yep, and the courts typically behave this way too. That’s why the precedent itself is dangerous, even if it seems harmless enough for now. Remember, we were originally promised the income tax would never apply to regular people and that it would never be more than a few percent.

          • shakeddown says:

            Both income tax and increased organ availability seem like good things. This is really a better argument against individual-rights libertarianism than against opt-out organ donation.

          • Matt M says:

            shakeddown,

            Why not lead by example? Hand over 90% of your income and one of your kidneys to me. I’ll give it to someone who can really use it and society will be much better off, I promise.

          • shakeddown says:

            I am a registered organ donor and EA contributor (as well as paying income tax, of course), both of which are above and beyond the standard I’m setting for others here. Not that this kind of ad hominem is a useful argument in the first place.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            Somewhere (I want to say France) just made it opt-out versus opt-in.

            The Netherlands is about to do this, if the new legislation is not stopped by the Dutch House of Representatives equivalent.

            An issue with this system is that mentally deficient people are essentially forced to surrender their organs to the state, as they cannot make a rational decision to opt out.

            A second objection is that this incentivizes poor education of citizens. So it probably leads to large numbers of citizens being unaware of what they didn’t sign up for.

            Another objection I have is that this solution favors forcing people over convincing them, even though we have scientific evidence that a very effective measure to increase donors is to have specifically trained doctors who know how to talk to the next of kin. A major advantage of this, is that it is probably far less psychologically harmful to bereaved people.

            My ethical system favors convincing people over forcing people.

            PS. Of course this is all mostly useless anyway to solve the problem, since improvements in traffic safety and ever increasing options to threat people, in ways that make organs unsuitable for donation, have greatly reduced the number of possible donors. A trend that probably will continue. So this is entire debate is mostly virtue signalling, while the real solution is to grow organs.

          • baconbacon says:

            Both income tax and increased organ availability seem like good things. This is really a better argument against individual-rights libertarianism than against opt-out organ donation.

            There is a strong case that a respect for individual rights would have prevented the organ shortage in the first place, both empirically (the one country that has allowed for payments for organs has basically no shortage) and theoretically.

          • baconbacon says:

            If you are incapable of seeing the practical differences between assumed consent that ‘organ donor’ can be printed on your government issued ID and assumed consent to ownership over your body, I am not sure how to attack that problem.

            How do you define ownership?

          • baconbacon says:

            Of course this is all mostly useless anyway to solve the problem, since improvements in traffic safety and ever increasing options to threat people, in ways that make organs unsuitable for donation, have greatly reduced the number of possible donors. A trend that probably will continue. So this is entire debate is mostly virtue signalling, while the real solution is to grow organs.

            The goal organ recipient list is ~100,000 in the US, ~2.5 million people die in the US per year, and each person has up to 8 donate able organs, which means there are up to 20 million potential organs for 100,000 people in need (and that isn’t including organs that can be donated while alive such as kidneys and livers).

            Only 1 out of every 200 potential denotable organs needs to be healthy/donated/match a recipient to essentially end the drought in the US (some specific cases would probably remain), we are a long way from eliminating enough death from making organ growth the only way forward.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbacon

            each person has up to 8 donate able organs

            90% of the people on the waiting list are in need of a kidney or liver. So it’s wrong to present the 8 organs as equally valuable.

            Only 1 out of every 200 potential denotable organs needs to be healthy/donated/match a recipient to essentially end the drought in the US

            Only 3 in 1,000 people die in a way that allows for organ donation.

            1 in 333 is less than 1 in 200, so even if every American would sign up as a donor there would still be a shortage.

            Also keep in mind that the list is kept down by people dying due to a lack of organs. If you get more transplants, demand will go up. A lot of people also need multiple transplants of the same organ, so they count as one person on the list, but they actually ‘consume’ multiple organs.

            Right now there are zero countries that don’t have a shortage. Zero. When no country manages to implement the donor system as you argue it could be, it seems a lot more logical to conclude that there is a fundamental problem with the system, than that you can fix the system with a little tweak. That seems like nothing more than wishful/magical thinking.

          • Jiro says:

            That should be considered unethical because it is an attempt to take advantage of hyperbolic discounting. You’re just saying “in this case I think the hyperbolically discounted decision is the correct one, so I’m going to make sure that’s the one they pick”.

          • baconbacon says:

            1 in 333 is less than 1 in 200, so even if every American would sign up as a donor there would still be a shortage.

            It looks like I wasn’t clear re reading my writing (actually totally misphrased it)- the ~100,000 people on the donation need list is not 100,000 people annually added to that list, that is the sum total of people added over time who haven’t been removed by death or transplant. If we use the link you provide it says that “every 10 mins another person is added to the list”, we will use that as an approximation for new donors*

            There are ~500,000 mins in a year, once every 10 mins means ~50k new people on the list which puts us at under 3/1000 deaths worth of raw organ need. Additionally this is only donations from the dead and not including live donations which from your link account for ~6,000 of 38,000 total organs donated, this number would be expected to rise under a payment for donation policy.

            *I interpreted this to mean that every 10 mins a person registers for the list, not every 10 mins a person is net added to the list.

          • baconbacon says:

            Right now there are zero countries that don’t have a shortage. Zero. When no country manages to implement the donor system as you argue it could be, it seems a lot more logical to conclude that there is a fundamental problem with the system, than that you can fix the system with a little tweak. That seems like nothing more than wishful/magical thinking.

            Iran has a payment system that has totally eliminated the waiting list for kidney transplants (the largest single needed organ in the US).

            In 1988, a compensated and regulated living-unrelated donor renal transplant program was adopted in Iran. As a result, the number of renal transplants performed substantially increased such that in 1999, the renal transplant waiting list was completely eliminated. By the end of 2005, a total of 19,609 renal transplants were performed (3421 from living related, 15,356 from living-unrelated and 823 from deceased donors).

            link

          • Murphy says:

            @baconbacon

            Typically you aren’t considered to have property rights over your own corpse.

            There’s some practical reasons, if there’s a plague etc then the responsibility for clearing away and burning the corpses can’t rest with the corpses themselves.

            it of course varies by country but dead bodies tend to be the responsibility of the state though that typically isn’t enforced if next of kin etc have something specific they want to do with the corpse.

          • baconbacon says:

            Typically you aren’t considered to have property rights over your own corpse.

            A person typically controls the transfer of their property after their death. Wills are honored in every Western country (to varying degrees) as legal documents of ownership. The right to transfer property post life is nearly universally accepted.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbacon

            Iran has a payment system that has totally eliminated the waiting list for kidney transplants (the largest single needed organ in the US).

            OK, good find…but I consider such a system to be very unethical.

          • but I consider such a system to be very unethical.

            Why? It feels icky, but can you formulate a reason why someone who is willing to give up one of his kidneys in exchange for money should not be permitted to do so? How is it different from permitting people to accept high paid but risky jobs?

            The point where I get worried is where the transfer is involuntary, as in the case of organs from people executed for capital crimes. David Niven has a series of stories exploring the implications of that.

          • mtraven says:

            but can you formulate a reason why someone who is willing to give up one of his kidneys in exchange for money should not be permitted to do so?

            Not going to make the argument against organ markets here, but it certainly has been made.

            (and you mean Larry Niven)

          • Jiro says:

            Why? It feels icky, but can you formulate a reason why someone who is willing to give up one of his kidneys in exchange for money should not be permitted to do so?

            The opt-out system, especially the opt-out system with a $40 cost, is ethically questionable because it plays on people’s cognitive biases to get them to make a transaction they normally wouldn’t make.

            I’m sure that if someone was told “Either pay a $40 fee, or agree that if you leave an estate of at least $50000, $5000 extra gets taken from it for the government”, a number of people would agree to have the $5000 taken.

          • IrishDude says:

            @mtraven

            One of the review comments on the book was interesting:
            “The second half of the book examines various controversial markets (child labor, prostitution, contract pregnancy, etc). There are some stronger parts in this half, but overall, it still left me dissatisfied. Her “policy prescriptions” for the markets basically amount to “don’t ban it, but regulate it to make sure that no one involved is forced into it or is unable to get out of it.”

            If she really argues for the bolded part, I don’t disagree.

          • (and you mean Larry Niven)

            Correct.

            I don’t think “typo” is the right term for that sort of mistake, but I’m not sure what is.

            But it certainly has been made.

            Lots of arguments have been made. Many of them bad arguments. What I wanted to know was why Aapje would defend the view he expressed.

          • Matt M says:

            @IrishDude

            I’d prefer Walter Block’s “defending the undefendable” where he essentially demands such things be completely legalized as they are moral goods.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Matt M

            I don’t know what Walter Block means by completely legalized, but the bold quote says to me we should allow controversial markets but prevent coercion through regulation. I agree with this sentiment, though I’d prefer decentralized AnCap regulatory solutions to State regulation.

          • Matt M says:

            Well it’s a fascinating read that you may be interested in, and can be downloaded for free!

          • Aapje says:

            @Friedman

            We know that many people tend to be rather short sighted and do dumb things, especially before their brains have matured fully (which is after we grant them full legal rights).

            Although we generally let people make mistakes, there are some choices that have severe long term consequences that we try to make harder, specifically to counter this stupidity:
            – smoking (we put a big tax on cigarettes)
            – not saving for a pension (we give tax breaks for people who save)
            – not being insured for various things (we make some insurances mandatory)
            – etc.

            I believe that the lack of compensation for organ donations, means that the current living donors make relatively sane decisions.

            If you allow selling organs, I believe that the additional supply will mostly come from stupid or forced decision-making: people who want (or desperately need) the money and who end up regretting the decision later. Example:

            http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-24128096

          • Matt M says:

            “I believe that the lack of compensation for organ donations, means that the current living donors make relatively sane decisions.”

            You think banning a market from functioning on the basis of economics and forcing the question to be decided solely on the basis of emotion increases rationality?

            Every once in awhile we get these stories like “some random stranger posted on facebook that they needed a kidney and some random dude who had never met him donated his!” spun up as these delightfully great and heartwarming things. Do you consider the donor in this case to be making a “sane” decision? Does the decision somehow become less sane if the recipient cuts him a check?

          • Matt M says:

            Honestly Aapje, I’m a little disappointed here. You’re using the same sort of nanny-state “we know better” argument that is used by progressives around the world to prevent poor people from making decisions that are in their own economic self-interest.

            If someone desperately needs $10,000 and the best way they can come up with raising the money is to sell their kidney, you do not improve their life by forbidding them from selling their kidney. The whole “we have to ban this or people will be forced to do it” is the same logic that is used to ban sweatshops, drugs, prostitution, payday loans, whatever. And the bans almost inevitably result in worse outcomes for the relevant people involved.

            Banning the sales of kidneys does not eliminate the fundamental reason people might sell a kidney (economic impoverishment). It only reduces the amount of options they have to solve their core problem by substituting your own value system for their ability to make their own decision.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            The free market does not necessarily result in the best decision making or most optimal outcomes in all circumstances.

            You merely seem disappointed that I don’t blindly favor the free market, regardless of whether a more specific analysis of the situation shows that a free market mechanism is less appropriate for the specific circumstances. As such, I regard your disappointment as a compliment in this case.

            If someone desperately needs $10,000

            To me, this is the ‘we need to allow torture because it might stop the ticking bomb’ argument, but then applied to the organ selling. The idea that a one-time $10k windfall helps a significant number of people, seems very unlikely. Look at the people in the BBC story, who suffers medical issues, damaging their long term earning capacity. If they hadn’t done this, the micro-financiers would have ended up with insolvent borrowers and would have needed to take a loss. Now you end up with a bad lending system being propped up by people sacrificing their health. Fixing the lending system can be done in the short term, leaving the borrowers better off than they were, but the physical damage to these people cannot be undone.

            In my Western country, the poor generally end up as they are because they get into a debt spiral that they cannot solve. They often take stupid decisions to try to make do, without a rational assessment of their situation and a decision to make it the lenders’ problem. Debt relief that actually works tends to involve an outsider stepping in and being paternalistic (to the lender as well). Having an option like organ selling will most likely just allow people to stay in the debt spiral for longer, not solve their true problems. And then when the outsider does get involved, it may be harder to solve the issues, when the earning capacity of the poor person has been diminished.

            Of course, you could surely come up with some examples where someone is truly helped by such a one time windfall, but overall, I think the downsides outweigh the upsides.

            PS. IMO, a major failure mode of libertarians is that they tend to be relatively smart people who tend to imagine themselves as ‘the people’ in their theories. This completely forgets about the many people who are not as mentally capable as them. IMHO, my arguments are based on a semi-realistic view on human limitations and empathy with those that don’t have the mental capabilities to deal with complex systems. I will sacrifice some of the freedom of those with high levels of intelligence for that.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Aapje

            Impulsive organ donation could be a problem. There are solutions for this outside of banning organ sales, such as having a psychological evaluation, a waiting period, and providing transparent information to the donor on the short and long term risks of their decision. The Iran link above describes a thorough vetting process for donors before they are allowed to donate, which includes at least some of these elements.

            Also, though short sighted organ donation could be a problem, people dying on transplant waiting lists is also a problem, and it seems to me death is on net worse than future low probability potential health complications. Disagree?

