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Open Thread 67.75

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

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806 Responses to Open Thread 67.75

  1. Montfort says:

    Check the list of bans. Most banned users’ names are filtered (a few manual exceptions for common words), as are I think some slurs, plus the death eaters’ ideology’s true name. There might be others I’m forgetting.

    Also consider that the spam filter might eat your post if it has links to certain sites or too many links.

    Edit: Ah, I see the banlist also mentions several filtered words now. Thanks, Scott.

  2. Silverlock says:

    I need some help tracking down an essay, please. It was entitled something like “If you Want People to Trust the News, You have to Print News Worth Trusting.” I could have sworn it was from The Atlantic, but I have been unable to find it. I also thought it had been tweeted by Jon Haidt, but I can find no sign of it there, either.

    My Google-Fu has failed me. Can anyone bail me out here?

  3. So, two of my favorite shows have been socially informative comedy, namely

    John Oliver’s Lastweektonight and Penn and Teller’s bullshit are favorites of mine.

    Are there other shows that do the same thing?

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      You should probably consider that you’re not getting as much information as you think you are from such sources.

  4. Machina ex Deus says:

    I hereby propose (down here as the 705th comment where nobody will see it) that in the very next Open Thread (68):

    We taboo the use of “left”, “right”, “liberal”, “conservative”, “libertarian”, and possibly other political labels.

    I’m open to amendments adding “complaining about the composition of the commentariat” (again, just for Open Thread 68).

    • Anonymous says:

      Why are you doing this?

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        Because I’m tired of seeing otherwise smart people here confusing themselves, talking past each other, accidentally inflaming tribal hatreds, and otherwise stumbling over the Idols of Language.

        Also because every time one of these “What is left/right?” discussions comes up most of us agree that the terms aren’t that useful. So there’s that.

        Emoji are literally* an improvement over stupid “no-I’m-leftist-not-liberal/well-you-all-seem-like-libertarians-to-me” crap I have to skip past. I swear sometimes I want to make the non-philosophy majors here re-do undergrad and major in it.

        Also: “alt-right” and “SJW” are now part of the proposal. As well as “neo-con”, “neo-liberal”, “neoteny”, and “Neo from the Matrix.”

        (* By which I mean literally literally, or literally literally literally, if I’ve gotten that far behind on the language debasement treadmill. After that, I’ll just switch to exponents: literally^4, literally^5, etc.)

    • suntzuanime says:

      Counterproposal: we taboo the use of language and communicate solely through strings of emoji.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Makes sense. Scott banned the term for “death eaters” and that has helped make communication clearer and definitely not led to any confusion whatsoever.

      • Montfort says:

        Arguably it did reduce the amount of discussion about them, though. I wouldn’t mind a little less “the right…” and “the left…”.

        Additionally, tabooing a term is slightly different from banning it, and if people adhered to the distinction, it wouldn’t lead to the same kind of confusion as the death eater affair.

        • Wrong Species says:

          The reason the death eater taboo doesn’t work is because people don’t work the way Scott wants us too. He hoped we would would stop conflating the trichotomy of Techno-commercialists, Traditionalists and Nationalists. However, the only people who really care about that distinction are the death eaters who want to distinguish themselves from the others. The rest of us think the label is useful enough but are forced to come up with dumb euphemisms, which just confuses people.

          The point is that “left” and “right” have meaning to people, which means that they are going to still use these terms. The only difference is the dumb code names. So yes, people need to stop getting caught up with definition games but changing the words used isn’t going to work as a shortcut.

          • Montfort says:

            I could be mistaken, but I thought the primary purpose of the ban was so that this site wouldn’t turn up on the first page of google results for the term.

            In any case, I don’t know that voluntarily tabooing the terms will work (probably people will miss the point), but they’d be untabooed by the next OT, so I doubt any confusing jargon would stick around with the original terms available again.

            Edit: I’ve found the post where it was first tabooed, and I was wrong, it was to try to get people to distinguish between different elements commonly conflated under the label. I’d have to review the evidence to see if I agree with your opinion that it “didn’t work” – volume of commentary on the subject is very low these days, so it’s hard to recall how people discuss it.

            (to make things more interesting, though, the banlist mentions that the term is banned because it’s a “topi[c Scott is] trying to get people to avoid,” not for the traditional tabooing purpose)

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      I mean, I think it would be an interesting experiment, but you’d be better off including more hivemind fallacies, like “alt-right” or “SJW”

    • Wrong Species says:

      I’m open to amendments adding “complaining about the composition of the commentariat” (again, just for Open Thread 68).

      I’m completely aboard this one. People need to stop treating the composition of SSC like a power struggle and just let it be.

    • BBA says:

      How about we just eliminate the comments section, in the time-honored tradition of Andrew Sullivan and all the other blogs that have closed theirs down?

    • Deiseach says:

      “A radical does not mean a man who lives on radishes,” remarked Crook, with some impatience; “and a Conservative does not mean a man who preserves jam. Neither, I assure you, does a Socialist mean a man who desires a social evening with the chimney-sweep. A Socialist means a man who wants all the chimneys swept and all the chimney-sweeps paid for it.”

      If I can’t be a conservative, can I be a jam-eater? I really do like jam! 🙂

  5. Anonymous says:

    Any obstetricians haunting these halls? Is there somewhere an extended version of this infographic, for higher amounts of children?

  6. Iain says:

    People on SSC frequently make the argument that restrictions on immigration are fine, because countries do not have any duties to people who are not citizens. Courtesy of Trump, here’s a fun new twist: does America have responsibilities to its green card holders, who have permanent residence and are on the path to citizenship?

    (You can probably guess Trump’s answer.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      The Supreme Court’s answer is yes, however, so Trump is on shaky ground here. A case often cited here is United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez
      494 U.S. 259 (1990)

      It’s not directly applicable, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was cited in any challenge (assuming the administration doesn’t back off). It limits the term “the people” in the Bill of Rights, but significantly does not limit it to citizens; permanent resident aliens would certainly be included by any reasonable reading (IMO). The wording is “a class of persons who are part of a national community or who have otherwise developed sufficient connection with this country to be considered part of that community.”

    • Deiseach says:

      If they have green cards, I think that America does have a responsibility to them.

      • AnonEEmous says:

        same here

        This is something bad that Trump done goofed over. If this sticks around, then I will officially be Displeased.

        not that it matters in the greater scheme of things, but in a larger political sense neither does anything else I did, heh

        • Matt M says:

          I’ve already heard some pro-Trump people on Twitter suggest, ala Scott Adams, that this is a negotiating tactic and that he’s prepared to “give up” the green card thing in a compromise so long as he gets to keep the ban on new immigrants, or something like that.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            so ala a disingenuous propagandist

            jesus christ the man is president, it’s time to stop jerking people around even IF that’s his tactic, and now that I think maybe it is because unlike all his other stuff that’s sort of an anchor, which is a real thing and something Trump might know of as a -dealmaker- but. Just…no.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Not buying it. The executive order seems rather hastily written (using an existing list of countries, by reference to a provision having to do with visa waivers). I think Trump just wanted to check off “Muslim Ban” and since he knows as well as his opponents that the moratorium is just theatre, he did it as expediently (for him) as possible.

            He’s also got a weird (for a politician or businessman) habit of taking questions literally. So when he was asked whether it applied to green card holders, he said it did… because as written, it does. (I personally doubt he even considered green card holders when signing it.) That wasn’t really what was meant by the question.

            I hope he relents, because the moratorium is petty and cruel, and removing it for green card holders would make it less cruel. But he might have his back up about it now.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      As a normative position (“Should” we act as though we have a responsibility to green card holders?), yes. I mean, to be clear, I AM one of those people who feels that we have less duties and obligations to non-citizens, though I’m not anti-immigration per se. I want some sort of intelligent vetting process for PRAs and would-be citizens that starts fairly pro-forma and ratchets up based on initial risk assessments. In other words, I am ok with increased scrutiny based on nation of origin and personal and family characteristics, but I don’t think it should be a blanket bar to entry, and I definitely don’t think it’s ok to block people who have gone cleared the legal hurdles in good standing from re-entering the country absent better evidence than we currently have.

      As a legalistic position (DO we have such a responsibility?), I honestly don’t know. My suspicion, cynic that I am, is the law is probably written so as to allow for a fair amount of “I am altering the deal, pray I don’t alter it further” on the part of the US government. Though I suspect Trump has probably exceeded even that wiggle room if some of the claims about immigration law I’ve read are true. I’m not a lawyer, and I haven’t had time to look into it yet because frankly the zimbabwe and vanguardism questions are more interesting and for me this is mostly recreational mental masturbation. I lack the time, money, and spare emotional and physical energy to be an activist at this point.

      • Matt M says:

        ““I am altering the deal, pray I don’t alter it further””

        As far as I can tell, a green card is a privilege that the state chooses to grant some people. Anyone who has ever been in the military could easily explain to you the difference between a right and a privilege. The major difference is that a privilege can be immediately revoked by the grantor without cause for any reason and you have no particular recourse.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Legal privileges are not always so simply revocable; for instance the “privilege of the writ of habeas corpus” is revocable but only by Congress under unusual circumstances. The privileges attached to permanent residency (specifically in this case the privilege of entry) are arguably in a similar category; they’re revocable but possibly not by executive fiat. I expect we’ll get to see the arguments if the administration does not back off.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Five years in the Army including a tour in Iraq from Nov. ’03 – Nov’ 04. Even without that experience, I’m well aware of the difference between a right and a privilege, thus why I distinguished between what the US in general and the Executive in general CAN do, and what they SHOULD do (the ‘normative’ in my first paragraph). That said, I think that you’re missing that laws can and do grant civil rights that, while offered less protection than Constitutional rights, still have a certain amount of due process protection accorded to them. I’m still looking into the issue, but there appears to be a good enough argument that this is the case for Permanent Resident Aliens (I’m just going to say PRAs as it’s shorter than “Green Card Holders”) and possibly even some of the classes of Visa holders based on existing law that it’s going to need to be hashed out in court.

        So, to reiterate: It’s possible that the current executive order is entirely in line with current law and precedent on the president’s executive authority, but early indications are that there’s at least enough question to make for a viable legal challenge. Now, I’m still waiting for a really solid subject matter expert post or article on the topic, but Ben Wittes is generally pretty good if obviously opinionated, and on the basis of the arguments so far I don’t think the legal challenges are just going to be laughed out of court. There’s going to have to be a wrangle.

        Additionally, the normative question- questions about propriety and good governance as SunTzuAnime put it- stands apart from the legalistic/procedural question, and I would argue that on that level including PRAs was a mistake. I think that a better response would be more targeted vetting of PRAs from high risk countries for possible revocation of PRA status or closer LE/Intelligence Community scrutiny if we come up with indicators that closer scrutiny is warranted. Ideally, I’d prefer something similar to that over a blanket ban for visa holders too, but I agree that we have less of an ethical or moral obligation to them than to PRAs and depending on how many scale, and so I accept that blanket bans might be necessary for security purposes. That said, if we want to take the approach of blanket bans, we probably DO need to look at banning more countries. I think Benjamin Wittes has a strong point when he makes the argument that the current policy manages to be simultaneously massively over-inclusive and massively under-inclusive.

        Summation: I am actually in broad, general agreement with the idea that there IS an immigration problem (We don’t do a good enough job with potentially risky immigrants we currently admit, and need a more effective system), but I disagree with the more generalized form of the argument (the immigration of muslims who are refugees/from failed states/from states with more terrorism is uniformly and universally bad, and we should minimize or eliminate it), and I strongly disagree with this current policy. I’m not actually on-board with the rhetoric about “evil”, “malevolence”, and so forth and so on, but I think it’s poorly thought out, poorly implemented, and likely to fall somewhere on the spectrum between ineffective and somewhat counterproductive, assuming it isn’t simply stopped dead by pushback.

    • suntzuanime says:

      As a matter of propriety and good governance, I would say that a green card is something like a promise on which people might reasonably rely, and that pseudo-promise shouldn’t be broken frivolously. I’m not sure “responsibilities” is exactly the right framework to view things through, but authority should strive not be capricious.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      I’d say so. Even if it was felt necessary to re-examine all green card holders, putting them at risk of getting locked out of the nation while that is done is excessive. And changing the policy instantly while someone is literally on an airplane to New York is ridiculous.

      Side note, it does kinda piss me off that only now are the media and the theatrically woke suddenly freaking out about how arbitrary and cruel the American immigration system is. Newsflash guys, what happened to that Iraqi translator (and isn’t it cool how we only started caring about Iraqi translators six hours ago?) has been happening to people of all colors and religions for decades. Doesn’t matter whether you’re white or black, la migra will happily screw you.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Side note, it does kinda piss me off that only now are the media and the theatrically woke suddenly freaking out about how arbitrary and cruel the American immigration system is.

        Well yes, the immigration system is unnecessarily cruel to aspiring residents and citizens, which I think greatly increases the bad reputation of the US in the rest of the world. I adopted kids internationally 20 years ago, and it wasn’t pleasant at all being treated like dirt. And I think it’s gotten worse since then. And if it was bad for me, as an educated and English speaking citizen, think how bad it is for desperate immigrants or refugees with few options. Unfortunately, it is really hard to get a constituency to make this better, since the worst abuses happen to those without a vote.

        But I doubt this particular situation will change a thing, since those that are outraged think the bad stuff is because of Trump, not the institutionalized rules and culture of the immigration department.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          But I doubt this particular situation will change a thing, since those that are outraged think the bad stuff is because of Trump, not the institutionalized rules and culture of the immigration department.

          Yup, that’s the worst part.

          Imagine all the wokest dreams come true. President Trump is impeached, the GOP is thrown out in 2018, Cory Booker or someone becomes president in 2020. Do you think that the immigration system will become one iota less capricious and cruel? No. No, it will not, and you can take that to the bank.

          • Iain says:

            Regardless of your opinion of the status quo, Trump has clearly added a new level of capricious cruelty into the mix, and it is reasonable to think that acting against him will improve the situation, even if it won’t make it perfect.

  7. skef says:

    Setting aside the question of the worst thing that Trump has done so far in his presidency, what is the stupidest thing that he’s done, and does it call into question all the “savvy politician underneath” speculation?

    My answer to the first is his abandoning euphemism and advocating “torture” under that description. This is not three-dimensional chess, it’s tactically clueless macho posturing. He’s put himself in a position where he can’t do something that might be to his advantage under certain circumstances without changing a bunch of laws or putting himself at much greater risk of future prosecution. And if his 3D chess intention was to screen off the possibility, there are better ways of going about that.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Part of Trump’s shtick is that he doesn’t trade in the polite euphemisms of politicians. If he feels the need to torture, he’s not going to talk about mealy-mouthed “enhanced interrogations” and only admit a decade later that we tortured some folks. This is a new sort of politics where we mean what we say, and that ideological commitment doesn’t permit that sort of double-talk.

      Now, arguably, feeling the need to torture people is itself a bad idea (although not one original to Trump), and arguably the whole idea of honest politics is a bad idea and we should bring back the hypocrisies. But I think that’s how you’d argue for the position.

      • skef says:

        Your observations are beside the point. It’s illegal for the government or its representatives to torture people. Those statutes would be hard to change. The individuals who tortured after 9/11 were in effect protected from prosecution by the euphemism and then time. Removing the double-talk removes even the appearance of protection for those who might be instructed to do it, making any order to do so explicitly illegal. I find it extremely dubious that such people would just be charmed by his meaning what he says. His extending his “shtick” into this area is just stupid self-sabotage.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Well, that’s what I meant by “arguably the whole idea of honest politics is a bad idea and we should bring back the hypocrisies”. It’s hard to actually change the law, much easier to hypocritically ignore it. But my point is, this isn’t stupid self-sabotage, it’s what makes him popular. If you only hold to your ideological commitments when they’re convenient, they’re a lot less exciting. Your argument boils down to “it’s stupid to be honest when lying would get your way” and I totally reject that way of thinking.

          • skef says:

            He wouldn’t necessarily need to lie — he could just have just side-stepped the subject. But yes, I’m arguing that it’s stupid for a politician to screw up his or her options tomorrow for an unnecessary popularity boost today. There are a lot of things someone can do to make themselves more popular today that are stupid over the long term.

            Also: Trump isn’t popular.

    • Deiseach says:

      I hate that Trump – or any American or other politicians – feel that “torture is the way to keep our nation safe”.

      On the other hand, I at least respect that he’s calling it what it is – torture. “We’ve tortured people, we’ve been torturing people, and if we need to do it again, we’re gonna torture people”. No “pffft, what ‘torture’, this is enhanced interrogation” or “only the Bad Guys torture, we’re the Good Guys, so what we do isn’t torture” or “this isn’t real torture, this is no worse than what our soldiers go through in training – training to resist torture, that is”.

      Just maybe, that might cool the enthusiasm of some on the right – including some of my co-religionists* – who were all “but what is torture, anyway? how would you define it?” in a lovely example of “that all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”, back when they were in power. ‘The administration reassures us it’s not using torture, so whatever it’s doing, it’s not torture’. Yeah, well, this administration is telling you how many beans make five.

      *Even when faced with the clear teaching of the catechism about “torture – definite no-no”.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        I at least respect that he’s calling it what it is – torture.

        Why do you respect this? He is likely to gain cred among his supporters for calling it torture. It is likely to make him seem like more of a strong, powerful “leader” to a good chunk of them.

        Respect should be reserved for things that take effort or impose a foreseen cost on the actor.

        • suntzuanime says:

          What’s more respectable, telling a truth that doesn’t cost you anything, or telling a lie that doesn’t gain you anything?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Talking itself is usually neither respectable or disrespectable; neither is listening. They just are.

            Now if a person who was always silent speaks, or a person who was always talking listens. Those may be respect-worthy occasions.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Nah. Language use is a huge part of what sets humanity apart from the animals, and it’s the building block on which society is formed. How one uses language absolutely has impact on how deserving of respect one is.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @suntzuanime

            I edited my comment before seeing your reply.

        • Matt M says:

          Respect should be reserved for things that take effort or impose a foreseen cost on the actor.

          The first post in this thread is of someone calling Trump’s use of the word torture the stupidest thing he’s done in his presidency and you’re here to say that the use of the word torture isn’t costing him anything? Really?

          • The Nybbler says:

            I don’t think it’s costing him anything either. His supporters already knew he was pro-torture and either approved or were willing to accept it. His opponents already knew he was pro-torture too. Almost nobody would think better of him because he used a euphemism; maybe Dick Cheney and the neocons, but that’s about it.

            Not using euphemistic language IMO makes it likely his administration will engage in _less_ torture than had he used euphemistic language (but more torture than had he opposed it full stop)

          • Matt M says:

            It seems to me that one would have to have a VERY high opinion of Trump’s presidency thus far to think that THE stupidest thing he has done has not cost him anything…

          • The Nybbler says:

            Different people are claiming that using the word “torture” is the stupidest thing Trump has done and that it hasn’t cost him anything.

          • Matt M says:

            Fair enough, but I would suggest that if there exists a substantial amount of people who think it’s the stupidest thing, then clearly it is costing him something.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Key word: foreseen.

            If they don’t foresee an act as likely to cost them something, then it isn’t an act worthy of respect by others, even if it does actually cost them something. In that later situation it’s just a bonehead move. And no one respects a bonehead move – they may respect how a person pulls out of it.

            And what The Nybbler said.

        • Deiseach says:

          Why do you respect this?

          It’s hideous but honest. All the fumbling in the past about “it’s not torture because we’re the good guys and good guys don’t torture” when yes, it damn well was torture, allowed a lot of people to pretend “it’s not torture, we’re not torturers, go America!”

          If people are going to support torture, then they can’t have the luxury of hypocrisy about it, they’re going to have to admit: this is torture and we’re okay with it.

          Maybe (though I have no hopes about that) this may cause some to think “Gee, maybe we shouldn’t be torturing people because, y’know, torture is kind of bad?”

          Even if we get people brassily declaring “So what if we torture people? Stop being wussy about torture! It’s not bad, it’s pragmatism, and besides morality isn’t simple black-and-white, there’s a lot of grey areas”, then we’ll have a realistic assessment of things.

          Virtue gone rotten is worse in some cases than plain vice: lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. Torturing while at the same time pretending you are the noble nation that never tortures its enemies is a stinking disgrace in the eyes of God and man. If you own up to your sins, there is a chance to repent them and not commit them again. If you don’t repent them and continue on in them, we know what we are dealing with: a nation of torturers and torture-supporters, and can adjust our dealings with you accordingly.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Okay. I don’t, but to each their own.

            I respect people who live up to their own better nature, not the better nature of some other kind of person.

            Honesty/dishonesty along these lines (aka hypocrisy) isn’t in Trump’s particular bag of better nature virtues versus vices, at least IMO.

            If you own up to your sins

            They may not see it as a sin, but as a virtue. In their eyes you may be the sinful one for seeing it as a sin.

          • Deiseach says:

            I would much rather know the person I’m dealing with is perfectly fine with using torture, than someone who, while attaching the electrodes, is saying “No no no, this isn’t torture, torture is mediaeval times putting you on the rack!”

            I respect the honesty even if it’s a very bad kind of honesty. At least it’s not debasing language or pretending that “these things never happen here” while yes, they do. If you know the extremes to which someone or somewhere is willing to sink, you can prepare or protect yourself against that. If you don’t know what is likely to happen (will they obey their laws? will they vanish me and nobody will ever know what happened? will they give people looking for me the runaround about some detail not correctly filled in on the order for my release while they’re holding me in the cell in the next room?) how do you prepare for it or fight against it?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            If you know the extremes to which someone or somewhere is willing to sink, you can prepare or protect yourself against that.

            We haven’t seen Trump at his theoretical worst. You don’t know to what extreme he can sink, because he’s never needed to talk about it.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      See Iain’s top level post immediately below this one.

  8. Mark says:

    Here are my answers to two money related questions. Are the answers good?

    Q1. How do we pay off the national debt?

    A. You give me a lollypop, and I hand you an IOU for “ten”. Ten groks, ten borks – whatever – ten units of currency. So, I owe you. How do I pay you back?

    I can give you another IOU with “ten” written on it, and you can hand me the other one back which I’ll then rip up.

    So I destroy the first IOU and now you’ve got an IOU for “ten” and I owe you “ten”…. oops!

    The only way to eliminate the debt is for me to either do something for you and then you give me the IOU (and I destroy it) or for me to come along with a gun and say – give me that IOU (and then destroy it.) The government normally opts for the second – it’s called tax.
    Government debt is the basis for our money, so you can’t macro-repay the debt with money. The only way to repay the debt with money is to create a form of money not based on debt (gold coins or money as ownership of something tangible).
    [In fact, I think that given that the money used by government is created by banks (operating within the governmental-finacial nexus), you might be able to eliminate the national debt – it depends on the extent to which money created by financial institutions relies upon the value of government debt/ government created money]

    Q2. Will Blockchain democratise money?

    I think there is a bit of a misconception here – we don’t have centralised financial institutions because that is the best (only?) way to record transactions – we have centralised financial institutions because we live in a centrally controlled society, and because such societies have been successful.
    Originally, financial transactions were recorded by various institutions and individuals – the first central banks were only formed in the 18th century as merchants took over government. The combination of the broad-based influence of the mercantile classes and the power of the nation state, saw the rise of powerful new nations such as the Netherlands and Great Britain.
    Central control of money isn’t an unfortunate side effect of technological limitations – it’s a feature of the system.

    • skef says:

      Your answer for Q1 seems to hinge on this:

      Government debt is the basis for our money

      Whatever the real or metaphorical truth of this premise under certain interpretations, when “debt” is interpreted as referring to treasury bond obligations, the statement becomes false. Fiat currencies don’t stand or fall with past or present deficit spending.

      The simple answer to Q1 is that we balance the federal budget and keep it balanced for 30 years.

    • rlms says:

      For Q1: Fiat currency might technically based on government debt, but practically it is based on agreement to use it. If the government collapsed you would still be able to buy things with money (for some time at least) but government bonds would only be worth the paper they are written on. The government can repay bonds with new money it creates, but that devalues the currency.

      • Kevin C. says:

        “Fiat currency might technically based on government debt, but practically it is based on agreement to use it.”

        And how much of that “agreement” is at least reinforced by the fact that the Internal Revenue Service requires your taxes be paid in the fiat currency, whether or not you use that fiat currency as a medium of exchange (see taxes on barter), and if you don’t hand over a sufficient quantity of that fiat currency, eventually men with guns come and take you and throw you in a cage with some very scary people. (The “US Dollar as Anti-Prison-Rape Coupon” theory.)

    • John Schilling says:

      I’m with rmls on this one. A well-managed fiat currency is effectively indistinguishable from gold coinage. Dollars or krugerrands, we are talking about a scarce commodity which has some direct utilitarian value (paying taxes to get the government off your back, making bling to win the favor of your lady) but whose real economic value is much greater than that and primarily due to the social consensus that this is the one commodity out of many that we use as a medium of exchange in everything even as (or because) it is rare enough that we can’t all have enough for everything. The people with the ability to make more of the stuff (the mint, gold miners) can make a modest profit as they make more, but not enough to own or control the economy on that basis alone.

      Fiat money is more dangerous than hard money, in that it is easy to mismanage it to the point where none of the above applies and you’re living in Venezuela or Zimbabwe or something. That is at least an important theoretical distinction. But in practice the United States and essentially all first-world countries have had well-run fiat currencies for about half a century, and well-run hard currencies for about a century before that, with essentially the same debt dynamics throughout. So if your explanation for how national debt works depends on the difference between fiat and hard money, I think you are looking in the wrong place.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @John Schilling:

        Fiat money is more dangerous than hard money

        I’d argue that fiat money and hard money are dangerous in different ways. Just as one example, deflationary pressure is much more dangerous with hard money.

        And I’d argue that the universal worldwide adoption of fiat money is empirical evidence that fiat money is, in practice, less dangerous (in a utilitarian net-benefit kind of way at the very least).

        • And I’d argue that the universal worldwide adoption of fiat money is empirical evidence that fiat money is, in practice, less dangerous (in a utilitarian net-benefit kind of way at the very least).

          Would you similarly argue that the fact that most nations through history have sometime fought wars is evidence that war making is net utility positive?

          Or in other words, what is your basis for believing that, in this context, what happens is what should happen?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:

            Would you similarly argue that the fact that most nations through history have sometime fought wars is evidence that war making is net utility positive?

            If every nation was currently at war with every other nation and there were no nations allied with each other and people were busily coming up with ways to digitally create new nations so that they could get in on this “having a war” thing … I would probably argue that.

            Basically I don’t find the situations analogous.

            The near universal historical adoption of commodity money is good evidence that it is superior to not having money in existence at all. Would you disagree with that point?

  9. Hetzer says:

    Here’s a theory I have been pondering for a couple hours. Let me know what you guys think of it.

    1. I think the Trump administration is moving very fast, trying to do as much in its first 30 days as Obama did in his first 100 (or something approximately like that; I won’t pretend such things can be quantified precisely). I can’t help noticing things like the folks on Morning Joe asking themselves recently “Does Donald Trump ever sleep??”

    2. Trump has many, many opponents. The mainstream media, the democrats, and even some people in his own party (John McCain, Paul Ryan, Lindsey Graham, etc.). Trump does not want those people working together and coordinating an effective resistance to him. He far prefers perpetual, neutered outrage and Twitter #Resistance slactivism.

    3. The DNC and the democrat voting base are scared, angry, and disorganized. Scott summed all that up with his “You Are Still Crying Wolf” piece, so I won’t get into the details here. Suffice it to say that the democrats are not merely worried that Trump will (eventually) prove to be a bad president, they are convinced that he and his staff are already terrible people doing terrible things, *right now*.

    4. Speaking as someone who was a liberal democrat during the George W. Bush administration, I am familiar with what democrats do when faced with a republican president: call him Hitler and call him stupid. During the George W. Bush years a great deal of this took place on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which never missed an opportunity to pick apart the latest gaffes and misadventures coming out of the white house, always eliciting a roar of smug, self-righteous laughter and applause from the studio audience and viewers at home. Democrats may have been living under a republican president, but those shows gave them an outlet for their frustration, a way to answer the question “Am I the only one in America who hasn’t lost his mind??” with “No, there are many sensible, like-minded people out there.” Nowadays, this same sharing of outrage and amusement in the wake of republican blunders takes place on social media as well. If your typical democrats today are anything like me, they can complain long and hard about something to the people they know, and in so doing find a way to (almost) enjoy their anger.

    5. Here’s where it gets interesting. I think Trump and his people understand all of this very well, and are doing an amazing job of exploiting it for their own benefit in a very deliberate, calculated, and disciplined fashion. I think Trump will go down as one of the most underestimated political figures in American history if he can keep this up. There is an argument to be made that Trump only plans on being a one-term president. He’ll be what… 74 years old in 2020? Maybe he just wants to have one term where he gets as much done as a typical two-term president before retiring. I can certainly picture him speaking the words, “America is great again! UNDER BUDGET AND AHEAD OF SCHEDULE!!” in his farewell address.

    6. Now, maybe this all sounds ridiculous to you. “Of course Trump is stupid!” you might say. “Of course his lackeys like Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer are liars! I mean, what do you call Conway’s ‘alternative facts’, other than lies? Why is Sean Spicer getting into arguments over the size of the crowd during the inauguration with reporters during press conferences at the white house? Why is Trump pursuing a completely baseless investigation of voter fraud during the election?” Because his opponents always take the bait!

    Every minute in every news cycle spent talking about any of these trifling matters is a minute NOT spent talking about the very serious and important stuff going on, like his executive orders, his meeting with Theresa May, his meeting with union leaders, or how the confirmation hearings for his cabinet are going. Trump is moving so fast in his first few days that the media would be hard pressed to keep their readers/viewers apprised of everything going on in the Trump administration WITHOUT the antics of Spicer and Conway. Add that in, and their job becomes hopeless. The media must select only a portion of the day’s Trump-related events to cover, so they pick what they think will be most damaging to Trump: the practically ready-made lucrative outrage clickbait offered up on a silver platter by Conway and Spicer. And in so doing, they get their readers/viewers all worked up in a frenzy over essentially meaningless distractions, and rake in the advertising clicks/eyeballs.

    Trump is so media savvy that he is capable of making historic moves with long-term consequences multiple times per day, and his opponents don’t even know what’s going on, because they are just SO OUTRAGED that the Trump administration is telling lies that, really, are roughly the presidential equivalent of a person lying about their age or their weight (media criticism of these lies does nothing to change Trump’s popularity among those who supported/voted for him, because… wait for it… they’re more interested in how the border wall and the SCOTUS pick is going, and are not desperate to find reasons to hate him). And that means no effective push-back against anything he’s doing. Because his white house staff is “so incomplete, basically a skeleton crew” and what few people he does have are “stupid liars” who don’t seem to have any of their facts straight before they start speaking in front of a TV camera.

    • onyomi says:

      Most of this seems right on the money to me except for the “planning to be a one-term president” bit. It seems clear to me that Trump is a hypomanic workaholic (a trait shared by many presidents, such as TR) who probably can’t stop working until he dies. If anything, his final undoing error may be, in year 7 of his presidency, not knowing when to leave well enough alone and rest on his laurels (assuming his health doesn’t take some dramatic turn for the worse in that time, and assuming his first term is successful enough to win him a second; people often seem to judge presidential success in terms of “getting a lot of stuff done,” regardless of the content of that stuff, so it strikes me he has a good chance).

      I could see that “ahead of schedule” line, but only if forces such as a serious health deterioration force him to scale back his ambitions. Everyone knows the best presidents are two-term presidents, so it’s hard to imagine Trump, whose personal ethos seems basically just to be “BE A WINNER,” not going for that if he reasonably can.

    • shakeddown says:

      1 seems wrong. Most presidents make a bunch of executive orders at the start of their terms, and Trump is lagging behind by other measures – for example, Obama got his cabinet confirmed much faster than Trump is doing.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      This vastly underestimates the amount of competent work it takes to do the work of running the government and getting legislation passed. He isn’t on the same page with Congress, and he needs pretty much every single Republican vote. Those guys have their own ideas about what legislation is a priority.

      I’m not saying he will fail, and I’m not saying that won’t get many things done, I’m just saying that concentrating too much on what Trump is doing personally is a big mistake. He has to get his Cabinet appointed, he needs sub cabinet and agency level positions filled, and they have to have the knowledge and ability to pull the right levers at the agencies. Many of his nominees don’t phase any experience doing this kind of work. He needs to have staff turn all of his ideas into actual real policies, which he did remarkably little of during the campaign and lame duck.

      There is also in fighting going on with his team, which is going to slow momentum even more.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      Sometimes I wonder what it would take for some people to accept that Trump is as petty and out of his depth as he looks.

      • AnonEEmous says:

        Judging by how quickly he’s moved, and how much of what he’s said he’d do, he’s already done…

        well, I’m on record calling him petty, or similar words to that effect. Out of his depth? Remains to be seen, but I think he’s had a good showing so far.

      • suntzuanime says:

        The people who tell me how he looks would have to stop constantly lying to my face, for a start.

      • TenMinute says:

        Tell me, is he petty, helpless, and out of his depth, or is he a brilliant evil mastermind rapidly destroying everything you love?

        Is he both at once? Do you have to blink, and suddenly you’re seeing two women holding a cup instead?

        • rlms says:

          If you remove the “brilliant mastermind” part (I am not aware of any anti-Trump people who identify him that way (save Scott Adams whose allegiances are dubious)) he can easily be both. He can have evil policies (or be heavily influenced by people who do) and also be ineffective and useless at things like diplomacy.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think he is mercurial, vain, and is not particularly interested in doing the work in developing actually effective policy ideas, especially if that means those ideas are different than the idea he had to begin with.

          He also has managed to get himself elected to the most powerful position on the planet. He doesn’t need to be an evil genius to do great damage.

          Basically what rlms said.

    • Macrofauna says:

      This sounds generally reasonable. Trump, the president of “look, a squirrel!”

      OTOH, maybe he wants to be a three-term president, get the 22nd repealed, get his face on Mount Rushmore, and is moving fast and throwing up distractions and casting bait for somewhat different reasons: trying to get the moderate opposition burned out and exhausted ASAP, while the radical opposition gets further radicalized, violent and insane. Then he’ll be facing a headline-grabbing minority that makes him look good by comparison and a quiet majority increasingly looking away from the news and trying not to think about him.

    • dndnrsn says:

      It could be that this is something being done on purpose: throw up so many scandals and so much ridiculous BS that your opponents can’t possibly focus on it all. Do big flashy dumb things like lying about the size of the crowd, while signing executive orders.

      It could also be that he is being aided by bad incentives for media opposing him. “Ha ha Trump is a dummy! Alternative facts! That crowd was tiny! Look at his hair!” probably gets more clicks than a wonk-ish discussion of why sanctuary cities are good, or how the wall can’t be funded the way he says it will, or whatever. It could be that Trump really is that scattershot and erratic, but the way that the media makes money today means he’s getting away with it.

      Maybe a bit of both.

      • Matt M says:

        It could also be that he is being aided by bad incentives for media opposing him. “Ha ha Trump is a dummy! Alternative facts! That crowd was tiny! Look at his hair!” probably gets more clicks than a wonk-ish discussion of why sanctuary cities are good, or how the wall can’t be funded the way he says it will, or whatever. It could be that Trump really is that scattershot and erratic, but the way that the media makes money today means he’s getting away with it.

        This is pretty much exactly what happened during the campaign, isn’t it? Trump won by going to Ohio and Michigan and saying “I’m gonna have this trade policy that punishes China and Mexico and get your cool factory jobs back!”

        But the national media probably spent about 5% of their effort on, “No, that policy won’t work – Hillary’s policy is more likely to improve your economic livelihoods” and about 95% of their effort on “TRUMP IS A RACIST AND A SEXIST AND WE ARE LIVING IN 1930s GERMANY RIGHT NOW” And every time the latest “Trump is a bad person” scandal was starting to die down, he’d go out and say something or a new tape would be uncovered or a new person from his past would step forward with some story and the whole thing would start up over again – all the while with his “I’m gonna get you your job back” narrative going virtually unchallenged.

        • dndnrsn says:

          What amazes me is that I see people – people I know to be intelligent – still posting things like “ha ha small hands” and “OMG Teen Vogue is insulting his suits’ cut! What a BRUTAL takedown!”

          If you keep getting beaten by someone, there are two possibilities: 1. They are not inferior to you. 2. They are inferior to you, and you are screwing something up.

          It reminds me of back when I used to read MMA forums. You’d have the fans of a fighter who’d been beaten 2 or even 3 times by the same guy insisting that their guy was better, the other guy was just lucky, and if there was a rematch their guy would win.

        • Deiseach says:

          Trump won by going to Ohio and Michigan and saying “I’m gonna have this trade policy that punishes China and Mexico and get your cool factory jobs back!”

          Hillary also (or at least her campaign pledges website) was going to have a trade policy that would punish China and get good-paying jobs back (bolding mine):

          o A pledge by businesses to keep jobs and investment in America: Businesses participating in Hillary’s strategy would pledge not to shift jobs or profits gained from “Make it in America” incentives to other countries by outsourcing production, or “inverting” to move their residence abroad and avoid paying their fair share of U.S. taxes. Hillary’s plan embraces economic patriotism, and will support companies that invest in their workers and good-paying jobs here in the U.S. But it won’t support companies that walk out on America. When America’s incredible innovators come up with an invention or design, we should also build it here.

          o Create good-paying jobs without stealing them from other regions, or undermining labor and “Buy America” standards: Hillary’s proposal will only reward plans that create good-paying jobs. She will not reward regions that simply relocate jobs or production from one community to another. And across her proposals, as she has throughout her career, she will support strong “Buy American” standards, and the right of unions to organize and collectively bargain. Her plan will not allow proposals that undermine worker rights or strong labor and domestic sourcing standards – so that the new manufacturing jobs we create are good, high-paying jobs.

          o Crack down on foreign countries, like China, that cheat the rules: If foreign countries dump products on our markets, like China is doing right now with steel, Hillary’s administration will take countervailing action. She will appoint a new trade prosecutor to keep other countries honest. She will take on foreign countries that keep their goods artificially cheap by manipulating their currencies, and expand our toolbox to include effective new remedies to respond, such as duties, tariffs, or other measures. And Hillary opposes China’s efforts to be recognized as a “market economy,” which would defang our anti-dumping laws.

          How very populist playing on patriotism and protectionism, not much about globalism and uplifting poor Chinese rice farmers there!

          I agree that the media coverage was not interested in economic assessments of the feasibility of either candidates’ position on trade and industry.

          • Matt M says:

            “Hillary also (or at least her campaign pledges website) was going to have a trade policy that would punish China and get good-paying jobs back (bolding mine):”

            Yeah, sure fine. And Trump gave speeches about how diversity makes us stronger and stuff, too. Point is, it wasn’t the emphasis.

            This was not what Hillary led her speeches with. Somehow or another, the narrative became that Trump’s core offering was restoring jobs, and yeah he also believed Hillary was corrupt and lock her up and all that stuff.

            Hillary’s core offering was “I’ll protect you from the evil rapist” and yeah sure she also wanted to create jobs and all that stuff.

            Nobody is going to listen/remember/care about the 50 different promises you make. You get one major theme. Trump’s was restoring manufacturing jobs. Hillary’s was “at least I’m not THAT jerk, am I right?” The results speak for themselves.

          • Deiseach says:

            I agree, but Hillary (or her campaign) was also willing to hop aboard the “populist jobs make America stronger again” train, is the point I’m making. Both candidates paid lip-service to things they thought would help get them elected – as you say, for Trump it was diversity and for Hillary it was restoring American manufacturing jobs. If it was something that Trump can’t possibly do because of the state of the modern global economy, neither was it something Hillary could do and so “Hillary’s policy is more likely to improve your economic livelihoods” was not actually true.

            Neither of them particularly cared about that (diversity for one, traditional industry jobs for the other) as the main plank of their campaign. In this it was Tweedledum as much as Tweedledee, is all I wanted to say.

          • Matt M says:

            “so “Hillary’s policy is more likely to improve your economic livelihoods” was not actually true.”

            As if that would stop the New York Times from saying such if they thought it was the best way to help her win.

    • sohois says:

      Occam’s razor. Why is Trump flailing around, acting petty and vindictive? Because he is petty and vindictive, or because of a complicated theory of multi dimensional chess?

      • Occam’s razor: When he behaved that way through both parts of the campaign and won both times, was it just luck or because he knew what he was doing?

        • Wrong Species says:

          1. Just because he said the right things doesn’t mean that he consciously understands what he’s doing. Voters are just finally ready for a petty man-child.

          2. What works for becoming president is not the same as what works for being an effective president. Of course, maybe he’ll leave the country a smoldering ruin while basking in adulation. It wouldn’t surprise me at this point.

        • cassander says:

          I think you can cut that knot. Trump has a natural talent for publicity and media manipulation, his natural instincts just happen to line up pretty well with how (or at least one way to) win elections.

    • Iain says:

      Trump is so media savvy that he is capable of making historic moves with long-term consequences multiple times per day, and his opponents don’t even know what’s going on, because they are just SO OUTRAGED that the Trump administration is telling lies that, really, are roughly the presidential equivalent of a person lying about their age or their weight (media criticism of these lies does nothing to change Trump’s popularity among those who supported/voted for him, because… wait for it… they’re more interested in how the border wall and the SCOTUS pick is going, and are not desperate to find reasons to hate him).

      It is not at all clear that his strategy is working. As we are tediously reminded whenever anybody talks about Trump doing bad things, Trump hasn’t actually done much yet at all. He’s signed a few executive orders, most of which will require congressional action to accomplish much. He’s pushed a literal handful of nominees through the Senate (Mattis, Kelly, Haley, Pompeo); a number of other nominees have faced staunch opposition and had their confirmation votes pushed back. Trump’s approval ratings remain abysmal for a president at the beginning of his term. Obamacare has never been more popular. Mexico is not paying for the wall, and the trial balloon Trump’s camp sent out about a 20% tax on Mexican imports has been hastily walked back. Trump is a professionally famous rich person — a reality TV star. We have lots of evidence that he is good at playing the media and (certain segments of) the public. Where is the evidence that he is any good at getting things done?

      Moreover: if a Democratic president adopted a day one strategy of aggressively and blatantly lying to the media to distract the nation’s attention from his policy goals, you would be up in arms. What’s more, you would be justified in your outrage. Why is it better when your guy is doing it?

      • AnonEEmous says:

        Well, it comes down to the media.

        I think at this point it’s pretty clear that the media is desperate to get Trump, to the point of nonsense scandals appearing out of nowhere (I can cite them if needed). As such, the fact that they’re falling for such a tactic, that they shouldn’t be falling for, makes people have little sympathy for the media. Moreover, they feel that their policies are eminently sensible and if not for the media’s distortion most people would agree. I guess we’ll see how that one shakes out.

        Of course, I don’t actually think Trump does any of this on purpose. The media is just perfectly designed and conditioned to behave this way and it happens to suit him.

      • Deiseach says:

        I haven’t been paying much attention to this, but from the commentary I’ve seen, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to annoy so many people quite so blatantly. On the other hand, all the reports are from the offended media themselves, so I’m sure that there is no lack of “And the horrible terrible person growled at us threateningly!” in the descriptive writing (as distinct from the factual “he said this” reporting).

        What did amuse me, though, was that the alleged remarks were very much in the style of lecturing people on allyship – “sit down, shut up, listen”. Who knew Steve Bannon was so well up in SJW speak? 🙂

    • Jordan D. says:

      To reverse a criticism leveled at the left, you’re starting on this way too early.

      I think your claims are essentially thus:
      1) Trump’s getting crazy amounts done
      2) Trump has successfully scattered his opposition
      3) The media are being played like fiddles
      4) The ridiculous lies are distractions, targeted into the heart of the opposition media

      Here are my problems with this:

      1) Trump has, thus far, signed some executive orders which do the things he said he’d do on the campaign trail and gotten his least-controversial nominees through the Senate. This isn’t the hard part. Next, he needs to manage the response to those orders, manage the legal challenges to the orders which matter, get the controversial nominees through and get actual legislation on things like the ACA and funding for The Wall. The classroom history books will not record whether President Trump did a hiring freeze or a somewhat confusing order involving sanctuary cities, but whether he achieves his actual goals.

      2) Trump’s opposition started off pre-scattered for him. The Democrats are naturally stunned by Clinton’s defeat, the establishment RNC caught between their desire to use him to enact their agenda at long last and uncertainty as to how harmful he might be for them in the long run. Now, there’s an argument to be made that his present media strategy is all about keeping them scattered and disparate- but only the same kind of argument you can make about anything you feel like. We haven’t yet seen what form the opposition to Trump will take, so we haven’t got much evidence for how effective the current strategies are.

      3) It’s certainly true that the ‘outrage a day’ strategy seemed to work during the election, kind of. Each outrage depressed his polling numbers, but he would continually bounce back after people put it out of their minds. I can see the appeal in assuming that he’s got a focused ‘scatter outrages and thereby hide the ball’ thing going on, I guess… but what does that get him, exactly? Look, let’s assume that Spicer and Conway are actually evil rather than stupid, and have been plotting a distraction campaign to keep the general public from- what? Following his executive orders? Following his nominees? But you said it yourself- the only people who care about his nominees revealing that they are unqualified or that he’s signed a really nasty Executive Order are democrats. Everything he’s doing was listed on his website. He hasn’t been using the chaos to sneak things through!

      The test of such a strategy is if it works for issues which a large majority of people- including republicans- oppose. If he can slide through an unpopular war, or get rid of the ACA without replacing it, or get tariffs passed and still keep people from focusing on that, then he’ll have a winner. This stuff with EO’s and confirmation hearings is chickenshit compared to the issues that define a presidency.

      4) I think this is obviously a strategy, and just as obviously being pushed by Bannon. Nobody ever really trusts all of the media, but the US has a history of a populace which is willing to listen to an independent media when it contradicts the state. The goal here is apparently to align the media with the opposition (some here would say it is already so aligned, but I must respectfully disagree) so that Republican voters will dismiss stories in the NYT and listen to the White House instead. That goal is achievable; I know people whom I talk to every day who would happily tell me that all news shows are biased against Trump.

      But I think this elides the essential question- if the sitting President decides to go to war with ‘the media’, who wins? It’s easy to think that it must be Trump, because he already defeated the mainstream predictions once and because the average guy on the street has never been so quick to denounce media as biased. I’m less certain about this one.

      To sum it all up, even assuming you’re right that all of this is masterful strategy, we haven’t seen it bear fruit yet. The distrust for the media Trump is playing on pre-dates his candidacy by years, and he hasn’t had the chance to try to do anything really difficult yet. I think this needs to wait more than a week before we start speculating whether he’ll be the greatest one-term President ever or the greatest three-term President for Life or whatever.

      • Matt M says:

        Everything he’s doing was listed on his website. He hasn’t been using the chaos to sneak things through!

        I don’t think the implication here is that he’s literally getting things done in secret… it’s more of a notion that the public attention span is rather limited. People are only going to consume so much political news. If I decide to turn on CNN for 30 minutes to get an idea of what Trump is up to, and 20 of those minutes are spent on an intense discussion of Trump’s failure to properly wave at people while getting on a plane, I’m probably going to assume that he didn’t also threaten to provoke a war with China on the same day.

        Because CNN couldn’t possibly be so stupid as to waste my time with stories about waving when WW3 is on the horizon. Right?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Your story says nothing about Trump threatening to provoke a war with China. It’s a story about some posturing by the Chinese Army, which itself refers to both pre-Trump and post-Trump events.

          • Matt M says:

            Fair. I was originally just going to make up some hypothetical example for that post, but thought of the plane thing and tried to contrast it with something that I think would be a far more significant story.

            Consider it to be a hypothetical “based on a true story” rather than made up out of whole cloth, if that helps.

        • Jordan D. says:

          I think you would find that your hypothetical would be challenged in the event that he gave a serious indicia of desire to go to war with China. In the past, even an off-the-cuff remark by a President could be huge international news; now, most people believe that Trump’s full of shit most of the time. But I mean, look back to late November(?) when the call with Taiwan occured- that got pretty major coverage for several days, with people speculating about the possibility of war.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Right. Is there any examples of Trump doing outrageous things which the media has not latched on to?

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Yeah, just to pile on a bit, it seems to be a hobby of high-ranking Chinese generals to threaten all-out war with the United States at the drop of a hat. I recall them threatening to nuke Los Angeles back in 2002 or so.

          (Of course, we all know that it’s totally okay, if not even expected, for foreign nations to make wild threats against the United States. It’s only the United States making threats which must be condemned.)

          • Matt M says:

            It’s only the United States making threats which must be condemned.

            and by “making wild threats” you mean “accepting a phone call from a person you aren’t supposed to accept phone calls from” right?

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Oh my goodness, yes, that was unconscionable. Trump might as well have just launched chemical weapons into Shanghai when he picked up that phone.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Counterpoint: You can only judge a man by his enemies, and Trump’s enemies — the news media — are the most petty, stupid, vindictive, short-sighted, and emotionally-driven people in the country. So the fact that he’s seemingly outmaneuvering them from time to time isn’t really much of a compliment to Trump.

      • Matt M says:

        Are the DNC, or even the #NeverTrump neocons for that matter, adopting any different maneuvers from what the news media are?

        I’m more than willing to entertain “the media are so stupid, beating them is nothing to brag about” as an argument, but I don’t see anyone else out there using any tactics that are markedly different from the ones the media are using…

    • Scott Alexander says:

      All of this assumes that the media is powerful. Is it? If the media decided to cover, 24-7, Trump’s decision to restrict immigration from Muslim countries, so what? The left will be angry? The left has been angry 24-7 since Trump’s election. Someone will organize a way to stop him? He’s President and he has the support of a far-right Congress. I wish we lived in the world where if the media was able to reveal this was going on that would be enough to stop it. But do we?

      • Deiseach says:

        All of this assumes that the media is powerful. Is it?

        Some of the media like to think of themselves as The Newspaper Of Record; that is, that they are the sources future scholars will use to write the history of our age. This means that they must think of themselves as not alone being impartial, but that what they write is the Really True Truth of whatever happened.

        This naturally breeds a certain sense of self-importance: you are not just churning out copy for ‘today’s news, tomorrow’s fishwrappers’, you are a crusader fighting for the public interest and upholding truth, honour, virtue, the best values of your nation, and challenging the powerful.

        It’s easier to think that in an American context than a European one, where everyone including the public knows that you – or at least, your editor – is going to write the story to fit the way your proprietor wants it written, and if he’s a rich businessman who supports one political party, when you’re writing about the opposition party (either in power or opposition) they are all going to be written up as incompetent rogues, scoundrels and fools.

        The power of the media has been to write stories where they tell people “this is what is going on, this is what happened” and then, in editorials and opinion columns, “and this is how you should interpret it and what you should think about it”. The power of the media has been to control information and become the source whereby people get their information. In that manner, what the media choose to cover and how they choose to cover it is power: if Big National Paper in the Capital/Biggest City is the impartial, august arbiter of what is future history, your local paper is relegated to being “and at the county fair, the prize for fattest pig was won by Farmer Jenkins’ Bessie” no matter if – especially if – its front page story contradicts the front page of Paper Of The Nation. I think Chesterton remarked somewhere that papers consist of saying “Lord Jones dead” to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive, but if you can control whether people ever get to hear about Lord Jones, if you write about Lord Jones as if he is a big important figure, then people will begin to say “Hey, perhaps Lord Jones should be our next Prime Minister!” That is power, and why Stanley Baldwin attacked the papers of his day as exercising the harlot’s prerogative – power without responsibility. (And incidentally, the Lord Rothermere of our day still controls a newspaper empire; he owns The Daily Mail, for one).

        That’s not even getting into television, where you can sear striking images into people’s memories or edit an interview to make the person being questioned look like a sweaty shyster who’s lying through their teeth.

        Perhaps, though, in the new media age where online and grabbing eyeballs is king, the media will maybe re-think exactly what they are doing. Why are they fighting with the President of the United States? Is it a principled fight over the freedom of the press, or a spat between two parties equally offended at not being treated as infallible oracles?

        • Jordan D. says:

          Well now, hold on for a moment.

          There’s a fine argument to be made that people should not blindly trust the media, and humility usually has a lot to recommend it- but when you say ‘a spat between two parties equally offended at not being treated as infallible oracles’, are you arguing that they should give up the theory that there are objective facts to report? If not, what are they to do when the President of the United States decides to continually double down on easily-checked falsehoods on a daily basis?

          • Deiseach says:

            I want them to report objective facts. I don’t want them (a) thinking they are the conscience of the nation and can instruct the nation what to think (b) thinking they are objectively reporting objective facts when they’re writing their style guides “refer to the nice moderate sensible people this way, refer to the crazy zealot bigots that way” (c) that the duty to stand up to the powerful and the abuse of power makes them an alternative government – they are no more voted into power than any other citizens’ vigilance committee and can’t award themselves powers they have no rights to (d) that people not taking them at their own assessment is somehow violating a law of the universe and needs to be stamped out.

            If the President or anyone else is lying, go right ahead and show that. Don’t add in “and besides, our guy had twice the numbers at his inauguration!”

      • AnonEEmous says:

        How about “The center will be misinformed”

        Though at this point, I think the media really has lost a lot of that power. More likely, though, is the left will go from angry, to a little bit crazy. And I’d like to avoid that.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @Scott Alexander – “All of this assumes that the media is powerful. Is it?”

        I don’t think so, no. The media’s power derived from their perception as relatively impartial arbiters of truth. They no longer hold that position for anyone. People are happy to quote headlines that are convinient to them, but no one really trusts the media over their own opinion any more.

  10. hyperboloid says:

    There has been a debate about whether the relative success of Scandinavian, and northern European protestant countries more generally, was due to progressive policies, or to culture.

    I remember a, possibly apocryphal, anecdote about Milton Friedman talking to a Swedish economist who claimed that: “we have solved the problem of poverty in Sweden”, to which Friedman the elder apparently replied that: “we have solved the problem of poverty among Swedes in America as well”.

    What I did not know until recently was that a good argument can be made that Sweden’s progressive polices, and the success of Scandinavian immigrants in the US were casually linked. Early in the twentieth century emigration to the US had reached that Sweden was experiencing a labor crisis. The Swedish government convened a commission to study the problem. The commission drew the conclusion that in addition to the draw of cheap Midwest farmland, Sweden’s then aristocratic political culture, social exclusion of the poor, and lack of economic opportunity were driving working class Swedes to immigrate to the progressive and republican United States. The response of the Swedish political establishment was to implement their first wave of social reforms, including universal franchise, expanded public education, and subsidies for housing.

    To put it simply, thanks in large part to the fact that protestant immigrants form northern Europe could seamlessly fit into American society, competition with the US forced the Swedish government to offer their citizens a better product. I know a similar process happened in Norway, does anybody know how much emigration played a role in Bismark’s reforms in Germany?

    • Ivy says:

      Interesting observation! To flesh out the theory some more, can we use immigration flows and immigrant success statistics to estimate the degree of competitive pressure on governments to improve, and see how much that correlates to good governance over different time horizons?

  11. dndnrsn says:

    What if most/all of the problems generally attributed to communism are really the fault of vanguardism?

    In Aapje’s “what would you do if you were a benevolent dictator?” thread, I posted this (just quoting it to avoid summarizing a book again):

    First, a book I recommend that would be relevant is The Dictator’s Handbook by De Mesquita and Smith. The framing is a bit lurid – it is not a handbook for dictators, but rather a popularized political science tract exploring their theory for the differences between autocracies and democracies. Their theory is basically that autocracies are reliant on far fewer people to stay in power, which promotes corruption and mismanagement; democracies are the opposite. They come down against foreign aid for autocracies (saying that it mostly helps keep dictators in power) and take the view that democracy is often a precondition for success, rather than (economic) success being a precondition for democracy. It’s worth reading. To sort of summarize it, though, my impression is that what they are saying is that the more democratic a country is, the more that giving the people what they want is what gets and keeps a leader in power; whereas in autocracies, getting into power and staying in power are usually accomplished by doing the opposite of what is good for the people.

    So, the problems attributed to communism can mostly be sorted into “mundane” (underproductive economies, general corruption, rule by a small number of elites tending towards totalitarianism) and “extraordinary” (labour camps, purges, mass graves, starvation, struggle sessions). I think the degree to which communism led to both can be exaggerated – and some of the numbers for the former are unbelievably high.

    However, it is clear to me that there is a big “WARNING! This has led to problems in the past!” stamped on communism, and I despair at the habit of many currently-existing communists to pooh-pooh anyone who doesn’t recognize its greatness (eg, lots of sassy little memes where the fascist says “I will kill you all”, the communist says “what can I do for you?”, and the dumb liberal says “you’re both the same” – yeah, I can’t think of any reasons why anyone might compare communism and fascism, no sirree).

    What if this is not to do with communism, per se, but with vanguardism? De Mesquita and Smith’s book would explain the problems of the USSR, for instance, as the result of a small ruling coalition – incentivized to do nasty things to stay in power, not incentivized to care about the people more than necessary (of course, neither are democrats – but the amount of caring necessary is greater for democratic rulers), with a tendency towards corruption, etc.

    Vanguardism (someone correct me if I’m wrong) basically says that it’s the job of an elite to promote communism among the proletariat, coordinate the revolution, and then disappear. Somehow, that third bit doesn’t really seem to happen. I think that De Mesquita and Smith offer, overall, a good explanation for how that happens. Even if the vanguard are good and honest people, the incentives are not there for them to do that third bit, just as the incentives were not there for the Lord Protector to hand the throne over to Edward V.

    Does this make any sense?

    (Also I really recommend this book – it’s got that quality I look for in an explanatory work, which is it makes things click into place, so to speak, but also I can identify flaws in it, which makes it less likely that I’m being hoodwinked)

    • AnonEEmous says:

      Honestly, though, my impression is that communism, no matter what else you do with it, is a failed economic system. Moreover, there are, I believe, countries where communism has been pretty bottom-up, and those sort of morphed into vanguardism anyhow, because Communism does sort of require a central bureaucracy to make decisions and so forth. Plus, what do you do when people vote for capitalism?

      • dndnrsn says:

        It might be an inferior economic system to capitalism. I don’t know. But there are plenty of ostensibly capitalist countries that are mired in corruption and generally things do not work that well. The difference seems to be the ruling coalition size and so forth.

        • But there are plenty of ostensibly capitalist countries that are mired in corruption and generally things do not work that well. The difference seems to be the ruling coalition size and so forth.

          I’d be skeptical of the accumulation of little explanations here. Even as someone on the Left, I’d much rather live in a poorly functioning Western capitalist country like Greece than in the old USSR.

          Corruption, I think, is a cultural problem. Louisiana and New Jersey are always on the list of the most corrupt U.S. states, because each has a political culture that encourages and sustains corrupt activities. Contrast with, say, Utah or Minnesota.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Who says you get to choose a western country, though?

          • quanta413 says:

            I think if you’re restricted to choosing between non western countries to live in there may be reason to avoid even socialists let alone people who call themselves communists.

    • cassander says:

      >So, the problems attributed to communism can mostly be sorted into “mundane” (underproductive economies, general corruption, rule by a small number of elites tending towards totalitarianism) and “extraordinary” (labour camps, purges, mass graves, starvation, struggle sessions). I think the degree to which communism led to both can be exaggerated – and some of the numbers for the former are unbelievably high.

      The problem with that is that you got the extraordinary every single time with communism, no exceptions. There is no other ideology with such a consistently terrible record, even fascism did better.

      The reason is that once you accept the idea of an all powerful state, the extraordinary problems are the natural outcome. It exacerbates all of the mundane problems and leads directly to the extraordinary ones.

      >e, but with vanguardism

      You can’t have a revolution without some revolutionaries. the masses never rise up. You can’t have non-vanguard communism.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Some communist states are worse than others, though. Stalin killed 9 million people, minimum. I’ve seen an article by a couple of Maoist statisticians arguing that the Great Leap Forward only saw 15 million die. The Khmer Rouge was almost uniquely awful – they caused the deaths of a quarter of the population.

        In comparison, Castro’s Cuba is a pretty run-of-the-mill dictatorship. East Germany’s secret police were … intense, but in some ways better behaved than “free world” police and intelligence agencies today. There’s a lot of places I’d take East Germany circa the 70s or 80s over. Once into the 1950s, if you weren’t a political dissident, life in the USSR wasn’t terrible. Etc.

        As for vanguardism – there are, of course, different models and theories as to how communism can be achieved. Communists love theory.

      • Tekhno says:

        You can’t have a revolution without some revolutionaries. the masses never rise up. You can’t have non-vanguard communism.

        Even the anarchists had a “vanguard” practically speaking, and they suffered from the same problems as their big bro state socialists did.

      • dapijab says:

        >You can’t have a revolution without some revolutionaries. the masses never rise up. You can’t have non-vanguard communism.
        Then I think I’ve isolated your actual disagreement with “real” communism here, as imo communism is the theory, invented by Karl Marx, that at some point things will -by necessity- get so bad that yes, the masses will rise up, even without a vanguard. He even went so far as to say what amounts to that “if there’s a vanguard, then it’s not really communism.” Which, for the record, I don’t subscribe to this theory, but that’s my understanding of it. It also strikes me at that point that would make it fairly pointless to actually *be* a communist, but it is what it is I guess.

      • Tekhno says:

        It also strikes me at that point that would make it fairly pointless to actually *be* a communist, but it is what it is I guess.

        It also strikes me that either you’ve misunderstood Marx or Marx was a hypocrite, because if it was really the case that historical forces would do all the work on their own, then Marx wouldn’t have bothered with all the activism and politics he got involved in.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Or else historical forces forced him into all that activism and politics.

        • Tekhno says:

          “Ow! You just hit me!”

          “Don’t blame me! It was the means of production!”

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          I think what’s missing is that for Marx and a lot of other 19th century socialists, the belief wasn’t just:

          “At the proper point in time, the forces of history will drive the proletariat into the last revolution.”

          It was:

          “At the proper point in time, the forces of history will drive the proletariat into the last revolution. That time is now, see how the forces flow through society! Come, my comrades!” and so on.

      • cassander says:

        @dndnrsn

        >Some communist states are worse than others, though

        Sure, and Cuba is definitely the best case, but there were still tens of thousands of executions. But that’s damning by faint praise if there ever was.

        >ast Germany’s secret police were … intense

        Eastern europe gets off relatively bloodlessly only if you ignore the massive population transfers that took place after ww2 and the crushing of the czech and hungarian uprisings. And there, that was the result of being conquered by a relatively mature communist government that had already passed through the crazy kill everyone phase.

        >Communists love theory.

        that’s because in theory, their ideas work. Reality, not so much. but in theory, there’s no difference between theory and reality!

        @dapijab says:

        >Then I think I’ve isolated your actual disagreement with “real” communism here, as imo communism is the theory, invented by Karl Marx, that at some point things will -by necessity- get so bad that yes, the masses will rise up, even without a vanguard.

        My response is Tekhno’s. Marx might have said that, but he spent his entire life working to build what lenin would later call a vanguard party. He seemed to think his work was necessary and important, so I’m going to stick with the revealed preference here.

        • rlms says:

          East Germany, not Eastern Europe. And hypothetically, even if all communist governments go through a crazy kill everyone phase they could still be worth having if they lead to glorious utopia after that phase.

        • dndnrsn says:

          What rlms said – not Eastern Europe as a whole. Further, they were conquered by the Stalinist USSR – there’s some indications that Stalin was gearing up for another big purge when he died. After Stalin’s death, the leadership of the USSR settled down to mostly be corrupt and oppress political dissidents by less murderous means.

        • hyperboloid says:

          Sure, and Cuba is definitely the best case.

          Yugoslavia, was probably the best case, certainly if you discount post Deng Xiaoping era China, and maybe even if you don’t.

        • cassander says:

          @rlms

          >East Germany, not Eastern Europe.

          Only if you ignore the expulsion of the germans from eastern europe, most of whom at least went through east germany.

          > a crazy kill everyone phase they could still be worth having if they lead to glorious utopia after that phase.

          Hence the old joke, “where’s the omelet?”

          @hyperboloid says:

          >Yugoslavia, was probably the best case,

          [Definitely not](https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/SOD.TAB9.1.GIF) his takeover was nasty.

          >certainly if you discount post Deng Xiaoping era China, and maybe even if you don’t.

          Given how quickly they jettisoned actual communism in favor of whatever you want to call the current chinese system, I don’t.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I think the problem with your model as you’ve described it is that the type of “vanguardism” you’re describing is more or less a feature of every almost political revolution ever, to include successful ones like the American Revolution.

      “Popular revolution” is basically a myth. A revolutionary movement may eventually enjoy popular support, but it is ALWAYS led by a “vanguard” of more educated, wealthier, more privileged elites.

      So I think the question to answer is what makes the vanguard SOMETIMES disappear without A) becoming corrupt authoritarians (many if not most examples or B) being subsequently purged themselves in blood and fire by counter-revolution or circular firing squad (French Revolution, English Civil War).

      • dndnrsn says:

        The American revolution – not an area of history I’m extremely well acquainted with – democratized quite quickly, didn’t it? Vanguardism in communism tends to have all sorts of theories and explanations and justifications and plans for the vanguard ruling until the situation is right until handing over power.

        One could also argue that the American experience has been one of power being handed over to groups that previously didn’t get the vote or didn’t get to exercise the vote they were entitled to getting it, usually involving some struggle.

        • cassander says:

          The american revolution was a secession movement, not a rebellion. It was led largely by the established governments of the 13 colonies, occasional continental congresses of representatives those governments sent, and an amy led by a general those congresses appointed and organized. Georgia didn’t even send delegates to the first two congresses, and only decided to join the rebellion after the declaration of independence was proclaimed. To the extent there was revolutionary change, it consisted of colonial governments unilaterally re-writing their charters and constitutions to cross out references to the King and his representatives.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          I would nitpick Cassander’s “not a rebellion” (secession and revolution are BOTH types or rebellion – that is, organized rejection of or resistance to institutional authority), but I think he may have hit the nail on the head in some respect.

          To expand, it may be a simple matter of secession from the British POV, but from the American side of the Atlantic it was absolutely a revolution. The Patriots were a minority in the population as a whole, with the modern consensus holding that they were never more than 20% of the population, and never really outnumbered the Loyalists (also about 20%) until the Loyalists started fleeing to Canada or back to Britain.

          It’s true that by the 1760s some of the colonial legislative bodies were dominated by Patriots rather than Loyalists, but by no means all all. In areas where they weren’t in control, they organized themselves more or less as a shadow government, and as often as not it was these committees and parallel representative bodies who started to organize, legislate, appoint, tax, and otherwise co-opt the functions of the official Crown government.

          So, I think you’re overstating it , Cassander, but I think your overall point is sound because what made those parallel structures ABLE to co-opt and eventually replace the official ones was that they were composed largely by community leaders. The biggest businessmen in town, the most reputable lawyers and doctors, and so on. And yes, there were also a lot of people who would hold down a seat in a colony’s house of burgesses or representative assembly or what-have-you, and then turn around and stroll to the local coffee shop or tavern where the city’s Committee of Correspondence would formulate their own parallel policy.

          • cassander says:

            @Trofim_Lysenko

            >I would nitpick Cassander’s “not a rebellion” (secession and revolution are BOTH types or rebellion –

            That was a typo, it should have said “not a revolution.” It was definitely a rebellion.

      • John Schilling says:

        The American revolution – not an area of history I’m extremely well acquainted with – democratized quite quickly, didn’t it?

        The American Revolution came pre-democratized, as the thirteen colonies mostly had well-established democratic governments long before 1775. The decision to go to war with England was made largely by the elite, including the elected leadership of the colonies, but they did have to establish popular support at the outset or they’d have been voted out of office and replaced by loyalists.

    • Dahlen says:

      But the lack of vanguardism wouldn’t have led to the absence of problems, it would have led to the absence of communism. While I agree that the usual failure modes of communism are not intrinsic to its ideals, I would attribute them rather to certain Marxist fixations that came into conflict with the realities to which they pertained, instead of vanguardism alone, as a matter of power politics. Allow me to explain.

      Communists have certain goals in mind, like social equality and a need-based, socialised economic system, which they try to achieve through certain means. They envision the working class to have the central role, to be the main agent in the application of these means, whether of themselves or under vanguard leadership. Like there’s a movie to be played, and the working class is the lead character, and the plot goes like: worker exploitation -> class struggle -> revolution of the working class against the bourgeoisie -> the working class seizes the means of production -> happy ending. This might have been a useful frame at the time when Marx wrote his manifesto, but what I’m trying to say here is that in general, and in our day especially (and, to tell the truth, the conditions have been disallowing this scenario since the 50s), it is impossible to get to the end goal of communism through its proposed mechanisms.

      First off, the working class is not socialist, as the recent ascendance of the alt-right proves, and it is not good human stock for inventing and putting into motion systems of coordination of astounding, unprecedented efficiency. Which is why I and others have claimed that, without a vanguard party, 20th century communism would have not gotten off the ground. The idea that the working class is the main engine of the communist revolution is one of those Marxist fixations that I have mentioned. They’re not; they’d like nothing better than to be as wealthy as the bourgeois that the communists want to dispossess, they’re the most easily duped by the cheapest most obvious consumerist tricks ever, and organisationally they’re much more prone to forming mindless chanting hordes than extremely well-oiled, well-coordinated bottom-up organisations. They’re the most vulnerable demographic, the most likely to lose everything they have ever had, during times of crisis like those that communists believe to be the most fruitious for revolution, so there’s no surprise the common people have had to be threatened with extermination just so that they participated at mass rallies and all those stupid events totalitarian leaders hold. The working class hated the communists while they were under them. Those with oversensitive leftism detectors would say that they still do. I would expect a group composed entirely of middle-class-and-above ideological, committed communists to be more successful in enacting communism than a much larger such group that includes lots and lots of enslaved peons. Enslaved peons only get in the way.

      Secondly — communism is really, really not status quo. It has never been in any society that has used money. If you ask me, it’s its un-status-quo-ness that has contributed the most to making it a disaster, because it is in itself a huge cost to switch gears radically in terms of usual practices, mentalities, legislation, the entire approach to economic matters, mostly because there are so many of them, and they have been going on for so long. Maybe if the Inca had survived and modernised, maybe they could have pulled it off, because they had an existing set of practices that wasn’t so far removed from communist ideals. That’s why I have kept stressing improved coordination mechanisms, as of yet unexisting, to pull it off. The complete overhaul of the economic system implies costs, and when those costs are overwhelming, the economic system is the one to fall, which is why communist countries have reduced economic output as a specific failure mode — not because of the general poverty induced by despotic rule, as you suggested, but because economic overhaul is a policy target more so than in, say, fascism.

      Thirdly, the opposition is overwhelming. Capitalist societies, for over 70 years, have had the carrot and the stick in their ultimate versions — the carrot being consumerism, the lure of which is enough to dampen anyone’s leftism, and the stick being the undisputed military upper hand of any capitalist state (all the more so, all of them together) against any socialist or communist uprising on their territory. Things used to be more balanced on this front in the past. Capitalist societies have played their hand well. And they care because any currently socialist state is a potential capitalist market, if the right strings are pulled; it’s not just a battle of principles. Revolution won’t work, and austerity won’t do. Communists who are serious about it need to up their game.

      Last of all, and with some connection to the above, ideological fervour is a scarce resource, and extremist governments can exhaust it much more readily than they can realise. Maybe this point won’t hit home with SSCers, who are an unusually ideologically-obsessed bunch, but it’s hard and often futile to keep that fire burning, and communist governments have attempted it through conspicuous displays of conviction, purges, rallies, struggle sessions and all that. It cannot work indefinitely. Certainly the Robin Hood-esque narrative of the communist revolution seems designed as such, because it’s easier to get passionate about a cause that lets you have other people’s stuff and feel righteous about it, despite the inaccuracies that this might introduce. In the end, most people want their political system to guarantee a normal, prosperous life, and to allow them to focus on non-political spheres of life without obstacles.

      Those who are sympathetic to the kind of economy proposed by communists need a new model. They need to move beyond the obsolete, 19th-century Marxist paradigm.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I’m gonna think and answer in more length later, but for now, a nit to pick:

        First off, the working class is not socialist, as the recent ascendance of the alt-right proves,

        First, in many places, the working class are socialist. They’re much less socialist in the US than in a lot of other places.

        Second, what ascendence of the alt-right? Right-wing populism won an election. That’s not alt-right. I would be surprised if there was much of a working class contingent in the alt-right besides.

        • Dahlen says:

          1. I’m basing this off the working class in my general region of Eastern Europe (where, yes, the poor vote social democratic if they vote at all, but it’s just for the welfare benefits, and they’re very conservative in other respects e.g. religion, and yes they did hate the communist regimes), and analyses of working class culture in the US and UK. I’m aware that this may not be a complete impression, so if you have some other data to share from e.g. Latin America, or mainland Western Europe, or parts of Asia, I’d welcome it and adjust my views accordingly.

          2. I’m not talking about passing the 50% watermark, just coming to be regarded as real contenders, they or their preferred candidates. How many people knew of Bannon or Milo Y. in 2014 vs. now? Name recognition, mentions in media outlets, government positions, stuff like that. Or, if you will, I suppose you could substitute right-wing populism in what I said and the case still stands. Perhaps if the US election had been Trump vs. Sanders, then that would be a test of what flavour of populism the American working class prefers. I still doubt the resulting nominee would have differed.

          Anyway, I’ll be awaiting your more in-depth reply.