            Last, to address your concerns that poor people would be taken advantage of, a keyhole solution is to introduce a minimum income requirement for donors selling their organs. I’d take that over a complete ban of organ markets.

            It seems like your concerns could be addressed without resorting to a ban on organ sales.

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            people dying on transplant waiting lists is also a problem, and it seems to me death is on net worse than future low probability potential health complications. Disagree?

            You are using an emotionally manipulative framing. People on the waiting list don’t die right away and those with an transplanted organ don’t live as long as people who never needed a transplant. Organ transplants seem to save 4.3 life-years on average, although it is a bit higher for living transplants. They also seem to give a decent QoL improvement.

            I am not blown away by these statistics/facts and am not convinced that they outweigh the downsides to organ selling.

            Last, to address your concerns that poor people would be taken advantage of, a keyhole solution is to introduce a minimum income requirement for donors selling their organs. I’d take that over a complete ban of organ markets.

            That is a lovely theoretical solution, but one that I can never see become law or remain part of the law. This is one of these situations where I believe that the slippery slope is real, as you can always help a few more people by lowering the requirements.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Aapje

            As far as emotional appeal, I hadn’t see you acknowledge the benefits of organ markets at all, so it was worth mentioning.

            As to the consequential argument, you’d need to know what the probability and magnitude is of negative health consequences from donating a kidney or liver. How does that compare against an expected 4.3 years of additional living versus dying soon?

            As to the moral aspect, this issue seems related to right to die. I’m not sure where you stand on that, but I think psychologically normal people that insist on the right to die should have autonomy that is respected by others. As long as the decision is rational and not impulsive, I don’t think coercion is justified to prevent those that want to die from following through. Similarly, if methods can be used to to help organ donors be aware of the benefits and costs of their decision (such as psych evaluations, waiting periods, and getting professional advice), I think morally we should not use coercion to prevent their autonomy over their body. YMMV.

            Edit: To make it concrete, I don’t think I have the right to put a gun against my neighbors head to prevent him from selling a kidney, if he’s rationally considered the consequences and benefits of his actions and feels like the decision is right for him.

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            Perhaps I have an irrational antipathy against making healthy people less healthy, to benefit unhealthy people (usually with a class component, where the benefit goes to upper classes and the downsides to the lower classes).

            Anyway, as for your question on how to compare the benefits to the downsides, I would need some proper data about the downsides before I’m willing to update my opinion. IMO, there is a lack of research on the impact of donating to the donor, with most focus going to the recipient. The anecdotal data I’ve seen doesn’t make me too happy, although it could easily suffer from the apex fallacy, of course.

            Right to die is a complex issue and an especially hot topic in my country, where the government has proposed legalizing euthanasia for older people who are relatively healthy.

            Major issues I have here are that I think that:
            – Context tends to have a major impact on how happy people are to be alive. Making assisted suicide easier has a huge risk of papering over problems in our society that make people less happy, where we eliminate the unhappy person, rather than the thing(s) that make them unhappy. For example, a lot of elderly become quite lonely and it is understandable that this reduces their happiness a great deal. A proper fix seems to me to decrease their loneliness, not to kill them.
            – Many people with a death wish seem to underestimate how their context may improve. For example, one of the people who was clamoring for this option in our media got a girlfriend in his 80s and stopped wanting to die.
            – We are all coerced by social norms, the Overton Window, emotional manipulations by others, etc, etc. Even extremely intelligent people like Scott Aaronson got coerced into desiring chemical castration. It makes sense to provide push back to people when they seek (potentially) damaging choices. Extremely damaging choices ought to have high barriers and some choices can have such a bad ratio of false positives, that it’s best to just eliminate the option. There has been an analysis of potential cases for legal euthanasia for older people who are relatively healthy which suggested that the latter is the case.

            But arguably I am a misanthrope who doesn’t think very highly of human abilities. Then again, pessimists seem to be more accurate.

          • Murphy says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Thing is, we don’t allow people to accept unlimited levels of risk. If an employer has a machine which keeps ripping the arms off employees they don’t get to just include a “you may not sue us for horrible injuries on the job” clause and then hop merrily along continuing to maim employees.

            We don’t allow people to sell themselves into permanent slavery even though we could frame it as “why shouldn’t this person be able to sell their services if they perhaps want lots of money for their family. ”

            We don’t allow child labor in coal mines even though someone might frame it as “surely there’s nothing wrong with giving kids the chance at work experience and income for their families”

            I think I’d need a long piece to go into all the details but there’s also a creeping horror at the side of my thoughts on the issue:
            Minimum cost of living tends to adjust to available options. When child labor was legal the various rent seekers in the system sucked all the wealth out of peasant families to the extent that their children working themselves blind was a necessity, not something they did just to afford a nice handbag.

            Once you put selling your internal organs on the table, put it within the Overton window then you think you’re putting [market price of organ] into the hands of poor people. But it isn’t a closed system. My intuition is that once that’s on the table something else gets taken off because it can be and the real money in their hands ends up being [market price of organ]-[cost of price/rent adjustments because everyone poor is now expected to sell their organs] . Rents in the poor part of town go up, wages go down and anyone complaining or asking for a raise gets told to go sell a kidney if they’re so hard up.

            The same sort of people who grouch that someone doesn’t really need a living wage because they have the temerity to own a $30 phone will turn to declaring someone “entitled” because they haven’t sold their families kidneys and liver fractions yet.

            Morally it seems much much much more reasonable/palatable to simple include a checkbox “Tick here if you do not want to be an organ donor” at the DMV since you get all the benefits of what you want in terms of people not dying for lack of organs without all the horrible perverse incentives and predation.

            Financially the difference is zero sum anyway.

          • baconbacon says:

            We don’t allow child labor in coal mines even though someone might frame it as “surely there’s nothing wrong with giving kids the chance at work experience and income for their families”

            @ Murphy

            You have the causation backwards. We used to let kids work in coal mines and as chimney sweeps until enough parents were able to afford for their children not to work in them (plus also union pressure during the GD to try to boost wages artificially). Child labor was on the decline prior to child labor laws being enacted, while you might like to think that “we don’t allow it because of really good sounding moral reason X” the truth is that economic need and political posturing simply allowed for the codification of what was already occurring.

        • Matt M says:

          The cost would be setting the precedent and implication that the state owns your organs and you must ask their permission to have your own agency over how they are used – but I get your point.

      • shakeddown says:

        Didn’t think of that one. That makes sense (but also seems like something that would have to be done at the state level, since they’re the ones responsible for drivers’ licenses).

        Also, paying for organs makes more sense when we talk about living donors. For dead donors, I like the option of making organ donation opt-out rather than opt-in, and that seems incompatible with paying for them.

    • Urstoff says:

      Becker and Elias estimate a much lower payment of around $15,000: http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.21.3.3

      • shakeddown says:

        Damn, that’s a great analysis.

        It does leave the question of whether people would be willing to sell their organs for their estimated value, though. Organs seem like something people could get irrationally sentimental about.

        • hls2003 says:

          I think the near-opposite problem is more likely – people get irrationally sentimental about obtaining meth, and thus are likely to place an irrationally low value on their organs.

  33. IrishDude says:

    I followed Balaji on Twitter, and one of the important points he made, that’s been discussed by other economists, is that not approving drugs that save lots of lives can be worse on net than disapproving drugs that take a few lives. However, the optics are always on the visible lives lost due to drugs in the marketplace, like the original botched polio vaccine, and much less on drugs that save lives but take ten years for approval instead of two (with the ‘hidden’ lives lost in the additional 8 years waiting for approval.)

  34. SkepticalEnlightenment says:

    I believe the charge of being “ethically-compromised” based on the reporting in that CNN article has been thoroughly debunked. Perhaps he is compromised in other ways, but that clearly does not seem to be one of them. Let’s not allow disagreements over stated positions and policies bias us towards false caricatures.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think the debunking is starting to be debunked.

      The Trump spokesman said:

      Price has a “diversified portfolio with Morgan Stanley in a broker-directed account” in both health care and non-health care related stock and that the broker, not Price “had the discretion to decide which securities to buy and sell in his account,” the statement says.

      But in the hearing when asked, Price said the opposite:

      “You made the decision to purchase that stock, not a broker. Yes or no?” Murray asked at Price’s confirmation hearing.

      “That was a decision that I made, yes,” Price said.

      • AnonEEmous says:

        I’d already heard about said debunking before reading his article. But the issue’s gone pretty meh for me after I learned that he bought about $2,700 of a stock and made about $180 on it? Even if he expected to make more, the guy’s a millionaire and makes…google says $174K a year, and I bet the benefits are nothing short of phenomenal. I’ve heard about other, more lucrative situations that seemed a lot more serious, but this one particularly doesn’t seem like a big deal. As to those other situations…well, we’ll see if they get brought up during the hearing, and I’m going to assume that if they don’t then they were probably BS.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t know about debunking but a price range of “between $1,000 and $15,000 of the stock” seems very imprecise to me; would $1,000 worth of stock be worth any serious investor’s time if they’re hoping to make a quick profit? If they could nail it down to “he bought 15 grand’s worth of stock because he knew he could get the bill passed and this is insider trading or damn near”, then sure, hammer the guy for conflict of interest and ethical lapses and whatever else applies.

      But it’s a bit like “Johnny stole 1 or 16 dozen apples, we’re not quite sure, but we are sure he’s a naughty thief!” Yes, stealing one apple is as bad as stealing 16 dozen, but it’s a lot more serious if you go into wholesale apple theft.

      • Matt M says:

        “would $1,000 worth of stock be worth any serious investor’s time if they’re hoping to make a quick profit?”

        No. $1,000 worth of stock is not even really worth a small investor’s time. Even 15k isn’t much for a serious day trader. Consider that if he had a bill passed that could increase the stock by 20% (which is a freaking lot by stock standards) and timed the trade perfectly so that he captured all of it with zero risk, we’d be talking about a profit of a whopping $3,000.

  35. IrishDude says:

    This article cites another article that says Balaji isn’t in the running for FDA head anymore. That’s unfortunate, if true, but I hope the other two names floated end up in the role.

  36. Robert Mariani says:

    >go down by a factor of 500 – 1000%.
    c’mon man

  37. Stuart Buck says:

    Approving drugs for safety but not efficacy is nonsensical much of the time. Consider cancer drugs. The whole point of chemo is to kill as many of the patient’s rapidly-reproducing cells as possible, without killing the rest of the patient. This is quite hard to do, and chemo is notoriously toxic. The first chemo drug was literally developed from mustard gas, and one of the most well-known chemo drugs today (adriamycin or doxorubicin) has side effects that include heart failure and death.

    Approve based on safety? You’d never approve a derivative of mustard gas because it was “safe.” The ONLY reason to take such a toxic substance if there is rigorous evidence that it could be effective enough to bring cancer into remission, and thus outweigh (on average) the significant risk of harm.

    • Erebus says:

      Different safety allowances for different indications. Easy.

      …Certainly easier, in any case, than trying to quantify and assess efficacy — which the FDA is manifestly incapable of doing. (FDA approval is the rate-limiting step in medicine development; it costs billions and takes an average of 12 years to get a drug through the approval process; by the time a drug is approved, its patent lifespan is very short, which forces prices up. These, among others, are intractable problems associated with their efficacy assessments.)

      Broad allowances can be made for fatal diseases — particularly for invariably and rapidly fatal diseases. Don’t forget that chemotherapy was invented and developed, for e.g. with methotrexate, before the FDA became the ultimate arbiter of drug efficacy.

  38. isaacc7 says:

    I’m surprised there was no mention of possible re or de scheduling of cannabis or other schedule I drugs. Cannabis is obviously a hot topic and would most likely fall under the safe but unproven banner. Other schedule I drugs like LSD and psilocybin have been proven to be nontoxic but problematic. I wonder how these potential candidates would handle these currently illegal drugs. Would they recommend descheduling cannabis?

    • grendelkhan says:

      I’m surprised there was no mention of possible re or de scheduling of cannabis or other schedule I drugs.

      The GOP platform is against even the medical use of cannabis. It’s a partisan issue, and I will be honestly surprised if the effect of this libertarian influx is to bring rescheduling or decriminalization to the table. I’ll be surprised if it shows up as anything other than the usual Republican starve-the-beast tax cuts.

      • Spookykou says:

        It is a partisan issue, but how partisan is Trump really?

        • grendelkhan says:

          In policy, not much in some ways and extremely in others. In personality and style, extraordinarily. He’s got a Nixon sort of thing going.

      • Deiseach says:

        The GOP platform is against even the medical use of cannabis.

        Because it’s the camel’s nose under the tent door. Decriminalise medical cannabis, in a bit it’ll be “decriminalise recreational use”. Then after that, it’ll be “cannabis turned out okay (or at least no worse than tobacco and alcohol), how about these other recreational drugs?”

        And every step of the way, the proponents will be “Absolutely no way this is a slippery slope, no way this means that X will be decriminalised next!” Until the next step when X is decriminalised happens.