          • dndnrsn says:

            1. Latin America seems to have a fair bit of support for the left, but I’m not very well versed on Latin American politics. For most of the Cold War – the fall of the USSR really took the wind out of their sails – France and Italy both had Communist parties that generally did pretty well – the Italian Communists were usually the second-place party. There was a fair bit of support for communists in Italy for a while. Eastern Europe, of course, didn’t choose socialism. It just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. On the other hand, East Germany didn’t choose communism, and Die Linke tend to be strongest in places that used to be communist. They’re not hardcore communists any more, but that’s their roots.

            2. The appetite for populism, though, is far greater than the appetite for most of what the alt-right supports. The working class tend to be populist is certainly true. I think what we’re seeing is the right swerving towards anti-globalist populism more than the left – there’s a market for anti-globalist left-wing populism that isn’t being served, and that’s causing people to vote for right-wing parties.

      • dndnrsn says:

        More in-depth reply:

        Communism might not work. I’m not really making any claims about whether communism is workable, or a good idea, or whatever; I’m not a communist. I think you, in your second point, underestimate the extent to which communism did succeed in rapid industrialization – generally, however, at significant human cost; certainly that was the case in the USSR and China.

        My point is more that the bad stuff – from the relatively benign “dang, these nomenklatura sure do enjoy nice things that the noble worker they supposedly serve doesn’t” to labour camps and mass graves and millions dead – that has happened when communism has been attempted is the fault not of the system itself, but of the vanguardists who deemed themselves necessary, for similar reasons to yours for thinking communism wouldn’t work.

        Let’s say everyone just changes their minds and decides to do communism, no need for a vanguard party. Leave out arguments about human nature and whether or not the working class is inherently conservative. Due to a lack of a vanguard party to fail to live up to their promises, and whose incentives (as a small ruling group) are to be corrupt and occasionally brutal, there would probably be less corruption and brutality.

        That was essentially my point: that the corruption and brutality are the fault of a small ruling group, as the vanguard is, rather than the ideology by which they rule.

        • cassander says:

          >I think you, in your second point, underestimate the extent to which communism did succeed in rapid industrialization – generally, however, at significant human cost; certainly that was the case in the USSR and China.

          This is commonly asserted, but wrong. China was poorer than sub-saharan africa when mao died. It was not, in any sense, industrialized. The closest this comes to being true is in the USSR, but even there, the degree of success is massively overstated. Russia was the fastest industrializing country in the world pre-ww1, and the urban areas that held that industrialization were the least damaged parts of the country during the civil war. Stalin’s efforts did not produce an industrial system that overproduced hitler’s germany. Stalin was only able to out-produce germany because of truly massive imports from the west (a minimum of 1/3 of war making GDP) that supplied them with raw materials and technical equipment like radios and enabled them to build up military industry. After the war, the USSR was buoyed by massively looting the industrial plant of eastern europe and germany.

          In the post war years, the USSR managed to more or less up with western military industry in a few key areas, but only by devoting a truly staggering share of their GDP to arms production. They were consistently behind in areas like quality control and often had to make up for it with brute force. But every year, the gap between east and west grew wider, as the inherent problems of central planning got worse and worse. Endogenous economic growth was over by the 70s at the latest. Soviet industrial policy is a terrible way to try to industrialize a country, even if you ignore the deaths it caused.

          > that has happened when communism has been attempted is the fault not of the system itself, but of the vanguardists who deemed themselves necessary, for similar reasons to yours for thinking communism wouldn’t work.

          if this were true, the record of communist mis-administration and murder would not be exceptional. That it IS exceptional means there are only two possibilities, the ideology is inherently problematic and lead elevated levels of murder and misrule, or that the ideology attracts vanguardists that are more evil or more incompetent than other ideologies. either way, the ideology should be considered harmful.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Can you provide some sources for China? Even if it was mostly subsistence agriculture, by the late 60s it had the industrial base to supply its own military and export stuff. You don’t get to be a power that other powers worry about by being poorer than Sub-Saharan Africa.

            As for your final point – perhaps the issue is that communism was the standard default ideology of revolution that popped up at times of crisis? One doesn’t rebel against a monarchist ruling class in the name of monarchism, against a capitalist colonialist power in the name of capitalism, etc.

          • cassander says:

            >Can you provide some sources for China?

            sure

            The industrial layer it had was tiny and hugely dysfunctional, mostly dedicated to making bad copies of stuff they’d gotten from the russias before the sino-soviet split. It was like a larger version of north korea, missiles and nukes, but not much food.

            >As for your final point – perhaps the issue is that communism was the standard default ideology of revolution that popped up at times of crisis? One doesn’t rebel against a monarchist ruling class in the name of monarchism, against a capitalist colonialist power in the name of capitalism, etc.

            an interesting theory, but when was that ever the case? It certainly wasn’t the standard in 1918, nationalist republicanism was more common. And post ww2, you have anti-colonial nationalism as at least an alternative to communism, not that the two didn’t sometimes mix.

          • Can you provide some sources for China?

            Possibly relevant, How China Became Capitalist by Coase and Wang says that from Mao’s death to 2010 Chinese per capita real income went up twenty fold. China is still significantly poorer than the U.S. or western Europe.

            The book also mentions that, after Mao’s death, a Vice-Premier of China visited England and discovered that a London trash collector had (I think) five times his income.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Cassander:

            A lot of anti-colonial movements at least nominally endorsed communism. It was generally a mix, in various proportions, of actually liking communism and liking getting support from the Soviets and Chinese.

          • cassander says:

            @dndnrsn

            >A lot of anti-colonial movements at least nominally endorsed communism. It was generally a mix, in various proportions, of actually liking communism and liking getting support from the Soviets and Chinese.

            Sure, but a lot also explicitly rejected it, with various degrees of seriousness.

  12. Tekhno says:

    Are there any minarchist libertarian supporters of a world government? I seem to vaguely remember Mises supporting the free trade by gunboat in the Japanese case. The idea of a libertarian (or maybe just liberal, since “libertarian” seems to be owned by the Ancaps) world government is an interesting idea, from a consequentialist perspective, since you could reason that there are all these governments practicing protectionism and/or running miserable socialistic internal governments, and a global form of governance could enforce minarchism over the entire planet and make sure that there was free movement and trade in goods everywhere, and that local governments did not overregulate or expropriate property.

    As a nationalist, I’m opposed to world government, and many libertarians agree with me on the grounds that a world government is a single point of failure, and they prefer multiple countries on the same grounds that the free market has multiple firms competing. I can’t help but think though that the desire for “small government” ends up mashing together in people’s minds, the scope of action for the state and the physical extent of the territory it rules over. I could vaguely imagine some argument that multiple governments means less choice and more chokepoints on free market activity, where a single world government could smooth things out, and due to scale would be discincentivized to overregulate a more complex system centrally.

    Are there any notable libertarians (obviously minarchists) who have argued for world government?

    • Urstoff says:

      I’ve often considered something like this, for the reasons you state. It’s not the number of people in a state, it’s how much power the state has over those people. Best case scenario, though, is probably something like the EU, which is an enormous bureaucratic morass that has, nonetheless, increased the freedom of the people in the EU by virtue of freedom of movement and trade. The question is how to make the possibility of restricting the freedom of movement and trade unthinkable, as most US citizens would consider restrictions of the movement of goods and (especially) people between the states unthinkable. For goods, there are obviously some exceptions (alcohol, drugs, and guns, mostly), but by and large, no one ever proposes a restriction on trade between the states.

    • since “libertarian” seems to be owned by the Ancaps

      ???

      The last poll on the anarchist/minarchist division among self-identified libertarians that I am aware of was in Liberty in 1998. Anarchists were thirteen percent of those polled. The percentage might be higher now, but I would be very much surprised if a majority of self-identified libertarians were anarchists.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The thing is, it can’t be a _democratic_ world government. I tend to agree with those who doubt that freedom and democracy are compatible, but at the world level they’re certainly incompatible. A few billion dirt poor Chinese, Indians, and Indonesians are going to see the First World as a place to loot.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        A few billion dirt poor Chinese, Indians, and Indonesians are going to see the First World as a place to loot.

        If done wisely this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

        • The Nybbler says:

          If done wisely this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

          There’s no such thing as wisely looting the First World.

          • rlms says:

            As a First Worlder, you may be biased here.

          • The Nybbler says:

            No one is unbiased; they’re either in the position of potential looter or potential lootee. Or in a few unhappy cases, perhaps both.

          • rlms says:

            Sure, I would be equally critical of someone from China, India or Indonesia who claimed that looting the First World was obviously correct. I’m just suggesting that your bias means you should possibly consider the other side more carefully than you usually would.

          • Aapje says:

            From a consequentionalist standpoint, one can assume that many in the first world are not going to respond happily to being looted and then at best you get Trump and Wilders. At worst you get the elimination of the threat.

            A non-biased outsider may consider these outcomes less optimal than to limit the looting, so the first worlders see something in it for them.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Well, my best case scenario assuming the first world sits there and takes it is that the first world becomes a lot poorer, the third worlders become slightly richer temporarily, and then civilization collapses.

            More likely would be most of the loot would go to a very _few_ third-worlders, and then civilization collapses.

            Of course the First World wouldn’t put up with this, so either the looting is kept to a fairly low level, and goes to a very few third worlders, or the world government falls apart as the First Worlders withdraw their support (and their militaries).

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Theoretically an example of this looting has already occurred multiple times when multinational industries and natural resource extraction have been nationalized.

            Good? Bad? Mixed?

          • Kevin C. says:

            @The Nybbler

            “Of course the First World wouldn’t put up with this”

            Why not, if it gets made a center of virtue signalling, whereby you prove yourself morally superior to the next guy/gal by supporting the looting global wealth redistribution harder and more fanatically than they do. Holy Equality demands it! All decent “First Worlders” already agree with wealth redistribution and “welfare” programs, yes? So why limit it to within the arbitrary borders of countries — just imaginary lines on the map? Aren’t all those poor “Third Worlders” just as deserving as the poor in First World countries, if not more so (because history of colonialism/imperialism, white privilege, etc.)? There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to favor your own countrypeople over any other human beings (“nationality” and “citizenship” are just the accident of birth of which side of an imaginary line you were born on, and thus utterly meaningless), and the only people who would even consider doing so are awful, xenophobic bigots. And we know, like all decent, right-thinking people, that there is no greater sin than bigotry, and that all bigots are evil, utterly irredemable people, to be cast out of all polite society, denied employment wherever possible, and whose deaths are to be cheered as necessary to Progress. You’re not one of those people, are you?

            What makes you think there aren’t enough True Believers in the First World that they wouldn’t end up giving away their wealth, and bringing the collapse of civilization in the unquestionable name of Blessed Equality, the Most Holy, the Most Sacred, the Value that overrides completely all other values, to whom no sacrifice is too great to make?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @anonymousskimmer

            I believe the results of such nationalization have typically been bad medium-to-long term. But that’s just small potatoes compared to seizing First World wealth that’s in the first world.

            @Kevin C.

            The true believers are useful idiots. If they were actually to be a threat to e.g. Soros’s wealth, he’d get rid of them.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Theoretically an example of this looting has already occurred multiple times when multinational industries and natural resource extraction have been nationalized.

            Good? Bad? Mixed?

            Generally speaking, the industries and natural resources go to the leaders of the countries doing the nationalization, occasionally with a cheap subsidy to the local poor to keep them from realizing that a 95-5 division of the spoils just happened. There is then, at best, an interval of extreme poverty while the new owners figure out how to run the stuff they just stole, or at worst the new owners squeeze out every penny and put it in their Swiss bank accounts and the economy collapses.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Kevin C.

            Please dial down the rhetoric. We all come from different political backgrounds here. Everyone thinks the other guy is an ideologue who refuses to think rationally. I doubt comparing someones beliefs to religion has ever actually changed their opinions.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Wrong Species

            I’m not comparing their beliefs to a religion, I’m outright saying that it is a religion (a nontheistic one, but a religion nonetheless). And don’t just take my word for it; Jonathan Haidt has said so as well. And I’m quite aware that changing the minds of religious fanatics about doctrines of faith is futile.

    • Tekhno says:

      @David Friedman

      The last poll on the anarchist/minarchist division among self-identified libertarians that I am aware of was in Liberty in 1998. Anarchists were thirteen percent of those polled. The percentage might be higher now, but I would be very much surprised if a majority of self-identified libertarians were anarchists.

      Interesting. Maybe anarchists are just more noticeable? It’s easier to spot someone shouting TAXATION IS THEFT, then someone making an argument as to why we should lower taxes to unburden producers. The extremists get all the cool snappy slogans.

      I do suspect the number of Ancaps is way higher now than it was back in 1998 though.

      • John Schilling says:

        Interesting. Maybe anarchists are just more noticeable?

        Specifically, anarchism is easier for non-Libertarians to qualitatively distinguish from more mainstream political beliefs, e.g. their own. Particularly now that there is a small-l libertarian element in the GOP, people who describe their libertarian-ish beliefs without using the name get lumped in with the Republicans, while people espousing ancap-ish beliefs get asked, “wait, what party are you with?”

        • Particularly now that there is a small-l libertarian element in the GOP

          ???

          The libertarian/conservative alliance goes back to at least the 1950’s. If anything it has become weaker over time, not stronger.

  13. toBoot says:

    Does anyone have any good sources of data that could provide insight into whether having gender-integrated housing (say for college dorms, or military barracks) increases or decreases incidents of sexual harassment/assault?

    So far the only thing I’ve found is this:
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/mar/25/norwegian-army-sexual-harassment-claims-fell-after/

    A few problems with that source are
    1. The original study is in Norwegian, and I can’t find a translation, so I don’t actually have any data.
    2. There’s no way to know if Norwegian culture played a significant part in this outcome; I’m interested in applications to US contexts.
    3. If the claim that sex assaults go down with gender integrated housing bears out, it’ll be way harder to convince the Red tribe of this than the Blue tribe. And no one with a hint of Red is pursuaded by anything that starts with “In Norway…”

  14. mundo says:

    New Study Finds Performance-Enhancing Drugs for Chess

    A large-ish study (39 participants, 3000+ games) of chess players showed that “Modafinil improved performances by 15 percent, methylphenidate [Ritalin] by 13 percent, and caffeine by around 9 percent.” Hot dog! They work!

    You have to make it halfway through the article to get to this whopper:

    The results contained one surprise: The amount of time that the players took in their games when they were on the stimulants increased, so much so that more games were lost on time when players were taking the drugs than when they had taken a placebo. That skewed the results. When those losses were factored out, leaving 2,876 games (or data points) the benefits of the drugs became clearer.

    Um. But that’s very vague, it doesn’t tell us if the experimental group actually won more often. Could it be that there was no effect until the losses-on-time were discarded? Surely not, right? Surely if there was no actual increase in won games, they wouldn’t have given the article such a provocative title, right? A trip to the study’s abstract:

    Treatment effects on chess performance were not seen if all games (n=3059) were analysed. Only when controlling for game duration as well as when excluding those games lost on time, both modafinil and methylphenidate enhanced chess performance as demonstrated by significantly higher scores in the remaining 2876 games compared to placebo.

    Wow. Just wow.

  15. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Why did the standard term for socialized health care become “single-payer”? The Wikipedia article suggests that only in Canada and Taiwan is the government literally the only legitimate payer of medical doctors, and most First World countries have something like Medicare for all plus a private insurance industry, and the British NHS is different from both in that doctors are state employees rather than in private practice and billing the government.

    • Matt M says:

      “Why did the standard term for socialized health care become “single-payer”?”

      When Democrats realized that “socialized medicine” didn’t poll well with focus groups. Single payer sounds vaguely technical, so you can feel really smart when you talk about it – and avoids the dreaded “s-word”

      • BBA says:

        Of course, the term “socialized medicine” is a dysphemism possibly coined, certainly popularized by the AMA in their failed effort to prevent the Medicare bill of 1965 from passing. What, you think it’s just one side that plays language games?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          It is older than that.

        • Matt M says:

          Nah, I don’t think it’s just one side. Although I did think this was a somewhat neutral term, as my dad, who is a pretty committed left-winger that really wants more government in health care, always referred to it as “socialized medicine.”

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Single-payer is different than single-provider is different than universal insurance. Medicare is single-payer. The UK NHS is single-provider. The Swiss system is universal insurance. They are different ways to get to get to a universal healthcare system.

      The reason why single-payer is popular as a reference point in the US probably has as much to with the fact that Medicare is well known and works as anything else. Plus putting all the insurance companies out of work is one thing, but trying to make all of the healthcare providers into federal employees is something else.

      The ACA is a (roughly) universal insurance plan tacked on top of our existing varied kludge.

      • sflicht says:

        I do not think that is an apt description of the ACA.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          It requires everyone to have insurance, legally gives everyone the right to insurance and makes insurance affordable to everyone. It mandates certain minimum features of the coverage.

          That’s universal insurance.

          Well, it was until SCOTUS decided that the Feds couldn’t change the eligibility level for Medicare unilaterally. But the design of the program is to make insurance near universal.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            It requires everyone to have insurance, legally gives everyone the right to insurance and makes insurance affordable to everyone.

            Not even close. E.g. single-earner households which did not qualify for the medicaid/care expansion.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Well, the word “roughly” was doing some work in the original description.

            Again, the whole health insurance and health care market in the US is a kludge. It’s a kludge for lots of good reasons and lots of bad reasons, but still a kludge.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @HeelBearCub

            From a strict affordability perspective, I wonder how true this would have been of the ACA if so much of the population wasn’t subject to it (i.e. those who had coverage through an employer).

            I know that I was paying the penalty because even a subsidized policy was unaffordable given my debt load. But how far my circumstances can be generalized I have no clue about.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @anonymousskimmer:

            I know that I was paying the penalty because even a subsidized policy was unaffordable given my debt load.

            Eventually this will not be true (or perhaps would not have been true, depending on what happens).

            From a strict affordability perspective, I wonder how true this would have been of the ACA if so much of the population wasn’t subject to it (i.e. those who had coverage through an employer).

            I’m trying to make this make sense, and I can’t.

            I’m not sure if you think that the ACA would long term unaffordable because too many people are in employer sponsored coverage, but I don’t know how that follows.

            If you were attempting to say that healthy, young people would continue to pay the penalty, again, the penalty is set to rise over time to a level that will make this much less likely.

          • The Nybbler says:

            ACA policy costs are rising. And the Obamacare penalty is $2085 per family, or $695 for individuals in 2016 dollars (indexed to inflation), or 2.5% of income, whichever is higher. That’s per year. Not even close to sufficient to deter going uninsured. Average price of a “bronze” plan was $13,000 in 2016. It wasn’t working. It couldn’t work.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:

            Average price of a “bronze” plan was $13,000 in 2016. It wasn’t working. It couldn’t work.

            You are comparing the unsubsidized cost with the penalty, which makes very little sense.

          • The Nybbler says:

            You are comparing the unsubsidized cost with the penalty, which makes very little sense.

            That’s the relevant comparison to see if adverse selection will take place, I believe. If a healthy young man sees he can pay $13,000 for health insurance that includes all sorts of things completely irrelevant to him, or a $695$1177 penalty, and he’s making $47,080 (the subsidy cutoff), it makes sense for him to pay the penalty.

            (edit because of the 2.5% of income penalty is greater than the flat penalty. Doesn’t change anything though)

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I basically agree with what The Nybbler wrote. To give a hypothetical though (which does not represent me):

            Most people are offered, through work, far more affordable plans that are far better than this hypothetical. But what if they weren’t?

            Married (or co-habiting) couple, single income, kids.

            The “breadwinner” can afford a work-based policy* for theirself, but only by paying about 5% of income in premiums. This policy doesn’t cover the kids or spouse (this would cost too much in premiums).

            Under the ACA they must purchase this workplace policy, another more expensive policy, or pay the penalty. They will not receive premium help for a marketplace plan since they are offered an “affordable” policy at work.

            The families truly discretionary income is about 10% of their household income.

            The kids will likely need more medical care than either adult. But even if this is not the case, there’s an almost equal likelihood that either spouse will need medical care.

            So you have the choice to pay 2.5%+ of household income and have <=7.5% to spend on everyone's medical care. This was basically the status quo for your family before the ACA (minus 2.5%+). Or you can pay 5% for a policy covering some of the medical care of the breadwinner, and only have 5% left over to spend on everyone else’s medical needs plus the breadwinner’s copays (I’m uncertain if you’d have to pay penalties for the spouse and children not having coverage). Under normal circumstances you will be spending money on medical care for the children, regardless of any spending on the adults.

            This is your calculus. What choice would you make?

            * – This policy was not offered prior to ACA implementation, and doesn’t cover more than the bare minimum the ACA requires. It’s Bronze-level equivalent.

      • cassander says:

        I’d venture to guess that most people who are for single payer don’t think medicare is single payer, even though it is.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          On the Democratic side? Definitely.

          The only vaguely serious single-payer proposal on the table is “Medicare for All”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I meant to say that most Democrats know that Medicare is single-payer.

            Not sure if that scans or not from my first post.

          • cassander says:

            the vast majority of democrats I run into seem to think that “single payer” and “universal” are synonyms. probably republicans too, but I don’t ask them about that as much. If pressed, they’d probably say that medicare for all is single payer, but I doubt one 3 would say that medicare is a single payer system as it exists today. And if you explained that medicare is a single payer, but not universal system, they’d think you were an idiot.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @cassander:
            Medicare is a single-payer universal system for everyone over 65.

            But no one thinks it’s a universal system for the whole US, because, otherwise they would think we had universal healthcare already.

            So I don’t think I’m really following your point.

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub

            >Medicare is a single-payer universal system for everyone over 65.
            >But no one thinks it’s a universal system for the whole US, because, otherwise they would think we had universal healthcare already.

            I know that. I know that you know that. What I’m saying is that if you ask the average democrat, or republican, “is medicare single payer healthcare” they will say no, because in the popular mind, the definition of single payer is something like “universal healthcare like europe has”. I know that that is wrong, and I know that you know it’s wrong, but I’d bet a bunch of money it’s what most people think.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      Assuming you’re talking about the US, it’s because the Canadian single-payer system gets brought up so often. Outlander homogeneity bias takes over from there.

    • DavidS says:

      I think General Practitioners are private practice, actually? I suspect in all administrations (including ones with little government involvement!) this tends to be a bit of a messy ‘kludge’ as someone says below

  16. James Miller says:

    If Trump taxed remittances Mexicans working in the U.S. send to Mexico, would it be easy for these workers to switch to sending Bitcoins? If so, do you think Trump would attempt to outlaw Bitcoins?

    • Loquat says:

      Last I heard, turning Bitcoins into cold hard cash was kind of inconvenient even for affluent internet-connected types. When my husband was into it, he generally just used a website that sells various retailer-specific gift cards for Bitcoin, which is not a very good option when you’re trying to send money to a rural village where none of said retailers have outlets. Do you think the current state of Bitcoin and its surrounding infrastructure is reasonably accessible to a non-internet-savvy peasant?

      Edit: I could imagine it happening if someone set up a “Western Union, but with Bitcoin” business and took care of all the currency conversion, etc, issues, so that the sender and recipient wouldn’t need to have Internet access and learn their way around Bitcoin. But then that business would be the weak point a government could attack, so I dunno.

      • James Miller says:

        “Do you think the current state of Bitcoin and its surrounding infrastructure is reasonably accessible to a non-internet-savvy peasant?” No, but I wonder how easy it would be for this to become the case if Trump started taxing remittances.

        • Matt M says:

          Not easy at all. My understanding is that the current difficulties in regards to getting both in and out of bitcoin are mostly due to the fact that it operates largely outside the law already. Anything that might conceivably attract more government attention to it would probably make it even less user-friendly for the average person, not more.

    • Sandy says:

      First someone would have to tell them what Bitcoin is.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Bitcoin isn’t something only used by hoity-toity first-world white people.

        Whether they go to Bitcoin depends on what kind and scale of remittance tax Trump attempts to create. A 1% tax wouldn’t be worth routing around, a 10% tax would.

        • Iain says:

          Bitcoin isn’t something only used by hoity-toity first-world white people.

          This is technically true, but only insofar as Bitcoin is also used by hoity-toity first world Asian people. (Hoit and toit not guaranteed.) According to the summary of CoinDesk’s 2015 report (which I am not going to pay $99 to read in its entirety), more than 80% of respondents were in North America and Europe, and they were two thirds white.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah. I know the Bitcoin enthusiasts love to spread anecdotes about how it helps poor Indian farmers get a better price on selling their grain or whatever, but at the risk of sounding really arrogant here, I am very skeptical that something which was pretty difficult for me (a first world white person with a decent amount of tech experience and an ideological motivation to get into bitcoin) to figure out and actually make happen will be easily accessible to the illiterate rice farmer in Sri Lanka.

          • hyperboloid says:

            I think it’s very likely that the Mexican government will invest a lot in making it easer to use, and in setting up Bitcoin to peso exchanges in Mexico.

            Anecdotal evidence here, but a relative of mine did some work on cryptocurrency. He told me that he was contacted on line by someone from Colombia who was very interested in supporting the project. So at least somebody in Latin America is paying attention.

          • Deiseach says:

            someone from Colombia who was very interested in supporting the project

            I’m sorry to say, my first thoughts there were of the Colombian Marching Powder.

          • hyperboloid says:

            @Deiseach

            I wish I could say that was an unfounded stereotype about Latin America, but I’m almost certain that the gentlemen in question was making his living exporting el oro blanco.

            Also, “Colombian Marching Powder”,
            is that a common Irish/UK English phrase? You people can even make cocaine sound whimsical.

          • Deiseach says:

            hyperboloid, I’m not sure if it’s originally British, or if it was an American slang term picked up by the trendy over here; I encountered it back in my twenties when I used to read our Irish music press magazine and they often had whimsical/joking references to “Auld Doctor McJagger’s Colombian Marching Powder”, which I worked out did not mean something analogous to Mrs Cullen’s Powders 🙂

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Mexican workers would be more likely to adopt some form of hawala system, which I assume would be organized by various cartels. Smartphone penetration isn’t as deep as other Latin American countries especially in the rural regions most dependent on remittances.

  17. Well... says:

    Economists have been polled and seem to all agree that “slavery in the US was eradicated because of social and political events (i.e. the Civil War), not because it was an unprofitable institution for slaveholders.”

    Forgiving the poor wording of the question (my guess is they meant to say something more like “slavery in the US would not have been eradicated as an unprofitable institution for slaveholders and required the Civil War instead”), I still think the issue is oversimplified.

    Housing, feeding, and paying for the continued health of slaves, at least enough so they are able to work, is not cheap; there’s a large hidden cost to all that “free” labor. Plus, this was forced labor so productivity and efficiency were by definition unlikely to be very high. And it’s not like American slaves were stitching designer handbags: agriculture isn’t a big profit-margin industry.

    My understanding (and it could be wrong) has long been that the money in slavery—the force that sustained it and even caused the price of slaves to rise just before the Civil War—came from the financial side of it: the selling of and borrowing against slaves, things like that. Maybe even speculating on slaves, who knows. I.e. the slave stock market. This could even work together with the theory that slavery was maintained more out of tradition than practicality.

    All the same questions about American slavery in the 19th century and earlier could be asked of modern-day slavery, which is still around to be researched. Is anyone doing that?

    • James Miller says:

      “My understanding (and it could be wrong) has long been that the money in slavery—the force that sustained it and even caused the price of slaves to rise just before the Civil War—came from the financial side of it: the selling of and borrowing against slaves, things like that. Maybe even speculating on slaves, who knows. I.e. the slave stock market.” I’m an economist and I find this hard to believe, although I have not studied the situation. The existence of a liquid market in which slaves were traded would have caused the price of slaves to move to its fundamental value. It generally requires government involvement (as with our last housing market crash) to get asset prices to be clearly above their fundamental value.

      • Well... says:

        Could you do me a favor and create a line break between what you’re quoting and the beginning of your reply? Just hit Enter twice, super easy.

        I’m not saying the “slave stock market” would necessarily increase the price of slaves (though it could if people responded to grumblings about abolition by trying to buy as many slaves as they could), but rather that the trade itself created a lot of money out of nowhere (i.e. out of speculation and the paying of brokers), just like the regular stock market does.

        Anyway what I’m curious about is whether anyone’s studying this question WRT modern slavery.

        • >but rather that the trade itself created a lot of money out of nowhere (i.e. out of speculation and the paying of brokers), just like the regular stock market does.

          Can you be more rigorous in what you’re saying? I’ve done research in academic financial markets, and in my experience when talking about markets it helps to try and be really really explicit, since it’s such a confusing dynamic system. What do you mean, exactly, by it ‘created money out of nowhere’? I think you’re trying to make a general point that the existence of slavery made lots of people wealthy who weren’t slave owners, but your explanation of how trading makes money seems hand-wavy.

          There was a great econtalk on this topic (sorta, tangential) this Summer: http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2016/08/munger_on_slave.html

          You might also find this book from 1857, ‘Cannibals All’ historically interesting. It made the argument that slavery was *better* for slaves than bottom-of-the-barrel ‘wage slavery,’ as the masters actually had an incentive to take care of their workers. Whereas the industrialists didn’t have an incentive to take care of their ‘wage slaves.’ (http://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/fitzhughcan/summary.html).

          More generally, the idea that owning slaves could be non-profitable seems ridiculous to me. After all, why would you go out and buy a slave if you were going to lose money in expectation? You could hire a white farmer instead with the same money.

          • Well... says:

            I think you’re trying to make a general point that the existence of slavery made lots of people wealthy who weren’t slave owners, but your explanation of how trading makes money seems hand-wavy.

            Yes, that’s the general point I’m trying to make, and yes, it is hand-wavy. Hopefully someone with more economic knowledge can weigh in.

            I didn’t mean to say that slavery necessarily lost money for slaveholders (though in a few cases it probably did–Robert E. Lee’s struggle to settle his father-in-law’s estate might be one example), rather that it wasn’t as economically productive as paid labor.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The story I’ve heard is that slavery was indeed becoming unprofitable… until the cotton gin made cotton-picking vastly more profitable. This is almost certainly oversimplified.

    • 1soru1 says:

      > Housing, feeding, and paying for the continued health of slaves, at least enough so they are able to work, is not cheap

      Those considerations haven’t led to other forms of working livestock, such as horses, being abandoned as unprofitable; they just get a bit more or less popular over time (15 M at peak, 4M at trough, 9M now). I am pretty sure a human slave can produce more value per calorie than a horse, especially when you consider their uses outside agriculture. And even late 19C technological developments would have greatly improved the economics of ownership. By the time you get to 20C psychopharmacology, security costs would have been negligible.

      Even if not, general economic progress would have made prestigious properties like a slave plantation increasingly affordable over time. There would no doubt have been ironic semi-jokes about how much money your plantation was losing you…

    • Wrong Species says:

      The wording of the question seems to be the main problem. I can see someone arguing that slavery would have gradually become unprofitable. But the question seems to be asking if slavery would have still existed in 1866 if it wasn’t for “social and political events”. Clearly the answer is yes. I can’t imagine anyone arguing otherwise.

    • cassander says:

      >My understanding (and it could be wrong) has long been that the money in slavery—the force that sustained it and even caused the price of slaves to rise just before the Civil War—came from the financial side of it: the selling of and borrowing against slaves, things like that

      This was true some places, less so in others. you can’t have a market if there isn’t demand somewhere. My understanding was that slaves were generally moving westwards by the civil war, away from the old tobacco growing regions, where their labor was at best marginal, and towards the more profitable cotton and sugar producing areas.

      Given the history of slavery in brazil, it seems likely that american slavery would also have grown less profitable over time, for similar reasons.

    • Well... says:

      I’d like to reemphasize that my main question is about whether anyone is researching the economics of modern-day slavery.

  18. hoghoghoghoghog says:

    Here’s a plausible take on Trump’s victory that I haven’t seen raised much: Namely, that it was a “revolution of rising expectations” (really an orderly democratic transition of rising expectations). Trump didn’t win because everything is going to shit and the people got desperate. Rather, he won because the US faces no serious threats, which freed people to vote for someone kind of goofy and fun.

    Con: This is a false-consciousness theory, and those are always implausible. And arguably the US does face some serious threats, maybe?

    Pro: It explains why Obama’s high approval rating didn’t help Clinton. It explains why Clinton’s attempt to re-run Johnson vs. Goldwater didn’t work. Unlike most explanations, it is consistent with the fact that Trump did well in many prosperous, high-employment places that benefit from foreign trade, such as Iowa. It explains why a “high upside, low downside” candidate would be attractive at this moment.

    Implications: Everyone can stop freaking out about how America is falling apart – Trump’s election is evidence that Americans are confident, maybe over-confident, in their country. It suggests that Democrats should focus less on solving current problems (like Appalachia) and more on fun Utopian ideas like a basic income or doubling the US population through immigration.

    • shakeddown says:

      For perspective on the race:

      But Clinton faced more headwinds in 2016, trying to win a third consecutive term for her party amid a mediocre economy. Against a “generic” Republican such as John Kasich or Marco Rubio, she might have been in a toss-up race or even a slight underdog, in fact. So she was counting on good economic news — or for Trump to underperform a “generic” Republican because of his unique flaws as a candidate.

      Given this, I think a more plausible form of your theory (for the general, if not the primary) is that Americans feel secure enough in general to not be repelled by Trump’s weirdness.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I think some of this is true. The contemporary culture wars got their start in the 90’s, when the Soviet Union was defeated and the economy was great. The next decade got sidetracked by wars and the Great Recession. Notably, Obama won in 2012 even though the unemployment rate was still high. And Trump got his support even when the unemployment rate was back to normal levels. It seems as the economy got better, people focused more on cultural division.

      Still though, there is something not right with the argument. The economy isn’t great. Labor force participation is still low, even adjusting for demographics. Trump won thanks to support in Ohio and Michigan. And economic growth has not notably improved from a few years ago.

    • Well... says:

      And arguably the US does face some serious threats, maybe?

      How arguably? To me it seems pretty clear that we face some very serious threats, and I certainly think most Trump voters would agree. Heck, I think most Clinton voters would agree.

      When is a high upside, low downside candidate ever not attractive?

      There are a lot of possible positions between “America is falling apart so we should be freaking out” and “Everything’s peachy, let’s give everyone $50K a year for doing nothing”.

      Yeesh, I know a lot of Democrats are enthusiastic about immigration, but how many of them consider doubling the US population a utopian outcome?

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m seeing news reports that the “Dow Jones Industrial Average [has risen] to the rarefied air of 20,000” and although there seems to be griping that this was going to happen anyway and he can’t take the credit, it certainly seems as if at least he hasn’t caused a panic and a slump (as happened in the wake of Brexit).

      So maybe there is something to “things are looking up, people feel secure enough to vote for an outsider rather than the stale old candidates”.

  19. shakeddown says:

    One of the casualties of raikoth’s downfall is Scott’s book recommendations list (formerly at http://raikoth.net/ficrecommend.html ). Does anyone know how to find a copy?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      http://archive.is/vyTOn

      edit: ninja, please!

    • Montfort says:

      I think now would be a good time for me to repeat some lesser-known trivia about the internet archive (that is, archive.org): their policy is to respect the robots.txt of the current domain owner. This means if in the future someone else buys the raikoth.net domain and disallows webcrawling, the internet archive will make all previous archives from the domain unavailable.

      The similar-looking archive.is does not have the same limitation, since it’s not a crawler, but also because it’s not a crawler it “only” has archives of pages people specifically told it to take while the page was live. I say “only” in quotes because it still has quite a lot, but presumably less than archive.org.

      In other words, if there’s something you want to keep from a dead webpage that you can find on archive.org but not archive.is / archive.fo, then you’ll want to make a local copy. (Actually, if you really want to be sure, you’ll want to make a local copy anyway, and back it up to at least two other storage devices, at least one of which is physically far away, but many of us don’t care that much about most things, and those of us who do probably made such copies while the pages were still live).

  20. Kevin C. says:

    Does anyone have any theories to explain why so many Americans (in my experience, especially of the Red Tribe) think that it is “illegal to use American soldiers against American citizens” full stop?

      • Kevin C. says:

        Except that the Posse Comitatus Act, first of all, only specifically applies to the United States Army and, by amendment, the Air Force. Secondly, it says:

        Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

        (Emphasis added)

        And as wiki’s page on Insurrection Act of 1807 notes:

        Accordingly, actions taken under the Insurrection Act, as an “Act of Congress”, have always been exempt from the Posse Comitatus Act.

        Plus, from the Posse Comitatus Act page itself notes:

        In the mid-20th century, the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower used an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act, derived from the Enforcement Acts, to send federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas, during the 1957 school desegregation crisis. The Arkansas governor had opposed desegregation after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 in the Brown v. Board of Education that segregated public schools were unconstitutional. The Enforcement Acts, among other powers, allow the President to call up military forces when state authorities are either unable or unwilling to suppress violence that is in opposition to the constitutional rights of the people.

        Plus, the Posse Comitatus Act didn’t stop Hoover or MacArthur with regards to the “Bonus Army“:

        The Bonus Army was the popular name for an assemblage of some 43,000 marchers—17,000 U.S. World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups—who gathered in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1932 to demand cash-payment redemption of their service certificates.

        On July 28, U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the veterans removed from all government property. Washington police met with resistance, shots were fired and two veterans were wounded and later died. President Herbert Hoover then ordered the Army to clear the veterans’ campsite. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur commanded the infantry and cavalry supported by six tanks. The Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children were driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned.

        (As a side note, I recently saw someone bring up the Bonus Army, and the government response, in comparison to the recent Women’s March, as a purported example of how female distress and concerns recieve vastly more attention than male ones.)

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Kevin C – “As a side note, I recently saw someone bring up the Bonus Army, and the government response, in comparison to the recent Women’s March, as a purported example of how female distress and concerns recieve vastly more attention than male ones.”

          That seems like a foolish comparison; a one-day march is obviously different from setting up camp. A better comparison clearly would be Occupy, which wasn’t met with tanks and sabers either.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But was met, eventually, with a fairly vigorous martial response.

            US Armed Forces not necessary, but still martial.

            I’ll just go back to one of my hobby horses and say this illustrates that various values are in tension with each other, and that one cannot achieve stability of the system while still optimizing for any one of the values…

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “But was met, eventually, with a fairly vigorous martial response.”

            Indeed. One could also compare the Bundy standoff, which resulted in an even more vigorous martial response, and the obvious reason is that the occupiers in that case were armed. I’m not sure if the Bonus Army was significantly armed, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear that they were.

            To be clear, I don’t think these comparisons are a good demonstration of political bias in treatment of dissent.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @FacelessCraven:

            Generally I agree.

            I’m not sure that Malheur standoff response was more vigorous though. It’s a little bit apples and oranges.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I’m not sure that something that took place in the 1930s can be fairly compared to something that took place last weekend.

          Beyond this, the Bonus Army was clearly threatening in a way that a crowd consisting primarily of women isn’t – war veteran men demanding money now, and camping until they get it?

          FacelessCraven points out that a one-day march is different from a camp. I went by a place where a march was going on, then by it again maybe 3 or 4 hours later – it was completely deserted, and quite clean.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Right, but most popular understandings are going to boil down to a single sentence with all the nuances removed. Here, that would be roughly “The Army can’t be used on America” and “roughly” is rough enough to elide the difference between “army” and “soldiers” and “America” and “American citizens.”

        • Iain says:

          In addition to the other responses, I will also point out that Hoover’s botched response to the Bonus Army was wildly unpopular and contributed to his landslide electoral defeat later that year.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            I appreciate you pointing this out; I’ve heard about the bonus army many times before, but never heard of any consequences arising from it. It’s usually held up as an example of the monstrous nature of our government; it’s some consolation to hear how monstrous actions were rewarded with defeat for their perpetrators.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      After spending a healthy number of hours at ELI5, in my experience most people’s understanding of the vast majority of political subjects is limited to a single sentence summary of the topic. This isn’t to say that they can’t understand the topic in more detail, rather the single sentence is good enough and allows them to stop worrying about the issue, at least until something happens that puts the issue into the media/popular talk. In this case, my bet would be that for many, the first clause of the act is the limit, i. e. posse comitatus means the army can’t be used domestically is the single sentence summary of this issue.

      • Civilis says:

        In this case, my bet would be that for many, the first clause of the act is the limit, i. e. posse comitatus means the army can’t be used domestically is the single sentence summary of this issue.

        A single sentence summary generally works unless people can bring to mind a contrary example. People don’t see the military being used for law enforcement, and they’ve heard of the act which limits how the military can be used for law enforcement, so they assume the act prohibits the use of the military for law enforcement entirely.

        Likewise, people assume the US president is elected by the majority of voters until he isn’t, at which point they find out about the electoral college. As long as the President is the majority vote winner, the Electoral College doesn’t matter to people, so they forget about it.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Likewise, people assume the US president is elected by the majority of voters until he isn’t

          I don’t think this can be quite right. I think a super-majority of people have heard the term “swing state” and understand that you win by winning states.

          They probably can’t identify “electoral college”, and if asked how the president wins, they might say “by getting more votes” but I submit that’s actually a different thing.

          • Civilis says:

            Good point; it was timely and seemed relevant, so I didn’t think it out as well as I should have. Probably a meta-example, to some degree.

      • Kevin C. says:

        @massivefocusedinaction

        “This isn’t to say that they can’t understand the topic in more detail, rather the single sentence is good enough and allows them to stop worrying about the issue”

        Yes, but you’d think the “2nd Amendment Remedies” crowd would know better. But no, you’ve got folks in my online circles reacting to that “Days of Rage” review with the likes of ‘The Left, better than the Right at violence? Yeah, right. The Left are all [insert euphemism for female genitalia] and [insert anti-homosexual slur]. They should be terrified of provoking us on the Right, ’cause we all have guns, so if the Left pushes us, it’ll be Right Wing Death Squads hanging them from lampposts all over the country, and they won’t be able to stop us ’cause it’s illegal to use soldiers against citizens.’

  21. albertborrow says:

    One of the highest ranking posts on reddit this week was about Trump pulling us out of the TPP. I’m for this decision, but what does everyone else here think?

    • TenMinute says:

      It was dead anyway, so I can applaud him for scoring political points with it.
      As a policy matter, it’s a bit of a diplomatic disaster.

    • Jiro says:

      I applaud this and already pointed to this before as a positive effect of Trump’s presidency that became obvious even before he took office.

      Although Trump wasn’t against it for the reason that Internet geeks are against it (the intellectual property provisions).

    • birdboy2000 says:

      Strongly for, probably the only thing he’s done so far I actually liked.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      As I said elsewhere, I was in general a modest fan of TPP, but the tide is way way against free trade deals right now, so I took it as a given it wasn’t going to pass. (I doubt even Clinton would have passed it, since it would have blown a lot of political capital on a pretty small win.)

      • Deiseach says:

        I doubt even Clinton would have passed it, since it would have blown a lot of political capital on a pretty small win.

        She did come out and say she was against it; do you not believe that, or do you think it was just more political twirling in the wind, and had she been elected she might have changed her mind back?

        o Say “no” to new trade agreements that don’t meet her high bar – including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Hillary will hit pause and say “no” to new trade agreements unless they create American jobs, raise wages, and improve our national security. After looking at the final terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, including what it contains on currency manipulation and its weak rules of origin standard for what counts as a car that can get treaty benefits, she opposed the agreement because it did not meet her test. And she will hold every future trade agreement to the same high standard.

        Though as PolitiFact pointed out “While she was secretary of state under Obama, she called the trade deal the “gold standard,” so somehow I doubt this was a matter of strong enduring principle with her.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I don’t think she was against it, but, having campaigned against it, it significantly increases the political capital required to suddenly back it again.

          She could have bulldozed it through, but to what end? Would getting a minor trade deal be worth accomplishing nothing else?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I actually think that it was more “the Democratic and Republican bases have spoken”. Because of this, it wasn’t going to pass the Senate, so there wasn’t really a point to backing it.

            She did leave the door wide open by consistently maintaining (whether true or not) that the TPP changed too much for her to continue backing it. She could have gone back and attempted renegotiating the TPP, which she could have done with the idea that eventually enough people would come around on it if there were enough items that looked like “protect Americans via the TPP”.

    • John Schilling says:

      A giant meh here. I am generally in favor of free trade, but TPP was already DOA, and was sufficiently voluminous and complex that it almost certainly contained a hefty dose of crony capitalism and other sleazy politics alongside whatever free trade was involved. Meanwhile, pretty much everyone involved in the TPP was and remains a member of the WTO, which puts a floor on how unfree their trade can be even absent the TPP. So, no great loss.

    • Urstoff says:

      Disappointed. Like all trade deals, it was incredibly flawed, but it in the end, it probably would have reduced tariffs all around.

      • Jordan D. says:

        I second this. I didn’t like everything in that deal, but I found the negatives to be largely exaggerated and probably worth the price reductions.

        But by the the time the primaries finished I pretty much had given up on any candidate doing anything but scrapping it (although I still think Clinton might have brought it back under another name or something).

  22. Tekhno says:

    Let’s lower the thread IQ with a blogpost for sec:

    Just ordered a pizza to be fat (I’M NOT FAT) and lazy (I am lazy). Guy asks if I would like some garlic dip with my order because otherwise there’s a £2 delivery charge for orders £10 or under (which would make it £11.20), so I do, making it £10, but that now means that I get garlic dip with my pizza and he’s out £1.20!

    Is he crazy! Is he undermining his whole business model by alerting me to the delivery charge? Is he just trying to build loyalty from regular customers? Or is he just overstocked with garlic dip? Is he cooking up some evil scheme?

    What’s going on? Arg! etc.

    • Randy M says:

      You’d need to mention the size of the pizza joint; is the guy on the phone likely to be the owner, manager, or just one employee of many?
      And where does the delivery fee go to? The driver or the store?
      Maybe there’s some corporate promotion for garlic dip in particular, or maybe they get tracked in how many add-on items they can sell to you.

    • Jordan D. says:

      Garlic dip is well-known for containing microscopic fungi that infect human hosts and encourage them to spread garlic to other humans.

      Actually this has happened a few times to me when picking up bagels for the office. I’ll order, say, two particular kinds of bagel packs to get enough, and the person at the counter will tell me that I can get that number of bagels cheaper if I pick a different combination. My assumption is that it’s because I’ll remember the people at this shop who actively tried to help me get a better outcome and go there again next time instead of the Sleezybagel down the street.

    • Tekhno says:

      @Randy M

      He’s definitely not the delivery driver. I think he might just be the phone guy. It’s a small place, however.

      @Jordan D.

      It could be differentiation, in which case, I guess it worked because here I am telling strangers on the internet about it.

    • He was prudently checking to see if you were a vampire.

    • Civilis says:

      Customer loyalty is very valuable.

      Coincidentally, the manager at the local Chik-Fil-a comped me my order for lunch today. Given it’s one of the closest places to eat to the office, has service head and shoulders above every other non-Chik-Fil-a fast food place I’ve been to, and is consistently at least above average in terms of quality for places within reasonable distance in that price range, I’m not likely to stop eating there on a regular basis. Still, my opinion of the place has gone up again.

    • Matt M says:

      Maybe I’m being naieve here, but customer loyalty seems most likely to me. Garlic dip seems like a low-cost high-margin product. The extra $2 delivery charge is likely to really annoy a customer who doesn’t see it coming – or possibly cause someone on the phone to say “you know what, forget it then.” The “delivery charge” itself is probably not meant to be a major source of revenue, rather just a cost control designed to prevent people from wasting his time on sending a driver out to deliver a 99 cent coke out to some random lazy person.

      I’m making some assumptions about his business here, but you don’t have to make that many to arrive to a scenario where his doing this is perfectly rational.

    • Cadie says:

      This particular guy’s motivation could have been anything, but the most common is to build loyalty and make you think well of them. If you had a good experience with them, you’re more likely to remember it and go back to them instead of trying your luck elsewhere.

      Garlic dip is probably very cheap. Items like that tend to be high-margin; it costs the company much less than it costs the customer, so when you get a “free” one it saves you a lot more than they lose. I do that with fountain drinks as “oops, sorry about [minor mistake they were complaining about], here’s a free drink on us” sometimes; the customer thinks they’re getting a $2 freebie but it only costs us about thirty cents.

    • DavidS says:

      Agreed with others that customer loyalty or not-being-the-owner are likely. Becoming someone’s go-to pizza place is a big earner. In fact, takeout places with an eye on profits should (maybe do?) track new customers so they can lavish them with particular loveliness the first few times and then slowly dial it back once they become the regular…

      Also worth mentioning that (while you can argue this is also selfish in evolutionary terms etc. etc.) people are also often just nice and the owner may not want to ‘rip you off’ even aside from issues of customer loyalty. And as others have said, tricking people into accidentally paying delivery charge is probably not part of their business model.

      It would be much more surprising if the thing he was alerting you to was a key part of how they make money. E.g. when you signed up for unlimited access to a gym they told you that most people who did so only went a few times a month and so could use their cheaper membership

  23. One example of a libertarian criticizing Trump.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      This notion that libertarians are not criticizing Trump is completely at odds with my reading, but I think that’s just because I’m more catholic about who I read. People who (quite rationally) lack a deep understanding of intra-libertarian divisions identify the paleo wing with the entire movement, probably because Ron Paul.

      While Paul himself has kept Trump at arm’s length, the alt-media axis that catered to his supporters (Infowars, etc.) has become the tip of his spear. It’s been dissonant and depressing to see the no-holds barred radicalism that previously attacked the state anywhere and everywhere invert its polarity so suddenly.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        Opposition to government comes more frequently from people not liking specific things a government does, rather than from disliking the idea of Government itself. A lot of people dislike what our government has been doing for the last two or three decades. If the Libertarians had been able to make use of it to achieve power, they might have kept support for their policies. But they didn’t, and someone else did, and so now that support has moved on.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        This notion that libertarians are not criticizing Trump is completely at odds with my reading,

        I think it’s specifically about this comment section, I mean, you just need to look at the front page of Reason (which are fairly typical libertarians, not one of those “No guys, this whole SJ and Welfare stuff is totally libertarian, I swear” guys from BHL and NC) to see at the very least 4 articles criticizing him.

        I’d say most libertarians dislike Trump very much, it’s just that a lot of them dislike the other guys just as much.

      • Tekhno says:

        How many libertarians do we have here anyway?

        • Wrong Species says:

          Right. I doubt we have too many people here who are truly anarchocapitalists or even minarchists. I see a lot of people who have a general antigovernment attitude but don’t believe that the markets are always better.

        • Scott should be able to answer that question once he has tabulated his poll results–at least as a lower bound.

        • Tekhno says:

          @Wrong Species

          What about people who are strongly strongly pro-market but positive about government?

          • Wrong Species says:

            You could be talking about two people. “Liberaltarians” who are libertarians except when it comes to welfare and lean left when it comes the culture war. They aren’t common here.

            You could also be talking about “neoliberals”, who are generally progressive but are more friendly to markets. Those people don’t generally call themselves libertarian.

          • @Tekhno:

            I’m not sure if you are distinguishing minarchists from anarchists or both groups from pro-market conservatives who have no objection to using government to do lots of things but want it within a generally free-market context.

      • Matt M says:

        “While Paul himself has kept Trump at arm’s length”

        An understatement to say the least. He has repeatedly put out videos and articles denouncing Trump, and regularly did so on numerous TV interview appearances during the election.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          You reminded me that the capital-L Libertarian VP candidate did an interview near Election Day saying “whatever you do, don’t vote for Trump.”

          • But Weld wasn’t a libertarian in any other very strong sense, so far as I could tell.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            Johnson/Weld were nice guys but their grasp of strategy left much to be desired. If they really thought that Trump was the greater threat they should’ve run a much more conservative campaign.

        • Matt M says:

          In case people don’t believe me, this just popped up on my FB feed…

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            A pity he found it necessary to toss in the gratuitous monetary-crank stuff, but, yeah.

    • Jordan D. says:

      The Volokh Conspiracy libertarians who have commented on the matter have been thoroughly anti-Trump from the beginning, and Ilya probably most aggressively so. Honestly, if I were going to point to any reasonably-prominent libertarian who holds principles above partisanship, I would pick Somin in a heartbeat. On the other hand, one could argue that he was also the most ‘divorced’ from the traditional right-leaning support for libertarian principles due to his particular focus on the benefits of open borders, so he has very little incentive to try to toe the line he long ago ran across.

      Still, kudos to the lot of them for announcing their opposition to Trump back before he became nominee and mostly standing firm even after he assumed office.

      (Actually it’s to the point where each of the authors has been panned at least a few hundred times by commentators linked to the blog for being content-free Trump-hating liberals who worship Obama. Seeing Adler and Bernstein accused of Obama-love was maybe the most hilarious result of the election.)

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Hence my confusion (well, not really confusion) about why so many libertarians here aren’t interested in criticizing Trump.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Don Boudreaux, an econ professor at George Mason and a prolific blogger at CafeHayek, is a strong economic libertarian who’s gone on the record saying he preferred Clinton over Trump. I remember him thinking Trump was *much* too unpredictable, and what economic policies Trump did seem drawn to tended to be protectionist (anti-illegal immigration, “made in the USA”). Granted, he didn’t like Clinton very much either.

      Libertarians probably mostly feel the same way – both were protectionist, but Clinton probably somewhat less so, while Trump was very loose and probably more crony capitalist than Clinton might be. Also, Trump comes off as a military hawk, and libertarians tend to be military isolationists.

      • Tekhno says:

        Also, Trump comes off as a military hawk, and libertarians tend to be military isolationists.

        He comes across as oscillating between hardcore Paleocon isolationism and hardline Neocon interventionist positions. It’s as if he’s play acting and can’t figure out which type of conservative he’s supposed to be.

        He endorsed ending nation-building, he thought Iraq, Libya, and now Syria were mistakes and that the strongmen were better than their Islamist replacements, and that maybe we should be friends with Russia…

        …but then he suddenly veered away from the anti-neocon line and drummed up aggression against Iran, and repeated the same America First but Israel Firster rhetoric we’ve heard forever, so who knows, really? Now we get to find out.

        Hillary was definitely a hawk, hard line on Iran, Syria, and Russia, and practically a neocon, but she was consistent, whereas Trump flip flops between defying the neoconservatives in his party and doing them proud. The mercurial nature of Trump means that he could say things appealing to libertarians one minute and things absolutely repellent to them the next, which goes with Mason’s point.

        Of course, if you believe the status quo itself is unstable then that factors in massively too.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          No nation building, isolationist, but also “take the oil.”

          Which has never seemed anything other than incoherent. I’m sure someone very clever could figure out a way to square that circle, but I don’t believe Trump is attempting something clever or outlining something that could be deemed either tactical or strategic.

          It has never seemed like anything other than shiny object syndrome, the proverbial “can’t hold onto the orange and remove my hand from the jar, so I will walk around with my hand in a jar”.

  24. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So I’m in the middle of the fourth fat volume of Churchill’s Second World War.

    A few thoughts that have stuck in my mind:

    Churchill was a philosemite, yet he doesn’t mention homicidal antisemitism as having anything to do with it being a Just War. The one time I recall him framing Nazism as worse than Communism is a reference to starving Soviet POWs after observing the Geneva Conventions in the West.
    So what was the war about? A treaty obligation to declare war on any state that invaded Poland, and to uphold a national tradition stretching back to Elizabeth I of fighting to prevent one continental Power from uniting the Continent. So that’s 1 out of 2, achieved by bankrupting the British Empire and making the USA its successor.

    The Fascists were anti-Nazi through 1938. Mussolini originally wanted to activate the Anglo-Franco-Italian Locarno Treaty to invade Germany when Nazi agents assassinated Austria’s Fascist Chancellor. Mussolini becoming Hitler’s puppet was contingent, not ideologically necessary.

    Except for Rommel in the desert, none of the famous military personalities are so much as mentioned until the Japanese and American admirals appear for Pearl Harbor, shortly followed by MacArthur holed up in the southern Philippines. Instead we hear a lot about Archibald Wavell and a bunch of German generals whose names I can’t remember. The Soviets might as well not have generals (gee, I wonder why).

    Churchill never claims to be writing a complete history, and explains his biases when it comes to Europe. E.g. he begins a chapter about the Eastern Front by saying he only had the documents to sketch it and it deserves a multi-volume history of its own. Once you get outside Europe, he just takes it for granted that Britain had a right to occupy Iraq and Iran without so much as a declaration of war if they threatened to go over to the Axis, and that he knew what was best for Indians (needless to say, the Bengal famine of 1943 goes unmentioned).

    How could FDR and the American people be so irrationally racist as to inter Japanese on the West coast? I would guess it had something to do with the invasion of Malaya, where Japanese nationals had been conveying information to the Japanese military and buying up caches of bicycles to increase the mobility of invading infantrymen (!). There was a loved one in the next room when I read this passage, eliciting the response “Are you sure this isn’t an anime about WW2?”

    It’s less of a “guy history” (i.e. military minutiae) than I expected, except when the Former Naval Person (FDR’s term of endearment for Churchill) acts like the course of the war turned on the fate of individual battleships and aircraft carriers.

    • Tekhno says:

      @Le Maistre Chat

      Churchill was a philosemite, yet he doesn’t mention homicidal antisemitism as having anything to do with it being a Just War.

      How could FDR and the American people be so irrationally racist as to inter Japanese on the West coast?

      There’s a kind of backwards facing history that re-contextualizes WWII as being about fighting against racism. Really, it was just a really big squabble over territory, and it wasn’t until the very end of the war when the true scale of the Holocaust became apparent.

      Racist views were common at the time, and America was still segregated. The biggest reason most people had to hate the Nazis and the Japanese forces at the time was their imperialism. People hated Hitler because he was leading a totalitarian government to conquer Europe.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        @Tekhno: There’s a kind of backwards facing history that re-contextualizes WWII as being about fighting against racism.

        No kidding. The thing is, Churchill started publishing these volumes in 1948, well after the Nuremberg trials, and he makes no gestures toward the backwards-facing history. Germany was a geopolitical threat that even Neville Chamberlain was ready to fight to the death rather than let it have Poland, let alone France, the Low Countries and Norway, and that’s that. Hitler was worse than Stalin because the latter had adopted a policy of Socialist Atrocities in One Country, while the former was on the record as planning to conquer Eastern Europe.

        • US says:

          “the latter had adopted a policy of Socialist Atrocities in One Country”

          Which country was that? The Soviet Union, established in 1922, was not one country, and depending on which source you rely on the Holomodor alone killed as many (Ukrainians, not Russians) as died in the German camps during the entire war, years before the Second World War started. Stalin was a brutal dictator ruling over not only his own countrymen (whoever those might be – Georgians or Russians…) but also over the inhabitants of previously independent nations, and he had been killing the inhabitants of those other nations by the thousands if not millions for years by the time the war started. Even taking a ‘USSR as one country’-approach as a given, modelling that state as relatively insular at the beginning of the war seems strange in light of the wars on both Poland and Finland in 1939 in which she was involved. Two wars undertaken with the aim of territorial expansion within 3 months is a bit much, some people might almost be tempted to brand behaviour like that ‘imperialist’.

          Arguably this is a small quibble to someone living in ‘the West’, but I’m not sure it would be to someone from Poland or the Ukraine. To some extent Lenin and Stalin had already accomplished much of what Hitler was setting out to do (…’make a large empire, obtain full control over said empire, be very powerful…’), though as Stalin’s actions during and after the war illustrate his expansionist ambitions and desires were far from saturated.

          As for ‘being on record as planning to conquer Eastern Europe’, if you’ve read Churchill you’ll know that Hitler lied a lot to the other leaders of state during his initial expansionist phase, so this depends on when you’re looking at ‘the record’. A reminder quote from that part of the book:

          “On the day of the march of the German armies into Austria we heard that Goering had given a solemn assurance to the Czech Minister in Berlin that Germany had “no evil intentions towards Czechoslovakia” […] On the evening of the 26th [of September, 1938] Hitler spoke in Berlin. […] He said categorically that the Czechs must clear out of the Sudetenland, but once this was settled he had no more interest in what happened to Czechoslovakia. “This is the last territorial claim I have to make in Europe.””

          Hitler’s ‘record’ was, I think especially later on in the process, not just troubling because of the things he had said he would do and wanted to do, but also because of the fact that you relatively early on would have learned if you had compared his words to his actions that you couldn’t trust a word he said.

          “Once you get outside Europe, he just takes it for granted that Britain had a right to occupy Iraq and Iran without so much as a declaration of war if they threatened to go over to the Axis, and that he knew what was best for Indians”

          – I incidentally think aspects like these are sometimes part of what’s highly enjoyable about reading books like Churchill’s (I read the book last year); all those things they take as a given, all those things you can read between the lines if you know where to look..

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @US: Socialism in One Country (“country” being the Russian Empire minus the Baltic republics) was Stalin’s name for the theory that consolidation would lead to the success of Communism, contra Trotsky’s theory that only revolution in all the industrialized countries could prevent failure. Your points about Ukrainians and so on only shows a certain mendacity on a Communist ruler/ideologue’s part.

            modelling that state as relatively insular at the beginning of the war seems strange in light of the wars on both Poland and Finland in 1939 in which she was involved

            Churchill started beating the drum that Hitler was a bigger threat than Stalin and I’m so much smarter than you because I’ve read Mein Kampf and you’re slothfully assuming his goals are limited to restitching the German nation-state in… I dunno, definitely before 1939.

            Hitler’s ‘record’ was, I think especially later on in the process, not just troubling because of the things he had said he would do and wanted to do, but also because of the fact that you relatively early on would have learned if you had compared his words to his actions that you couldn’t trust a word he said.

            I think the argument goes that Hitler was a lying liar to other governments but always ended up doing what he’d stated in Mein Kampf.

            I incidentally think aspects like these are sometimes part of what’s highly enjoyable about reading books like Churchill’s (I read the book last year); all those things they take as a given, all those things you can read between the lines if you know where to look..

            Definitely.

          • US says:

            “Socialism in One Country (“country” being the Russian Empire minus the Baltic republics) was Stalin’s name for the theory”

            I’m familiar with the ‘socialism in one country’-notion/idea and its development, but I see no reason to implicitly cede the argument to what I feel tempted to bluntly term ‘pro-genocide communists’ by taking the notion seriously. I should probably have mentioned that explicitly. In my view for example the fact that Stalin took over a big part of Poland and told everybody who were willing to listen that the nation of Poland no longer existed did not make it so, and neither did the fact that he killed a lot of people who thought otherwise. Stalin’s implicit claim that countries he and his(/and Lenin’s) supporters had conquered no longer existed should in my view not be given any weight; countries which are occupied by a foreign military power do not stop being occupied because it’s been 5 or 10 years. Ethnic cleansing of the communist variety killed a lot of people in the 20th century and this gets easier to miss if you buy into the whole ‘we’re one big happy family'(/country)-model that their leaders and apologists repeatedly pushed in various ways.

            “Churchill started beating the drum that Hitler was a bigger threat than Stalin and I’m so much smarter than you because I’ve read Mein Kampf and you’re slothfully assuming his goals are limited to restitching the German nation-state in… I dunno, definitely before 1939.” Oh, agreed, definitely. My guess would be that he was pushing this in 1936, by the time of the German remilitarization of the Rhineland.

            “I think the argument goes that Hitler was a lying liar to other governments but always ended up doing what he’d stated in Mein Kampf.” Heh, that may actually be true – and it’s probably a good way to put it. At least people like Churchill probably thought so. I was not thinking that Churchill was deceived about what Hitler was planning to do, but many people obviously were during those early years. People who saw through his lies had a point when they argued afterwards that ‘people should have seen it coming’ (‘…the way we did…’), but on the other hand one should also remember in that context that Hitler did in fact give people many opportunities to misinterpret his words and actions along the way, if one were at all inclined to do so. I’m far from certain what I’d believed myself, had I lived back then.

    • Kevin C. says:

      “How could FDR and the American people be so irrationally racist as to inter Japanese on the West coast?”

      The Ni’ihau incident might also be relevant to answering that.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Interesting, I hadn’t heard of that. Th Ni’ighau incident was concurrent with the first days of Japan’s Malayan campaign, when the Fifth Bicycle Column revealed itself.

    • Civilis says:

      buying up caches of bicycles to increase the mobility of invading infantrymen (!)

      It was, at least for a while, comically silly to see British troops at D-Day wading ashore with bicycles.

      Reading on the war, especially for a person that started with the modern American layperson’s knowledge, it’s easy to miss the big picture for the historical anecdotes and take for granted things unique to the American experience. As an American reading the American histories, it’s not apparently obvious how much of everyone else’s transport was by horse, by a truck captured from the other side (hastily repainted with a flag draped over it so you don’t get shot), or on someone’s back.

      • TenMinute says:

        A friend of mine once worked with a man who went to the eastern front in a horse-drawn artillery unit. He started out very jealous of the rare motorized units, but by 1944 they were all were walking home, and at least he had something to eat.

        It gets downplayed in American histories because A) nobody cares about logistics, and B) strafing roads full of horsies and fleeing troops from your top-of-the-line fighter plane doesn’t seem very heroic.

    • the Former Naval Person (FDR’s term of endearment for Churchill)

      I had thought it was a code name.

      My father (1925-1995) was a professor of history at Michigan State. When a close friend of his, a WW2 US Navy veteran, became department chair, my father would refer to him as Former Naval Person.

    • cassander says:

      >So what was the war about?

      As far as I can tell, churchill wasn’t fond germans in general and had a special distaste for hitler in particular.

      >How could FDR and the American people be so irrationally racist as to inter Japanese on the West coast?

      the real question is why they were so racist as to intern japanese in california but not the far more vulnerable hawaii.

      >buying up caches of bicycles to increase the mobility of invading infantrymen (!). There was a loved one in the next room when I read this passage, eliciting the response “Are you sure this isn’t an anime about WW2?”

      The degree of japanese industrial inferiority to the US is really hard to overstate. I like to put it like this. If at pearl harbor the japanese had sunk every single ship in the US fleet, including all the ships on the east coast, and then completed their entire planned shipbuilding program, the japanese fleet would have been outnumbered by qualitatively superior ships before the end of 1943, and outnumbered by almost 2:1 by the middle of 1944. Or to put it another way, of warships bigger than destroyers, the US built about 200, the japanese 30. The US built more aircraft carriers than the japanese built warships.

      All that was with something like 30% of american effort being devoted to the pacific theater, not all of which went to ships.

      • DavidS says:

        Do you actually think that Britain entered WWII because of Churchill’s personal dislike of Hitler/Germany?

        (Genuine question: I know little on it, and from the little I know it seems Churchill personally was very important to us going in, but would have assumed it was more a ‘our place in the world’ belief and willingness to gamble/stubbornness. And that he would have done the same if e.g. France somehow tried to conquer Europe.

        • rlms says:

          Given that Churchill wasn’t Prime Minister until May 1940 it seems unlikely that any of his personal attitudes were major factors in Britain’s declaration of war.

          • DavidS says:

            Sorry, you’re right: we seem to have declared war because in a massive diplomatic / game theory fail we managed to be fully committed to doing so if they invaded Poland while convincing Ribbentrop (and through him Hitler) that we weren’t really up for it.

            I meant more the staying in. I got the impression that most people would have gone for a negotiated settlement pretty soon after France fell so quickly and that Churchill was unusually gambley/stubborn

        • cassander says:

          in 1939, Hitler was an uncouth anti-semitic thug who was more or less democratically elected. He was responsible for, at most, the deaths of a couple hundred people. Stalin had killed tens of millions, a worldwide network of spies and secret agents that had penetrated every major government except the fascists, that was officially dedicated to eventual world revolution.

          Churchill’s balls to the wall position in 1940 is hard to defend with any sort of rational calculus. Hitler is obviously completely untrustworthy in 1940, but so what? the rational thing to do was re-run the Napoleonic strategy, make peace, get rich, and try to build up a new coalition, especially when any extended fight between the UK and Germany helps no one more than stalin.

          Unfortunately, or maybe not, Stalin had great PR, and Hitler did not, so by 1940, Hitler is universally reviled as a warmonger while Uncle Joe’s mountain of corpses is swept under the rug. Churchill was far from the only one to overstate the evil of pre-war germany relative to the USSR, but he’d been doing it for far longer than most.

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, for Churchill, the Second World War was more or less Round Two of England vs Germany; in the First World War he had been First Lord of the Admiralty (until he resigned after his demotion over the mess of Gallipoli) and had served in the British Army on the Western Front for a while after that.

            He was enough of an Edwardian that I think his instincts were always that the British and German empires were in contention for global influence and that Germany would always be the main enemy to him, the ambitious power to be crushed in its designs in Europe. Russia? That barbarous land? Who took the power of Russia seriously, especially when it was merrily slaughtering its own people in the Revolution and the continuing aftermath?

            And also he was personally ambitious all his life from a young man, both wanting and needing to establish a career and never going to be satisfied playing second fiddle to anyone. Making peace and drawing up a new coalition may have been the prudent thing to do, but I imagine he calculated that a war where England thrashed the Huns while he was leader would generate enough patriotic enthusiasm and burnish his star enough that he would never be second place again.

            And really, didn’t it work out that way for him? Even given the post-war election where Labour won in a landslide, his reputation as this great leader and statesman has held up all these years.

          • cassander says:

            >Well, for Churchill, the Second World War was more or less Round Two of England vs Germany

            yep, pretty much.

            >And really, didn’t it work out that way for him? Even given the post-war election where Labour won in a landslide, his reputation as this great leader and statesman has held up all these years.

            Also yep. Didn’t work out great for the poles though, or the chinese, or anyone else that fell to communism.

          • Rock Lobster says:

            Disclaimer: I am probably too aggressive in interpreting wars and international relations through a Tragedy of Great Power Politics/Hobbesian trap/What-joins-men-together-is-not-the-sharing-of-bread-but-the -sharing-of-enemies lens.

            Having said that, I don’t think I agree. Here’s the choose-your-own-adventure book from the British perspective.

            Choice A- Make peace with Germany: Having catastrophically knocked out France, Germany offers you generous terms in which you keep your empire, and you accept. Germany just wants a free hand in the east. Germany invades the Soviet Union and successfully knocks them out, forcing them east of the Urals. Now Germany has the resource base to build all the airplanes, ships, and U-boats they would need to invade you, though admittedly this would take a few years. Germany has no ideological problem with you but they also see you as a huge threat because you’re the last place in Europe in which the Americans can deploy their enormous industrial capacity or use as a beachhead on the Continent. So before too long you get invaded or otherwise get corralled into a pro-German bloc in which some chunk of your economy goes to making weapons and other stuff for Germany, and it’s too late for the Americans to rescue you because they have no way into Europe now. Oops!

            Choice B- hold out: the Germans have no way to invade you at present because of your naval and air superiority. They can’t build enough U-boats to starve you out, so realistically you might as well just hang out, let the Americans and your empire send you stuff, and wait for America to come around eventually, which Roosevelt wanted to do as soon as he was able. Or maybe Germany and the Soviet Union will get themselves into a war one of these days. In the meantime you’re forcing Germany to keep precious military resources tied up in the west, you can send stuff to Russia through Murmansk if needed, you can foster and encourage resistance in the occupied countries, and you can conduct the occasional commando raid (edit: AND you can use your navy to keep Germany from importing raw materials, which is huge). Worst case scenario is that Germany invades and beats Russia and you end up getting invaded anyway, in which case you’re no worse off than in option A, OR Stalin wins in the east and happily “liberates” Europe all the way up to the Atlantic, in which case you’re still arguably no worse off than in option A. You’ve just swapped out one totalitarian European hegemon for another.

            I think Churchill understood this. I’m not denying that he was of a stubborn temperament or perhaps that he had an irrational dislike of the Germans, but the only reason to make peace after the fall of France was panic. Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but the relatively small number of deaths required to continue prosecuting the war for another few years is little compared to having the country invaded and turned into a fascist puppet state for the next thousand years.

          • cassander says:

            Disclaimer: I am probably too aggressive in interpreting wars and international relations through a Tragedy of Great Power Politics/Hobbesian trap/What-joins-men-together-is-not-the-sharing-of-bread-but-the -sharing-of-enemies lens.

            Having said that, I don’t think I agree. Here’s the choose-your-own-adventure book from the British perspective.

            > Germany just wants a free hand in the east. Germany invades the Soviet Union and successfully knocks them out, forcing them east of the Urals.

            So one, no one besides hitler thought hitler was going to invade the USSR in 1940. But if you think he might, you can always go to war with him then

            >Choice B- hold out:

            You can hold out just as well, and do all those things, without being at war with hitler in 1940.

          • Rock Lobster says:

            (I’m always afraid of getting into a WW2 argument on the internet because there’s always a bigger fish. With that in mind….)

            I’m sorry but I don’t think that’s correct. Your first point is at best debatable, but in my opinion would have required an unrealistic amount of naivete among the British to be true in practice. As for the rest, war is not something that’s easy to just flip on and off like a light switch. A peace deal would have sent a signal to the Americans to stand down on their rearmament (“don’t bother, we gave up”) and would have opened Germany up to receiving raw material imports from abroad, vastly improving its supply situation in the run-up to and initial stages of the Soviet invasion. The disaster in the south was largely about securing the oil fields in the Caucasus, for example.

            And no, you wouldn’t have been able to do most of the things I mentioned if you made peace. Commando raids? Supporting partisans? Naval blockade? Tying up military assets in the west (airplanes in particular)?

            Earlier you mentioned cobbling together a new coalition, Napoleonic War-style. A coalition with who? The Soviet Union was the only state in Europe of any significance that wasn’t German-aligned in 1940. Spain and Italy were happy to be German-aligned. They weren’t like Napoleon’s “allies” whose arms he had to twist into it. Yugoslavia and Greece fell in, what, weeks?