        You may argue that is an absurd position to hold and the feared consequences will never happen, but it is at least a coherent one even if you disagree with it, and it is not based on “GOP is so cruel and heartless, it wants sick people to suffer unnecessarily!”

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Which is why as soon as alcohol became legal again we quickly made all other forms of recreational drugs legal.

          Now, as it so happens, I’m sympathetic to the argument that drugs should be legal and regulated. But it’s also true that drugs like heroin and cocaine are far more addictive than pot or booze.

          If you have alcohol legal, making pot illegal is as stupid as making absinthe illegal. It was never a decision made on subtantive grounds.

          • Protagoras says:

            Heroin and cocaine are “far more addictive” than booze? That’s not what the numbers I’ve seen indicate. What sources are you relying on for that?

          • Jiro says:

            Which is why as soon as alcohol became legal again we quickly made all other forms of recreational drugs legal.

            I think it’s clear that “medical marijuana” actually *is* a steppingstone to non-medical marijuana. The slippery slope which hasn’t happened between alcohol and other substances is, indeed, happening for marijuana, in a very obvious way. I would have to speculate as to exactly why this is, but my guess would be differences in the intentions of the people setting it up. The medical marijuana people wanted full legalization, so they set up medical marijuana in a way which made it easy to slip towards full legalization (for instance, lax standards for medical prescriptions, lax penalties and no enforcement when preventing non-medical use, etc.)

          • John Schilling says:

            The slippery slope which hasn’t happened between alcohol and other substances is, indeed, happening for marijuana, in a very obvious way. I would have to speculate as to exactly why this is,

            The re-legalization of alcohol occurred within living memory of the criminalization of alcohol, and it occurred at a time when the political consensus was shifting from “all drugs should be legal even if problematic” to “all problematic drugs should be illegal”. IIRC alcohol, marijuana, and the opiates were all banned within about a generation of each other, and there was zero social or political pressure for moving in the opposite direction.

            The end of prohibition was a move against the general consensus, possible because it was blindingly obvious that banning the immensely popular and entrenched drug at the same time as the niche drugs was an overreach with massive unintended consequences, and because everybody could clearly remember what life with legal alcohol was like and it wasn’t as bad as prohibition.

            Once upon a time, under very unusual circumstances, we were able to climb a little ways up a slippery slope to a ledge we knew was there.

            Now, there’s nothing but slope. There is a consensus on the left and center that decriminalization is good and only a debate as to how far we should pursue that good, there is no corresponding pressure for more criminalization (e.g. of alcohol or caffeine), and there are no recent counterexamples with which to compare either the status quo or the proposed change. Lots of people want to step down onto the slippery slope, nobody really wants to climb higher, and there are no clear ledges or even footholds in sight.

            Possibly the full legalization of marijuana will be so catastrophic that it will be politically feasible to return to the status quo ante. Otherwise, it’s a long way down. I think that will probably be a good thing in the end, but I understand why political conservatives are opposed to the first steps.

          • Matt M says:

            Which is why as soon as alcohol became legal again we quickly made all other forms of recreational drugs legal.

            I’d be willing to bet that within the next 10 years, at least one state passes a ballet measure to de-criminalize the unlawful possession and/or use of opiates.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think we’re getting to a situation where it will be perfectly acceptable to walk down the street smoking marijuana (as it used to be acceptable to smoke cigarettes in public when tobacco was involved) but if you want a 2 litre bottle of non-diet yes it’s got real sugar in it Coca Cola, you’ll have to know someone who makes weekend trips to (I dunno) Mexico and brings it in over the border in the boot of his car 🙂

          • Spookykou says:

            Lots of places in Texas sell ‘Mexican Coke’, don’t underestimate capitalism!

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Deiseach

            Maybe in California; in NYC the anti-soda activism seems to have ended with Bloomberg’s term of office.

          • Matt M says:

            Well, Philadelphia recently instituted a soda tax, and the mayor is, for some reason, shocked and appalled that prices have risen as a result.

          • Nornagest says:

            Frankly, that’s dumb enough that I kinda suspect Reason doesn’t have the whole story here. The whole point of a sin tax is to pass the costs onto consumers.

          • Deiseach says:

            I cannot believe that story about the mayor in Philadelphia. The whole reason that there is the clamour for a sugar tax in the UK is to make sugary drinks too expensive for the poor to buy, so they will cut down or cut them out altogether, and this is forecast (though I take leave to doubt it will work out as they think) to reduce obesity and diabetes since people will not be consuming empty calories.

            The whole point, as with taxes on tobacco and alcohol, is to make them too expensive and so cut consumption (though the government instead comes to rely on this as a source of revenue rather than having people stop smoking en masse as health promotion groups would hope).

            What did the mayor think would happen? Did he really not know prices would go up? If he was happy for the extra tax revenue but badly underestimated the public protest this would generate, he may be trying to save his political hide by blaming the ‘price gougers’. But really. anyone who believes he’s telling the truth will also have to believe that in that case, he’s too stupid to be mayor and not vote for him next time out.

          • Aapje says:

            @ Matt M & @Deiseach

            His argument seems to be that the retailers have increases the prices by more than the tax. If you look at the source, he used the word ‘gouging.’

          • Matt M says:

            Yes, the only valid argument he could be making is “prices should have risen, but not by THIS MUCH!”

            Which of course does invite the question of “well are we doing this to eliminate obesity or not?” If so, then you should cheer massively rising prices. But he can’t, because people are outraged that they were promised small price increases but instead are getting big ones.

            Although the fact that most of these taxes are sold under the terms of “prices will rise only slightly but obesity will fall dramatically” should invite instant suspicion to the credibility of the people pitching these programs… Methinks they are vastly overestimating the elasticity of soda…

          • The Nybbler says:

            Kenney’s not really upset that retailers are passing on the soda tax. He’s upset that they are _visibly_ passing on the soda tax as a line item rather than simply quietly hiking prices.

            He does seem to be in fantasyland; he claims a similar tobacco tax didn’t result in people buying more cigarettes in the suburbs, while the city comptroller says that’s exactly what happened.

            I expect several results from the tax

            1) Anyone near the city line, and anyone with a car who buys significant amounts of these drinks, will buy them in the suburbs. This will result in more grocery shopping in general in the suburbs.

            2) The tax is on the wholesale transaction… so small convenience stores and such will start buying some of their soda from distributors in the suburbs to evade the tax. They’ll “pass along” some of the tax anyway. (Philadelphia is not known as a particularly law-abiding city).

            3) Kenney’s going to suffer politically. He compares it to the 10% per-drink tax on liquor, but that’s liquor (considered a more acceptable target for sin taxes) and it’s much smaller than this soda tax, which at 1.5 cents per ounce amounts to 50% in some cases (sugar water is cheap!).

        • Spookykou says:

          I imagine that your proposed motivation for the GOP position, and your proposed leftist interpretation of this position are both off, one considerably more than the other.

          I think there is a common belief in America that cannabis is Bad with a capital B and that stands for Bum.

          I think that most leftists assume that cannabis was intentionally demonized for ‘reasons’ and most of the GoP just go along with it at this point because their voting block now firmly believes the above/they believe the above.

          • mtraven says:

            Marijuana was originally (early 20c) associated with the black and hispanic underclass, and became further politicized in the sixties. So yes, its legal status is more a matter of its role as a culture marker than from any actual harm it does or doesn’t do.

        • And every step of the way, the proponents will be “Absolutely no way this is a slippery slope, no way this means that X will be decriminalised next!”

          Which proponents? Some of us are not only in favor of decriminalizing other recreational drugs but of decriminalizing medical drugs not yet approved by the government.

    • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

      LSD and ‘shrooms are scary as they do scary things to the mind. So being wary of them is at least understandable. Cannabis is purely stubbornness and refusal to look into the issue in a substantial way. In a world where we can more or less successfully deal with things such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, refined sugar, etc. dealing with cannabis would be no big deal. And in places like California it has been illegal-but-who-cares-everybody-does-it-anyway for a while. So GOP (and, for example, Sessions) position on this is extremely disappointing and one of the examples of purely tribal stubbornness. And opposition to medical cannabis – when we have drugs so much more powerful and scary and harmful than cannabis – proceeds from stubbornness to pure idiocy. It is one of the things in US politics that makes me deeply sad each time I think about it.

  39. grendelkhan says:

    My own view is that “libertarian” gets used to pick out at least two different clusters of people. One is rich crony capitalists who want a convenient excuse to cut their own taxes and roll back workers’ rights, but who fight tooth and nail against any decreased subsidies or increased competition that might threaten their own comfortable position. The other is people who are actually interested in using the power of competition to kindle innovation, improve access, bring down entrenched interests, and ultimately help regular people.

    I worry that you’re understating this. Libertarians invariably sell themselves as the latter, and have, so far as I can tell, invariably governed as the former. Cutting taxes and regulations takes precedence; the rest is window dressing. Oh, the libertarians will say they don’t support government regulation of private boning, but they fall in line when it’s time to vote. There’s a party which is for open (well, more-open) borders, drug legalization and readily-available abortion, but they’re not on board with the tax cuts, and that’s the litmus test.

    The picks honestly look good–“high-variance” means the possibility of extreme good, at least–but we’ve heard “no, you don’t get it, these are libertarians; they’re cool!” plenty before.

    Who knows, maybe his Energy pick will vow to have a LFTR providing power to the grid by the end of the first term or something.

    • Urstoff says:

      When have libertarians governed?

      • grendelkhan says:

        “Libertarianism has never failed–libertarianism has never truly been tried!”

        But seriously, the libertarians I can think of who’ve won office have been Ron and Rand Paul, both of whom fit comfortably in with Republicans.

        • Randy M says:

          So, two senators? I guess libertarianism has been 2% tried.

          • Matt M says:

            Bernie Sanders fits in comfortably with Democrats. I guess we’ve been governed by socialists for a number of years, too!

          • grendelkhan says:

            Bleah, fine, I’ll take it more seriously.

            Here are libertarians angry about the Republican platform, which includes promises to “pursue free market policies that are the surest way to boost employment and create job growth and economic prosperity for all” and that “spending and regulation must be reined in”.

            Which sounds like “using the power of competition to kindle innovation, improve access, bring down entrenched interests, and ultimately help regular people”.

            This is the Republican Party platform; libertarian rhetoric isn’t something that maverick outsiders can use to brazenly shock staid Washington interests; it’s part of the Republican package.

            You can argue that they don’t govern as libertarians–the folks there sure do–but that’s the point. Promise free markets and open competition, deliver drug wars and cronyism.

            Pardon me if I’m not all aflutter with anticipatory glee when I see someone on the right talk about how much they love markets.

        • Moon says:

          Yes, the actual effect of having Libertarian politicians in our society so far has been to add to the power of the Republican party and to add to the power of the most powerful “Libertarians” on earth, the crony capitalist welfare queen Koch brothers.

          A certain author of Atlas Shrugged AKA the Capitalist Manifesto, whose name I am barred from mentioning here on pain of being banned for it, would turn over in her grave if she knew that both her own philosophy, and Libertarianism philosophy, were being used primarily in this way in the current political environment. Crony capitalist welfare queens in her books were not the heroes.

          • IrishDude says:

            the crony capitalist welfare queen Koch brothers.

            “But Koch, who is chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, said his opposition to subsidies for clean energy companies — or any other private businesses — doesn’t mean he’s against their success. Rolling back corporate welfare is one of the top issues Koch is pursuing with his richly funded political network.

            Koch said his company is “opposed to renewable energy subsidies of all kinds — as we are all subsidies, whether they benefit or help us.”

            For his part, Koch said he’ll continue speaking out on the issue.

            “In the days ahead, we’re trying to show that corporate welfare wastes resources,” he said. “The country — or the government — is headed for bankruptcy. … So we’re going to be continuing to speak out against corporate welfare as something that hurts everybody except those direct beneficiaries.”

            Charles Koch expounded on his crusade against “crony capitalism” and his political philosophy in a POLITICO interview on July 31.

            “Any of the social changes in American history are because people thought there was injustice,” he said. “We have to show that this corporate welfare and cronyism is unjust — and that it’s not only rigging the system so people get wealthy who don’t deserve to get wealthy, but … many aspects of it are undermining the opportunities for the poor and the disadvantaged.”

            “In the ’70s, I set up an organization called Council for a Competitive Economy, and I tried to recruit business people to oppose subsidies and corporate welfare,” Koch recalled. “And everybody had a rationalization for getting subsidies, protection from foreign competition, whatever. … [I]t doesn’t make our friends … happy. … I mean, so what? You’ve got to do the right thing.”
            …Asked if Koch Industries benefits from federal subsidies, the CEO replied: “Oh, tremendously. … The whole economy is so rife with cronyism and corporate welfare. I mean, take a look at all the import tariffs. We would do away with them all — and, believe me, a lot of our products are protected by it.”

            http://www.politico.com/story/2015/08/charles-koch-blasts-obama-121746

            “We advocate the elimination of all these distortions, even those from which we currently benefit – such as ethanol mandates, restrictions on the export of crude oil and natural gas, and import tariffs. As an ethanol producer and large consumer of U.S. crude oil and natural gas, we profit short term from these market distortions. But rules like these – that don’t lead to good profit – leave virtually everyone worse off long term, including us,” wrote Koch in his book Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies.

            http://truthinmedia.com/charles-koch-crony-capitalism-subsidies-welfare-for-the-wealthy/

            But it’s not just the wind credit that’s in the Kochs’ crosshairs, the letter says. “We oppose ALL subsidies, whether existing or proposed, including programs that benefit us, which are principally those that are embedded in our economy, such as mandates.”

            Ellender concludes: “Koch will continue to lobby for the repeal of subsidies and mandates, as we work to make people’s lives better. We believe history has proven that this is the best course to foster job creation, opportunity and prosperity.”

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/12/03/koch-brothers-slam-house-gop-bill-to-extend-tax-breaks/?utm_term=.b33476d5b758

          • IrishDude says:

            the crony capitalist welfare queen Koch brothers.

            “But Koch, who is chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, said his opposition to subsidies for clean energy companies — or any other private businesses — doesn’t mean he’s against their success. Rolling back corporate welfare is one of the top issues Koch is pursuing with his richly funded political network.

            Koch said his company also opposes subsidies for fossil fuels.

            Koch said his company is “opposed to renewable energy subsidies of all kinds — as we are all subsidies, whether they benefit or help us.”

            “In the days ahead, we’re trying to show that corporate welfare wastes resources,” he said. “The country — or the government — is headed for bankruptcy. … So we’re going to be continuing to speak out against corporate welfare as something that hurts everybody except those direct beneficiaries.”

            “Any of the social changes in American history are because people thought there was injustice,” he said. “We have to show that this corporate welfare and cronyism is unjust — and that it’s not only rigging the system so people get wealthy who don’t deserve to get wealthy, but … many aspects of it are undermining the opportunities for the poor and the disadvantaged.”

            “In the ’70s, I set up an organization called Council for a Competitive Economy, and I tried to recruit business people to oppose subsidies and corporate welfare,” Koch recalled. “And everybody had a rationalization for getting subsidies, protection from foreign competition, whatever. … [I]t doesn’t make our friends … happy. … I mean, so what? You’ve got to do the right thing.”

            Asked if Koch Industries benefits from federal subsidies, the CEO replied: “Oh, tremendously. … The whole economy is so rife with cronyism and corporate welfare. I mean, take a look at all the import tariffs. We would do away with them all — and, believe me, a lot of our products are protected by it.”

            Koch continued: “You say, ‘Well, why are you doing it if it is going to cost Koch Industries so much money to have these reforms?’ We take a long-term perspective. So it isn’t just altruism or we’re into self-sacrifice. No, we’re into win-win. We’re into a society that’s mutually beneficial.”

            http://www.politico.com/story/2015/08/charles-koch-blasts-obama-121746

          • grendelkhan says:

            I appreciate the principle that the Koch brothers want to roll back subsidies, but given that the main market distortion for fossil fuels is uncaptured externalities, which never seem to come up in these discussions, I remain somewhat skeptical.

          • @Moon:

            Apropos of IrishDude’s post, can you offer any evidence in support of your claim that the Kochs are crony capitalist welfare queens?

          • grendelkhan says:

            @DavidFriedman, I don’t know if Ayn Rand believed in negative externalities, but the IMF estimates that the fossil-fuel industry unfairly shifts about $5 trillion a year in costs. Anyone like the Kochs who’s invested in that field is getting a free ride on the rest of us.

          • IrishDude says:

            @grendelkhan

            I appreciate the principle that the Koch brothers want to roll back subsidies, but given that the main market distortion for fossil fuels is uncaptured externalities, which never seem to come up in these discussions, I remain somewhat skeptical.

            Note, it’s not just a principle for the Koch’s. They’ve taken action to follow through, such as starting the Council for a Competitive Economy.

            I think arguing against all subsidies, while not having carbon taxes imposed against your business, is still strong evidence against the claim that the Koch’s are ‘crony capitalist welfare queen[s]’.

            Re: externalities, I’ll just steal David Friedman’s response from above, since he states my beliefs well:

            HeelBearCub: There are negative externalities and we need to somehow force those to be borne by the emitter, or the market can’t work to properly.

            David Friedman: Assume, for a moment, that I agree with you that AGW imposes substantial net costs–as it happens I don’t.

            It’s still a public good problem at the international level. Are you proposing a carbon tax which reflects the cost CO2 emissions impose on U.S. residents, or on the world? From the standpoint of U.S. politics, wouldn’t you expect the former to be the relevant number? It’s going to be a much smaller figure, and might well be negative–not much of the U.S. is in areas where current temperatures are above a level optimal for human life or agriculture. Large parts, including all of our largest state, are in areas where warming is good.

          • shakeddown says:

            Climate change aside (and it’s a big aside, sine you neglected the low-probability mass extinction scenario), what about other pollution extranalaties? I live a block away from a coal plant and the noise is minor but never stops and is slowly driving me crazy. Should the power plant pay me? what about people who get lung cancer due to pollution?

          • Matt M says:

            “Should the power plant pay me? what about people who get lung cancer due to pollution?”

            Who was there first? You or the plant?

          • IrishDude says:

            @shakedown
            Coasean bargaining is a useful solution to externalities. See an example here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coase_theorem#Damage_from_water_runoff

            Who should be assigned the property rights initially? Let’s say I build a home in the middle of the unclaimed woods, and have a hobby that is really noisy but it bothers no one. In some sense, you could say the right to make noise has been homesteaded. If a random person built right next to me with the knowledge that it was noisy, then it would be unjust for him to demand compensation from me. However, we could still find a potential amicable solution through Coasean bargaining that would be win/win.

            Similarly, people that buy homes near existing airports probably forfeit their right to sue the airlines for noise pollution. A new airport built near an existing quiet town would probably justify the residents receiving compensation from the airport owners, as they had ‘homesteaded’ the right to quiet.

          • IrishDude says:

            @shakeddown

            Climate change aside (and it’s a big aside, sine you neglected the low-probability mass extinction scenario)

            A large asteroid hitting the earth is a low probability mass extinction scenario. How much resources should be spent on asteroid defense?

            Note, resources spent on asteroid defense are ones that can’t be spent on day-to-day essentials, luxuries that make life more enjoyable, or other low-probability scenarios that could cause mass extinction.

            Worrying too much about low probability high cost scenarios is what drives preppers, who think they need a bunker, tons of canned food, lots of weapons, etc. Judgement about what’s prudent caution and what’s being overly cautious will vary from person to person.

          • psmith says:

            A large asteroid hitting the earth is a low probability mass extinction scenario. How much resources should be spent on asteroid defense?

            More than there currently are, for sure. Same for the Yellowstone caldera and possibly other potential supervolcanoes.

          • IrishDude says:

            @psmith

            What’s the right amount to spend on asteroid prevention? If you don’t know, how do you know our current spending is too low and how can we ensure we don’t spend too much if we increase our spending? Speaking of, what are we currently spending on this problem?

          • Nornagest says:

            NASA’s Near-Earth Objects program isn’t dedicated to asteroid defense per se, but it’s part of its mission statement and it’s probably the most relevant American program running. It had a budget of [ETA: corrected; I misread the source] 50 million in 2016 according to the JPL. I don’t know what other countries are doing, or how much of NASA’s other business matters to asteroid defense.

          • John Schilling says:

            We are presently, and efficiently, spending enough on asteroid defense to be ~99.99999% confident that there will be no extinction-level event in the next century and 99.999% confident that there will be no megadeath-level event in the next century. The residual threats are due to long-period comets which, particularly at the extinction level, we probably can’t do anything about today no matter how much we spend.

            This goes unnoticed because the efficient strategy for asteroid defense does not involve Bruce Willis and/or nuclear explosives, but simply telescopes with which we can say (96% confidence) “Nothing big is going to hit any time soon, check back in a century” (4%) “OK, around 2037 we should start evacuating the few thousand people who live in this corner of godforsakistan” (0.06%) “Is Bruce Willis available?”

            Looking forward past this century, the efficient strategy is to invest in building the strongest possible economy and society with which to deal with whatever probably-not-asteroid threats may arise.

          • psmith says:

            You know, now you mention it, I remember reading a Schillingpoast in here somewhere that said pretty much that and thinking “hey, nice job NASA, guess we’ve progressed since 2005 or so”, but forgot about it and remembered what I had read circa 2005 about estimates that 30-odd percent of large near-Earth objects were likely uncatalogued or words to that general effect.

            So, yeah, asteroid defense maybe not as big a deal as I had thought, notwithstanding the caveat about comets. Is somebody else going to chime in and tell me that actually there’s a pretty solid plan written up for a Yellowstone eruption?

          • Climate change aside (and it’s a big aside, sine you neglected the low-probability mass extinction scenario)

            I mostly ignore the mass extinction scenarios in both directions, since I don’t think either has a significant probability. But the end of the current interglacial would be a sizable problem–and we don’t know why it hasn’t ended yet. Could be due to AGW.

          • Nornagest says:

            Could be due to AGW.

            The timescales make that unlikely. AGW has been going on for only about 150 years at this point (we started burning coal on non-trivial scales in the mid-to-late 19th century; before that the main energy sources were wood and charcoal, which are more or less carbon-neutral), and it only really kicked into high gear in the last 50. Meanwhile this paper classifies interglacials into two clusters of 13 +/- 3 and 28 +/- 2 kyear duration, with the shorter ones having warmer temperatures and faster deglaciation. The current one seems to be the short kind, and we’ve been in it for about 12,000 years — so it’s likely that we’re approaching its end, but there’s about 4,000 years’ worth of uncertainty there and the chance that its natural end fell into the period affected by AGW is fairly low.

          • The Nybbler says:

            But the end of the current interglacial would be a sizable problem–and we don’t know why it hasn’t ended yet. Could be due to AGW.

            Larry Niven wrote that one too.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, it’s plausible enough to be a hard SF premise (though I wasn’t a big fan of “Fallen Angels”), but not plausible enough to be more than a long shot in policy.

          • On the issue of externalities, the coming to the nuisance defence, and Coaseian bargaining …

            Coasian bargaining works well for small number situations, where transaction costs are small. It doesn’t solve the problem of one factory polluting air breathed by a million people, because if the factory starts with the right to pollute, the people downwind face a public good problem in raising money to buy it from him.

            An alternative, given the Coaseian insight that “externalities” are not really a cost imposed by A and B but a cost due to actions by both A and B, is to figure out which of them is the lower cost avoider and make him liable. That could be done either case by case or by a general rule.

            One such rule is the defense of coming to the nuisance. The argument is that it’s usually more expensive to move something after it is built than before. So if you want to build a housing project next to my existing pig farm, it’s cheaper for you to put the project somewhere else than for me to move my pig farm.

            On the other hand, it’s only a presumption. It might be that the land near my pig farm is much better suited to be a housing development than for any other use, so when I built the pig farm I reduced the future value of all the land around it, and should have been deterred from doing so by the prospect of eventually being found liable.

            The real bottom line of Coase’s “The Problem of Social Cost” is that there is no general solution, no legal rule which will give the right answer under all circumstances–including Pigouvian taxation.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Banned for Rand

          • Tibor says:

            @Scott: Was this really necessary? I am hardly a Moon fan (the thing orbiting Earth is quite alright though) but I don’t quite see why this deserves a ban.

            Her posts tend to be extremely partisan and she shows no interest whatsoever to actually listen to other people’s arguments but that is not ban-worthy in my opinion. I remember you vaguely forbidding her to mention Rand or something under the threat of a ban because of some previous comments she made? So if that’s it then I guess it’s ok, but it still seems strange.

          • Aapje says:

            @Tibor

            Moon made Scott unhappy by frequently accusing people of being ‘Randivists,’ even though she apparently never read any of Rand’s works and it was little more than an attack for people that she considered too capitalist/free market oriented. So Scott only allowed her to mention Rand again after posting a book report on Atlas Shrugged.

            She broke the rule and Scott kept his promise.

    • IrishDude says:

      Maybe Gary Johnson as governor of New Mexico is a counter-example:
      “Although I do not believe that government is ill-intentioned, I strongly believe in less government. I vetoed 750 bills as governor because I abhor the government spending money on programs that show no improvement in our lives and criminalize actions that do not warrant criminalization.”

  40. Moon says:

    Here is a recent article out, about what Libertarians and Liberals might do together. What do Libertarians here think of this?

    Liberals and libertarians should unite to block Trump’s extremism
    What’s more, a “liberaltarian” economic agenda can serve as an alternative to snake-oil populism.
    Updated by Brink Lindsey Jan 17, 2017, 10:40am EST

    http://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/1/17/14287694/liberaltarianism-liberalism-libertarianism-resist-trump-markets-growth

    • baconbacon says:

      It reads like someone with a cliff notes understanding of at least one of, or both of, libertarian and liberal thought in the US.

      With respect to economic issues, the liberaltarian proposition would look more libertarian on regulation and more liberal on redistribution. It would proceed from the understanding that private-sector-led economic growth is the engine that makes social progress possible, yet at the same time it would accept that efficient economic markets have losers, and it would seek policies to cushion the blows on people who fall short.