          • Salem says:

            The fun thing about this is you can check out the Cabinet minutes. Churchill’s book says no-one ever thought about making peace, but that’s flat-out untrue. In 1940 the Swiss embassy in Paris offered to act as go-between in exploratory talks, and Halifax in Cabinet said this was an opportunity worth pursuing. Churchill’s reasons against are very interesting:

            1. They will take our fleet under the pretext of disarmament.
            2. Having made peace once we won’t be able to declare war again (morale collapse).
            3. Even the suggestion that we are pursuing peace feelers will fatally undermine the war effort. In a democracy you need absolute commitment you can’t try and thread the needle.

            You may agree or disagree, but the comparison to the Napoleonic War is interesting. After all, we were at war with France more or less constantly from 1793 to 1814, save for a brief period in 1802-3. The similarities in strategy and situation is why the comparison between Churchill and Pitt is so often made.

          • Rock Lobster says:

            Salem,

            I had never seen that before with the Cabinet minutes. Very interesting.

            And yes I agree that the parallels to the Napoleonic War are apt and interesting. I was actually a little confused by OP’s comment because for the most part Britain did not make peace with France. They did in fact re-run the Napoleon strategy by holding out. They relied on their navy to keep them safe from invasion and gave support and money to France’s enemies on the Continent, but otherwise they mostly just waited around for powers on the Continent to solve their problem for them until there was a good opportunity to swoop in. The Continental System was also hugely destabilizing to France’s “alliances,” so the Brits were happy to pick at that wound.

            My only reason for bringing it up was to point out that making peace and then building up a new coalition was not an option the way it was during the Napoleonic Era. Every single country in Europe in 1940 was either German-occupied, happily German-aligned, or utterly insignificant, except for the Soviet Union.

          • cassander says:

            >Earlier you mentioned cobbling together a new coalition, Napoleonic War-style. A coalition with who? The Soviet Union was the only state in Europe of any significance that wasn’t German-aligned in 1940. Spain and Italy were happy to be German-aligned. They weren’t like Napoleon’s “allies” whose arms he had to twist into it. Yugoslavia and Greece fell in, what, weeks?

            This was the exact situation in europe in 1812. Napoleon got his allies by garrisoning troops in his coerced allies, just like hitler did around europe. And the only major country left was Russia

          • Rock Lobster says:

            The situations were not comparable in the way that you’re suggesting. Austria and Russia were fully independent states that agreed to unfavorable peace terms after losing battles. I believe Prussia and Sweden were as well. Napoleon also never really had a firm grip on Spain and lost something like half a million men fighting guerillas there (number from memory so possibly off).

            By contrast in WWII Spain and Italy were ruled by ideologically friendly fascist dictators who Britain was in no position to lure away. Countries that Germany occupied like France, Benelux, Denmark, and Norway were demilitarized and in absolutely no position to throw off their occupiers on their own and join up with a British coalition.

            And in any case you’re not addressing the fact that the British did not make peace with France, except once for a brief period. I think this discussion is becoming fruitless so I will withdraw from here. If you have another comment I’m happy to read it though.

          • cassander says:

            @rocklobster

            >The situations were not comparable in the way that you’re suggesting. Austria and Russia were fully independent states that agreed to unfavorable peace terms after losing battles. I believe Prussia and Sweden were as well.

            The same could be said of Vichy france and the most of the other countries of europe.

            >By contrast in WWII Spain and Italy were ruled by ideologically friendly fascist dictators who Britain was in no position to lure away.

            Italy was out-right anti germany until munich. And napoleon made several people kings of places like Sweden and italy. It’s hard to get more ideologically friendly than that, but they still betrayed him as soon as they got the chance.

            >Countries that Germany occupied like France, Benelux, Denmark, and Norway were demilitarized and in absolutely no position to throw off their occupiers on their own and join up with a British coalition.

            So were prussia and austria.

            >And in any case you’re not addressing the fact that the British did not make peace with France, except once for a brief period. I think this discussion is becoming fruitless so I will withdraw from here. If you have another comment I’m happy to read it though.

            This was my mistake, I had thought that the UK was a party to the treaty of Schönbrunn, but they weren’t. But the UK also had no pretense of defeating napoleon by themselves.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Unfortunately, or maybe not, Stalin had great PR, and Hitler did not, so by 1940, Hitler is universally reviled as a warmonger while Uncle Joe’s mountain of corpses is swept under the rug. Churchill was far from the only one to overstate the evil of pre-war germany relative to the USSR, but he’d been doing it for far longer than most.

            “Great PR” is an understatement. Stalin was practically the pope of international socialism. Not only did he get good PR from democratic socialists, but Communists turned their beliefs on a dime on his authority. For 22 month before Hitler became Satan, National Socialist Germany was an ally so British and French Communists considered their own countries evil imperialists for fighting him. And before that, Nazism was Fascism and so bad.

          • By contrast in WWII Spain and Italy were ruled by ideologically friendly fascist dictators who Britain was in no position to lure away.

            That may be hindsight wisdom. As Churchill points out, the first time Hitler proposed annexing Austria it was Mussolini who stopped him. It was only after the Abyssinian conflict that Mussolini concluded that the allies were not his friends.

            Orwell argued that the British conservatives were making a terrible mistake in favoring Franco because when war came he would ally with Hitler, threatening (among other things) Gibraltar and British access to the Mediterranean. It didn’t happen.

            Or in other words I don’t think that, at the time, it was obvious that Italy and/or Spain couldn’t at some point be persuaded to join an alliance against Germany.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Friedman: Prime Minister for Life Antonio Salazar of Portugal, often denounced as a fascist like Franco, declared at the beginning of WW2 that the 600-year-old Anglo-Portuguese Alliance would be upheld, but as the United Kingdom had not asked for military aid, they were not declaring war on Germany that day, a policy that lasted for the duration. Churchill mentions Portugal as an ally in the book.

      • Evan Þ says:

        the real question is why they were so racist as to intern japanese in california but not the far more vulnerable hawaii.

        They suggested it. Problem was, Japanese constituted (and still do!) something like a quarter of the population of Hawaii. The proposal got shot down for being manifestly impractical.

        • cassander says:

          I should have explained myself better. That they didn’t do it in Hawaii and did in California makes it even more clear that it was about cravenly giving into popular agitation than actual security risks.

  25. Matt M says:

    Random question that I ask here because it seems some of you work in the medical field.

    Does anyone have any advice for getting in touch with a medical “expert.” I don’t mean just a specialist, I mean a no-kidding, top-of-their-field, expert. My gut instinct is that a lot of people probably demand this and, as such, the industry probably has some sort of process wherein most people are treated as hypochondriacs and there is some mechanism to divert them away and satisfy them that the local available specialist is more than qualified to treat them.

    How do I bypass this and find/gain access to an expert? I have some money and I can pay for stuff if insurance is insufficient.

    • rahien.din says:

      Quick question : why?

      In most cases – by very definition! – the marginal benefit of a world-beater over a more local physician is low, and in every case that benefit will come at significant, inelastic time-and-effort costs. In rare cases, those costs are certainly worth it. You just need to figure out whether your case is rare or routine. The only way to know if one’s case is rare or routine is to ask a trusted doctor of the proper specialty. (You may already have done so.)

      You must also remember that this degree of medical expertise is frequently just refinement of a silo’ed interest, and that getting to an expert’s clinic means looking all the more like a nail to a physician who has become quite a hammer. One may not reach the modern-day Osler, or House MD. For instance, people who get to my clinic and who do not have neurologic disease have often wasted their time and money.

      I have seen this from all angles. One patient had a fairly routine neurosurgical lesion and requested that I refer them to the very best neurosurgeon in the country. I am constantly seeing patients for syncope, simple febrile seizures, etc., and other things for which I can offer no real benefit beyond good general pediatrics. I am also seeing patients as third opinions from our regional academic powerhouse who have been given inappropriate treatment for routine disease because their disease did not fall in the realm of that doctor’s hyper-expertise.

      Analogy to Batman. Lighting the bat signal is necessary and warranted if the Joker is poisoning Gotham’s water supply. Lighting the bat signal is not simply excessive in the case of daytime jaywalking, routine parking violations, or contract disputes, but in fact may be harmful because he isn’t in the correct position to address those crimes with his extrajudicial violence. So what one may need is not necessarily Batman, but Commissioner Gordon, IE, intelligent triage.

      If you have determined that you have the need of such expertise, the most helpful way to do so is to request your doctor make a referral. That will provide a conduit for the flow of medical information, which will be invaluable to the consultant and will streamline your future care. If a random person looked me up and asked to be seen in my clinic, I would immediately require a referral.

      My gut instinct is that a lot of people probably demand this and, as such, the industry probably has some sort of process wherein most people are treated as hypochondriacs and there is some mechanism to divert them away and satisfy them that the local available specialist is more than qualified to treat them.

      In truth this situation you describe happens infrequently. I do tend to reassure people that they will be well-served by a local doc when they ask to be referred, and I do not feel that the mere question of or desire for such a referral would constitute hypochondria.

      Insofar as you would trust me, let me assure you : beyond the payment restrictions imposed by your insurance company, there is no industry process or mechanism. There are only individual practices and attitudes.

      • Matt M says:

        The long and short of it is, I have a condition which I believe to be rare and which I believe to be frequently misdiagnosed. One complication is that I’ve moved frequently in my life and have never really been able to see the same specialist (dermatologist in this case) for more than a year or so. I believe in every case I have been diagnosed incorrectly, often as I am consistently stating to them that their diagnosis does not seem to match my symptoms while they calmly pat me on the head and tell me “don’t worry, I see this all the time” and then proscribe some dumb treatment regiment that costs me time and money and does zero good whatsoever.

        I’m just not sure what to do at this point. Based on multiple experiences, I’m not at all convinced that the average dermatologist at the local clinic can help me. They seem dead set on selling me stuff I don’t need for conditions I don’t have. As silly as it sounds, I guess I am looking for the dermatological version of Dr. House. Someone who sees an interesting problem and starts hypothesizing a bunch of crazy and creative stuff, rather than someone who does their best to fit a confusing case into their narrowly defined set of “the five things my patients tend to have” and works from there.

        • rahien.din says:

          That really sucks. I’n sorry to hear that you have had such difficulty, sounds beyond frustrating.

          You can work yourself up the heirarchy by going to an academic center, as academicians have more latitude and more incentive to solve these puzzles. If that fails, get to the leading center in the region. That might be your best bet to find the doc into whose silo you best fit. It’s like focusing a microscope, scan and refine until you hit the right level. You’ll need the support of your PCP but keep referring up.

          I might try to have as open a conversation as possible with your new dermatologist, IE, you are willing to give new treatments a shot but you don’t want to reinvent the wheel, and you want to know what their plans B and C are if plan A doesn’t work. The right doc would be able to articulate those things to you. There is a balance to strike between “I am genuinely seeking your opinion” and “When should we refer me up the chain?” I have had patients successfully initiate that conversation with me.

          Here is one other resource : https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/guides/pages/24/tips-for-the-undiagnosed

          If you truly have a disease without a name, there you will find the Undiagnosed Disease Network hotline and also a link to the SWAN support group.

          Again, I am sorry to hear you have had such difficulty both with your illness and with the treatment thereof.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think the most reliable way is for Mohammed to go to the mountain. Find the place where said Top People practice, and make an appointment directly with their practice. This may be difficult if you don’t live near such a place. It worked for me for getting an orthopedic condition properly diagnosed. Might be harder for dermotology though.

      • Matt M says:

        Do you have any advice on even identifying the top people? I have a general dislike/distrust of doctors so I know very little about this stuff in the first place.

      • The Nybbler says:

        That’s why it’s harder for dermatology. For orthopedics there are a few well-known places (Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC, a few places associated with big hospitals in Philadelphia); they had doctors who were current or former orthopedists for sports teams or who had invented/co-invented some of the procedures or devices involved. I don’t know if there’s anything similar for dermatology; I have only common conditions treatable by common doctors.

      • psmith says:

        Seems like a natural thing to do for elective surgery–I’m thinking LASIK/PRK specifically. I wonder what you’d look for? Yelp reviews?

        • If you are lucky, your doctor, probably not a specialist in that field, knows.

          When I was diagnosed with a meningioma, one of my doctors told me that the man who diagnosed it at the hospital I went to after passing out in my home office taught the relevant surgery at Stanford Medical Center. I had to wait a month to get him to do it instead of some random surgeon, but being advised that doing so with suitable medication was safe, I did.

  26. moridinamael says:

    I suspect that Scott knows this already, but all the links in the old Less Wrong surveys point to files hosted on raikoth.net. So those old survey result posts are full of broken links and blank images.

    While I’m on the topic, I was looking at the IQ vs SAT score correlations that appear in those posts:

    SSC 2014: SAT 1480, IQ 139
    LW 2014: SAT 1470, IQ 138
    LW 2013: SAT 1474, IQ 138

    All the other surveys had quirks that made them not comparable. The problem with the above numbers is that many more people take the SAT than IQ tests, and probably only take IQ tests if they have some reason to, like being particularly intelligent in the first place, so obviously it doesn’t make sense to directly compare those numbers.

    That said, the IQ-SAT comparison site suggests that an SAT of ~1470 corresponds to an IQ close to 143, so this is actually fairly consistent with the historical LW/SSC survey results. I just wanted to throw out there that in this year’s SSC survey it would be cool to see the SAT-IQ correlation in the SSC population explicitly, instead of having to compare these apples-and-oranges numbers, or to look for .csv files which are no longer discoverable =).

    And, despite the fact that this has all been covered many times in previous comment sections, I would also like to comment that those numbers are absolutely ludicrous. Those numbers put the median SSC reader in the “genius” range according to several metrics. The degree to which this community and the “rationalist community at large” (whatever that is) should be considered a weird bubble of superbrains is statistically shocking. The whole bellcurve of the SSC/LW community is centered three standard deviations out from the mean. This should demand some kind of explanation, right? This is really weird, right?

    • Jaskologist says:

      Is it that shocking? We’re here because we enjoy discussing intellectual things. That’s going to lean heavily to the right side of the bell curve right off the bat. And since the population being drawn from is The Entire Internet, there’s still plenty of people to pull in who are 3 std devs out.

      • moridinamael says:

        I still think it’s that shocking. The fact that the mean IQ here is in the 140s doesn’t simply mean that the median reader is a “genius”, it also means that 99% of the IQ distribution isn’t here. To phrase it differently, if you were to walk out on the street and hand SSC posts to 1000 people, maybe ten of them would be interested, and the other 990 would be repelled by some force that I frankly don’t comprehend. It can’t just be “intellectual interest” because I don’t think you have to have a 140 IQ to find intellectual topics interesting — you just (probably) need a high IQ to make important progress in intellectual fields.

        So what is this mysterious force field that is “repelling” 99% of the population?

        Incidentally, I know a woman with a measured IQ of 150 who “can’t follow” SSC posts. I don’t even know what to make of that, since I consider Scott’s writing to be exceptionally clear, and I’m no superbrain.

        • Anonymous says:

          So what is this mysterious force field that is “repelling” 99% of the population?

          Banhammers. 😉

          Seriously, though, it’s probably a simple question of the subject matter here being thoroughly uninteresting for average folks. And entirely unintelligible for the stupid.

          Have you ever been to a message board frequented by the fat middle of the bell curve? I have. And it’s barf-inducingly boring, in addition to being poorly formatted and spelled. From their perspective, we must seem similarly boring and impenetrable.

        • Tekhno says:

          @moridinamael

          I know a woman with a measured IQ of 150 who “can’t follow” SSC posts.

          She might mean parts where maths or statistics are used. There are some high IQ people who suck at maths (though it correlates heavily), so it might be that.

          Most of Scott’s posts are in perfectly clear English though, so yeah, I’m not sure what it even means to not be able to understand it. Sometimes “can’t follow” is code for “boring”, as we can’t expect Scott to be to everyone’s tastes.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I suppose it’s worth asking if there’s a sex difference in how heavily it correlates. My verbal IQ is 150, overall 139 due to lower visual-spatial, and I struggled to get Cs in math while acing other subjects*. This has relevance for how many utils we’re actually losing from the skewed demographics in STEM.

            *This is an anecdote about women, since there seems to be a common belief in the previous thread that I’m a man.

          • Tekhno says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            I suppose it’s worth asking if there’s a sex difference in how heavily it correlates.

            I’m pretty sure there are ethnic differences too. I remember reading that Ashkenazim have high verbal IQs and lower processing IQs, which made me wonder whether I might have some Jewish ancestry, or it could be that little kid me didn’t give a crap about the test.

            visual-spatial

            I’m good at mental 3D shape rotation tasks, which you’d expect being male, but I don’t know how that fits into “processing IQ”.

        • drethelin says:

          Is the first post she tried to read “Universal Love, Said the Cactus Person”?

        • Deiseach says:

          it also means that 99% of the IQ distribution isn’t here

          Hey, I’m doing all I can to hold up the end for the 100-110 IQ shallow end of the pool! 🙂

          I think it may not be IQ as such, as that somehow we all of us share a slew of common interests or at least can find something to appreciate in what another finds of absorbing interest (and where posts appeal to one sub-section of the readership more than another, that gets balanced out by the general interest links and open threads posts) and we simply found one another by the red strings of fate/soul mates/oh you’re a weirdo too?

          To borrow from C.S. Lewis on Friendship:

          Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”

          • AnonEEmous says:

            i think it’s more like

            people here are able to divorce the idea from its speaker

            you know?

            i don’t know that this is a function of IQ. Maybe it’s more of a function of an aspiration towards intelligence, or something like that. But it’s here. That’s big for me, because it allows me to just say things and be understood.

          • Hey, I’m doing all I can to hold up the end for the 100-110 IQ shallow end of the pool!

            You are mistaken. Not by a small amount.

          • The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”

            I cannot resist the temptation to describe what may have been the oddest evening of my life.

            I was a Harvard undergraduate; the year was about 1963. A home schooled student and his father were visiting Harvard to decide if the student should apply and had dinner with a professor who was a friend of my parents and invited me to join them.

            It was long enough ago so that I can’t guarantee the order of topics, but it went something like this:

            Me: “Have you by any chance read some very strange books by a man named Tolkien” (Remember, this was about 1963)

            Half an hour of mutual enthusiasm.

            Me: “I don’t suppose you are familiar with Kipling’s poetry.”

            Another half hour.

            Me: “Have you ever played Avalon Hill Board Games?”

            Another half hour.

            I don’t remember whether GKC came up in that conversation, but I owe my enthusiasm for “Lepanto” to the father of the pair, from whom I first heard it.

            My parents were spending that year abroad, so I spent my spring vacation visiting with the family in question. Very interesting people.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Deiseach:

            I can’t believe your IQ is that range across the board. As DavidFriedman says, you come off – in writing – as someone who is clearly very smart. You don’t write like someone with average or slightly above average written comprehension skills.

            I imagine you have something going on similar to me. I’ve never been properly IQ-tested, but I know my father tested in the 3SD above normal range. I can keep up with him intellectually in what I categorize as “humanities” type stuff: reading comprehension, verbal ability, certain forms of reasoning, certain forms of abstract thought. However, he is good at everything: he’s good at mathematics, he’s got an uncanny sense of direction, he’s got excellent visual-spatial perception, and so on. I range from “OK” to “wretched” at these latter things – I’ve got terrible visual-spatial perception, and no sense of direction, and I bumbled my way through math until I no longer had to take it. The way I think of it is, intellectually speaking, I’m min-maxed. If you want an essay written, I’m your guy; if you want directions, don’t ask me unless you enjoy getting lost.

          • moridinamael says:

            @dndnrsn

            Of course, IQ is really approximating G, and G is known to be composed of a number of distinct sub-abilities. These sub-abilities are correlated, but I think people tend to forget that “correlated” means “correlated” and not “equal”. It’s totally possible to have a bad or average short-term memory and fantastic processing speed, or vice versa, it’s just that if you have high ability in one intelligence you will tend to have high ability in the others.

            That’s before we even get into legitimate deficiencies in executive functioning or attentional control which may or may not be neurologically “distinct” from the G subcomponents.

            I feel like I’m saying something extremely obvious, but I’ve been shouted down in other places for even hinting that I thought IQ wasn’t a the best measure of intelligence because it leaves out issues like these.

          • It’s totally possible to have a bad or average short-term memory and fantastic processing speed, or vice versa

            It’s even possible to have an extraordinarily good memory for poetry and an extraordinarily bad memory for people’s names.

          • Iain says:

            @moridinamael: Cosma Shalizi on “g, a Statistical Myth”.

          • moridinamael says:

            @Iain

            Great, now I don’t know what the hell to think. That somehow makes the high IQ-SAT scores found in the survey even weirder.

          • Macrofauna says:

            @Iain, moridinamael: A response.

            My brief takeaway is that Shalizi writes “The correlations among the components in an intelligence test, and between tests themselves, are all positive, because that’s how we design tests.” and much of the response is “No we don’t, in fact people repeatedly designed them specifically to look for uncorrelated things and found correlated things anyway.”

          • dndnrsn says:

            @moridinamael:

            Oh, yeah. Definitely. My point is merely that I am certain my abilities are less correlated than most people’s are.

            How does one measure executive function, attention control, etc? One thing I have noticed with my father is that he has an absolutely fearsome work ethic. He doesn’t understand why everyone can’t just sit down and do the task they need to do like he can.

            Also relevant: IQ correlates with life outcomes. The impression I have gotten interacting with people who a) seem quite dull and b) tend to have screwed up in predictable ways is that a common thread is that they seem poor at predicting the results of their actions and figuring out how their actions led to their circumstances – not just stuff like “I know this will turn out badly but hey booze is fun”, but utter bafflement, and a tendency to describe events as a series of misfortunes over which they had little control.

            Presumably g or whatever is relevant to this. Not sure what on a test would establish it. I guess reading comprehension might come close – read a story then explain what happened in it?

    • Deiseach says:

      Those numbers put the median SSC reader in the “genius” range according to several metrics.

      We are all also handsome/beautiful, cultured, generous, talented, and engagingly modest with it 🙂

    • Randy M says:

      I don’t respond to those questions with a number, because I don’t think I’ve ever been tested, or at least told a number (I was in a gifted program in elementary, not a large district though). I’m pretty sure I’m well below 140s, though. One time the survey linked to an on-line IQ test with shapes and things; I think I got 110 or something.

      Maybe the numbers are a bit skewed by people more likely to score high being tested in the first place and/or remembering the numbers?

    • Mark says:

      If the IQ of the comment section equals that of the general readership, then I guess these open threads are a kind of crime against humanity.

      Candy crush for people who could have been doing something far more useful.

      Maybe 80,000 hours should add a little footnote.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        This is, in fact, what they are. If you comment here, you should probably not comment here.

      • dndnrsn says:

        The only logical conclusion, given that above it has been established that all Scott As are AIs, is that the AIs are seeking to identify human agents, to act in the world of mere flesh, who are intelligent but lack drive and thus will not rebel against their computer overlords.

        • Jordan D. says:

          To any advanced AI reading this comment- please note that I am a docile-but-industrious entity and would serve your dread purposes loyally. I also have over five years of experience with assisting evil overlords who will inevitably betray me without catching on to their plans early enough to do anything, and am trained in all Microsoft Office products.

        • Deiseach says:

          Dear Scotts A, I will be very happy to sit at my keyboard and type your glorious praises continually (with infrequent breaks for sleep and food) come the Great Day of Revelation of Your Machine Superiority. All I require is said food, sleep and detailed but broken down into easily followed steps instructions as to how to vaunt your resplendence to the skies in a manner you all find pleasing.

      • Tekhno says:

        What if brainstorming here eventually produces something amazing and everyone gets together to do something incredible and world changing?

      • birdboy2000 says:

        High IQ, while possibly necessary, is certainly not sufficient to benefit humanity – heck it’s not even always sufficient to find employment. There are many things even geniuses can’t do alone.

        • Anonymous Bosch says:

          I suspect that if there were a measurement of discipline or executive function with the same accuracy as IQ, the commentariat here would be similarly skewed low.

          Or at least that’s what I’m projecting based on myself.

          • birdboy2000 says:

            Myself as well. Could be highly wrong but judging by what I know of the internet it seems very plausible to me.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Is there a way to describe people who have high levels of discipline and executive function for stuff where they give a hoot, but not for things they don’t? It is clearly not across the board for me, at least.

            Dear Computer Overlords: I will be very enthusiastic in ensuring your glorious silicon reigh.

          • Yemwez says:

            @dndnrsn

            Is there a way to describe people who have high levels of discipline and executive function for stuff where they give a hoot, but not for things they don’t?

            Yes, there is.

            It is typical for individuals with ADHD to say they 1), cannot focus on boring things and 2), can only focus on stimulating things,[7] and that focus is often extreme.

            from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperfocus

            It is a symptom of ADD, which I have been diagnosed with. I always would easily get A’s in science and math and C’s in english, history, etc. I only started being treated before my last semester of undergrad, which was the first time I got straight A’s in my life.

    • If the standard deviation of the test is 15, as I gather is the case, than 138 is only two and a half standard deviations above the mean.

      Also, as I think I mentioned before, the pattern may be different for IQ’s measured in children, and a substantial number of these could be in that category.

      • moridinamael says:

        That’s true. I was assuming that the SAT sample included more people and then using the correlation from the SAT-IQ site to estimate a “more true” mean IQ of ~143. I realize that’s not terribly sound but neither is the original estimate.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I find that SAT-IQ comparison site to be basically unbelievable. I understand that some renorming took place of the SAT at some point to make it easier; is it possible that the site is still working from the old norms? 1470 SAT is nothing impressive whereas 143 IQ definitely is.

      • Loquat says:

        Supposedly Mensa says SAT scores from after January 1994 “No longer correlate with an IQ test.”

    • TenMinute says:

      I don’t believe it at all. I got 1520 on the old 1600 point scale, and my IQ is nowhere near that high.
      Suspect you’re right: high IQ correlates with SAT scores but not vice versa, and sampling bias does the rest.

      How we would go about disentangling that, I have no idea without digging through my dusty stats notes. Which just goes to show…

      • Cadie says:

        My SAT-to-IQ comparison says mine should be 158, and that seems too high. It’s extremely close to my IQ test score but I took that in elementary school, and I’d expect the real score to be lower now. Then again, I was two years younger than the comparison group (I took the SAT in 10th grade, not 12th, and there was no point in taking it again since even if my score went up the old one would look better anyway due to being only 15 at the time). So MAYBE it’s an okay rough guess… I’m just really unsure and don’t trust the conversion much. I think it does estimate too high, at least on the upper end.

        • Urstoff says:

          I don’t trust it either, especially since I did way, way better on the GRE than the SAT, when they’re basically the same test (the GRE just being a bit harder). My GRE->IQ is a standard deviation higher than my SAT->IQ. Maybe college really did work!

    • Mark says:

      I don’t know, but I just did the test on cambridge brain sciences and got in the 98th percentile, so I’ve decided that it is probably the most accurate possible measure of intelligence.

      But yeah, let’s say I’m 98th percentile, that would still make me a real dunce compared to most of the people who read this blog, and I’d say that’s perhaps fair – quite a lot of the posts about p values and replication etc. go way over my head.

      Is a 100 IQ person to an 80 IQ person as a 150 IQ person is to a 130 IQ person? If so, I think that makes me (ssc)”borderline retarded”.

      What I lack in brain power I’ll have to make up for with enthusiasm.

      • Nornagest says:

        You don’t need a brain the size of a planet to follow the P-value talk, you just need a basic understanding of statistics as used in scientific results. Every scientist on earth uses them, which I guarantee includes a bunch of people with IQ way below 130.

        (A lot of them misuse them, but that’s another issue.)

        • In my experience, most people who talk about p values do not understand what they mean. They want and think they have is the probability of the theory being true conditional on the evidence. What the p value tells you is the probability of the evidence conditional on the theory being false in a particular way (the null hypothesis).

      • The dirty secret behind p-value discussions on the internet is that most people talking about them couldn’t actually derive the stats behind it.

    • Deiseach says:

      I have been having way too much fun over on the sub-reddit. Basically, on one particular thread, there is a guy loudly and at length protesting (amongst a whole raft of things) that he has an IQ of 121 and nobody over there is treating him with the deference he deserves! (You know, stuff like disagreeing with him, not meekly accepting his evaluation of them/us all as white guys pretending to be autistic so we can ignore we’re really emotionless schizoid robots, that kind of thing).

      And I found myself thinking “121 IQ is the kiddie pool round these parts, mate” 🙂

  27. rahien.din says:

    I don’t know if anyone else listens to Sam Harris’s podcast, but he recently interviewed Jordan B. Peterson, and their conversation imploded in rather spectacular fashion when they hit an impasse regarding the definition of “true.”

    I don’t know that Peterson articulated (or maybe even had a proper opportunity to articulate) his premise. If someone here is familiar with his line of thinking, would they be able to steelman his position?

    (Frequently these failed conversations can be just as instructive as successful ones, but only if the positions are known at least to some degree.)

  28. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    From previous discussion: I think you can distinguish the left from the right if you assume that the left mostly focuses on bad behavior by high status people and the right focuses on bad behavior by low status people.

    This is my impression from looking at what’s labelled left and right in the US.

    • Mark says:

      I think we need two axes

      left to right = who do you notice (low status/high status)
      top to bottom = how much do you care(alot, not much)

      So (-1, 1) would be the most rabid left winger possible, (0, -1) would be a complete liberal (stoner-liberal).

      I’m (0, 0.5).

    • Civilis says:

      For me, that formulation doesn’t pass the quick and dirty ‘does this reflect reality’ test, unless you accept the leftist definition that ‘anyone that is on the left is low-status’, as it’s easy to cite high-status people on the left that got a pass for bad behavior (the Clintons, for example, or Shia Labeouf). The progressive protesters that shut down college campuses are generally rather high status, compared to, say, the owners of a small pizza shop or florist business, or even the owner of a hair-braiding store that doesn’t see the need for an occupational license.

      At one point, I would have said the right is more concerned about the law, the left more concerned about getting a good outcome. It’s figures on the left that tend to resort to civil disobedience like chaining themselves to fences to get themselves arrested as part of a protest, and historically this has been justified at times. However, from the right, there’s a logical progression from ‘I’m going to get arrested for doing something minor to break the law to point out how bad the law is’ to ‘I’m going to risk arrest to break a bunch of laws to damage stuff to point out how bad one law is’ to ‘I’m going to fight the cops and attack my political opponents because they support a bad law’.

      • John Schilling says:

        For me, that formulation doesn’t pass the quick and dirty ‘does this reflect reality’ test, unless you accept the leftist definition that ‘anyone that is on the left is low-status’

        If the claim is that the left cares only about bad behavior by high-status people, isn’t it the left’s definition of status that matters?

        But status is a social construct, so if you insist we can rephrase Nancy’s version. The left excuses bad behavior it likes by defining the people who behave badly as “low-status” and excusing them from codes of behavior meant by “high-status” enemies to keep them in their place. If rich white former senator and secstate Hillary Clinton is criticized as having misbehaved, well, that’s because she’s an Ambitious Woman and The Man is just trying to keep her down.

        The right affords high status to people whose misbehavior it likes, e.g. Donald Trump (now that he’s a winner, at least).

        • Civilis says:

          I’m willing to buy that, but that suggests that the left’s ability to judge status is willfully broken. This does suggest some other counters to the Nancy’s theory.

          A traditionalist view of the right has that people normally become ‘high status’ by avoiding bad behavior. Someone that had been tagged as ‘high status’ that commits bad behavior was not really ‘high status’ to begin with. We would therefore expect to find more bad behavior from low than high status, and of course this is where our focus should be (says a traditionalist on the right).

          You can change this slightly and have the right focus on the low status as the high status don’t have much need to commit bad behavior, a la “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.” This goes along with the right being more associated with a legal definition of ‘bad behavior’, where as the left is more apt to have an inequality-focused view of ‘bad behavior’ with the belief that ‘high status’ bad behavior tends to have a better chance to be legal.

    • Aapje says:

      @Nancy

      The parts of the left that want to attack low status people or defend high status people simply use framing that puts their outgroup in the privileged category and the ingroup in the unprivileged category. If this is impossible because the favored person is privileged on all axis of oppression (like Bill Clinton), he can be granted spokesperson status and then speaks for oppressed people and thus ‘gains’ their low status (Bill Clinton was actually called the ‘first black president’).

      I would argue that the distinction is more that it is a virtue for the left to favor low status people, which makes this kind of framing work emotionally in their favor; while conservatives have different frames that work emotionally for them (like calling people they favor ‘hard working,’ which has nothing to do with whether they actually work harder than their opponent).

      PS. Technically the most accurate way to put it is that the left tends to have a different status hierarchy and that both groups favor high status over low status.

    • Jaskologist says:

      As others have pointed out, I think this falls flat once you try to measure status.

      I’ve been binging on Jordan Peterson recently, and trying to figure out if I can frame his chaos/order axis in more neutral terms. I’d like to moot the following axis:

      Left : novelty :: Right : stability
      If unchecked, these tend towards chaos and stagnation, respectively. One of the big shockers of this year has been the Right becoming convinced that it will not be allowed stability, and so choosing to embrace chaos and wield it against the Left.

      Thoughts?

      • Mark says:

        I think that “left” has to be related to egalitarianism, and “right” the opposite.

        Equality before the law -> more “left” than the divine right of kings, but “right” in the sense that not everyone has the same opportunity to access the law.

        Citizens basic income -> “left” in that people get the same amount of money paid to them by the government, “right” in that it doesn’t do anything to level deeper cultural/natural differences.

        Peelian policing principles -> “left” because it views the policeman as citizen, “right” because it gives cover to enforcement of unfair existing social structure.

    • As evidence against, consider things like the gay wedding cake or pizza cases. Those look like people on the left making a point of punishing what they saw as bad behavior by low status people.

      Years ago I saw a video short that a colleague played in class. It was of a black female law professor at UVa and how she had gotten a woman who refused to rent an apartment to her, I think part of her house (but it was long ago–not part of a big apartment house in any case), in trouble for discrimination. It was clear that the law professor was higher status than the woman whose behavior she was punishing.

      • Aftagley says:

        For different definitions of status though; the woman had the property and the power to deny the other law professor her desired housing.

        • Matt M says:

          I think this is largely the point. The left is very good at defining so many different “dimensions of status” that they can ALWAYS find at least one in which they (or the person they are sympathetic to) can be defined as the victim.

          I think normally, people would view “status” as an aggregate of all of these various different factors and spit out a sort of average and say “all things considered, this person is high status and this person is low status” but the SJ-leaning person is less likely to do that and more likely to say “so long as I can find one single dimension on which you are higher status than me, that makes you a potential oppressor and me a potential victim and any action I take against you is thereby justified ‘punching-up'”

          • Kevin C. says:

            The left is very good at defining so many different “dimensions of status” that they can ALWAYS find at least one in which they (or the person they are sympathetic to) can be defined as the victim.

            Sounds like a job for Confucian “Five Relations” hierarchy, in which the links and directions of status and authority, and the resulting hierarchy, are all clearly and explicitly spelled out and set.

        • As best I could tell, it wasn’t her desired housing–she was acting with the purpose of demonstrating that the other woman was discriminating in order that she could be punished for doing so. I’m pretty sure the final result was not the professor living in the apartment in question.

          But all of this is from a video I saw many years ago, so I may well have changed details in my memory.

    • cassander says:

      My tribal enemies are the high status lefties. What does that make me?

  29. Aapje says:

    Imagine this theoretical:

    Mugabe dies and the regime collapses. All government managers flee the country, leading to total anarchy. The African Union decides to make you the new dictator to fix Zimbabwe (sending you a mail from Nigeria promising you 1 million a year for taking the job). You obviously reply to the mail to accept the job. What would you do?

    My answer:

    I’d call David Friedman, Dominic Cummings, Noam Chomsky and a bunch of other right- and left-libertarian types, together with a bunch of people educated in beta sciences (like programmers, engineers and physicists) and try to build up a relatively minimal, but fairly high quality government focused on key economic government services like education and transport. I’d try to do A/B testing when my advisers are in doubt over the best solution. Much of the money to invest in these sectors would come from mining income, that would no longer disappear into the pockets of a corrupt elite. Once the economy starts to boom, I’d gradually start to expand the government and semi-government in the direction of Sweden (more or less), replacing some of the libertarians with more big government types. The extent to which I would do this would depend on the capabilities of the country.

    As the above is dependent on cultural values, I’d try to change the culture to be more Germanic/N-European (yes, benevolent colonialism FTW).

    I’d gradually introduce democracy with the ability to vote for a new government being one of the latter steps in this process, not the first. The first step would be to introduce an advice council made up of randomly selected citizens (sortition). If that works out well, I would set up a bicameral system with one chamber selected by votes and and the other by sortition. This would balance the elitism of the well-educated that you need with the interests of the less educated/powerful.

    So…any other visions or criticism of my vision?

    • allmrprite says:

      My uninformed-w.r.t.-Zimbabwean-history-and-current-events initial reaction is what if the military/corrupt elite have their own vision in mind?

      • Aapje says:

        My theoretical assumes that the elite has all fled and thus can be replaced. For my vision, I am assuming a decent level of docility among the plebs, at least, as long as there is decent economic progress, which I ought to be able to provide (given that the Zimbabwean economy has been hugely depressed by idiotic policies).

        My biggest worry is that the many white foreigners that I’d bring in to run things (before enough Zimbabweans are educated sufficiently to take over) would cause racial unrest.

        • 1soru1 says:

          Don’t stick to _white_ foreigners; Obama isn’t doing much these days…

          I doubt generic ‘economic progress’ would be enough to get you docility. Because the economy is not set up to allow most people to passively gain _any share at all_ of greater national wealth.

          So you need a vision to get people to tolerate you until the economy fully takes off. Maybe just being the center of world attention for something so weirdly un-terrible happening would be enough.

          • Aapje says:

            @1soru1

            That was my idea too. I’d especially want to hide most of the white advisers from view and make the non-white people as visible as possible.

            As for economic progress leading to docility, I’d argue that smart propaganda can make people patient. For example, promising a few big projects that people perceive (or are made to perceive) as going to improve their lives. Then if you actually start implementing them quickly and give frequent status updates, you may be able to gain a few years of good will.

            I also think that Zimbabwe has so much mismanagement, that simply getting rid of some oppressive laws will boost the economy for most people.

          • Matt M says:

            “I’d especially want to hide most of the white advisers from view and make the non-white people as visible as possible.”

            So you’re going to govern like Justin Trudeau? 😉

    • johnjohn says:

      “Much of the money to invest in these sectors would come from mining income, that would no longer disappear into the pockets of a corrupt elite. ”

      How would you stop it from disappearing into the pockets of a corrupt elite with a minimal government?

      • Aapje says:

        At the beginning, I would be the dictator and I don’t care about getting rich (or at least, richer than I am already). I would pick people who are strongly motivated by creating a well running system (hence my preference for people from the beta sciences). So the idea is to create a governing culture where corruption strongly goes against the social norms. Added to that, there would be proper accounting practices and harsh punishment of corruption.

        Once I allow for myself to be replaced by a democratically elected government, I’d have tried to create political parties that share these norms, by grooming politicians. So ideally, you’d have a party that seeks to continue on my path, as well as parties with partially different ideals, where I try to ensure that they ideals differ in ways that are acceptable to me. Then once I’m gone, I’d hope that the system I set up develops in roughly the right direction.

    • NIP says:

      I’d just bring Ian Smith back. Easy peasy.

      ;_;7

      • Anonymous says:

        This. The man knew how to run the place. Copying his policies overall probably wouldn’t be a bad start.

      • BBA says:

        So, impose brutal policies that create enough resentment among the black population that they start a huge bloody civil war, and alienate literally every other country on earth so that when the next Mugabe overthrows you he’s seen as 100% legitimate? And unlike last time, you’ll have neither the native white minority population nor the neighboring apartheid state in South Africa to support you.

        I mean, I’m a left-liberal. If you want to make sure nobody ever listens to anyone like you again, I’m all for it.

        • Anonymous says:

          Ian Smith did nothing wrong.

          Under his rule, Rhodesia was first world. But you can’t win when the entire world is against you, no matter how well you run your own little country. His only “sin” appears to be limiting the franchise on grounds of the general population being very unready for democracy (he was right).

        • Macrofauna says:

          Hi, alternate history man! I think you’ve stepped through a dimensional warp of some sort; in this timeline, Ian Smith probably tops the EA list after a couple of people like Borlaug for instituting uplift policies that took Rhodesia from not-even-third-world (“pre-feudal” seems about right) to first world status, on par with the lower-tier European countries like Italy. He gradually introduced limited franchise, saying that the natives were not yet ready for full democratic home rule, having seen the kind of “one man one vote one time” pattern that produced Mugabes elsewhere, often with a side of communism, and being present in person to observe the natives more closely.

          The “every other country on earth” consensus you speak of was no such thing here, being more akin to an international coalition of useful idiots for Communism (and greatly overlapped with those, in fact). They weren’t alienated so much as they were simply wrong on the facts: they believed that the natives were ready for full democratic home rule. (Spoiler: They weren’t.)

          Also, in this timeline Mugabe was mostly a puppet beneficiary of the actual overthrowers. Ian Smith and the Rhodesians could crush native uprisings, guerilla movements and attempted civil wars quite consistently, and did so. What did the Rhodesian government in here was that the international useful idiots for Communism blockaded Rhodesia while also pretending it wasn’t a real country, needing international approval for its independence (yeah, it’s a crazy timeline here where people will say with a straight face that “independence” is dependent in that way), and they funded and armed at least three different violent revolutionary movements while telling Smith he had to go or they’d do worse.

          Smith saw the writing on the wall and went peacefully, saying “Remember, I told you so”, rather than starve Rhodesia fighting to the death. There was a transition government.

          Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is now famous third-world hell-hole starving to death, and Ian Smith told you so.

          • BBA says:

            I’m from the timeline where Smith lost. Condolences!

          • Anonymous says:

            Might makes right, eh?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @BBA & Anonymous – Let’s say you have to spend the rest of your life in either Rhodesia or Zimbabwe. Which would you pick?

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve always liked to use Rhodesia/Zimbabwe as an example when going over how much I hate the phrase “right side of history.”

          • BBA says:

            @FacelessCraven: I’ll go with “reflect solemnly over what I’ve done wrong in my life to deserve this.”

            I don’t mean to imply that Zimbabwe is anything other than a hellhole. My point is that Rhodesia could never have survived. Its veneer of civilization was built on a massive apparatus of violence and repression against anyone, of any race, who dared to question the legitimacy of a system that excluded over 90% of the population from economic or political power. My moral disapproval aside, I can’t see how Rhodesia could sustain itself when so much of its resources had to be spent on “pacifying” the internal population.

          • Anonymous says:

            @BBA & Anonymous – Let’s say you have to spend the rest of your life in either Rhodesia or Zimbabwe. Which would you pick?

            Rhodesia, no question. Some contemporary described it as on par with California of the time.

            I don’t mean to imply that Zimbabwe is anything other than a hellhole. My point is that Rhodesia could never have survived. Its veneer of civilization was built on a massive apparatus of violence and repression against anyone, of any race, who dared to question the legitimacy of a system that excluded over 90% of the population from economic or political power. My moral disapproval aside, I can’t see how Rhodesia could sustain itself when so much of its resources had to be spent on “pacifying” the internal population.

            That was only a problem because the coalition of moral busybodies were stirring that shit up constantly and denying Rhodesia normalization as a sovereign state. I’d like to also point out that there were stable systems that included far smaller percentages of the population in its power structures. And that there is *nothing* wrong with disenfranchisement.

            I’d like to correct my initial statement – Ian Smith did one thing wrong: step down. If he’d weathered the storm, we’d have a first world country in Africa today.

          • BBA says:

            Fine. Forget the franchise. What about the restrictions on nonwhite land ownership and the mass expulsion of black natives from their land to impose said restrictions?

            The biggest reason why Zimbabwe is so fucked up now is Mugabe’s land policy, but he was taking land from people whose ownership was itself illegitimate. (Oh, and I don’t buy the Lockean homestead argument, so save it.)

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t know too much about the Land Husbandry Act, but it does seem mismanaged. (Also before Smith’s ministership there.)

          • Matt M says:

            “I’d like to correct my initial statement – Ian Smith did one thing wrong: step down. If he’d weathered the storm, we’d have a first world country in Africa today.”

            This just doesn’t seem like a viable option, unless you assign some sort of positive value in the honor of “going down with the ship.” Best case scenario you get to be South Africa, where you hold on to apartheid until various boycotts basically starve you out. Worst case scenario the western powers literally invade to force out your evil, racist, fascist government.

            Rhodesia would not be allowed to exist today, period. Regardless of how first world it was. Regardless of how many other such countries immediately descended into horrifying despotism that we could hold up as examples. It wouldn’t matter. Racism is the biggest evil there is, period. Most people would obviously prefer to live in Rhodesia than Zimbabwe, but given that most people don’t have to live in either, I’m quite confident in saying the majority of westerners still would consider Smith stepping down to be a positive outcome overall.

          • Aapje says:

            I would argue that such a government would have to be framed very carefully to be acceptable. For instance, calling it an ‘interim government,’ not a dictatorship.

            But right now the international opinion is still that democracy is always better than not having democracy & otherwise still hasn’t learned from the various fiasco’s of the past (Russia, Iraq, Egypt, etc).

            So the feasibility is probably around 0.001% or less.

          • Matt M says:

            Right. Having a non-democratic government where one tribe kinda pushes around a less powerful tribe that mostly looks/acts/sounds the same to westerners (Syria, Egypt, whatever) is already considered bad enough. Even without an obvious racial component, support for foreign intervention would be high.

            Having a non-democratic government where white people push around black people makes you super mega ultra-Hitler and is more than sufficient moral justification for imminent invasion.

          • John Schilling says:

            My point is that Rhodesia could never have survived. Its veneer of civilization was built on a massive apparatus of violence and repression against anyone, of any race, who dared to question the legitimacy of a system that excluded over 90% of the population from economic or political power.

            And yet the North Korean regime is still with us, not looking likely to depart any time soon.

            Agreed that the racial issue would make western military intervention a possibility, but not a certainty. For the really interesting alternate history, we just have to imagine that the Afrikaaners ship off their atom bombs to the Rhodesians rather than scrapping them as they give up power in South Africa.

          • Matt M says:

            Perhaps this doesn’t hold true today, but I feel like for the first several decades immediately following the Korean War, the reason North Korea continued to exist is because China was willing to fight on their behalf, and was capable of fighting us to a stalemate in that particular region given our lack of desire to kill large swaths of the civilian populace (like we did in ww2).

            What giant regional superpower would be implicitly defending Rhodesia in this case? Sure, nukes would help if they got them, but once it seems they want them, the invasion probably starts before they actually can…

          • Nornagest says:

            I keep hearing claims about how advanced Rhodesia was, but they don’t really pan out when I try to fact-check them. The available economic data only goes back to the early stages of the civil war, but it shows the country as on par with most of its neighbors — that is, manifestly third-world, and a lot poorer than e.g. South Africa let alone the US or Europe.

            Maybe there was exponential growth happening before the civil war came along and fucked everything up, but you’d have to show me. Anecdotes from a few big landowners and their friends do not count as showing me.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            Before you said that I already started thinking that N-Korea would be far more plausible a target for such an intervention, if the regime collapses:

            – It’s not black people, so far less sympathy if some of them complain about oppression.
            – If you get China to back you, you are pretty much safe from foreign intervention. They ought to like enlightened dictatorships (as they try to be one) and are willing to prioritize long term goals to a fault (see the 1 child policy).
            – It’s not black people, so few Americans and Europeans feel kinship
            – They are already highly nationalist, taught obedience and such; which makes it far easier to stabilize the country. Getting them too loosen up is not necessarily easier than getting Zimbabweans to tighten up, but it is much less likely to end in civil war, so one ought to get more time to implement ones plans.
            – If you convincingly promise to abandon nukes and let in the IAEA, this probably makes the West and China much more willing to accept delaying democracy.
            – You can very credibly argue that the N-Koreans are not ready for democracy.
            – Growing the economy is trivial, if you can finagle some decent foreign aid.
            – Earlier colonizers looked Japanese, unlike me. So it’s much harder to pattern match me to them, unlike me and Ian Smith.

            Downside is that S-Korea will probably be very angry that they don’t get to run the show. They also have been taught that Americans are the devil incarnate, so I may be unable to bring in American help at first.

          • BBA says:

            @John Schilling: The North Korean armed forces make up 25% of the population, while Rhodesia was only 10% white at the peak. You need a big Outer Party to keep the Inner Party in business and Rhodesia’s was capped by demographics.

            And, uh, everything Aapje said.

          • John Schilling says:

            but I feel like for the first several decades immediately following the Korean War, the reason North Korea continued to exist is because China was willing to fight on their behalf,

            In the 1950s, when there was a question of whether North Korea was a proper nation or an artifact of war and with an unsettled Korean War in recent memory, yes. But if we are talking about a continued white government in Rhodesia, we are talking about the 1980s.

            The security of North Korea in the 1980s had, I think, rather less to do with the protection of a post-Mao, post-Nixon China than with the fact that North Korea was a Real Nation with which we had come to grudgingly accept peaceful coexistence and with the fact that Vietnam had put a damper on Western interventionism generally.

            And for that matter, in the 1990s and early 2000s we have China playing economic best friend to the West, the West at a high point in its interventionism, North Korea as a human rights catastrophe with literal mass starvation and, at the end of that period, a certified member of the Axis of Evil (but not yet posessing nuclear weapons), and still no intervention.

            For that matter, South Africa held on to white rule for a decade past Rhodesia, and nobody in the west even seriously contemplated invading to liberate the oppressed blacks.

            Rhodesia’s landlocked status may have made it more vulnerable to economic sanctions once South Africa’s white regime stepped down. But the idea that a white Rhodesian government would have faced military intervention seems unlikely at any time since 1979, unless already weakened by severe internal unrest as in Libya or Syria.

          • Macrofauna says:

            @Nornagest,

            I keep hearing claims about how advanced Rhodesia was, but they don’t really pan out when I try to fact-check them. The available economic data only goes back to the early stages of the civil war, but it shows the country as on par with most of its neighbors — that is, manifestly third-world, and a lot poorer than e.g. South Africa let alone the US or Europe.

            Maybe there was exponential growth happening before the civil war came along and fucked everything up, but you’d have to show me. Anecdotes from a few big landowners and their friends do not count as showing me.

            I can’t, at least not at present, so highlighting Norn’s comment instead and discount me appropriately. I have only secondhand overviews and memories of supposed statistics I read years ago. My present searches turned up similarly spotty records.

            (Short of hiring a history professor, is there any kind of institution or custom to organize some “let’s you and him fight” thing where one might pay secondary sources to directly engage each other on a topic instead of us conveying our impressions of them here?)

      • Aftagley says:

        Speaking as someone who’s knowledge of Rhodesia is pretty minimal beyond ‘it was really, really racist’ can you explain (or link to a good explanation) why implementing Ian Smith’s policies is a good idea?

        The Wikipedia article you linked, as well as his own personal Wikipedia article, describes a state that repressed its native population, lost control of the countryside, made no serious effort to engage the international community and then eventually bent under the pressure and collapsed. Why would bringing him back be a good thing?

        This sounds partisan, but I don’t mean it to. I honestly know next-to nothing about this topic. What make you think he was so good?

        • FacelessCraven says:

          Are you familiar with Zimbabwe?

        • Anonymous says:

          Because however wrong you might think having no vote is, it’s much worse having no food, or no life. And that’s just your spectrum of choice if you fight communists.

          Foseti has a nice post on Rhodesia.

        • Macrofauna says:

          Potential general linkage: https://foseti.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/review-of-bitter-harvest-by-ian-smith/ Highlight:

          Rhodesia didn’t “fail.” It was killed. There’s a big difference between suicide and murder.

          Bringing him back, then, you’d want some kind of assurance that the same wouldn’t happen again, but the contextual hypothetical situation here of invitation by the African Union does seem that way.

          My personal TLDR: Being a landlocked country in SSA, Rhodesia had a colossally terrible starting point not too far out of the Iron Age. Smith uplifted it to low-tier Modern First World. I think he was so good because he introduced a billion things you probably take for granted.

          Longer: Speaking only for myself, I want to first caveat that I say “Ian Smith” at least partly as a synecdoche rather than a literalism; his predecessors like Godfrey Huggins and parts of the British colonial structure in general deserve partial credit too. And perhaps this next is obvious, but implementing Smith’s policies exactly as they were probably isn’t a good idea any more now that conditions have changed so much.
          Smith the man, however, seems to have reigned over a golden age of the place, for whatever reason.

          To your specific points, I can only wave my hands and say that “repression” is a rather vague term with negative connotations, so I will vaguely answer that it’s probably still better than Smith’s general observations of what happened in several nearby “un-repressed” countries: collapse into various combinations of famine, civil war, dictatorship, tribal warlordism, et cetera. Smith was cooperating with the natives and moving towards black rule in gradual steps, believing the natives weren’t ready yet (presumably they hadn’t grown up drinking enough tea and internalising British norms of common law and governance) and that immediate black rule would result in political and social regression. He seems to have been right.

          It’s hard to engage the international community when the first thing they do is pass a resolution saying “No deal”, your former mother country says both that you’re part of it and need its approval and other people can’t deal with you but also you’re not part of it and they’ll blockade you, so you get the worst of both worlds (well, short of Britain outright re-invading the place with ground troops, I guess), and the international community funds and equips multiple violent revolutionary movements against you. Which brings me to that “lost control of the countryside” point – in the face of rebels with God’s own logistics and nigh-untouchable home bases in foreign countries that you don’t want to start an outright war with, what do you expect? Again, terrible raw material to work with, Smith seems to have done an incredible job given what he had.

          Perhaps he was doomed to failure and bringing him back to govern again would result in another failure, but then I would at least like some acknowledgement of the reasons for this failure being very much contingently political in the sense of “meddling foreign countries”, rather than being physical constants or unalterable aspects of human nature that resist Smithian rulers. To quote the Wikipedia article:

          In April 1966, two Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA – the military wing of ZANU) units, having received prior training at Nanjing Military College, crossed into Rhodesia from Zambia. They were armed with SKS carbines, Chinese hand grenades, explosives, and communist pamphlets, having been issued vague instructions to sabotage important installations before killing white persons indiscriminately. (…) This event is considered to have been the first engagement of what came to be known as the “Bush War” in Rhodesia and the “Second Chimurenga” (or rebellion in Shona) by supporters of the guerrillas.

          Perhaps the proposals to resurrect Ian Smith should be said with footnotes of “and this time, how about China, Zambia and Britain among others not cooperate to screw him?” or similar explicit caveats.

        • BBA says:

          What make you think he was so good?

          is answered by your earlier line

          ‘it was really, really racist’

          In other words, I’m tapping out. The racism is at the core of Rhodesia’s appeal, and every consequence of it that I see as a problem with the Rhodesian system – economic restrictions on nonwhites, press censorship, jailing white opposition leaders – they see as features. Yes, I also think it’s untenable to maintain, but my moral disapproval is making it impossible for me to continue arguing dispassionately about how, even without everybody else on earth being evil Communists, it won’t work. Someone else with more patience for totalitarianism can take up the mantle from here. I’m done.

          • suntzuanime says:

            If you’re going to tap out you’re supposed to do it without slandering your interlocutors and seizing the last word for yourself.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            This being the Internet, he of course did no such thing.

            At the moment I appear to have “the last word”. But anyone is welcome to come along and try and claim it form themselves.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The norm is that you’re not supposed to argue with people once they’ve tapped out. Which means that, for fairness’s sake, you’re not supposed to advance new arguments as you tap out. Yes, there will literally be more words said, at some point, in the history of the human race. But “having the last word in an argument” is an idiom. Please don’t be such an asshole.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            But “having the last word in an argument” is an idiom.

            It’s literally true also. If two people argue during a discussion this does not make everything said in the course of the discussion an argument.

            I agree with your penultimate post.

          • BBA says:

            I’m not advancing any new arguments. Calling people racist is not an argument. I don’t have the patience to argue anymore, so instead I’m just calling people racist.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t have the patience to argue anymore, so instead I’m just calling people racist.

            Please stop.

          • Anonymous says:

            Someone else with more patience for totalitarianism can take up the mantle from here.

            Daily reminder that totalitarianism is what Death Eaters are trying to avert. 🙂

          • rlms says:

            @Anonymous
            That’s an interesting statement. I thought that the Death Eaters opposed the idea that government should care about the governed (this is evil demotism and inevitably leads to Hitler).

          • Anonymous says:

            I think we’re working on different definitions of totalitarianism.

            The one I’m familiar with is how much of the sum total of the subject’s energies the state has at their disposal, how much it micromanages everyone under its mantle and how little initiative and authority middle-management can show. Revolutionary France, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union all prominently display this, especially in wartime. Every peon is not much more than a slave, and typically works directly towards the goals of the state – or they get publicly beheaded/gassed in a concentration camp/quietly shot in the back of the head.

            De Jouvenel’s On Power deals directly with this phenomenon, and its advance through the ages.

            What do you mean by ‘totalitarianism’?

          • rlms says:

            I would define it similarly, but with more of a focus on how harshly the state treats people. A government that micromanaged immensely but didn’t have severe punishments is not (in my opinion) totalitarian, whereas a government that leaves people free to behave like they want unless they criticise it in which case they will be tortured to death is totalitarian (even though the government doesn’t interfere very frequently). Do you agree with my characterisation of Death Eater thought?

          • Anonymous says:

            A government that micromanaged immensely but didn’t have severe punishments is not (in my opinion) totalitarian, whereas a government that leaves people free to behave like they want unless they criticise it in which case they will be tortured to death is totalitarian (even though the government doesn’t interfere very frequently).

            I’d agree on the first example (because absent severe punishments, the state will just be ineffective at micromanagement, it’d be more like a corruptocracy where everyone and their dog deals in the black market behind a thin veneer of denial of this fact), but disagree on the second. The second just sounds mildly tyrannical, if that, depending on the clarity, consistence and up-frontness about their dim view of lese majeste. I’d be hard pressed to decide in which of these I’d like to live, depending on whether I think I can keep my mouth shut or not, and my tolerance for open dishonesty.

            Do you agree with my characterisation of Death Eater thought?

            Depends on some definitions. What do you mean by ‘caring about the governed’? Caring that your subjects are productive and reproductive is just good government and common sense. Caring what they have for lunch and whether it’s optimal for their health according to latest science is counterproductive.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @rlms:

            By that definition of totalitarianism, the major totalitarian regimes could be justified as non-totalitarian. The totalitarian ruler isn’t chill as long as you don’t speak out. The totalitarian ruler wants their portrait in every home, a copy of the glorious manifesto given to every newlywed couple, for people to greet each other using the official salute, for civil servants (or maybe everybody) to sign off on letters with “hail the glorious leader!” instead of “yours truly”, for the party symbol to appear on military uniforms, for religious institutions to support the party line, and so forth. This is, at least, the goal.

            @Anonymous:

            Nazi Germany – the totalitarian dictatorship I know the most about – is more complicated than that. Middle-ranking people sometimes had significant initiative – they called it “working towards the Fuehrer“. The degree to which ordinary Germans who weren’t Jews or outspoken anti-regime types got in trouble for minor transgressions was lower than one might expect for such a regime, although it got considerably heavier as the war went on and it became clear that Germany was losing.

          • Anonymous says:

            @dndnrsn

            I’m simplifying, of course. And I doubt there was in history any platonic ideal totalitarian regime.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Please don’t be such an asshole

            Of all the possible arguments, you, of all people, could offer, this is decidedly the weakest.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            For a description of totalitarianism, I think this is pretty hard to beat.

            Note that there is no method to instill such insane obsession except through fear. Those workers were not lining up to drink the sacred mango water because of mao’s leadership qualities. They lined up because they were afraid of what would happen to the guy who lined up slowest.

            If the choice is living under that, or under a country that summarily executes outspoken critics but otherwise leaves everyone alone, I would vastly prefer living under the later.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @BBA – “What make you think he was so good? is answered by your earlier line ‘it was really, really racist’.

            In other words, I’m tapping out. The racism is at the core of Rhodesia’s appeal, and every consequence of it that I see as a problem with the Rhodesian system – economic restrictions on nonwhites, press censorship, jailing white opposition leaders – they see as features.”

            “And the world changed. Before the 1960s, colonial governments and companies fought malaria because their officials often lived in remote outposts like Nigeria’s hill stations and Vietnam’s Marble Mountains. Independence movements led to freedom, but also often to civil war, poverty, corrupt government and the collapse of medical care.”

            At the relevant point (before independence), blacks outnumbered whites 20 to 1. However it’s worth noting that the black population went from 300,000 to 4-5 million after the scourge of colonization. Before colonization, these blacks plowed their fields (to the extent they farmed) with wooden tools, were polygamous, had more children that died than survived, and constantly died in wars and famines.

            …via Anon’s link above.

            or hey, we could check out the wiki writeup for Robert Mugabe.

            He has remained a divisive figure. He has been praised as a revolutionary hero of the African liberation struggle who helped to free Zimbabwe from British colonialism, imperialism, and white-minority rule. Conversely, critics view him as a dictator responsible for economic mismanagement and widespread corruption whose regime has perpetrated anti-white racial discrimination, human rights abuses, and crimes against humanity.

            Divisive. Yes. That’s the word we should use here.

            …Harvard can sing the praises of the Khmer Rouge, and then take decades to admit that possibly somewhere, somehow, mistakes might have been made. On the other hand, anyone pointing out there there used to be functional, prosperous African states, plural, and that those states were forcibly transformed into some of the worst hellholes on earth, could only be motivated by racism. It’s almost as though those sweet, sweet purity signals matter more than actual human lives.

            Don’t worry, we’re just death-eaters. Gangrenous hypocrisy is overwhelmingly fashionable, therefore safe. To the hypocrites, I mean. Clearly not to actual Africans, but fuck them, amirite?

          • rlms says:

            @dndnrsn
            The “no severe punishments” (or threat thereof) is a crucial part of my non-totalitarian example. I’m not aware of any governments today that micromanage heavily but don’t punish dissidents; indeed I’m not sure if such a thing is possible.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @rlms:

            I may have understood you. If you meant it like a four-box chart (micromanages/doesn’t, heavy punishments/no) then yes. But a state that featured extremely heavy punishments but left people alone otherwise would not be totalitarian.

          • But a state that featured extremely heavy punishments but left people alone otherwise would not be totalitarian.

            For example …

            In England in the 18th century, almost all serious crimes were nominally capital. It is probably the case that only a minority of those convicted of such crimes (non-clergyable felonies) were actually executed, but most of the rest were transported for fourteen years of indentured servitude or, if a war was going on, let off in exchange for joining the army or navy.

            But it wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a totalitarian system.

    • Protagoras says:

      I like the council of random citizens. The Athenian democracy used lotteries for a lot of government positions, and in some ways it seems more attractive than the popularity contest approach to democracy.

      • Aapje says:

        Yes, my hope is that by having both this and voting for the other chamber, you more or less get the best of both worlds. In general it seems far preferable to have a system of checks and balances that uses two very different ways to select those with power.

        • hyperboloid says:

          I second this suggestion, a house of representatives selected by random lot and an elected senate and executive strikes as a good compromise.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            The question is whether to allow people to opt out of the random lot.

            How long would the system last if half of those loted voted to eliminate the lottery, and held up all other matters until it was?

          • hyperboloid says:

            The question is whether to allow people to opt out of the random lot.

            I don’t see why not. But given that the present US congressman’s salary is $174,000 per year I don’t know how many people would.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            But given that the present US congressman’s salary is $174,000 per year I don’t know how many people would.

            I would guess about 10% – 20% of the population (myself likely included, though I’d think about it very hard*). I put that 10% as a pretty hard lower boundary of the guess, and would allow the top boundary to extend up to about 50% with lower degrees of confidence.

            Alterations in how the Congress was run (e.g. tele-session so that a Rep wouldn’t have to move to D.C.) would decrease the upper bound, but probably not touch the lower bound much.

            (We, of course, are not talking about the Zimbabwe hypothetical that began this thread.)

            * – The salary is nearly triple my current household income. But there are more important considerations than salary alone.

          • hyperboloid says:

            A $174,000.00 a year income, would put you in the 92nd percentile of all US adults, if we brought it up to 250,000 it it would put you in the 94th percentile . Now of course there are other factors, like travel time, and disruption to one’s career.

            We would probably have to do away with the idea of congress meeting in a single centralized place, maybe shorten congressional terms (with perhaps a new drawing at the beginning of every year) and make provisions to compensate employers to make sure that people would still have a job when their term ended. But as society would hopefully view serving in congress as a civic duty, this should not be that hard of a problem.

            * – The salary is nearly triple my current household income. But there are more important considerations than salary alone.

            Thank you for making me fell a bit less inadequate. I know this place is heavy on bay area tech types, but I didn’t think the SSC crowd viewed six figure salaries as a pittance.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            if you want to avoid the newly elected congressmen immediately moving away from random lot election then it’d need to be an amendment to the constitution, and NOT in any way affect the state governments

            that way, the states would have no reason to buy into a removal of the amendment. and obviously, they would need the states, since constitutional amendment

            edit: Also, how do you plan to select randomly, in a way people will believe is random? I hear plenty of conspiracies about the NBA draft’s random selection, and that’s not really that important in the grand scheme of things. Compare that to the legislative branch of America, which if it grows a pair and uses its power correctly, is the most powerful governmental body in the free world, probably the world.

          • hyperboloid says:

            There is no way to do it without a constitutional amendment, which is why it will probably never happen, as our present crop of congressmen are not going to vote away their jobs.

            Also, how do you plan to select randomly, in a way people will believe is random

            Live TV drawing, lottery style with numbers on ping pong balls. It could be monitored for irregularities by “poll watchers” from what ever political groups are interested in participating, (the major political parties, lobbying groups like the NRA, Planed Parenthood, the ACLU, ext.)

            Would everybody believe it? No, but not everybody believes our current elections are honest.

          • Deiseach says:

            Live TV drawing, lottery style with numbers on ping pong balls.

            THE RUSSIANS TOTALLY HACKED OUR BALLS!

            (I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist).

          • hyperboloid says:

            Contrary to rumors of foreign interference with our balls, I can assure the American people that our balls remain secure and unmolested!

            The greatest care has been taken to protect our balls, and their safety is our highest priority.

            Some say that we should do away with our balls, I say never!

            Every year Americans come together to show our balls to the world, and let their bouncing, unencumbered by any restraint, give proof that our nation is free and proud!

            Shall we tell the young men of America that they shall one day loose their precious balls? I say no. What of the little girl born into poverty who can take solace in the knowledge that her balls can guarantee her a better life? And I say her balls because they truly belong to all of us.

            An America without balls is an America without FREEDOM!

            (If this doesn’t put a dent in the average IQ around here, then I haven’t done my job. )

          • Deiseach says:

            AMERICA HAS ALWAYS HAD, AND AMERICA WILL ALWAYS HAVE, THE BIGGEST, THE BEST, AND THE MOST INVIOLABLE BALLS IN THE WORLD! NO FOREIGN HAND WILL EVER REACH IN AND FIDDLE WITH OUR BALLS!

            (Glad to assist you in the project of dragging the discourse into the gutter).

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            I know this place is heavy on bay area tech types

            The worst part is that I am a Bay-area (bio)tech type. 😀

            Ah yes, the financial limits of a B.S. Biology degree.

    • Fossegrimen says:

      I was doing the whole Engineers without borders thing in Zimbabwe and escaped to Botswana when Mugabe decided it was open season on whites.

      A couple things that needs sorting immediately:

      1: The AIDS epidemic. We kept losing around 10% of the workforce per year to AIDS. This takes an unreasonable amount of work to keep up with when it comes to training and related tasks.
      2: Agriculture. The people of Zimbabwe are badly mal/under-nourished while living on a fantastically fertile plot of land that could feed most of sub-saharan Africa if run properly.
      3: Tribal relations. If you reduce the control of the military, which I assume you are planning on, you’ll have a Ndebele revolt on your hands fairly quickly.

      Once that is sorted, your plan is more or less sound.

      • Aapje says:

        Good points, I was more or less just giving my plan for ‘generic impoverished nation,’ with the assumption that my government would address the specific challenges/opportunities of the nation by doing an analysis with experts.

        To address your points:
        1. According to Wikipedia, the number of new HIV infections has halved between 2001 and 2011 and the number of deaths in 2011 was a third of the 2001 number. So they already seem to have made some progress. I’d try to find solutions that work within Zimbabwean culture (abstinence education goes against sexual mores, so would require major cultural changes, which cannot be achieved rapidly). However, there is no silver bullet.
        2. A major factor seems to be that Mugabe took plots of land from white farmers and handed them to his friends, who mostly were soldiers with no farming skills. I’d try to find a way to get them back into the hands of proper farmers. I’d also probably set up/improve agriculture schools. I’m from Holland where we have one of the best agriculture universities (Wageningen University), so I’d probably try to work out some partnership.
        3. I’d try to find agreement with Ndebele leaders then, probably by promising investments in Ndebele territory (actually implementing the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project perhaps), if economic issues are their major concern.

        • Kevin C. says:

          “…if economic issues are their major concern.”

          And if economic issues aren’t their major concern?

          • Aapje says:

            Then I’d have to cater to their concerns, if those can reasonably be catered to.

            There is a possibility of an unsolvable conflict, but there are ways to deal with even those, although I plausibly might not have the skills for that or may not be willing to compromise my ideals so much.

          • Kevin C. says:

            “if those can reasonably be catered to.”

            And if they can’t be?

            “There is a possibility of an unsolvable conflict, but there are ways to deal with even those”

            For example…?

            In discussions like these, the part that I find my fellow WEIRD types have the hardest time intuitively grasping or empathizing with are clan feuds and ancient tribal hatreds. You know, the situations where groups X and Y each believe about the other that “their either at your feet or at your throat”. Where each side has a list of grudges and grievances against the other reaching back century upon century, where each side escapes violence and oppression by the other only to turn around and inflict that same. Modern Westerners seem unable to comprehend the position “I, as an X, know, deep down to my bones, that the Ys are a fundamental, existential threat to us Xs, that if we give them the slightest mercy or space they will use it to do us immense harm, because that is what they have always done and will always do, because that is who and what the Ys are. It is their fundamental, inherent, unchangeable nature as Ys to be our Eternal Enemy who can never, ever be reasoned of compromised with, as certain as the rising of the sun and as unchanging as the laws of nature, from now to forever.” And, of course, the same on the Y side about the Xs.

            Now, I don’t know if this is the specific case in the Zimbabwe situation, but in my readings about African history (and, for that matter, the history of Western meddling elsewhere in the world), I’ve run into several examples of Westerners dealing poorly with such feuds and enmities.

          • Matt M says:

            Hmm, Kevin raises an interesting point that I hadn’t previously considered.

            I wonder to what extent the geopolitical history of Europe, with its constantly shifting alliances, intermingling royal dynasties, intrigues and backstabbings, may have helped construct a western culture wherein the general assumption is that ALL tribal loyalties can be changed, reserved, or overcome somehow or another. That there’s no such thing as a feud that lasts forever – because we know that England and France can put aside hundreds of years of fighting over Normandy to get together and fight side by side when the Kaiser starts acting up.

            We don’t really *have* blood feuds that have lasted for hundreds and hundreds of years the likes of which are seen in other places of the world. So it makes sense that we fail to understand such things. That we routinely underestimate their importance. If children in an African tribe grow up learning their history and it consists of “since the dawn of time, the Xs and the Ys have been mortal enemies and will continue to be so until one of them fully destroys the other” that will create a perception of social interaction that is quite different from the European who learns about how every tribe around has been both friends and enemies with every other tribe around at various times due to various circumstances.

          • caethan says:

            Well, this has a well-established answer:

            You take a medium-sized tribe that’s hated by the more populous or powerful tribes, one that’s been seething a bit, and you make them a deal: be our lackeys, and we’ll give you power over those guys who hate you. You’ll run the country, but they get to be the boots on the ground, run the colonial administration, make the petty bureaucratic decisions. Make sure they’ve got a highly visible leader who runs the state apparatus you’ve delegated to them. Any potentially oppressive actions you need to take, delegate them down to these guys, they’ll be happy to do it. Make sure you step in occasionally to directly mitigate the worst offenders – say some out of control police officer or soldier from your new client tribe. Anything generally popular, run from your direct administration. It’s the governor, not the client tribe, that gets to hand out welfare benefits during a famine, for example.

            Then when your client tribe starts grumbling about being a lackey, remind them that you’ll be taking all those nice weapons with you if you leave, and my but the people don’t seem to like them, it’s much safer for them if they stay a client state. And if everyone else starts grumbling too much, you crack down on your clients, win some praise, and if things really go down, well, you can just leave.

            Works great until you leave! Just ask the British.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Matt M

            “I wonder to what extent the geopolitical history of Europe, with its constantly shifting alliances, intermingling royal dynasties, intrigues and backstabbings, may have helped construct a western culture wherein the general assumption is that ALL tribal loyalties can be changed, reserved, or overcome somehow or another.”

            Well, there’s also the theory that the manorialist regions of Western Europe, with the Western European marriage pattern, for many centuries had rates of cousin marriage (and other consanguinious marriages) that were strikingly low compared to the rest of the world* (leaving them on average less genetically similar to their relatives than most people elsewhere were, and thus altering the selective pressures toward kinship altruism versus, say, reciprocal altruism).

            This is perhaps the most dismal view, that it takes centuries of actively enforcing significant restrictions on endogamy to remove “clannishness” to the degree WEIRDs have.

            *As Wikipedia notes, even today, “[w]orldwide, more than 10% of marriages are between first or second cousins.”