      So where does this create conflict? Minimum wage laws, SS taxes, UE taxes, union support, OHSA standards etc. When a person says that we are going to combine a lower regulatory burden with a strong safety net they are either starting from a blank slate and proposing a fundamentally different safety net than currently exists or ignoring the political and economic realities of opposing the current safety net. Liberal and libertarian agreements tend to mostly be over issues like the war on drugs and immigration, which (while it would be great to make progress in those areas) are fairly small potatoes in a regulatory sense.

      • Urstoff says:

        The “liberaltarians” or similar people like Bleeding Heart Libertarians or the Niskanen Center most definitely want a different safety net than currently exists. Enthusiasm for a UBI in those circles is high, but the more immediate policy goal is converting most welfare measures into straight cash payments. What’s strange to me is how many liberals would refuse to accept the trade of abolishing the minimum wage for a much higher EITC or negative income tax. Well, I guess it’s not strange if I assume that liberals are more anti-corporate than they are anti-poverty, but I’m trying to be charitable. (likewise, liberals often seem unwilling to trade emissions standards and other carbon regulations for a hefty carbon tax)

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          (likewise, liberals often seem unwilling to trade emissions standards and other carbon regulations for a hefty carbon tax)

          To be fair, so do conservatives (for different reasons).

          • Urstoff says:

            Sure, but I don’t follow right-libertarianism (conservatarians?) as much as I do the left-libertarians, with whom I’m more sympathetic, so I can’t come up with any examples off the top of my head.

        • baconbacon says:

          The “liberaltarians” or similar people like Bleeding Heart Libertarians or the Niskanen Center most definitely want a different safety net than currently exists. Enthusiasm for a UBI in those circles is high, but the more immediate policy goal is converting most welfare measures into straight cash payments.

          What percent of liberals would take a UBI AND no universal health care/medicaid/medicare? If you switch to a UBI some people will choose not to have health coverage and then you run against what has been a pretty firm liberal position recently that no one should go without medical care in a time of need (i.e. healthcare is a “right”). Now you have to either have a mandate to buy health insurance (one of the least popular parts of the ACA) or an additional program to cover those who don’t get it. If you go mandate then you have to force coverage for preexisting conditions (or have both a mandate + an additional program to cover the uninsurable).

          Positive rights cannot be reconciled with libertarian economic practices.

        • xq says:

          What’s strange to me is how many liberals would refuse to accept the trade of abolishing the minimum wage for a much higher EITC or negative income tax.

          Is there some group of liberals you polled to come to that conclusion? I’m pretty sure most of us would love to take that trade (which is not and has never been on offer).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @xq:

            I think you are overselling the liberal position here.

            Imagine the counterfactual world where minimum wage is zero, and Walmart now pays its associates $0.01/year, which people take so that they can qualify for the EITC which makes up their sole income.

            I’m pretty sure us liberals would balk at this. And it does not seem that it would be a very good state of affairs.

            I see this problem as a “horns of a dilemma” type.

            UBI or welfare payments have the effect of encouraging people not to work. EITC wth no minimum wage has the effect of depressing wages at the lowest level.

            Maybe UBI plus EITC and eliminating the minimum wage makes sense.

            But you would still have people bitching about the EITC funding Walmart’s profits.

          • xq says:

            I agree that you could come up with a particularly dysfunctional combination of EITC/UBI that left-liberals would not trade minimum wage for. But I think Urstoff’s claim was that liberals would not take that trade in general, and I doubt that.

            But you would still have people bitching about the EITC funding Walmart’s profits.

            Well, people make that argument against almost all direct government aid–that it’s just a subsidy to employers. I don’t think this is a winning argument among liberals though, since liberals still support all sorts of direct government aid (including EITC).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @xq:
            Yes liberals still want programs like EITC and others that hedge against poverty.

            But a prominent argument for a higher minimum wage has specifically been that most of Walmart*’s employees are at a low enough wage that their full time job pay is not enough to raise them out of the range where the require government assistance, thus this means the government is actually subsidizing corporate profits.

            That’s not an argument against EITC. It’s an argument for a (high enough) minimum wage.

            That might end up making the EITC moot, but having two (or more) ways, rather than only one way, to provide for the poorest citizens isn’t really a bad thing. Redundancy is a feature of robust systems.

            I’m not buying at all that liberals would simply accept a higher EITC in lieu of a higher minimum wage. Perhaps if you provided revenue for it directly from business profits in some way. The problem there would be that EITC funding would need to be a separate tax on profits so that everyone could clearly see that the two were related. Otherwise in 4 years any changes would get lost in the general argument about corporate tax levels.

            *”Walmart” being a shiboleth of incredible profits going mostly to a very few built on the minimally compensated labor of millions.

          • But a prominent argument for a higher minimum wage has specifically been that most of Walmart*’s employees are at a low enough wage that their full time job pay is not enough to raise them out of the range where the require government assistance, thus this means the government is actually subsidizing corporate profits.

            I can see two different ways of making sense of the final claim.

            1. There is something the government could do (raising the minimum wage) that would reduce Walmart’s profits, hence not doing it is “actually subsidizing” those profits. By that definition government is actually subsidizing everyone, including burglars, since there is always something the government could do and isn’t doing that would make those people worse off.

            2. Without government welfare, workers at the wages Walmart pays would die, or at least be too feeble to work, hence the government welfare makes it possible for Walmart to pay those wages.

            If that were true, it would be reasonable to describe it as subsidizing. Adam Smith actually makes an argument along similar lines, explaining that a tax on the necessities of the poor is really a tax on the not-poor, since it will result in a compensating increase in the equilibrium wage. But that was in a much poorer society than ours.

            The obvious response in our society is to point out that the average real income is about twenty to thirty times what it was across the world through most of history, so even very low wages in our society are far above subsistence.

            Would you support either of those arguments, or if not do you have an alternative which would justify the “subsidize” claim? Alternatively, if this is a position you don’t hold yourself, do you have any view of what argument those who hold it are making–one of the two I describe or some other?

          • xq says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            That is an argument for higher minimum wage that I have encountered. But is it actually a particularly prominent one?

            Here’s the Democratic party platform on minimum wage:

            Democrats believe that the current minimum wage is a starvation wage and must be increased to a living wage. No one who works full time should have to raise a family in poverty. We believe that Americans should earn at least $15 an hour and have the right to form or join a union and will work in every way we can—in Congress and the federal government, in states and with the private sector—to reach this goal. We should raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over time and index it, give all Americans the ability to join a union regardless of where they work, and create new ways for workers to have power in the economy so every worker can earn
            at least $15 an hour

            Here’s Sanders campaign website:

            Millions of Americans are working for totally inadequate wages. We must ensure that no full-time worker lives in poverty. The current federal minimum wage is starvation pay and must become a living wage. We must increase it to $15 an hour over the next several years.

            Clinton’s

            Raise the minimum wage and strengthen overtime rules. No one working full time should be forced to raise their child in poverty. Hillary believes the minimum wage should be a living wage, and she will work to get to a $15 minimum wage over time, with appropriate variations for regions with a higher cost of living.

            NYT editorial:

            Legislators in states with no or low minimum wages often say businesses cannot afford to pay more. The evidence says otherwise. Owners and executives of profitable companies in retail, fast food, poultry processing and other low-wage industries have grown richer while the workers have languished. Jobs in such fields pay poorly not for any intrinsic reason but because employers don’t have to pay more in the absence of a higher federal minimum.

            The failure to raise the federal minimum wage has made broad prosperity impossible. It has short-circuited the virtuous economic cycle in which better pay at the bottom begets more spending, which begets more and better jobs. The abysmally low federal minimum is unsound, economically and morally, and workers deserve better.

            Economic Policy Institute:

            An increase of the federal minimum wage to $12.00 would provide raises for 35 million workers (directly or indirectly through ripple effects)—more than a quarter of the workforce—in an era of stagnant wages.
            An increase to $12.00 would pump billions of dollars into the U.S. economy, benefiting Main Street businesses: Workers who are both directly and indirectly affected by this bill would see nearly $80 billion in increased earnings over the next five years. Because low-wage workers tend to spend increased earnings locally on basic needs, this will benefit Main Street businesses that rely on consumer spending.

            None of these sources make the argument you are referencing. I don’t doubt that it would be part of the conversation if the trade were actually offered by some hypothetical liberaltarian faction that somehow obtained power. But by far, the major argument liberals make for the minimum wage is as poverty reduction measure. If a stronger poverty-reduction measure were offered in the form of a combination of EITC and negative income taxes, I think liberals would be happy to take it.

          • Urstoff says:

            Just informal conversation with a number of people. They tend to think that paying less than a minimum wage is an injustice, and thus would not trade a positive policy for something that allows injustice to be committed. Of course, I don’t believe it’s an injustice at all (with or without a UBI), and I don’t know why it would be an injustice if a UBI existed (the intuition is probably about them being underpaid for what they do), but that’s where the conversation tends to terminate.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      As a libertarian(ish), non-american. I’m generally amenable to the collaboration with either liberal and conservatives when the goals are aligned, more liberty is better than less liberty, even if it’s not full liberty.

      That being said, it’s impossible to shake the feeling of “these assholes are going to betray me the moment they get a sniff of power again”, because it has happened and will continue to happen. Particularly because coalitions are very haphazard in the US, and the niche wing ends up subordinated to the mainstream of the party the vast majority of the time.

    • The Nybbler says:

      As Loki said, “You must be truly desperate to come to me for help”. (except this article is actually written by a libertarian trying to convince liberals to come over to us, which is bolder but no more likely to work)

      After years of being told “you only want freedom so you can use your money for selfish purposes and let the poor die in the streets” and “You’re just Republicans who want to get high and get laid” and later “you only want freedom so you can discriminate against handicapped Muslim women of color”, we should make an alliance? And when you’re at your nadir in power anyway? Why?

      No, we’re better off making deals with the “Trumpenproletariat”. They, after all, only have a few solid positions in contravention with ours (trade and immigration); cutting taxes, reducing regulation, cutting welfare… these are all right up their alley.

      (BTW, Moon, I think this probably belonged in the Open Thread instead of here)

    • cassander says:

      As the Nybbler points out, there’s a lot of bad blood here. I propose a way to fix that with a compromise we should all be able to agree on. The easiest way to do that, I would think, is school vouchers. The libertarians will agree to a large increase in public spending for schools…..if the schools are funded by vouchers. Heck, you can even give larger vouchers to poor/minority kids if you want. That way, everyone gets what they want, the left gets their fully funded schools, the right their market mechanics.

      Unfortunately, there are no takers on the left for this deal. Alright then, how about a revenue neutral carbon tax? That way the left gets what they want, the carbon tax, and the right gets what it wants, taxes not going any higher and no spending on green energy boondoggles. Except the organized left is against that to.

      The problem with liberaltarianism is that while there’s plenty of room for ideological compromise between left and libertarians, the interest group nexus that powers the left is utterly uninterested in anything except feeding at the trough.

      • Matt M says:

        As a libertarian, I wouldn’t agree to either of those compromises.

      • baconbacon says:

        That way, everyone gets what they want, the left gets their fully funded schools, the right their market mechanics.

        The consistent libertarian (not in a no true scotsman way, but in a market oriented way) rejects this outright. You can create a position of “same public spending but with benefits of market mechanisms” as a compromise position, but not with higher public spending* as a cost.

        *if the hike was minimal and the voucher system aggressively market based maybe, but that isn’t bringing many liberals along for the ride.

      • grendelkhan says:

        Alright then, how about a revenue neutral carbon tax?

        I recognize that I’m just one person, but I’d vote, flyer and maybe even cold-call for that, and I am not a social person.

        Looking at the maps for the I-732 results, it looks like if only Democrats had voted, then it would have passed. It’s popular among Democrats; it’s just not popular enough to overcome its unpopularity among Republicans. And I don’t think the Libertarian vote is big enough to swing matters, so we’ll probably get either palm-greasing handouts or nothing.

        Boy, I wish there was a principled opposition available. Oh, well.

      • cassandrus says:

        Longtime lurker finally creating an account, just to note what utter nonsense this is. Democrats would *leap* at the opportunity to implement a revenue neutral carbon tax. In fact, carbon taxes/cap-and-trade as a major policy initiative of the left originated with the idea that a market-based solution would attract support from the right. That idea, needless to say, failed miserably, because the modern Republican party is thoroughly opposed to *any* constructive action on climate change.

        As for education, the Obama administration took an enormous amount of heat from core Democratic interest groups over its support for charter schools. Education has been one of the hottest areas of intra-left conflict, with a substantial faction pushing market-based alternatives. The idea that the left is unwilling to strike a deal on education is arrant nonsense.

        For a “rationalist” website, the comments here harbor a surprising amount of fact-free bullshitting.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          While attributing this position to the “organized left” is terribly overbroad, cassander’s remark about carbon taxes, is, unfortunately, not fact-free. See for instance: http://www.vox.com/2016/10/18/13012394/i-732-carbon-tax-washington

          • HeelBearCub says:

            So, before reading that article, my first impulse was “Taxes designed to discourage behavior are a shitty funding mechanism for anything not related to ending that behavior”.