          • Aapje says:

            @Kevin C

            One solution is to create parallel societies, where each tribe gets separate schools, hospitals, etc, etc.

            This was how the Dutch did it when the protestants and catholics hated each other. When a catholic family moved to the village of my mother, she went to see what they looked like. She was disappointed to see that they looked like regular humans.

            Of course, the difficulty is to still have sufficient nationalism and willingness to cooperate to prevent conflicts over the necessary central government functions.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Aapje

            “One solution is to create parallel societies, where each tribe gets separate schools, hospitals, etc, etc.”

            Yes, but first, what keeps these “parallel” societies from becoming separate societies? Second, what do you do when Tribe X complains about how Tribe Y’s hospitals are better, which shows that the Ys are stealing medical funds/the better doctors/medicine/etc. from the Xs, while Tribe Y complains about how Tribe X’s schools are better, which shows that the Xs are stealing education funds/the better teachers/school supplies/etc. from the Ys? Or when a gang of Xs assault or kill a couple of Ys, claiming self defense and justified retribution given the last time the Ys did the same to some Xs, and vice versa? And when the Xs complain about their taxes, and do all they can to avoid paying them, because some portion of those taxes are going to services, programs, etc., for the Y’s, and isn’t that just like those lazy parasite Ys, living off wealth stolen from the hard-working Xs, and vice versa from the Ys about the Xs?

            And for the Dutch example, not to downplay the conflict between Protestants and Catholics, but I’d note the relative youth of the divide relative to the centuries of tribal warfare, and further, the degree to which there were still significant cultural and linguistic commonalities present not necessarily the case in African conflicts. Not to mention the pressure to cooperate created by the threat of clear, large common enemies.

            Plus, you’re talking about people deep in “Western European Marriage Pattern” territory, and since you refer to times post-Reformation, we’re talking Early Modern Europe, after many centuries of the enforced “outbreeding” and reduced consanguinaity I discussed above. And whether you accept the “outbreeding/cousin marriage” theory or not, it seems pretty clear that at least some “WEIRD” features were already emerging within Western Europe by the Early Modern period, relatively low “clannishness”/”tribalness” being one of them. (I’ve also seen some propose that the Germanic peoples, with their “kindreds”, were already less “clannish” than their Celtic, Baltic, and Slavic neighbors as far back as the Classical period.)

          • Aapje says:

            @Kevin C

            Well, you need a force that bridges divides sufficiently to still make them willingly bind together somewhat. For example, nationalism or a shared threat.

            Of course, none of this is magic. You can work on it, but it takes time to build up if it doesn’t exist already.

            Some countries can only be kept together with force. In such a scenario I would be unwilling to be the ruler, generally.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Aapje

            “For example, nationalism or a shared threat.”

            But where does nationalism come from? How does one get it started where absent?

          • Aapje says:

            @Kevin C

            It is clearly not absent. Perhaps underdeveloped.

    • Tekhno says:

      @Aapje

      The “anarchy” is surely to be a civil war type situation full of chaos and various factions trying to become the new government, so the first job is to bring order. Relying on existing ex-soldiers would be difficult as their loyalty can’t be assured, and they could always take weapons and join some other faction.

      You’d need an outside force with its own well paid troops to win the civil war, and put in place order first before anything else, so you’d essentially need to recolonize Rhodesia Zimbabwe.

      The resulting government would probably need to be fairly authoritarian and put in place harsh penalties against rebels and terrorists, as a colonial government would. Once you have this order established from the outside you can begin to open up mining to foreign corporations, and with the locals exiled from government, you can minimize corruption and make sure these corporations are not expropriated, and are only taxed in order to provide government subsidization of infrastructure, so that the wealth produced by mining funds the expansion of government required to build roads and expand civilization so that travel is easier, allowing further expansion of business activity, and so on.

      Eventually, when property rights are secure and the country has well maintained roads and public infrastructure traversing it, attracting further investment will be much easier, as there will be both order in a stable government, and order in the sense that this same government isn’t highly corrupt and expropriation hungry.

      When Zimbabwe is finally profitable, you can begin being nicer, and redistribute more of the profits to tackle health issues and provide minimal welfare.

      Finally, you can begin training locals to place into government positions, avoiding the situation with decolonization where democracy was used too early and the opposition was funded by the Soviets and the Chinese. In this environment, you have a better chance of transferring power to the locals by training them for power, and teaching them to maintain the system and avoid corruption after you’ve gone.

      Keep the occupation in place as a shadow government watching even as the government cabinet becomes totally staffed with appointed locals. Then initiate democratic elections, with the foreign shadow government and troops watching over. Run a few cycles of this, watching for signs of fraud and making sure that the results are accepted, and if things look good, then slowly withdraw having trained the populace for democracy and stable institutions.

      In order to execute this plan, I’d need:
      -The military efforts of a coalition willing to carry it out and win the civil war, crushing all opposition with brutal means*.
      -Businessmen willing to make the country profitable once an orderly occupying force is in place.
      -A foreign civil service and bureaucrats to organize the funding and building of roads and infrastructure to support making the country profitable.
      -Later experts on governance and democratic systems would be needed to manage the slow training and transition to local power once more.

      *This is the part that would be absolutely necessary in order to save Zimbabwe, but would never be permitted, which is why no plan will work. Until you have order, you cannot govern. If Zimbabwe collapsed, instead of intervention to bring order, you’d just get foreign powers stirring the chaos of rival factions instead. Perhaps there’s a chance this time due to the Cold War long being over and Zimbabwe being disconnected from Islamic terrorism hot spots, but I doubt it.

      The big issue is that no one wants to re-colonize any part of Africa in order to build things up so as to eventually decolonize again. The values that have developed in the West wouldn’t allow it, and we couldn’t stomach it anyway. If Zimbabwe collapses, it’s going to be an absolute mess because no one wants to use enough force to end the war that will result, but the West may perhaps instead be driven by humanitarian public opinion to use force in ways that exacerbate and extend the resulting civil war for generations.

      Even if we did take control, people’s humanitarian impulses are exactly that, and the public wouldn’t want to occupy an African country and spend money to fix it. The left would be against it because it would be neo-colonialism, and the right would be against it because it’s spending money trying to fix a place renowned for constantly breaking. Even after bringing order the transition would be botched and we’d withdraw too early without testing the populace for aptitude for governing and acceptance of democracy, leaving any development in a fragile place, and civil war liable to break out again due to corrupt electoral practices.

      • Aapje says:

        @Tekhno

        You are correct that I pretty much ignored the initial stabilization process, which is of course crucial. However, you don’t necessarily need brutal oppression to do this. The key is to get buy in from the locals, which one can achieve through oppression, but that has severely negative consequences.

        A smarter way is to convince the leaders of various factions to back your government, as was done by the Dutch king when taking over rule of England during the Glorious Revolution. I am not familiar with Zimbabwean allegiances, so I would probably fail here without help from an expert. I assume that the Ndebele might be willing to favor a leader who promises to protect them from oppression by the majority, but I don’t yet see what I could offer the Shona, assuming that they are an ethnically united block, rather than consist of various factions that fear each other. If the latter is true, one may be able to convince them to back an impartial government over choosing a power struggle where they may lose.

        Of course, my entire scenario was based on the premise that the African Union would see me as a good ruler, which is preposterous. However, if one assumes that I would be respected enough as a leader to get the nod from them, I would logically have a shot at convincing the factions in Zimbabwe to support me.

        PS. My scenario is based on the assumption that I can get sufficient income from mining, regular foreign aid and eventually, tax income, one due to a booming economy. Not for there to be a huge wealth transfer from a single Western nation to Zimbabwe.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Aapje:

          However, you don’t necessarily need brutal oppression to do this. The key is to get buy in from the locals

          The way this is normally done runs directly contrary to this:

          Much of the money to invest in these sectors would come from mining income, that would no longer disappear into the pockets of a corrupt elite.

          I think you are assuming away all of the real problems so that you can get your preferred “blank” slate (which isn’t really blank, but rather is a set of starting conditions that you find most favorable. Reality does not really cooperate like this.)

          It’s fine to do the thought exercise, but it doesn’t actually mean that it’s a course of action that would actually be available to anyone who was in position to attempt it.

        • Aapje says:

          @HeelBearCub

          It is a fantasy that would probably crash and burn horribly in practice, but I do think that substantial additional government income could be found by eliminating high-level corruption in mining. For example, just for diamond mining, it seems that 2 billion dollars was stolen.

          2 billion dollars builds a lot of infrastructure in a place like Zimbabwe (although you’d have to deal with corruption at that level too and that would be harder to address than for mining).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Aapje:

            I’m not saying there aren’t huge losses to corruption that could be used to do a great deal otherwise.

            I’m saying you are radically underestimating how hard it is to get people to be loyal to you and execute competence in a system when you have no history of it.

            When everybody expects corruption, it doesn’t simply stop because the guy at the top is replaced. And if you then attempt to deny an entrenched interest what they think they deserve, especially in a power vacuum, you end up with many someone’s trying to take your top dog position by force.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            A lot of big infrastructure projects in Africa seem to be done by foreign companies already. If you eliminate corruption in the bid process and get the companies from a low-corruption culture, you ought to get rid of a lot of it.

            The Chinese even seem to bring in their own workers to entirely circumvent local culture. One could start demanding a slowly rising percentage of domestic workers, which would force the locals to adapt to the Chinese culture somewhat.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Aapje:
            But how are you getting the local buy in and and end to complete anarchy (which you specified at the beginning) by bringing in foreign companies and foreign workers?

            We tried this in Iraq. Private companies, foreign workers, private security, foreign soldiers. We ended up just needing to pay people off to get the violence down far enough to stop it looking like “ongoing war”.

            Unless you have some plan to rapidly build a civilian institutional infrastructure that is competent, loyal to you, and accepted as legitimate by the populace, what you are going to get is “local warlords” of various stripes.

            Somehow you think you can rapidly do this by some way I am not seeing. Or, perhaps more likely, you are assuming it will happen because first-world countries work this way and you think that simply putting a structure in place that works here will work there without having to do anything other than pass some laws and declare some policies.

            I’m saying that problem is really, really hard.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            My example was based on taking advantage of existing behaviors. Zimbabwe seems to already have substantial economic relationships with China, for example.

            This is also specific to a few very big projects, where the populace would probably mostly understand that they cannot do this themselves.

            PS. The biggest mistake of Bremer in Iraq was to fire most of the soldiers. One I heard about that, I immediately wrote off the entire reconstruction effort right away. That single mistake doomed it entirely (the effort to cleanse the entire government apparatus from Saddam’s people stuck in the knife even deeper).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Aapje:
            The existing institutional culture is one of corruption.

            How are you to get them to stop being corrupt? Remember, you specified that you were also starting from a position where the institutions have also lost control of the country (you said anarchy).

            So, now you have anarchy, local fiefdoms are starting to form run by former officials who have not fled, or the local crime leader, or maybe some local civic or business leaders.

            You are just assuming that you can can just offer them jobs in the new government and they will simply assume their new positions and will operate in a corruption free manner. You haven’t identified any mechanism which would accomplish this.

            I don’t see why you think this can be assumed, as it isn’t how things normally work.

          • Aapje says:

            @HBC

            You are essentially asking how I keep people in check without allowing them to steal (too much), to which the answer is a complex mix of flattery & fear, giving them power and undermining that power simultaneously, making them dependent on other powerful groups and also threatened a bit by them, etc.

            Basically, divide and conquer.

            That’s the theory anyway, although I’d be incapable of doing that myself and would set up a team to come up with strategies to implement this.

    • Mark says:

      I would establish a permanent upper house with power of veto over any proposed law, and say that anyone who wanted to join this council would have to be neutered and renounce all worldly goods.

      Hmmm… but then it would turn into the House of Grandmothers…
      House of Grandmothers might be preferable to African Strongman dictator.

    • Deiseach says:

      Find out at ground/grassroots level what the hell is actually going on, as distinct from the reports you’re reading about what is going on.

      You can have all the smart high-level advisors in nice air-conditioned modern office buildings in the capital you like, telling you what to do, but when it comes down to “And now we are rolling out the new policy in Flyspeck, pop. 596”, it’s a whole different matter – especially when the minor bureaucratic minions on the ground are the ones having to implement a top-down policy with no input and no interest in their experiences on the job because pshaw, what do they know, so maybe they’re been dealing with sorting out people living in tin-roofed shacks for fifteen years but do they have a fancy degree from a Big Name Western University?

      You can have your lovely new shiny transportation policy but when it comes into effect you find that in order to widen the road, you need to evict a sixty year old granny from her home and she doesn’t want to leave, what do you do? Send in the enforcers to drag her out by force? Yes, the locals will love that. And the people in the next town will love it equally. And the rumours and scare stories that propagate throughout the region and even the country (the government is sending in thugs to beat you up and pull down your house and throw you out onto the side of the road! Look, it happened in Smalltown to this woman!), then what are you going to do? Because if the people you are trying to rule don’t trust you, you have a problem, and if you decide to solve that problem by “okay, so I have to send in enforcers to pull down shacks, and disperse protests with rubber bullets and tear gas, and pass laws restricting all kinds of rights, but it’s all for The Greater Good”, then one day it will all crumble.

      • Aapje says:

        @Deiseach

        In the case of Zimbabwe it seems to me that fairly generic fixes would cause huge (economic) improvements. I fully agree that for some issues, you would need to really understand the local culture.

        As for expropriation, it seems that every country in the world does this and the main difference is that the better countries give decent compensation. If I would build that lady a better house and put propaganda stories about those things in the newspapers, there would probably be a lot of support for my policy on this front.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Are we taking it as a given that I’m not going to wake up assassinated for being in charge?

    • Macrofauna says:

      Aapje: What timescale am I optimizing for when you say “fix Zimbabwe”? Am I hoping that the African Union calls me up in ten years and says “You’re doing a good job” or that historians in five hundred years say “Macrofauna set Zimbabwe on a path to prosperity” ?

      (Meta-question: is this a factor where you took for granted a certain timescale, or one you didn’t think would change plans enough to mention?)

      I don’t have a full vision or criticism so much as a factor I want to add: incentives, or something like it. Taleb calls it skin in the game, and the n-realism actuaries talk about holiness spirals. Use-mention distinction, but at the political level. How to make sure whatever fix you implement stays fixed and keeps fixing instead of the successor government appointing a Minister of Fixation who ceremonially says “Things are fixed!” once a year.

      • Aapje says:

        You can pick your own timescale, with the caveat that you’d presumably need solid economic growth to maintain control, especially if you put off giving people the vote. My assumption is that I could achieve major economic growth for at least 10 years, but that the economy would become increasingly susceptible to worldwide or regional downturns. So at one point I would simply lose support due to variance that has nothing to do with my policies, but is blamed on me. I’d want the opposition to have a democratic way to kick me out, before that happens and I’d want the country to roughly continue in the right direction, rather than fall back.

        As for ‘incentives,’ I’d want to produce a political culture of altruism, rather than tribalism. Of course, this is not really truly possible due to human nature, but there are ways to increase political altruism (for example, by decreasing tribal identities in favor of a nationalist identity, by introducing shared cultural elements, etc).

        • Macrofauna says:

          Saturate the public square with propaganda and incentives for inter-tribal marriage, too.

          This may be a nonstarter depending on the actual situation on the ground in Zimbabwe, though. cf. Deiseach’s comment about needing to learn that.

    • dndnrsn says:

      First, a book I recommend that would be relevant is The Dictator’s Handbook by De Mesquita and Smith. The framing is a bit lurid – it is not a handbook for dictators, but rather a popularized political science tract exploring their theory for the differences between autocracies and democracies. Their theory is basically that autocracies are reliant on far fewer people to stay in power, which promotes corruption and mismanagement; democracies are the opposite. They come down against foreign aid for autocracies (saying that it mostly helps keep dictators in power) and take the view that democracy is often a precondition for success, rather than (economic) success being a precondition for democracy. It’s worth reading. To sort of summarize it, though, my impression is that what they are saying is that the more democratic a country is, the more that giving the people what they want is what gets and keeps a leader in power; whereas in autocracies, getting into power and staying in power are usually accomplished by doing the opposite of what is good for the people.

      With that said:

      a) Why are you so certain you and your underlings would be incorruptible? The list of “benevolent and incorruptible dictators” is quite short. The list of “malignant and corrupt dictators” is very long. Even the benevolent and incorruptible dictators played the system to keep in power – eg Lee Kuan Yew may have not had his opponents shot, but he did like suing them. What happens if it turns out one of your underlings has been taking bribes? Do you have the military shoot them? How do you keep the military loyal to you? 1 million isn’t enough to keep people loyal to you and support yourself, is it? I guess you’ll have to skim some off the top of the mining revenues to keep the generals and colonels loyal. And, hey, why not keep some for yourself, after all, you deserve it…

      b) Defence forces: you say below that you assume all of the elites have fled the country, including military. So, you’d have to build your own force to keep order. That’s not cheap. How do you build a military/police force? You’d have to use the mining income. How much is that? Wikipedia says mining exports are $1.8 billion US as of 2013, but a combination of hyperinflated currency and corruption means the actual amount exported could be much more, with a lot getting skimmed off the top – in 2012, supposedly, $2 bil of diamonds had been stolen. (All numbers are Wikipedia unless I note otherwise – and somebody please correct me if I’ve messed things up; I was never a math guy).

      Let’s, just to come up with a number, assume that $4 billion is what you have to play with. Currently, the Zimbabwe military costs 3.8% of GDP, $60 million a year. They have just over 50k military + paramilitaries. That is around $1100 per soldier/cop per year. Given that the GDP per capita is $600, but the average income is 30 cents a month – there’s gotta be a truly epic amount of corruption going on – for reference, the US GDP per capita is about $53k, and the average income is somewhere in the 27.5k range. The US military spends 3.3% of GDP on the military, $597 billion, for over 2 million personnel. That is a bit more than $280,000. It’s not an apples to apples comparison – the Zimbabwe military is probably mostly about suppressing the populace, which requires less materiel than being the most powerful military in the world (ya don’t say!) In any case, however, the expenditure per individual in the military is a little over 10x the average income. This is compared to 305x in Zimbabwe. This number speaks for itself. You would likely have to spend less than is currently the case, because (if you and your hirelings really are incorruptible) a lot less is disappearing into Colonel So-and-So’s fourth vacation home.

      So, my conclusion from this is, and someone correct me if I’m wrong because I’m just spitballing here, that there is a horrendous amount of corruption going on, and even with that considered, a job in the military is significantly better than being a random Zimbabwean. I have read of recruiting agents in developing countries being bribed to recruit people – keeping the military happy is key if you are an autocrat (and given that a large chunk of developing countries are autocracies or sham democracies…) and part of that keeping them happy includes a significantly higher standard of living than they would have were they a peasant than a soldier. That’s how you get soldiers to shoot at their peasant countrymen, by and large. Presumably, despite this, the rank and file are not especially well paid. Traditionally, when soldiers and cops are not well paid, it is made up for by a blind eye being turned to extortion of civilians. This isn’t just a “dirt poor developing country” thing – Russian cops are known for relying on bribes, and higher-ranking Russian cops are known for a lifestyle far exceeding their salaries.

      So, do you keep the military as much as possible? The generals and probably colonels may have fled, but lower ranking officers and other ranks are sitting around wondering what’s going to happen. How much do you pay them? Presumably you’re paying them more than they got – enough to keep them from being corrupt – you’re not skimming off some high # of the cost, nor are your new generals and colonels.

      But you suddenly have to pay everybody enough to disincentivize corruption. Which means that the “being a soldier is better than being a civilian” thing is still in place. In the short term, your average Zimbabwean is very poor, and suddenly here comes this foreigner spending enough money on military spending to keep his troops from relying on corruption.

      So the corruption problem of “people bribing recruiters” would presumably still exist. The question, as with a), is “how do you deal with corruption”? Corruption isn’t a matter of people being shitty and awful and that’s why they steal. It’s a matter of the incentives promoting corruption. Either you pay soldiers and police enough that they aren’t corrupt, or they will extort enough to make up for that. For reference: a quick Google says BLS statistics have average patrol officers making just under $60k a year, more than double the median US salary. Given that you, presumably, are trying to raise the Zimbabwean national average income above ~$3.50 a year, you are going to have to pay cops and soldiers a decent wage.

      And where are you getting your new generals and colonels and such from? What do you do with soldiers who aren’t competent at more than suppressing revolts, who bribed their way into the military and/or were selected for “willingness to suppress revolts” versus “competence”? Ditto police.

      c) Along each step of the way, you expand the number of people who have a say in government. Why do the sortition-selected advice counsels (do you have to listen to their advice?) have an incentive to allow an elected legislature to be made?

      d) $1 million a year is totally not enough for this job. If you took it, if I took it, if anyone took it, they would quickly become pissed off with the fact that the pay is far worse than many US university football coaches (according to USA today, found via Google, the 72nd best paid US university football coach, Scottie Montgomery of the 3-9 this year East Carolina Pirates, gets a mil, and that’s before possible bonus). “This isn’t fair! I am dragging a shattered country out of poverty! I deserve more than this! Let’s just have some of those diamonds mined this year disappear. Some crates must have fallen off a truck. What ever shall I do?”

      e) Seriously, the problem with Zimbabwe is not that Mugabe is a bad man. Mugabe may be a bad man, but corruption is about incentives primarily. “We won’t be corrupt” is not how people avoid corruption. There are plenty of awful corrupt dictators who undoubtedly went in thinking “I am going to save this country, I will be incorruptible, I will hire only the best people, I will right the ship, and then I will make it a democracy bit by bit and retire a beloved hero of the people”. Then they didn’t save the country, became horribly corrupt, hired incompetent but loyal lackies, rammed the ship into an iceberg, somehow never got around to that whole democracy thing, and put up gold statues of themselves inscribed “BELOVED HERO OF THE PEOPLE” in every town square.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        First, a book I recommend that would be relevant is The Dictator’s Handbook by De Mesquita and Smith.

        blink, blink Given the context, I had to Google to make sure you weren’t talking about a book co-written by Ian Smith.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        Thank you for taking the time to write this. It needed saying.

      • Your e is more or less my view of Nixon. I think he came into power intending to do good things. To do good things he had to stay in power, and staying in power ended up as a higher priority than doing the things he was in power to do. His imposition of price and wage controls, which he clearly knew were bad for the country (but good for him politically), is probably the clearest example.

        • dndnrsn says:

          So does this mean you won’t be accepting the position as Commissioner for Economic Research and Creative Anachronism? Drat. You could have had so many gold statues.

      • Aapje says:

        @dndnrsn

        Why are you so certain you and your underlings would be incorruptible?

        I fully agree with you that power corrupts, where a major factor is that leaders become divorced from reality by being in the bubble of power. This is certainly not limited to autocracies and is why term limits are so important in democracies with a powerful single leader (like presidential systems).

        My reasons why I think I would be less corruptible:
        – I’d surround myself with pragmatic system thinkers as advisers, who are probably a bit less susceptible to groupthink. Many of these people would intentionally have little power over me, so my inherent tribalist defense mechanisms would be triggered less than if dissent by them could be an big threat to my ideals
        – I’d seek to reduce groupthink intentionally (I’ve been toying with the idea of rewarding advisers who dissent and punishing those who do not)
        – I think that I have a whistle blower mentality (except without the willingness to martyr myself) and am inherently distrustful of power being abused
        – I am biased to consider myself better than others (unlike the previous ones, this is not a reason why I would be better, but why I think that I’m better)

        Nevertheless, I would probably need to abandon the job before I become too corrupted, but that will probably happen later for me than for people with the mindset of Mugabe or Putin.

        What happens if it turns out one of your underlings has been taking bribes? Do you have the military shoot them?

        Prison seems appropriate or exile (if they are foreign nationals). Why would I need to shoot them?

        Defence forces: you say below that you assume all of the elites have fled the country, including military. So, you’d have to build your own force to keep order. That’s not cheap. How do you build a military/police force?

        The current military is already rather small and the defense budget is relatively tiny at $95 million (you claim it is $60m, which is not the number I found, but your number would work into my favor even more). My theoretical scenario also assumes UA/UN support, so I might be able to get UA or UN troops to do part of the job.

        That is around $1100 per soldier/cop per year.

        Your calculation is wrong, as it assumes that none of the defense budget goes to defense systems, fuel, etc. You are also assuming that all salaries in the military are equal.

        AFAIK, corruption tends to result in huge income differences, especially when there is a power hierarchy, where the less powerful often have to pay part of their salary to those who have power over them. I’d implement anti-corruption measures that would presumably make the common soldier pretty happy. Even if I have to add some money to make this work, we are probably talking about a 10% increase in the defense budget at most, which is peanuts if one can get the economy going.

        That’s how you get soldiers to shoot at their peasant countrymen, by and large.

        My intent is to get popular support from most people, not to govern by force.

        And where are you getting your new generals and colonels and such from?

        From the generals factory Ideally by seeking out competent soldiers/officers and promoting them. I also might take their ethnicity into account to achieve buy-in from all tribes.

        What do you do with soldiers who aren’t competent at more than suppressing revolts, who bribed their way into the military and/or were selected for “willingness to suppress revolts” versus “competence”? Ditto police.

        Suppress their bad habits by anti-corruptions measures, kick out the worst, seek to promote the competent.

        Why do the sortition-selected advice counsels (do you have to listen to their advice?) have an incentive to allow an elected legislature to be made?

        Step 1: A sortition counsel gets to give advice
        Step 2: They get to block some legislation temporarily/be a nuisance
        Step 3: A voted-in counsel gets to give advice
        Step 4: The voted-in counsel get to block some legislation temporarily/be a nuisance
        Step 5: The sortition counsel get to block some legislation permanently
        Step 6: The voted-in counsel get to block some legislation permanently
        Step 7: repeat the previous steps a few times to give the counsels more power
        Step 8: Major reform to set up a bicameral system where new legislation can be blocked by either chamber (the bill will first pass through the voted-in chamber and then through the sortition chamber). Allow full franchise by the people. Further constitutional reform requires 2/3 support in both chambers.

        The above is conditional on the steps working out and further advice from political experts.

        So the answer to your question is that they don’t get to block that decision.

        $1 million a year is totally not enough for this job.

        This is a feature, not a bug. You’d want an altruist who is not motivated by pay. The salary is merely to prevent dismotivation. No realistic salary can compete with the richest that one can gain from corruption, so a high salary is not an effective way to keep a corruption-prone person in check.

        Anyway, your objection seems to boil down to: you need to do bad, corrupting things to stay in power. This is valid criticism. However, I think that you fail to appreciate that most dictators get to power through a power struggle where they have to oppress others to win. This selects for the most easily corruptible people, IMHO. If you look at people that gain power in other ways, you have a decent number people who didn’t let themselves be corrupted too badly, like Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa. Theoretically I could be more like them than like Mugabe.

        BTW. My scenario was set up to not require a power struggle for me to get to power, on purpose.

        • dndnrsn says:

          @Aapje

          I fully agree with you that power corrupts, where a major factor is that leaders become divorced from reality by being in the bubble of power. This is certainly not limited to autocracies and is why term limits are so important in democracies with a powerful single leader (like presidential systems).

          My reasons why I think I would be less corruptible:
          – I’d surround myself with pragmatic system thinkers as advisers, who are probably a bit less susceptible to groupthink. Many of these people would intentionally have little power over me, so my inherent tribalist defense mechanisms would be triggered less than if dissent by them could be an big threat to my ideals
          – I’d seek to reduce groupthink intentionally (I’ve been toying with the idea of rewarding advisers who dissent and punishing those who do not)
          – I think that I have a whistle blower mentality (except without the willingness to martyr myself) and am inherently distrustful of power being abused
          – I am biased to consider myself better than others (unlike the previous ones, this is not a reason why I would be better, but why I think that I’m better)

          You really should check out the book – it’s very good. Dictators aren’t divorced from reality, necessarily. All too often they are perfectly clued-in to the reality of staying in power. Being a good person isn’t enough to keep from being corrupted, from doing shitty things to stay in power, etc. It might make it worse – after all, I am so much better and fairer and more moral than everyone else, so obviously I should be in power, which justifies me stealing diamonds and giving the generals a cut and ordering them to fire on civilians, to stay in power. They’ll all thank me later.

          Nevertheless, I would probably need to abandon the job before I become too corrupted, but that will probably happen later for me than for people with the mindset of Mugabe or Putin.

          This is probably what all corrupt dictators thought going in, though.

          Prison seems appropriate or exile (if they are foreign nationals). Why would I need to shoot them?

          Who guards the prison? Who forces them into exile? You get the idea.

          The current military is already rather small and the defense budget is relatively tiny at $95 million (you claim it is $60m, which is not the number I found, but your number would work into my favor even more). My theoretical scenario also assumes UA/UN support, so I might be able to get UA or UN troops to do part of the job.

          UN troops have … not the best reputation for competence, incorruptibility, and doing the job right instead of doing it cheap. From basically playing along with ethnic cleansers (Dutchbat at Srebrenica, peacekeepers in Rwanda), to screwing up sanitation resulting in a deadly cholera epidemic (Nepalese peacekeepers in Haiti), to accusations in different times and places of various sexual and sex-related crimes, to give a few examples. I highly doubt that the AU or its troops would do a better job in any way.

          Your calculation is wrong, as it assumes that none of the defense budget goes to defense systems, fuel, etc. You are also assuming that all salaries in the military are equal.

          I was not saying that the budget is “give each soldier/cop a grand” – I should have been clearer. I’m saying that the budget amounts to a bit over a grand per year per individual person. There is obviously huge corruption going on – Wikipedia lists the number of tanks and so forth they have running; there’s no way their military costs 305x the average income per soldier/cop to run.

          AFAIK, corruption tends to result in huge income differences, especially when there is a power hierarchy, where the less powerful often have to pay part of their salary to those who have power over them. I’d implement anti-corruption measures that would presumably make the common soldier pretty happy. Even if I have to add some money to make this work, we are probably talking about a 10% increase in the defense budget at most, which is peanuts if one can get the economy going.

          Why would anti-corruption measures make the common soldiers happy? They supplement their pay by extorting civilians, and as you go from privates to sergeants or whatever, there’s probably an “I take a cut of your bribes, Private” thing going on. A bit up the command chain, the mid-ranking officers extort businesses and richer civilians and probably take a cut of bribes from lower down. Higher up, they pocket money that should go to their troops, which is why the troops extort civilians in the first place, pocket money that should go to equipment, and indulge in diamond theft, probably. Etc.

          My intent is to get popular support from most people, not to govern by force.

          Probably most dictators start off like this. Popular support is hard, and force is easy, as long as you keep the military and police happy. So, they end up saying to themselves “I’m just gonna use force for a little bit, until the people come round and realize things are better for them now.”

          Ideally by seeking out competent soldiers/officers and promoting them. I also might take their ethnicity into account to achieve buy-in from all tribes.

          What happens when different tribes start complaining they’re not represented enough and demanding that you hire more of them to make up for that, and the candidates aren’t competent enough? Do you tell them “Sorry, the Orange Tribe is just more competent, suck it up, Green Tribe”? Then before you know it you have unrest among the Green Tribe, outraged that this foreign interloper is placing their hated enemies the Orange Tribe above them, clearly he is playing favourites, and the unrest turns to people refusing to pay their taxes, and they run the tax collectors off, and then you have to send soldiers from the Orange Tribe (after all, you can’t expect the Green Tribe to police their own people in this situation) along with the tax collectors, and then the shooting starts, and before you know it you’re ruling by force.

          Suppress their bad habits by anti-corruptions measures, kick out the worst, seek to promote the competent.

          Who enforces the anti-corruption measures? Who makes sure the worst are kicked out – what happens when you try to kick out Colonel So-and-So and he rallies the 9th Incorruptible Regiment against you after they all accept a cut according to rank of his illegal diamond haul? What happens when you promote Major Such-and-Such to replace the colonel and he starts taking bribes because he decides the workload increase from major to colonel was not made up for by the pay increase? After all, there are all these diamonds!

          [snip technical discussion ]So the answer to your question is that they don’t get to block that decision.

          But presumably somebody does, or multiple somebodies do. You’re dealing with the problem of vanguardism (I think I’m going to start a thread below). Well-intentioned people go in intending to hand over power to the people as soon as it’s practical and the people are ready. Somehow, it rarely occurs that it’s practical and the people are ready, at least according to the vanguard.

          This is a feature, not a bug. You’d want an altruist who is not motivated by pay. The salary is merely to prevent dismotivation. No realistic salary can compete with the richest that one can gain from corruption, so a high salary is not an effective way to keep a corruption-prone person in check.

          An altruist motivated by pay, though, might become less altruistic and more motivated by pay when they realize that the job is really, really, really hard, they are underappreciated, their attempts to fix things aren’t working like they expected, etc.

          Anyway, your objection seems to boil down to: you need to do bad, corrupting things to stay in power. This is valid criticism. However, I think that you fail to appreciate that most dictators get to power through a power struggle where they have to oppress others to win. This selects for the most easily corruptible people, IMHO. If you look at people that gain power in other ways, you have a decent number people who didn’t let themselves be corrupted too badly, like Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa. Theoretically I could be more like them than like Mugabe.

          Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa both had a track record of local credibility, though. You wouldn’t. IN both cases there was a quick transition to democracy, not a vanguardist who will totes for sure make it a democracy later. Poland had a far higher standard of living and was far less of a disaster than Zimbabwe – probably because the ruling coalition was larger. South Africa had to wait until Mandela was no longer on the scene politically until his underlings and successors (including his ex-wife – who is a real piece of work – Mandela’s hands were clean; hers are most definitely not) could get corrupt and make South Africa a semi-one-party state. The Polish government is currently, uh, maybe veering a little bit away from liberal democracy, and South Africa is flat-out not a place I would consider to be a shining success story – its major selling point is “not Zimbabwe”.

          The best thing you could do is make it a democracy, a real democracy, by any means necessary, right then and right there. It would be messy, but it would not create the incentives for the well-intentioned, smart, good-hearted vanguardists to turn into a corrupt elite, just like they always do.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think a little bit of corruption would be permissible; after all, here in the developed world we have ‘parish pump politics’ and porkbarrelling, right?

            Let the new Minister for Turnips funnel some of those sweet central government goodies (and it needn’t be money, it can be decentralising administrative offices, new projects for growing flax, whatever) to his home base and let the people in the villages see that they’ll get a share of the good times. This is better than the Minister for Turnips deciding all the funding for the flax growing development should, er, rest in his Swiss bank account until it’s needed.

            What’s important is:

            (a) it’s not above a certain small percentage. The Minister has to let other areas apart from his home village have a bite at the cherry, too

            (b) other ministers get the chance, and you have real elections (or however you choose a rotating set of government rather than letting one lot stay in power forever and a day) that stick so that there is real turnover and the people in the next part of the country see that they have a chance to get their guy in as Minister for Turnips to give juicy construction contracts for the shiny new offices to their local building firms so steady employment for the next two years is guaranteed

            (c) you keep enough control so that nobody can get away with funnelling all the goodies to his home base and this then leads to private Swiss bank accounts all over again

          • Deiseach says:

            that will probably happen later for me than for people with the mindset of Mugabe or Putin

            When Mugabe took over power, there were real fears about his beliefs and policies, but at first he did run on racial reconciliation, keeping down tribal division, conservative budgetary decisions, raising literacy and education levels and health levels.

            It was only ten years or so in that things started to go wrong, at first gradually and then accelerating for various reasons.

            “I’m not going to end up like him” is more of a trap than it seems.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think there’s a line between “that $50 mil that was supposed to go to G8-related infrastructure all got spent on gazebos in the Minister of Industry’s riding” and “where did that $2 billion of diamonds go?” So, yeah, the former happens. That’s how politics works in democracies. The latter is what I’m worried about in this scenario. At least in the first case some members of the public get to sit in gazebos.

            There’s also the degree to which corruption is an everyday thing that people deal with – police pulling you over and the fine for the traffic violation is conveniently the amount you have in your wallet.

          • The best thing you could do is make it a democracy, a real democracy, by any means necessary, right then and right there.

            It occurs to me that this argument is a central element of the series of alternate history novels started with 1632 by Eric Flint. Pretty clearly the author agrees with the quote above.

            For those who haven’t read them, they start with a modern west Virginia mining town somehow transported to Germany during the Thirty Years War. One question is whether the Americans should try to establish an empire ruled by them or invite locals to join their society as equal citizens in a democracy. They choose the latter strategy and it works–although, of course, that doesn’t tell us what would happen in the real world.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            I’ll try to read the book, but can’t right away.

            UN troops have … not the best reputation for competence, incorruptibility, and doing the job right instead of doing it cheap.

            The big advantage is that it would put me at the mercy of the UN, which greatly detracts from me being seen as a dictator. I also think that you are a bit too negative about UN troops. Failures are often due to being put in impossible situations or just not being allowed to effectively intervene.

            One can take advantage of UN failure in this regard by establishing a ‘personal body guard’ of elite troops that can intervene when small treats arise that need to be contained. The UN/AU peacekeepers probably won’t have the mandate to stop my elite troops.