            The reason I say this is simply that what you are trying to do is use the taxes to minimize the behavior (or offset its effects). You don’t want to simultaneously give the government an incentive to boost the behavior (thereby increasing needed revenues). What you really want is for the tax revenue from the measure to shrink in absolute terms, not grow at the same rate as the population and inflation.

            Which seems like it is the core objection of The Alliance to the CarbonWA plan.

            In order to have a truly revenue neutral plan that actually accomplishes its objective, you would need to have some sort of automatic revenue increasers that kicked in as the punitive taxes waned. But that is a very hard needle to thread (because the simplest place to enact those would be on the businesses paying the carbon tax, but that would make the carbon tax essentially pointless).

            The absence of any income tax in WA makes this especially difficult. A one time drop in sales tax is great. Good luck increasing it later when you need the revenue.

            So the revenue neutral proposal here isn’t actually revenue neutral.

          • Nornagest says:

            For a carbon tax to be revenue-neutral, you’d want carbon consumption to stabilize at the level where the tax income from it equals whatever you cut to put it in. Because putting the tax in disincentivizes carbon consumption, you need to set the tax somewhat higher than the point that would be revenue-neutral relative to present consumption. But consumption’s not going to decline indefinitely at a fixed tax point, because people don’t just burn carbon for kicks.

            This all seems pretty obvious to me.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nornagest:

            We need to get our net carbon spend to zero at some point.

            At that point, we would ideally want the carbon-tax to net zero dollars.

            The goal of the tax is not to generate revenue for the state. If your state-budget spending is dependent on those carbon tax dollars, you are not in good shape.

            Even in a world where the carbon tax isn’t enough to get you to reduce carbon spend to zero, if you want the net of policy to get to you to zero carbon spend, from a policy perspective you still want to target zero revenue. For instance if solar, wind, geothermal and maybe nuclear is below the cost of non-carbon neutral sources, your ideal goal is that the adoption of those sources reduces carbon spend, and therefore tax, towards zero.

            Which of these things are you disagreeing with?

          • Nornagest says:

            I disagree that the goal is to get carbon to zero, at least on the timescales that we care about for a policy like this one. When we talk about carbon policy, we usually do it in terms of a target temperature (e.g. 2C or more recently 1.5C over preindustrial levels) or a target emissions level (e.g. 20% below 1990 levels). Neither of those implies zero carbon emissions, and both could be implemented through a carbon tax with nonzero revenue.

            Clean energy does clash with this somewhat as a policy goal, but that’s not an insoluble problem. We’re not going to be retiring all our nat gas plants anytime soon, and even if we did move to a 100% renewable/nuclear grid, there’s plenty of stuff that emits carbon but isn’t on the grid. None of this will change fast enough to substantially break the revenue-neutrality property in the short term, and it can be preserved in the medium term by adjusting tax levels. I don’t think there’s any point in worrying about the long term, because the entire regulatory regime will probably look completely different in fifty years.

            I do agree that moral hazard is worth thinking about.

          • Matt M says:

            “The goal of the tax is not to generate revenue for the state.”

            So why do you expect support from a group of people who desperately want and highly value more revenue for the state?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nornagest:

            at least on the timescales that we care about for a policy like this one

            Fair enough.

            I still don’t think you can contemplate that you want carbon use to stabilize, though.

            (e.g. 20% below 1990 levels)

            IOW, we need Carbon use to fall dramatically, especially on a per capita basis.

            That means that revenues for the carbon tax should be falling per capita, and dramatically, over the period of time you are envisioning. This is still a recipe for budget shortfall at the end of the period. And further shortfalls after the period.

            Does the CarbonWA plan even anticipate getting to these levels?

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t know the details of the CarbonWA plan, but all falling revenue means is that your budget ends up being front-loaded. As long as you have a good model for how front-loaded it is, you can plan for it to be revenue-neutral over whatever time period you care about — you can even set up a trust fund or something to levelize it as a budget input.

            This is the kind of economic problem that a banana stand should be able to solve, never mind a major government.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            So why do you expect support from a group of people who desperately want and highly value more revenue for the state?

            This feels like a non-sequitur which contains an assumption that you are trying to smuggle in to a policy debate.

            On the margin, you have to value revenue. But at the meta-level what you actually value is policy. Revenue is just a necessary component for enacting policy.

            What I am talking about is carbon policy, and what you want that policy to accomplish.

            If you wanted to make a carbon tax policy that was revenue neutral that didn’t fall to my critique, you might, for instance, structure the consumption tax as funding a tax credit for green energy production.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nornagest:
            State budgets have to balanced on a yearly basis.

            Even if you assume that the surpluses can be saved in a “rainy day” fund or the like and drawn down over the planned period, after whatever period you are planning for is over, you are still in a large deficit hole.

          • Iain says:

            @Nornagest: It actually seems quite difficult to predict in advance exactly how much a carbon tax will reduce emissions. Some people will drive less if you impose a carbon tax. How many? How much less? Now answer the same questions for everybody else who ever burns a fossil fuel.

          • Nornagest says:

            The same applies to any subsidy or tariff, and those don’t seem to lead to disaster. This would be a big one, but it’s not any different in principle.

          • Iain says:

            Yes, but subsidies and tariffs are not required to be revenue-neutral across a time frame of multiple years.

          • Aapje says:

            @Iain

            We have plenty of experience with oil price increases and the resulting reduction in driving (not very much). Carbon taxes would do mostly the same, so you’d be able to use that data to make decent predictions.

            If you implement it as cap-and-trade, there is a natural cap on the reduction, when one assumes that the number of viable alternatives to carbon increases more and more rapidly as the price goes up. At a certain point you achieve equilibrium where the carbon tax is less costly than implementing a carbon-saving technology.

            Of course, this strongly depends on giving the market time to develop and implement those technologies at a reasonable pace. If you cap too much, you get volatility (and if you cap too little, as is now the case with Kyoto, you get too little pressure).

            As the carbon credits are just virtual things, in principle, a government can fairly trivially get the equilibrium point that they desire by giving/selling more credits or giving out less or ‘taxing’ the credits (by taking away a percentage).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Aapje:

            We have plenty of experience with oil price increases and the resulting reduction in driving (not very much).

            If the carbon taxes don’t result in a net reduction in carbon use (and they don’t fund mitigation) then they are not doing their intended function. Carbon taxes have to be high enough to reduce use quite severely.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Carbon taxes have to be high enough to reduce use quite severely.

            And you won’t get any mainstream politician to sign on to that, because tanking the economy on purpose is an obvious loser come next election.

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub

            >Which seems like it is the core objection of The Alliance to the CarbonWA plan.

            Cmon, HBC, you’re better than that, this is complete nonsense and you know it. The point as a matter of tax policy is debatable, I think your concern is overblown and there are many ways to deal with it. But you know full well that’s not why the alliance was against it.

            >Good luck increasing it later when you need the revenue.

            Please, show me any state where tax revenue is lower today than it was, say, 5 years ago.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @cassander:
            Kansas

            ETA:
            I laid out an actual argument. Don’t like it, argue against it. But you are asserting that The Alliance did not have concerns about revenue at its base. There is plenty about revenue concerns in the article.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:
            That’s like saying we have to accept that river catches on fire or we will tank the economy. There are negative externalities and we need to somehow force those to be borne by the emitter, or the market can’t work to properly.

            But you’ve completely moved the goalposts from ” hurr hurr, stupid statist they just want more revenue” to “see, because they don’t actually want to collect that revenue, the library’s want wreck the economy!”

            Can’t have it both ways.

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub

            >Kansas

            Nope.

            Kansas general fund revenues in 2011, 5.8 billion. In 2017, 6.4. The general fund is only about 1/3 of that state’s budget though. The kansas budgets annoyingly do not sum up special fund revenues, only expenditures, but since those are up by a couple billion dollars a year, an order of magnitude more than the deficits, then revenues must be up at well. the hysterical response the left has had to the really minor changes Kansas really demonstrates my point.

            State budgets, on occasion, might shrink for a year or two, but in the long run, they only go up.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @cassander:
            You appear to not care about population growth or inflation and to just want to talk about nominal dollars.

            That’s not the right way to think about it.

            In any case, yes, state governments mostly grow in nominal terms because a) they actually do things with the money, b) the price of those things goes up with inflation and population growth.

            Which was my whole point.

            You are pointing to the fact that state government budgets grow as if it somehow invalidates my point that that CarbonWA plan’s revenue “neutrality” is a bad idea.

            If, at the end of the plan, you are in a deep budget hole because the carbon taxes have worked, this is a bad thing. State’s don’t normally do that bad thing (set up a tax plan that will leave them in a deep budget hole) because they can’t run deficits.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That’s like saying we have to accept that river catches on fire or we will tank the economy.

            We can generate enough electricity without the river catching on fire. We can’t generate enough electricity (nor use fuel for other purposes like transport) without releasing carbon. Sufficient non-carbon sources are always just around the corner, but they’re not going to arrive. Electrical generation in the US is about 1/3rd coal, 1/3rd natural gas, and 20% nuclear, 6% hydro, and 7% “other renewables”.

            We’re not getting much more nuclear; some plants which were in limbo for decades have come on line, but we’re not going to build any more in the foreseeable future and some of those that have been built will be shut down. We’re certainly not getting much more in the way of hydro. Yes, I saw the thing about solar being #1 in new capacity. About 9.5GW nameplate capacity. Total nameplate capacity in the US is around 1200GW. Total non-fossil, under 300GW. And that’s nameplate, and the utilization for many renewables is pretty bad (though for nuclear it is very good).

            We can have a revenue-neutral carbon tax that still allows for fossil use. But a revenue-neutral carbon tax that’s intended to stop fossil fuel use is equivalent to no change at all in current taxes plus a ban on fossil fuel use. This leads to at least two failure modes

            1) Carbon tax is put in place, politicians keep it at levels which don’t tank the economy, other taxes rise right back to their previous levels, so the government gets more revenue.

            2) Carbon tax is put in place, raised to kill fossil fuel use. Other taxes are raised to try to recover revenue from dwindling fossil fuel use, but economy collapses instead, leading to mobs with tax-evading torches and pitchforks advancing on washington.

          • There are negative externalities and we need to somehow force those to be borne by the emitter, or the market can’t work to properly.

            Assume, for a moment, that I agree with you that AGW imposes substantial net costs–as it happens I don’t.

            It’s still a public good problem at the international level. Are you proposing a carbon tax which reflects the cost CO2 emissions impose on U.S. residents, or on the world? From the standpoint of U.S. politics, wouldn’t you expect the former to be the relevant number? It’s going to be a much smaller figure, and might well be negative–not much of the U.S. is in areas where current temperatures are above a level optimal for human life or agriculture. Large parts, including all of our largest state, are in areas where warming is good.

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub says:

            >You appear to not care about population growth or inflation and to just want to talk about nominal dollars.

            Yes/ Over the 5 year time frame we’re talking about, both are minimal. Also, because I’m not aware of any state that does those calculations and I’m not going to do them by hand.

            >In any case, yes, state governments mostly grow in nominal terms because a) they actually do things with the money, b) the price of those things goes up with inflation and population growth.

            The price of most goods goes down in real terms over time. Only government is allowed the presumption of continually increasing costs.

            >If, at the end of the plan, you are in a deep budget hole because the carbon taxes have worked, this is a bad thing.

            if that becomes a problem, you can then put forward the case to raise taxes again. It’s an argument you usually win. “We can’t have a carbon tax, revenues might go down someday” however, is not a principled argument, it’s an argument that puts the expansion of the state ahead of good policy.

            >State’s don’t normally do that bad thing (set up a tax plan that will leave them in a deep budget hole) because they can’t run deficits.

            They do this all the time with other sin taxes.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m not particularly interested in arguing about whether AGW exists or whether it has externalities. Plenty of people here are mind-killed on this front and it has proven to be a completely fruitless conversation.

            Nor am interested in arguing about whether it’s possible to shift to carbon-neutral power sources. For much the same reason, an especially because mostly this question goes back to the first. Mostly it’s an argument about whether we should switch, not whether we can switch.

            And the biggest reason I won’t engage on these is because it’s massive goal-post shifting.

            The original question is would the left accept revenue-neutral carbon taxes. And the answer to that is not if you expect that carbon tax to replace existing revenue used for government funding.

            L: We want to regulate carbon as pollutant and impose limits on emissions.

            R: You shouldn’t do that, the market will get rid of it most efficiently on it’s own if you just make them pay the cost of the externalities.

            L: Fine, a carbon tax then.

            R: It has to be revenue neutral.

            L: We can use it create tax credits to incentivize carbon-free production or maybe carbon-sequestration.

            R: No, we want to replace existing government revenue.

            L: Wait? What? We want to eliminate the carbon emissions, not use those taxes to fund the government and thereby create an incentive to encourage carbon emissions.

            And if you doubt the basic mechanism here, think about states that adopt a lottery to increase education funding because people one state over have the lottery anyway. Education funding doesn’t increase over baseline and the state (through its 3rd party broker) now promotes the lottery to ensure we continue to have money coming in.

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub says:

            >And the biggest reason I won’t engage on these is because it’s massive goal-post shifting.

            Here’s how that conversation looks to the right HBC

            L: Global warming! It’s going to be a catastrophe! We need to do something right away or everyone will die!

            R: Woah, alright, that’s kind of a big claim, alright, what do you want to do about it?

            L: Subsidies for solar and wind energy, close down coal power plants, and create a massive new government programs to regulate energy use!

            R: So, we’ve got a giant new problem that just happens to require we implement all the things you’ve wanted to implement for decades?

            L: Yeah, that’s weird right? Only now we need to spend 100x as much money on them right away even though we’re not sure it will work!

            R: Wait, what about nuclear power? that’s carbon free, why aren’t we doing that?

            L: Oh, no, we can’t do that. radiation is icky.

            R: Alright, I suppose. i thought this was about saving the world, but whatever. What about instead of command style regulation and all these subsidies, we just tax carbon then let the market work the details out? You guys like taxes, right?

            L: Sure!

            R: Alright, so we’ll set up 100 billion in carbon taxes, then cut these other taxes by 100 billion and….

            L: NO! We can’t do that! That’s clearly unreasonable.

            R: Um, why? How about we save the world now, then go back to arguing about how big the state should be next year?

            L: Alright fine, you big meany. We won’t raise taxes, we promise. We’ll create tons of tax credits for people who do all that stuff you just said you didn’t want us mandating by regulation. That’s totally different, right?

            R: You know what, fuck it, I’m not buying this shit. I don’t like the cold anyway.

            >And if you doubt the basic mechanism here,

            The lottery is one thing, it’s an institution with a single mission that needs to perpetuate itself. But show me any state where the treasury is promoting smoking or driving to increase tax revenue.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @cassander:
            Again, you aren’t addressing my argument, just dancing in the end zone you declared you are in.

            I made an argument about one kind of revenue neutral tax deal a liberal would easily accept. You aren’t arguing about that at all.

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub says:

            >I made an argument about one kind of revenue neutral tax deal a liberal would easily accept. You aren’t arguing about that at all

            My original point was the accusation that the left is more interested in expanding the size of the state than limiting carbon emissions. The tax you described ISN’T revenue neutral. You, in fact, specifically claimed that revenue neutrality was bad because carbon tax revenues might not grow as fast as they do with other taxes. So, to torture the metaphor, I’m not dancing in my end zone, you’re dancing there.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @cassander:
            If the same sum of the money received in carbon tax revenue is also lost in tax-credit, how is that not revenue neutral?

            ETA:
            And I did not claim revenue neutrality was bad. I claimed that if the revenue collected from the carbon-tax stayed the same or increased that would be bad, which is what it would take for the specific plan in question to remain revenue neutral.

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub says:

            >If the same sum of the money received in carbon tax revenue is also lost in tax-credit, how is that not revenue neutral?

            Because tax expenditures are expenditures. There is zero meaningful difference between a program that pays people $100 dollars to do something, and a $100 tax credit to do the same thing. Doing the latter instead of the former is not a concession, it’s playing dressup.

            >And I did not claim revenue neutrality was bad. I claimed that if the revenue collected from the carbon-tax stayed the same or increased that would be bad, which is what it would take for the specific plan in question to remain revenue neutral.

            So you didn’t claim revenue neutrality was bad, just that revenues not increasing is bad. How, exactly, is that different?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @cassander:
            I claimed that carbon tax revenues increasing or staying the same would be bad. (But that is what is required to make the plan revenue neutral). Seriously, how many times do I need to say it?

            And if you would rather it be a targeted tax cut or rebate rather than a credit, bully. The whole idea is to have profitable carbon-neutral energy. You want existing power companies to transition. They are profitable anyway, for them I’m guessing a credit or rebate doesn’t really matter.

            Sure, on the margin I’d like a credit to make it easier for new companies to also spring up. But whatever.

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub says:

            > claimed that carbon tax revenues increasing or staying the same would be bad. (But that is what is required to make the plan revenue neutral). Seriously, how many times do I need to say it?

            As many as you need to understand that you’re proving my point by saying it.

            >And if you would rather it be a targeted tax cut or rebate rather than a credit, bully. The whole idea is to have profitable carbon-neutral energy.

            and you can do that just by raising the cost of non-carbon neutral energy. You don’t need any rebates or credits or any other form of the government direction of the economy. If you’re worried about killing the existing companies too quickly, then you just fade in the tax over time. I don’t understand why you find this concept so difficult.

            >Sure, on the margin I’d like a credit to make it easier for new companies to also spring up. But whatever.

            And once again, you fail to resist the urge to sneak in some extraneous bit of government spending. Can you not see how this makes people like matt m say the following:

            I feel like most “libertarians should go along with X” arguments simply assume that libertarians will trust that the government will deliver on its promises.

            I guess I would go along with a true revenue neutral dollar for dollar carbon tax in theory. But I would never vote for one, because I don’t, for one second, expect that the government we have will actually do that.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @cassander:
            I’m not proving your point. You don’t understand my point. For what reason, I can only guess.

            Turn the carbon tax revenue collected around as a flat rebate to every citizen in the state. (Not sure WA has the ability to do this ATM, but let’s assume it doesn’t require any new agencies and be accomplished easily without to much overhead). That would also actually be revenue neutral (it also has the nice feature of softening the effect of the tax on the individual consumer).

            But don’t offset what is supposed to be temporary new revenue with a permanent cut to existing revenue.

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub says:

            >Turn the carbon tax revenue collected around as a flat rebate to every citizen in the state.

            That would be a massive new entitlement program, not lower taxes. I don’t know how to make this simpler than I already have.

            >But don’t offset what is supposed to be temporary new revenue with a permanent cut to existing revenue.

            Carbon tax revenue is most definitely not temporary at all. the goal is not zero carbon use, it’s a substantial reduction, and the only way that reduction can be achieved is if the tax sticks around. At worst, you have a temporary surge followed by a gradual adjustment downward as carbon use drops to a new equilibrium that is far from zero.

          • Cypren says:

            @HeelBearCub: The biggest point you seem to be missing (or arguing past) is that from the Right’s perspective, the Left’s alarmism about AGW and climate change is primarily a cynical ploy for money and power. To convince the Right to go along with measures to limit carbon emissions, the Left needs to explicitly declaim anything that will give the appearance that it is receiving either funding or increased authority for its traditional imperatives. Stories like the I-732 one in Washington — where leftists defeated a revenue-neutral measure while squabbling over who was going to get to spend the tax money on their favored programs — only provide more confirmation for the existing bias of the Right that for the Left, it’s never been about anything other than looting the treasury. This entrenches the sides even further, and it’s why I said earlier that the first thing that has to be addressed to reach a bipartisan climate change agreement is the lack of trust. Yell all you want about how AGW skeptics are brain-dead (excuse me, “mind killed”) morons, but you need the support of those morons to enact your agenda, and you aren’t going to get it while taking actions that only confirm their suspicions.

            With all that said, I agree that you’ve identified a very important problem with a “revenue neutral” tax which permanently discounts a major source of revenue in exchange for one which we are deliberately hoping will decline. One possible proposal that addresses your concerns: rather than adjusting the sales tax on a permanent basis, adjust it on an annual basis, using the previous year’s carbon tax proceeds to offset the next year’s sales tax rate, based on projecting its expected revenue and then discounting the rate appropriately. It wouldn’t be perfectly revenue-neutral because the projections aren’t absolute, but it could be reasonably close.

          • Iain says:

            @Cypren: HBC’s proposal of a flat rebate to every citizen seems like the ideal way of preventing “the appearance that [the Left] is receiving either funding or increased authority for its traditional imperatives”. And yet cassander immediately rejected it.

          • cassander says:

            @Iain says:

            >In year 2, the expected revenue from the carbon tax should be lower (in real dollars). If it isn’t, then the carbon tax is not actually accomplishing its goal of reducing carbon emissions. If you leave the 1M tax cuts from year 1 unchanged, the overall policy is now revenue-negative. If you don’t, then you take a bunch of political flack for raising taxes.

            Who said you had to balance it over a single year? Standard budget practice is 10 years for a reason.

            >A well-implemented carbon tax is a highly unreliable source of revenue, because it exists with the goal of driving the taxed behaviour as low as possible.

            The goal is not as low as possible, the goal is a certain, predictable amount lower. There exists decades of evidence from rising and falling oil prices that can be used to determine the price elasticity of carbon fuels and to predict, with at least as much accuracy as we do with other taxes, where the new equilibrium will be and how much tax that equilibrium will produce.

            >With all that said, I agree that you’ve identified a very important problem with a “revenue neutral” tax which permanently discounts a major source of revenue in exchange for one which we are deliberately hoping will decline.

            Let’s assume this is actually the case. I don’t think it is for the reasons above, but let’s ignore that for now. Do you really want to be the guy that says “We need to do whatever it takes to stop global warming. But not cut taxes that’s a bridge too far!” Don’t you see how that plays into exactly the stereotypes you were just talking about?

            @cypren

            >HBC’s proposal of a flat rebate to every citizen seems like the ideal way of preventing “the appearance that [the Left] is receiving either funding or increased authority for its traditional imperatives”. And yet cassander immediately rejected it.

            Because it’s the creation of a new entitlement program. That’s like saying a massive new tax to double social security spending is “revenue neutral” because the money is going right back out to seniors. Why is it so hard for you guys just to reduce other taxes?

          • Iain says:

            (In case anybody is wondering where the stuff in cassander’s post that he attributes to me came from, I initially wrote a longer post but then deleted most of it because Cypren’s second paragraph covered what I wanted to say.)

            The goal is not as low as possible, the goal is a certain, predictable amount lower.

            No, the long-term goal is to get net carbon emissions as low as possible. The revenue is incidental. As HBC already said:

            We need to get our net carbon spend to zero at some point. At that point, we would ideally want the carbon tax to net zero dollars. The goal of the tax is not to generate revenue for the state. If your state-budget spending is dependent on those carbon tax dollars, you are not in good shape.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Cypren:
            If WA had income tax and not sales tax you could certainly do something like this, adjust the lowest bracket or something.

            I don’t know that you could actually accomplish this well through the sales tax, as its rare for them to be denominated in other than whole percentage points, but maybe.

            You are also imposing a burden on every business in the state of changing sales tax rates every year in their various systems. Typically that kind of thing gets pushback. My sense is that there are plenty of POS systems still around that don’t do this very easily.

            But thank you for actually acknowledging the actual argument.

          • cassander says:

            @Iain says:

            >We need to get our net carbon spend to zero at some point. At that point, we would ideally want the carbon tax to net zero dollars. The goal of the tax is not to generate revenue for the state. If your state-budget spending is dependent on those carbon tax dollars, you are not in good shape.

            That’s a project for decades. Until the very end of that period, use will only be pushed down with progressively higher and higher taxes, meaning revenue won’t go down for a very long time. Pearl clutching that taxes will go down decades from now is not a good excuse for not doing something revenue neutral now. It’s almost the definition of concern trolling.

            If this is as important as the left likes to claim, this should be a risk they’re willing to take. As has been said, I’ll start treating AGW like a crisis when the people who keep saying it’s a crisis start treating it like a crisis. Until then, it’s indistinguishable from every other lefty crisis that just happens to require things lefties have been asking for for decades.

            @HBC

            >as its rare for them to be denominated in other than whole percentage points, but maybe.

            Definitely not

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @cassander:
            You going to acknowledge the actual argument? Or just pick nits?

            Because you could have come up with this a long time ago rather than either blindly or willfully misinterpreting what I was saying.

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub says:

            >Because you could have come up with this a long time ago rather than either blindly or willfully misinterpreting what I was saying.

            You’re the one making demonstrably false statements, don’t accuse me of being the bad guy for pointing that out.

            As for my arguments, it remains the same. I assert the left is more ideologically committed to increasing the size of the state it is to the goals they actually claim to want to achieve by doing thus. Your apparent inability to imagine that some good might be achieved without growing the state does more than anything that I could ever say to confirm that assertion. What else can conclude from you saying that getting a carbon tax is not worth taxes possibly going down in real terms?

          • it’s never been about anything other than looting the treasury

            From the standpoint of the skeptics, it’s about a good deal more than looting the treasury, it’s about a scary new argument used to argue for lots of things the left already wanted to do. What I find amusing is the inability of people on the left to realize that, when they argue that there is no reason to worry about how good their climate arguments are since all the things they want to do to slow AGW are worth doing anyway, they will be seen by skeptics as confessing that their account of climate problems cannot be trusted any more than the account by a salesman of the virtues of what he is selling. I had a blog post on the subject, complete with a cartoon which illustrates the problem, some time back.

          • @HBC:

            The most obvious problem with your argument against the revenue neutral proposal is that it assumes that all other sources of tax revenue are constant, which isn’t very likely. If a government wants to keep revenue constant, it will have to adjust tax rates from time to time in order to do so. Replacing part of a tax on income or land or sales with a tax on carbon doesn’t change that situation.

            If it turns out that the demand for carbon is very elastic, so the revenue from the carbon tax declines pretty quickly, then when it does the tax that was cut to compensate can be raised again. Indeed, the initial legislation could specify a formula by which each year’s sales tax would be revised in response to the revenue from the previous year’s carbon tax.

            You seem to be taking a pretty minor problem with the proposal and treating it as an absolute bar. And you then go on to conclude that the carbon tax should instead be made “revenue neutral” by spending the money in a way you approve of, such as a demogrant.

          • Cypren says:

            @Iain: The problem with the flat-rebate proposal is that it isn’t a revenue-neutral tax cut; it’s a very typical progressive wealth redistribution program disguised as a “tax rebate”. Any kind of tax cut that you’re going to persuade non-Leftists to sign onto will have to return money to citizens in proportion to the amount of money they were already paying in taxes; otherwise you’re just creating a new entitlement program with a thin disguise.

            @HBC: As far as I know, most POS sales tax rates are set in hundredths of a percentage point rather than whole percentage points, to accommodate states such as California (state sales tax rate: 7.25%) as well as local taxes on top of state sales tax (which in Washington State can range from 7% to as high as 9.6%). This was definitely the case when I worked on POS software systems about fifteen years ago; I can’t imagine it’s gotten more coarse since then.

            Few systems use centrally-updated databases of tax rates, because the vendor usually does not want the legal liability for failure to correctly update to changes in local laws. So variables like tax calculations are typically configurable and entered by the customer rather than being part of the software package. A sales tax rate that varied every year might cause some grumbling among retailers, but compared to most tax compliance obligations, it would be a fairly minor imposition on them to change a single configuration field in their software on an annual basis.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Note that elsewhere Deiseach is raising the exact issue (structuring a Pigovian tax so that the government comes to depend on it for revenue) as a conservative reason to oppose said taxes on sodas.

            And Pigovan taxes are supposed to be the conservative option to deal with externalities.

          • Aapje says:

            @Cypren

            The problem with the flat-rebate proposal is that it isn’t a revenue-neutral tax cut; it’s a very typical progressive wealth redistribution program disguised as a “tax rebate”. Any kind of tax cut that you’re going to persuade non-Leftists to sign onto will have to return money to citizens in proportion to the amount of money they were already paying in taxes

            You are assuming that the carbon tax is just as progressive as other taxes, which doesn’t make much sense, because it is a consumption tax, which are known to be regressive. So it makes perfect sense to compensate a regressive tax with a progressive mini-UBI.

            If you don’t want the tax system to become more or less progressive, you have to compensate for the distribution effect of the carbon tax, by making your tax cut have a distribution effect that is the opposite of the carbon tax, so they cancel each other out.

          • Iain says:

            @Cypren: I question the idea that handing out a flat rebate is a specifically leftist approach. See, for example, the “Prosperity Bonus” handed out by the government of Alberta (Canada’s most conservative province — think Texas North) during the height of the oil boom in 2005.

            Conditioned on the requirement that the carbon tax will be bringing in money, a flat rebate seems like a non-partisan way of handing that money back out.

          • Cypren says:

            @Aapje: As you observe, carbon taxes are consumption taxes and naturally regressive. That’s why it makes the most sense to me to offset another regressive tax (the sales tax). A UBI-like handout is not an attempt at balancing the tax revenue; it’s a traditional progressive wealth transfer with no consideration at offsetting existing taxes paid. We can disagree as to whether such transfers are a good idea, but this goes back to what I said earlier about the framing problem around a carbon tax: Leftists need to convince Rightists that they are not intending to spend the money on something they would have already advocated. A bargain is not “I get two things I want and you go along with it because I said so.”

            An example of making the tax system more regressive with carbon taxes would be using the revenue to offset property taxes (which are disproportionately paid by the upper tax brackets) rather than sales taxes (which are disproportionately paid by the lower tax brackets). Offering to use one regressive tax to balance another already seems like a large concession in my mind given that many people on the Right would prefer the tax system become much less progressive than it currently is.

            @Iain: When it comes to resource extraction grants such as those in Alberta or Alaska, I can see a couple of ways of viewing them. One is to say “these resources are an accident of geology, and all people in the state should have equal claim to them and benefit equally.” That argues in favor of a flat per-capita grant. The other would be to say “the state owns these resources and is using them to offset its operating budget”, in which case the most fair thing to do is correspondingly reduce taxes that each person has to pay into the system proportionate to what they are currently paying.

            In my mind, the latter is a far more fair approach, but because democracy is inherently majority-rule, the former will always poll better. That’s a practical reality of politics even if it’s something I find morally and ethically repugnant, and it’s why redistribution in all its forms (and here I include very popular redistributive programs like the mortgage tax write-off that benefit the middle class more than the poor) will always be winning politics: people are always delighted to get benefits on someone else’s dime.

            Something to keep in mind as we’re arguing these points: while progressives take it on faith that progressive taxation is an unalloyed good for society, many (maybe even most?) non-progressives do not. So arguments which take progressive taxation as the default and only moral position are not usually going to be compelling outside of left-wing circles. For a libertarian, simply agreeing to offset a regressive tax with another regressive tax is already a major concession to the progressive agenda.

          • Aapje says:

            @Cypren

            That’s why it makes the most sense to me to offset another regressive tax (the sales tax).

            That seems sensible and would logically result in about the same overall consumption tax, although with pollution items having a higher ‘sales tax.’

        • shakeddown says:

          A lot of the most frequent commentators here describe rationalists as their hated outgroup. This isn’t really a rationalist website, at least in the comment section.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Bashing “rationalists” is just how people say hello around here.

          • Nornagest says:

            “They don’t agree with this political shibboleth, they must not be rational” is practically a cliche at this point.

        • cassander says:

          >hat idea, needless to say, failed miserably, because the modern Republican party is thoroughly opposed to *any* constructive action on climate change.

          Sniffnoy’s response is precisely mine. The left very rarely proposes anything like an actual revenue neutral carbon tax. When someone else does (and the washington one isn’t even truly revenue neutral, but it’s close), they’ve voted against it.

          >As for education, the Obama administration took an enormous amount of heat from core Democratic interest groups over its support for charter schools.

          and they worked for years to kill DC vouchers to make up for it.

        • suntzuanime says:

          They let just anybody sign up for a comments account. As you know.

      • Zeno of Citium says:

        Alright then, how about a revenue neutral carbon tax? That way the left gets what they want, the carbon tax, and the right gets what it wants, taxes not going any higher and no spending on green energy boondoggles. Except the organized left is against that to.

        We are? It sounds good to me, and I’m as left as Americans get. I might prefer a revenue-positive tax – although I’m not sure I would – but a revenue-neutral carbon tax sounds like a way better idea than the current setup where companies get their negative externalities subsidized.

        Come to think of it, I’m not sure how revenue neutral would work for a carbon tax – are you suggesting we lower taxes somewhere else, like the general corporate tax rate?

        I’m not sure what’s in this for Libertarians that’s particularly Libertarian – they get more government regulation out of it, in exchange for… what? Surely a government-created market is worse, in Libertarian thought, than no market at all.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          Well, there is the “no spending on green energy boondoggles” part. I’m not sure that’s quite enough for me on its own, but throw in the abolition of CAFE standards and I’m in.

        • Cypren says:

          I’m not sure what’s in this for Libertarians that’s particularly Libertarian – they get more government regulation out of it, in exchange for… what?

          Libertarians in general favor some form of solution for externalities — contrary to how our opponents like to portray us, we aren’t blind worshipers of some mystical Market God in contravention of basic understanding of economics. Part of what separates libertarians from anarcho-capitalists is the belief that some form of government and coercive monopoly is a necessary evil.

          Assuming that you agree that carbon emissions and climate change are a significant externality that needs to be addressed, it’s perfectly consistent with libertarian thought to impose some sort of market adjustment to account for them. While a system of private lawsuits might theoretically be feasible, it seems far more reasonable to impose a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system because it results in greater overall efficiency and probably less overall bureaucracy compared to shifting the burden to the courts.

          Of course, that assumes that you see carbon emissions and climate change as a pressing issue. The majority of opposition coming from the Right isn’t due to principled objection to the concept of a carbon tax, but rather from mistrust of the sources who are most actively pushing the narrative of climate change as an impending crisis. Any bipartisan solution in American politics is going to have to first address the trust and credibility problems before it can reasonably address climate policy. Thus far, the organized Left’s solution has been mostly to react like priests denouncing climate skeptics as heretics and unbelievers rather than presenting rational arguments, which has only exacerbated the problem. There are people who are making calmer, reasoned arguments for why climate change is an impending threat, but they’re being drowned out by the zealots, unfortunately.

          • Matt M says:

            “While a system of private lawsuits might theoretically be feasible, it seems far more reasonable to impose a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system because it results in greater overall efficiency and probably less overall bureaucracy compared to shifting the burden to the courts.”

            There are quite a few libertarians who would disagree with this vehemently.

          • Cypren says:

            Sure. There are going to be disagreements around any specific policy, especially if we’re speaking in the abstract. My point was mostly that the idea of imposing some sort of penalty on carbon emissions is not an inherently anti-libertarian idea as long as they’re seen as a quantifiable externality.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            One thing we’ll have to be careful about, if it ever comes to it, is ensuring that a carbon tax is limited to the size of the external cost: we make people internalize the externality, and let the market take it from there. A lot of proponents seem to have the very different idea of jacking up the tax until emissions drop to whatever level they’ve decided in advance is the right one.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Cerebral Paul Z:
            If the tax doesn’t have any effect on the externality, either by reducing it, or providing for mitigation, it’s not doing what it’s supposed to.

            I only say this because it becomes very hard to prices the externality. How do you really go about estimating the cost of, say, the 200 year risk of ocean acidification, plus the 200 year risk of sea rise, plus the 200 risk of drought in areas which are under going local changes in climate, etc.

            Usually the goal of market based systems to address environmental hazard is to properly incentivize business to change their behavior, not to let the pollution to continue unabated indefinitely.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            A Pigovian carbon tax is bound to reduce emissions by some amount– it would have no effect only if demand were perfectly inelastic, in which case there would be no market failure to begin with, since any externality would not affect anyone’s behavior. Of course you may have some argument other than Pigou’s in mind, but for purposes of this subthread the point is that, if you’re going to make market failure the basis of your appeal to libertarians and conservatives, the sort of tax I describe is the most you’re going to get out of us, since it’s the most that the market-failure argument demands.

            Of course the epistemic difficulties you mention apply equally to any course of action, be it tax, cap, or whatever; to the extent you’re guessing about the size of the harm, you’re necessarily guessing about how large a cost you’re justified in imposing in order to avert it. Fixing the level of emissions doesn’t evade the problem of uncertain cost, it only piles on top of it the additional epistemic problem of predicting what a suitably perfected market would do if forced to take that uncertain cost into account.

          • Aapje says:

            Carbon is mostly inelastic in the short term, but not in the long term, so a key aspect is time. This is why a cap-and-trade system ought to increase the cost of carbon emissions over time, so people get encouraged to invest because return on investment is good.

          • Matt M says:

            “How do you really go about estimating the cost of, say, the 200 year risk of ocean acidification, plus the 200 year risk of sea rise, plus the 200 risk of drought in areas which are under going local changes in climate, etc.”

            This is exactly why it’s a terrible idea to just start instituting a bunch of arbitrary taxes in the assumption that you’re heroically saving the planet.

            I’m tired of being lectured on how we have to “internalize the exteranlity” by a bunch of people who have literally no idea just how expensive or damaging the externality even *is*. The mindset, quite literally, seems to be “tax first, ask questions later”

          • How do you really go about estimating the cost of, say, the 200 year risk of ocean acidification, plus the 200 year risk of sea rise …

            You recognize that there is no way of estimating costs that far out, given how rapidly the world is changing and how uncertain the changes are. You base decisions made today on costs near enough so that you have at least a rough idea of their size, and plan on adjusting what you are doing in the future as time passes and more information comes in.

            Two hundred years is a very long time.

        • cassander says:

          >We are? It sounds good to me, and I’m as left as Americans get. I might prefer a revenue-positive tax – although I’m not sure I would –

          Yes, you are:

          http://www.vox.com/2016/10/18/13012394/i-732-carbon-tax-washington

          The measure failed.

          >Come to think of it, I’m not sure how revenue neutral would work for a carbon tax – are you suggesting we lower taxes somewhere else, like the general corporate tax rate?

          Precisely. However much you expect the carbon tax to raise, you lower other taxes by the same amount. Not rebate program, not green energy tax credits, just a dollar for dollar reduction in other taxes.

          >I’m not sure what’s in this for Libertarians that’s particularly Libertarian – they get more government regulation out of it, in exchange for… what? Surely a government-created market is worse, in Libertarian thought, than no market at all

          I don’t expect them to be enthusiastic about it, just willing to go along.

          • Matt M says:

            “I don’t expect them to be enthusiastic about it, just willing to go along.”

            I feel like most “libertarians should go along with X” arguments simply assume that libertarians will trust that the government will deliver on its promises.

            I guess I would go along with a true revenue neutral dollar for dollar carbon tax in theory. But I would never vote for one, because I don’t, for one second, expect that the government we have will actually do that.