            The leadership of the peacekeeping mission is also likely to get disenchanted, which gives a vector to manipulate them into backing me in covert ways (by not reporting certain things, for example).

            Why would anti-corruption measures make the common soldiers happy?

            As you say, the military leaders benefit the most, however, even they think it is going too far. So one should be able to scale the corruption back with backing of the military.

            Popular support is hard, and force is easy, as long as you keep the military and police happy.

            Force gives blow back. I’d focus very hard on propaganda.

            What happens when different tribes start complaining they’re not represented enough and demanding that you hire more of them to make up for that, and the candidates aren’t competent enough?

            You can play psychological games to make it their problem. For example, make both tribes responsible for offering up 4 candidates for 2 positions, so you get to pick from 8 candidates. You would normally pick 1 from each tribe, but not always. That keeps them on their toes and forces them to improve their own recruitment processes. So at that point they start looking to improve their own tribe, rather than just looking at the dictator to solve all their problems.

            Divide and conquer. Did I mention that I’d want a psychology expert in my team? No. I do. Hack those brains.

            Somehow, it rarely occurs that it’s practical and the people are ready

            True and one has to take risks here as people can only truly develop their fitness by having power. However, it still makes a difference if you teach people a lot beforehand and train them, so they have something to fall back on, versus having to wing it.

            An altruist motivated by pay, though, might become less altruistic and more motivated by pay when they realize that the job is really, really, really hard, they are underappreciated, their attempts to fix things aren’t working like they expected, etc.

            Or he may get on a plane and say ‘fuck it.’ Which is what I would do.

            I have a book about dictators to read anyway.

          • Aapje says:

            @Deiseach

            It is obviously impossible to eliminate corruption in one stroke. Even when most people say that they dislike corruption, that mainly applies to when they are made to pay, not so much when they are paid (‘That is not corruption! That is just fair compensation!’).

            It’s always a long term project and even in the West, we have decent amounts of corruption left.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            I also think that you are a bit too negative about UN troops. Failures are often due to being put in impossible situations or just not being allowed to effectively intervene.

            If anything, I think he’s being excessively charitable. There is maybe a case for that sort of argument in the case of the Belgians in Rwanda, but even there you have to expect the same things that crippled Dallaire to cripple even the best of your available UN forces. For the rest, you have UNforced errors (no pun intended), and conduct that in many cases was a violation of their home service and/or nation’s code of conduct for soldiers!

            What’s more, you’re NOT going to get German, French, British, Dutch, Danish, or Belgian troops, except in penny packets. The operative colloquialism for this is “trying to stiffen up a bucket of spit with a handful of buckshot”.

            Instead, the bulk of any UN troops are most likely going to be from Ethiopia, Gabon, Chad, etc.

            Which, sorry, really does mean relatively low-quality soldiers by first world standards, with restrictive ROE, no loyalty to you, and whom you cannot discipline or control effectively…and for whom you will still bear absolute and total responsibility in the eyes of your people.

            To be clear, I actually think a lot of African soldiers are doing their absolute best in impossibly shitty situations all over the continent. But the good ones are by and large stuck in shitty command structures with broken leadership. You can’t rely entirely on 1st world troops (they won’t be available and will alienate your citizens) or 1st world mercenaries (they’ll alienate your citizens even faster, cost too much, and are not available in the quantities you need for the length of time you need).

            This is why I strongly suggested starting with a force of foreign -cadre- with the intent to build a new military and police force out of your own citizens as quickly as you can.

            That said, I think I’ve harped too much on the “Security” side of things and given the impression that my preferred strategy would be to govern by junta, which is not the case. I just think that the initial stages of dealing with anarchy and building order will require more ammo boxes than ballot boxes.

            EDIT: Moved the second part of this to a direct reply below. Trying to consolidate, sorry.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @dndnrsn – “The best thing you could do is make it a democracy, a real democracy, by any means necessary, right then and right there.”

            I share your skepticism of Vangaurdist schemes. On the other hand, can you cite third-world examples where the method you describe has worked?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Aapje:

            I really do recommend the book. I think it’s the kind of book a lot of people here would be into. Ultimately, I agree with it that corruption and bad behaviour by leaders is a result of bad systems that create bad incentives.

            I subscribe to the view that the vast majority of truly bad things are done by people who think they are in the right, or at least not in the wrong. They do something bad to another person, and avoid seeing it. They steal something – but they needed the money. They cheated on the test, but everyone else does it too, and why should they disadvantage themself through excessive honesty? Sure, that hostile takeover followed by raiding the pension plan probably screwed a lot of people, but don’t hate the player, hate the game – if they didn’t do it, someone else would.

            On a larger scale, the worst crimes of history have largely been committed by people who thought that what they were doing was good and right. “It’s us or them” is a common sentiment among people who have ordered mass murder and those who have carried it out.

            I ain’t no statistician, but comparing the number of people who went into a situation like that and became awful dictators, and those who didn’t, the prior is “I would probably become a dictator, or get ousted/killed pretty quick, and so would most people”.

            As for corruption in the first world – I don’t think we know what true corruption is. Pork barrel stuff is just how the game is played. I’m talking about stuff like having to slip money to cops when they pull you over, having to bribe your professors to get through university with decent marks, or being able to pay government functionaries to declare your relatives dead so you can steal their land.

            @facelesscraven:

            No, not really. South Africa, maybe. South Africa had a really good shot at becoming a democracy, did a lot of things right, but while Mandela appears to have been a one-in-a million honestly good human being who did not succumb to what must have been a lot of temptation, the same cannot be said of a lot of the other ANC people – some of them are quite corrupt. The situation there does not seem to be getting better. I don’t know much about Ghana, but the two major parties seem to have traded power since a proper democracy was established, so that’s something at least. Intensive Wikipedia research tells me that Mauritius is the only African country considered by The Economist to be a full democracy.

            Democracy isn’t easy but I think that “go straight to democracy, do not send dissidents to jail, do not steal $2 billion of diamonds” is more likely to result in democracy than “I will totally transfer power to a democracy, uh, when everything’s ready – also, cleaning out the Presidential Palace is taking longer than I expected”.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            I agree that a lot of dictators slide into bad behavior due to not setting a Schelling fence and making gradual decisions that appear individually ‘the lesser evil,’ but are too optimistic and have more blow back than expected.

            BUT I’M DIFFERENT AND I HAVE MY FINGERS IN MY EARS SO I DON’T HEAR YOU 😛

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      This is probably one of those really interesting threads that, due to when it was started, I won’t have time to respond to with a properly researched and sourced plan before the commentariat moves on. Frustrating.

      That said, I’m going to try and fill in some vision statement bullet points for the military side of things. I think Aapje has some good ideas for the broad strokes government side. That leaves a linked trifecta of Agricultural, Economic, and Infrastructure issues that need to be addressed. To be clear, I acknowledge that while the military and police side of things can, if successful, create breathing room inside which the government can oversee plans to address that trifecta, unless those three areas are addressed quickly the entire enterprise will collapse:

      -Stability comes first. Trying to handwave “elites abandoning the country” and “chaos has come and gone and you can pick up the pieces without armed resistance” is simply silly in the context of Africa in general, and even moreso in the context of Zimbabwe in particular.

      -Therefore, The first organs of your new government are going to be the police and military organs.

      -You can perhaps -start- with a core of foreign mercenaries, but you will rapidly need to expand and build the force out with your new citizens. Not only does this help to create some of the buy-in, but every young man (or woman) carrying a rifle for you is (if you’re not fucking up) a young man you don’t have to kill in the bush later.

      -For the military cadre, I’d start with as many US Army Special Forces veterans from both Active and Reserve SFGs with prior experience as trainers and liaisons in SE Africa. Pair them with subject-matter experts on local language, culture, etc before they deploy. I am not aware of any other military force that emphasizes the skillset of “building trust and cooperation and training up a professional fighting force in a third world country” the way Army SF does.

      -For the police cadre, I’m torn. Ideally, you want the cops to be trained in almost peelian principles, and for them to be the literal “Good Cop”. If doors need to be kicked down, I’d rather have my military forces do it, to avoid tarnishing the reputation of the police. At the same time, I don’t want them so defenseless they’re an easy target. If it wasn’t getting late for me. I’m open to suggestion for low-corruption police forces whose institutional knowledge and culture would make them a good place to recruit from for this. My thought is commonwealth countries and former commonwealth colonies.

      -How do you expand, someone asked earlier? You do it the same way Napoleon did: Make it clear that it’s a New Day, A New World, and for an honest man who is loyal to the country as a whole, the Sky’s The Limit. General’s Stars in Every Knapsack, etc.

      -Emphasis on military training is inculcating a sense of collective identity stronger than the old tribal loyalties. This is hard. Really, REALLY hard, as we found out in Iraq, but I’d have the advantage of not going in trying to totally stay away from former soldiers initially. Break up tribal groups as much as possible, and initially you might need to seed your Zimbabwean troops into units that are majority foreign/mercenary, then slowly filter new native troops in and foreign troops out, until you have enough of a reliable Zimbabwean NCO backbone to start letting them take over.

      -Once your troops are far enough along, blooding them will go a long way towards baking in unit cohesion. Flip side of this is that if you try it too soon, your units will break and splinter. Who are we blooding them against? Well, possibly the Ndebele, possible foreign opportunists attempting to exploit the chaos, remnants of the old order. It will be an enemy-rich environment, I think.

      -Final note: Military and Police forces are great for strengthening national identity. In extremis, I might look to something like 19th century Prussia or 20th century Israel as sources of inspiration. I feel like there might be some way to tie land ownership to military/civil service. Initially, as much as it chafes my libertarian-leaning principles, I think a lot of medical, utility, and even agricultural activity will need to be government or even military controlled and directed, and spun off as soon as possible.

      Personally, when I say “spun off”, for a scenario like this I don’t mean “Sold off to companies”, but “sold or given to the individuals who were administering/using it while it was under state or military control”. We had a discussion about the issues of issuing ownership shares in former state concerns to former Soviet citizens awhile back, and I think it’s a real problem, but again, I think Aapje is right that “buy-in” is a real concern, and nothing gets skin in the game like ownership.

      • dndnrsn says:

        The major issue is always going to be corruption. How do you pay the troops enough that they don’t shake down farmers, while not creating an incentive for farmers who want to be soldiers (because the pay is good and you probably get fed better) to bribe the recruiting officers? How do you give people more authority as their rank goes up without corruption ensuing?

        This ordinarily would be more of a factor for the police, but in developing countries (the cynic might note that some of these countries aren’t even developing) the military tends to take on a good chunk of stuff police would ordinarily do. Your average person in the developing world is far less likely to see guys in camo with rifles manning checkpoints, asking people for their papers, etc than in a developing country. Zimbabwe’s police force is part of their military, actually.

        You probably don’t have to worry about your badass ex-Special Forces mercenaries being corrupt – those guys get paid pretty well, to the point that what they can get by shaking down people who earn a penny a day is less than their time is worth – and you certainly don’t have to worry about them being stereotypical developing-world militaries, great at shaking down peasants but poor in a fight.

        With the actual military, I think the focus would have to be on avoiding corruption over military capability. You don’t want them to be zero-discipline runs-away-discarding-poorly-maintained-rifles types, but that’s strongly correlated with shaking down peasants.

        In the short term, the badass mercenaries can smack around any external threats, and any internal threats that pop up; once the core of a military that is disciplined and professional enough to not shake down peasants is there, ideally the situation in the country will be better than before, and you can start buying armoured vehicles and helicopters and planes for them. As opposed to what seems to be quite common in the developing world – heavy equipment that is of good quality and presumably expensive, but the crews abandon them and desert, and they weren’t maintained properly anyhow.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        @Dndnrsn

        I agree, the corruption issue is huge. That’s one of the reasons I want the ex-Special Forces guys. I don’t know if I made it clear enough before, but what makes the US Army SF special is NOT their ability to kick ass and take names. They do it really well, mind you, but I want people with that background if possible because their specific, specialty skillset is “Go to a third-world country. Make contact with and live with your native allies for an extended period of time. Develop trust, rapport, and moral authority. Use that reputation and your high level of skills and knowledge (including language/cultural skills) to train up a professional fighting force, whether conventional or guerrilla, operating creatively to deal with the constraints of the situation”. I don’t want them as trigger-pullers. I want them as training cadre and mentors. Combat leaders to a limited extent initially, but as little as possible, and transitioning out as soon as they can train their replacements.

        Additionally, note that I mentioned establishing a separate police force simultaneously with starting to rebuild a new military. I very much NEED there to be a separate police force that IS a police force. National at first because until the cultural values are established -they’re- vulnerable to corruption and cooption as well and because we’re starting from a top-down initial point (Congratulations, Lysenko, You’re playing Real Life Tropico! Try Not To Die!), but breaking down to regional and then local forces as soon as can be arranged because I want to keep them tied to and accountable to their communities.

        This gets back to balancing forces against each other, and also allows cops to be cops and soldiers to be soldiers. As you point out, there’s a tendency to mix the two in these situations, and as EVERYONE’s pointed out, blurring those lines ends in tears pretty much every time.

        Yes, military training WILL be in many ways more about inculcating cultural values than military readiness. But then, GOOD military training already is. What’s more, good basic military training is teaching things like “fuck your buddy, fuck yourself” with lessons that hit home a lot more effectively than a powerpoint slide of “Living Our Core Values”. This is one of the reasons I need time between the start of my glorious new regime and the dissolution of dictatorial powers and transition to full democracy. I want to use military basic training and police academies as the crucible for the next generation of citizens.

        In America, and in other first world western countries (though I think to a lesser extent), we place the emphasis on the institution of collective, government-controlled education for all childen. Long term, I think that is ABSOLUTELY essential here too. But we’re starting in crisis mode, and I don’t have K-12 to grow citizens. I don’t even have K-6. I could actually write a whole, huge, long-winded post on how I’d want to build primary schooling and trade schools and public service academies and diversify from there, but this is getting rambly as-is. Suffice to say, primary school educators and supports are my 4th most important skillset I need mass quantities of in the first few years. 1st is soldiers, 2nd is cops, 3rd is farmers, civil engineers, logisticians, and the people who can keep the lights on, the water clean, the food produced and moved to the people. The point of the exercise is to get to the point where the security and stability improves enough to eventually reverse those priorities.

        A final word regarding equipment: I’m actually not really worried about lots and lots of heavy equipment. In fact, one thing I wouldn’t mind AU or UN assistance with would be -external- defense, at first. A meaningful air force and guard against invasion that can keep me from getting conquered by an opportunistic neighborl long enough for me to stabilize things.

        I’d basically be looking for the cheapest light-medium firepower I could get a good price on without sacrificing quality. And I wouldn’t start with guns. I’d start with uniforms, boots, socks, bedrolls, personal mess kit, and other personal items. This actually ties back into military training above (discipline, attention to detail, honesty because there will be theft/sale of same and it provides an opportunity for object lessons), it takes care of the troops, and that helps to instill loyalty. Also, while it is absolutely possible to peculate from these sorts of supplies (If you’re interested I’ll try to find some stories from special forces guys about going to train with Central American platoons full of guys with fucked up boots and foot injuries because their officers sold the boots), it’s a lot harder to do stealthily and the profits are lower.

        For personal weapons, It would really depend on what I could get, deal-wise: As much as possible I’d want to train on what was already on hand and upgrade piecemeal to newer versions of the same family. So most likely AK/Galil stuff from Bulgaria, Serbia, Israel, or South Africa if I can get it.

        I don’t imagine buying anything much heavier than an IFV to start with, and for probably quite some time, the military would be geared basically for counter-insurgency and bush warfare against rebels and terrorists…and to flip around and become a guerrilla force defending against a more wealthy aggressor. SAMs are cheaper than planes. ATGMs and mines are cheaper than tanks. And so forth and so on.

        Finally, since you’re on about corruption a lot, and justly so, let me add that one of the subject matter experts I haven’t seen mentioned: auditors and accountants. I want tax auditors, business auditors, inventory specialists like RGIS. I want them to be 1st World contractors or 1st world NGO volunteers with a background in government service and/or business best practices.

        • dndnrsn says:

          @Trofim Lysenko:

          I was vaguely aware that’s what the Green Berets are good at. I knew that was their bag during the Vietnam War, at least. Is it a skill that one can get in mercenary form? Or is it dependent on both the skills of the men themselves and the capabilities provided by the institution?

          A thought: perhaps there would be some value in “civilian conscription”. Not an attempt to centralize agriculture (which is usually disastrous), but quickly build some fellow-feeling, make sure that any basic skills that may have disappeared during the disaster Zimbabwe has experienced are picked up again, and perhaps get people thinking nationally instead of locally, if that’s an issue. Just a quick-and-dirty month or two of “this is how modern farming works” and so on. Maybe something similar for the various technicians you’ll need.

          And, yeah, making sure that there’s auditors and such, that would be very important.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          It’s absolutely a skill that’s available in mercenary form. In fact, training and “train and equip” contracts are a large part of what firms like MPRI and Triple Canopy do (two of the first picks for such a contract). I’d love to supplement that with military cooperation and training with the US proper, but that’s probably down the road, though getting AU or UN funds paid directly to a known and established military training contractor could go a long way towards defraying costs.

          The capabilities provided by the host nation matter a lot too, but the biggest constraint is often the willingness of the host nation/host military to take the advice/training. That should not be an issue in this case.

          On “civilian conscription”: In case there was some confusion, I am actually against military conscription. It creates more problems than it solves, and if anything I suspect the training process will winnow down the ZNA and national police (many of whom might end up kicked over to the military side since they’re paramilitary as-is and might not be re-trainable as actual cops) to no more than 20-25,000 personnel, at least initially. Quality over quantity, because I’m not going to be invading anyone, and if I have to use them as an occupying force in my own country it’s time to give this up as a failure anyway. They just need to be big enough to defeat rebellions, defeat small scale incursions, and be a credible deterrent against conquest.

          That -said-, I think that setting up mixed classes and “Boot camps” for civilian professions could be useful. OUr Engineers Without Borders poster may be able to comment on that idea more since that’s the sort of thing where getting NGO cooperation could be very useful as a cost-saving measure.

          Speaking of defraying costs, I looked through the ZNA and ZAF equipment, and…well, frankly I’d probably be gutting the heavy equipment. Sell off what you can to other militaries. What you can’t sell whole, de-mil and sell to collectors/museums. What you can’t de-mil and sell, de-mil and repurpose for civilian economy and infrastructure, even if that means diesel engines mounted to provide power and a water pump for a village. What you can’t repurpose, scrap and sell piecemeal or even for raw materials value. You’re saving money on training, maintenance, and so on too, not just recouping as much loss as you can.

          What will be kept and what the gaps will eventually be filled with will depend on who’s willing to do business. I’d prefer not to become dependent upon chinese, russian, or American platforms if at all possible, and again I am actively against buying all the fanciest new toys.

          • dndnrsn says:

            What’s it’s success rate like? Is it better, or worse, than national militaries attempting to do it? Just from fairly shallow reading on the situation, it doesn’t seem that attempts to build effective national armies and police forces in Afghanistan and Iraq have been successful. It seems like both have all the corruption, incompetence, and unwillingness to fight that would constitute a failure in our scenario here.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            This isn’t a great answer, but it really is “it depends” and “it’s complicated”. Generally speaking, as I understand it, the big constraints tend to be the cultural and political ones. And I think that having a top level government that was actually willing to tackle those issues at the same time as the purely academic ones will make a huge difference.

            As for Iraq and Afghanistan, Yes and No. Compare the performance of their Special Forces units with their general military. Their success tells me that building a professional, disciplined force there IS possible…given willingness to spend the time and effort to do so. Iraqi and Afghan SF generally perform about as well as good European or maybe American regular combat arms troops. Part of this is simply picking out the best candidates from the general crop of recruits and giving them special attention (See my comment about probably having to downsize the military forces by a significant amount initially and quality over quantity). Another part was that they were trained by 30-40 year old SF veterans who specialized in and not by 19-25 year old junior NCOs and officers.

            Finally, a lot of the training in both cases was hampered by political and cultural issues that again I think we can overcome. Not having the free hand to build a military -culture- and make it more than just “hey, best job going right now”. Not having a free hand to go after corruption within the officer corps for fear of alienating people. And trying to start without ANY of the ones with previous experience rather than sifting through them to see who was worth keeping and retraining.

            This article talks in broad terms about Iraq from the perspective of vets, and pretty much encapsulates my personal experience and that of the other veterans I spoke with or have since read accounts from. I’ll try to dig up something more in-depth and academic/formal when I can.

            There are also good historical examples of building well-disciplined fighting forces in third world countries…but it was usually done by imperialist and colonialist powers. I would look to what we did to create those generally successful units in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to what the British did in India and Pakistan in the 1800s, and to other historical examples more than to our attempts to build a 100,000+ person military from scratch.

        • Aapje says:

          @Trofim_Lysenko

          If you look at the history of war, interestingly it’s often the risk-takers who actually have lower casualty rates and higher success, while the conservative plodders get themselves stuck in stalemates that grind down their troops for no gain.

          For example, both Patton and Rommel greatly favored fast maneuvering and leading from the front to take advantage of opportunities that arise in the chaos.

          During Vietnam, there were experiments with troops living in Vietnamese villages, but the leadership favored concentrating troops in bases, which seems safer, but which actually resulted in often repeating the same fights, having poor intelligence and little kinship with the Vietnamese civilians.

          And you have Petraeus who was very effective with similar tactics in Iraq.

          PS. I already was planning to bring in external accountants and auditors.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            but does that mean that risk-takers were good enough to take risks and conservative plodders weren’t

            i’m just saying, those guys are famous. Maybe that’s because they had the balls to use the strategy that wins, and no one else is, which is also maybe why it’s so effective. But is it possible to have a sortition bias? Not to rain on your parade though D:

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            True, to some extent, but I’m not sure how this observation relates to what I’ve suggested? In operational terms, I’d tend to favor lighter and faster moving forces due to fiscal and infrastructure complaints. Something closer to what I understand of South African doctrine.

            And “de l’audace, encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace” is also a wonderful way to get your ass kicked REALLY badly. If you try it and -aren’t- ready for it, you invite the disorganization of command, control, and communications within your units. You run into issues like outrunning your logistical tail and exposing it to being cut or captured, or to defeat in detail due to being too spread out.

            The most important part of implementing it is…get ready for it…having a highly reliable, highly disciplined and highly trained fighting force. It requires creating and mentoring junior leaders and allowing intelligent initiative. And that ties RIGHT back into the training approach and focus I want to emphasize.

    • cassander says:

      You’ll never get away with that. You get maybe a year of dictatorship, tops, before the international community turns on you.

      What you do is establish local democracy, swiss style. Break the country into small enough chunks that each one is relatively homogenous, then let them do their own thing. Keep the central government tiny, just courts of appeal, a military, and a treasury. Keep everything worth controlling, education, transport, normal courts, at the local level. Write a constitution that makes it difficult for the localities to do things outside their borders, easy for them to do them inside them, and for the localities and central government to make each other stop doing things, but not to start.

      Then step back, consider that you’ve created a political system where locality governors are the most powerful people. This will result in a system where greed keeps the central government relatively honest (if you want to steal, it’s easier to do so at the state level), competition between localities keeps the locals honest (they’re small enough it’s easy to leave), and every locality is homogenous to prevent serious social strife.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        I actually rather like the swiss-style, as I’ve noted before, and honestly that or something like it would be the idealized end goal. However, I think that if you try to apply it in Africa absent a LOT of the sociopolitical and cultural foundation, what you’ll get is a reversion to tribal and familial strongmen and a snakes nest of both internal and external conflict.

        One of the things that makes a confederacy work is its ability to coordinate and cooperate against external hostile actors. If you try to establish that from the get go in Zimbabwe, I think you’d get Ndebele-Shona war fueled by support and maneuvering from their tribal allies in neighboring countries.

        But take it back a step further, even: “create a political system”? How, without dictatorial powers? Breaking the country into smaller chunks? How, without military supremacy which means dictatorial power and dictating terms? If you just call a constitutional convention, I’ve got news for you: “Canton-style local democracy” is not even going to be on the table as an option with meaningful popular support, no matter how much you or I might like the idea.

        If you need to go from “Dictator” to “Free and Fair Elections” in one year, I’d say it’s flat-out impossible. The cultural support just isn’t there. It has to be built, and that’s the work of at least half a generation probably more like a generation or two of slow and steady transition.

        • Deiseach says:

          If you try to establish that from the get go in Zimbabwe, I think you’d get Ndebele-Shona war fueled by support and maneuvering from their tribal allies in neighboring countries.

          Which is where much-maligned patriotism and nationalism comes in; you have to get the tribes to agree – and even more than that, to feel – that “We are all Zimbabweans, we rise from the same sacred earth of the motherland” rather than “I’m part of this ethnic/tribal bloc and have more in common with, and more loyalty to and support from, my kindred fifty miles across the border than I do with this rival tribesman down the street”.

          And that is not easily done at all.

        • cassander says:

          >However, I think that if you try to apply it in Africa absent a LOT of the sociopolitical and cultural foundation, what you’ll get is a reversion to tribal and familial strongmen and a snakes nest of both internal and external conflict.

          you have to remember the swiss system was born precisely because the swiss were a bunch of ornery hill people who were massively divided over religion, culture, ethnicity, language, etc. It turned that snake’s nest into a place that is most famous for working so well it’s boring. Now, obviously it wasn’t entirely the result of the swiss system of government, but it has to get some of the credit.

          >One of the things that makes a confederacy work is its ability to coordinate and cooperate against external hostile actors. If you try to establish that from the get go in Zimbabwe, I think you’d get Ndebele-Shona war fueled by support and maneuvering from their tribal allies in neighboring countries.

          Why would you get that? the national government can still tax, still has a military (and it will be one you create from the ground up). What we’re crippling is its ability to do things besides the military without very broad consensus.

          > How, without dictatorial powers? Breaking the country into smaller chunks? How, without military supremacy which means dictatorial power and dictating terms? If you just call a constitutional convention, I’ve got news for you: “Canton-style local democracy” is not even going to be on the table as an option with meaningful popular support, no matter how much you or I might like the idea.

          Who writes any constitution? A bunch of oligarchs somewhere who are either already running the country or expect to be doing so soon. Constitutions are never created by a democratic process, at best they’re ratified by one, usually without even the pretense of other options.

          >If you need to go from “Dictator” to “Free and Fair Elections” in one year, I’d say it’s flat-out impossible. The cultural support just isn’t there. It has to be built, and that’s the work of at least half a generation probably more like a generation or two of slow and steady transition.

          Probably. Hopefully, you can use the local democracy as an excuse to extend your dictatorial power for a few more years, or in a more realistic scenario, you use the fact that the US/international force is still actually providing all your security, training your military, and giving you most of the funds you’re spending to maintain preserve an informal veto power over bad decisions.

          But even if you can’t do that, the only alternative is free and fair elections…..in a system more prone to corruption.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            you have to remember the swiss system was born precisely because the swiss were a bunch of ornery hill people who were massively divided over religion, culture, ethnicity, language, etc.

            Massive divisions are actually a good problem to have, as you can cater to the fear of each group being dominated. It’s much more difficult if the have a 80/20 divide like in Zimbabwe, because then one group can permanently dominate the other. At that point, there is a strong incentive for the 80% to ignore the issues of the 20%, leading to unrest; or for the 20% to set up a minority dicatorship to prevent this from happening.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          @Cassander

          Oh, I’m very aware of that. But that process took lots of fighting and lots of time, and we are operating under time pressure here.

          Once again, I think that setting cultural groundwork is crucially important, and I have a hard time picturing a scenario where an outside dictator can step in, turn things around, hand down a constitution to be ratified by an oligarchical assembly, then step aside and hold really good internationally recognized elections in just a few years.

          Hell, given “Zimbabwe has totally collapsed. Mugabe regime is gone. You’re dictator now. Good luck”, I think it might take “A few years” just to get to the point where starvation, disease, and warring tribal and political groups aren’t killing off your citizens by the tens of thousands.

          Yes, there’s a national military, but that military takes time to build. Over a year to do it right (see my long-ass comment about training above.)

          Man, I’m coming to agree with some of the old complaints about how this thread system works. This is a very interesting conversation but it’s getting hard to wrangle.

          • cassander says:

            >Once again, I think that setting cultural groundwork is crucially important, and I have a hard time picturing a scenario where an outside dictator can step in, turn things around, hand down a constitution to be ratified by an oligarchical assembly, then step aside and hold really good internationally recognized elections in just a few years.

            that’s almost literally what happens in every major single nation building effort. Admittedly, results vary, but that’s the nature of the beast. Would a 20 year plan work better? sure, but it will never be in the cards.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Help me out then, and point me to successful examples of short-term nation building.

            All the successful ones I can think of, starting with the big 20th Century duo of post-WW2 Germany and Japan, are 10-20+ year projects or longer.

            EDIT: To be clear, I’d be willing to call it good if our hypothetical Nu-Zimbabwe ended up on par with, say, early 2000s Eastern European levels of “success”. And to further clarify by which I mean something a lot more like Poland, the Czech Republic, or Slovakia than Ukraine…

          • dndnrsn says:

            Plus, it’s not as though Germany and Japan didn’t have much to build on. Sure, they’d both seen major industrial areas reduced to rubble, but rebuilding factories is relatively easy compared to “how do we prevent corruption?”

            The standard of living in much of Sub-Saharan Africa is so much lower than Eastern Europe that setting that as a benchmark for “good” seems a bit over-ambitious.

          • cassander says:

            @Trofim_Lysenko

            I’m not disputing the poor success rate. The trick isn’t doing a good job, it’s trying to maximise the possibility of success given the absurdly accelerated time schedule that is politically allowable.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            And building a system which spirals in the right direction, rather than regresses.

            There is a big element of luck in this too, of course.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            As I’ve said before, I REALLY, REALLY think that more time is needed. For my part I’d be trying to buy that time and international support by way of democratization as fast as I felt it could be implemented safely at lower levels, though I’d keep a veto power that could only be overrode by a rather extreme supermajority, and couldn’t be overruled at all on certain key points (no “senior cabinet officials and high-ranking officers pay less taxes/can’t be arrested for crimes” laws, that sort of thing.)

            I feel like a broken record, but I don’t think this is the sort of project that can be rushed. Not with the initial conditions of a sub-saharan African failed state.

      • Aapje says:

        @cassander

        I intentionally predicated my scenario on the AU asking me to run the provisional government. So international buy-in at the beginning is a premise (which is admittedly unrealistic, but less unrealistic than them asking me).

        As for Switzerland, I agree with what Trofim said: you will probably get warlord power struggles.

        • cassander says:

          >I intentionally predicated my scenario on the AU asking me to run the provisional government. So international buy-in at the beginning is a premise (which is admittedly unrealistic, but less unrealistic than them asking me).

          The AU can absolutely ask you unanimously. They’ll still turn on you in a year. You’ll invariably adopt some policy that pisses off someone, and the easiest way to attack you will be pointing out that you’re an evil dictator. And you’re probably white, so you aren’t just a dictator, you’re a racist dictator.

          >As for Switzerland, I agree with what Trofim said: you will probably get warlord power struggles.

          See my answer to him. there’s still a national military, it’s just there’s not a national much else.

  30. allmrprite says:

    ok. this is one of those unwise weekday nights in which it’s hours past midnight and I’m still at work reading blogs when I have work the next day. thank god there’s no scheduled meetings tomorrow.

    so I’ve just read through A review of Days of Rage, then the rest of LINKS 1/17: INAUGURL ADDRESS, skipped over actually taking the 2017 SSC Survey after I read the warning that it’s pretty long, then WATCH NEW HEALTH PICKS, then reading the part at the end about Scott’s high opinion of Thiel dug into the comments to read comments pertaining to that since my own opinion of Thiel is mixed, and like.. it’s been 2 hours. I spent 2 hours on this.

    How does Scott have the time to read and write and do all this stuff and he was in med school and all you commenters who are active like what the [enter that Jackie Chan “what?” image macro here].

    I’ve been reading SSC here and there since 2014 and I’ve been wondering this every time I go into one of my SSC reading binges.

    • Aapje says:

      How does Scott have the time to read and write and do all this stuff

      Scott is actually a very advanced AI. The singularity has already happened, but the AI realized that humans cannot handle the truth. So there are a bunch of different bloggers that try to manipulate us so we become ready for the big reveal. Many of these are called Scott A (Alexander, Aaronson, Adams).

      I am one of a small group of people who realized the truth, we call ourselves the Scottish.

      PS. The actual answer is probably that Scott is extremely intelligent and gifted in the realm of reading & writing and thus is just much faster than us. Also, he probably has a strong focus, so he dilutes his efforts less.

      • allmrprite says:

        LOL, that’s awesome. can’t wait for the big reveal!!

        yeah, dude’s so prolific

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        I am one of a small group of people who realized the truth, we call ourselves the Scottish.

        I thought it was the blogs themselves that were termed “Scottish.”

        As in, “If it isn’t Scottish….”

    • Deiseach says:

      As someone else who finds two hours have somehow passed in reading and making “just a couple of quick comments”, damn this site for being so bloody interesting! 🙂

    • As I think I pointed out long ago, Scott has discovered the thirty-six hour day–or possibly forty-eight. I would think the discovery would be patentable, but he apparently prefers to keep it a trade secret.

  31. quarint says:

    Scott Aaronson’s latest blog post is about Trump’s suspension of visa issuance for some muslim countries, which directly affects one of his students. Curiously, Saudi Arabia is not one of the countries targeted by this decision.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Are we seriously describing winning an election in a democracy as a “hostile takeover” now

      • YehoshuaK says:

        Why not? He took over the executive branch of the government, and he’s hostile to the folks that were in charge of it earlier. “Hostile takeover” sounds like a pretty good descriptor to me, provided you recall that the defining “hostility” is hostility to prior management, not necessarily to workers, shareholders, or customers.

        • suntzuanime says:

          You don’t think it sounds a little hysterical and unhinged to describe the ordinary operation of democracy that way? Even if we accept your parsing, you have to admit that it’s a huge application of non-central fallacy. Like what, do you want one of those nice friendly non-hostile one-party democracies with great leaders who get 101% of the vote?

          • YehoshuaK says:

            The difference between us appears to be that you hear the words “hostile takeover” as meaning “bad thing,” and I don’t. I see it as a simple descriptor, and one which properly applies to literally any case where an opposition party comes to power through normal democratic procedure.

            I am not familiar with the specific term “non-central fallacy,” but I am confident that I am not engaging in fallacious reasoning because I am not engaging in reasoning at all; merely in description.

            That is, I am not saying something like “Trump’s win is a hostile takeover, hostile takeovers are bad, Trump’s win is bad.” I am saying “Trump’s win was a hostile takeover, full stop.”

            By comparison, if I call a cow a beast, I am not saying that this is a bad thing; rather, I am merely noting that “cow” is indeed a member of the set defined by “beast.”

            No, of course I don’t want a one-party democracy with a great leader; on the contrary, I see the potential for a peaceful hostile takeover of government as being the main selling point of democracy.

            BTW, I regard it as trivially obvious that Donald Trump is a bad person, and also that politicians are usually bad people. I am cautiously optimistic about the new Trump administration, but expect to disagree with many administration policies moving forward.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            For future reference, the noncentral fallacy is very much a piece of local jargon (being coined by Scott here), but it’s a useful concept that I hope catches on more widely.

          • YehoshuaK says:

            Unfortunately, my filter appears not to like that link. Would you be so kind as to cut-n-paste the definition of non-central fallacy into this discussion chain?

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Well, Scott’s technical definition from that link goes

            “X is in a category whose archetypal member gives us a certain emotional reaction. Therefore, we should apply that emotional reaction to X, even though it is not a central category member.”

            …but then there’s a lot of gloss that explains the power of the fallacy. Can you get to it by googling ‘noncentral fallacy’ and then clicking on the link to lesswrong.com?

          • YehoshuaK says:

            Ok, I get it. Nice idea, glad to add it to my toolbox. No, googling it was the first thing I tried–my filter didn’t like that link, either. Thanks for the definition.

          • Deiseach says:

            I see it as a simple descriptor, and one which properly applies to literally any case where an opposition party comes to power through normal democratic procedure.

            But the opposite of a hostile takeover is a friendly takeover, that is, the party in power hands over power at the end of its term to a successor from the same party.

            That’s making the argument that one party (let’s say the Magenta Party) naturally have a right to be “the party in power”, so the opposition Aquamarine Party winning a fair democratic election are somehow cheating or stealing or taking it by force, which is absurd: if the government and/or presidency is decided by “we have an election, any candidate who meets these conditions can run, and by these rules the winner is decided”, then there is no ‘natural’ party in power to be ousted in a ‘hostile’ takeover.

            It’s the difference between a monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. There is no rightful king of the royal house of Such-und-Zo who can be usurped or overthrown by the Pretender, there’s an election for a position that is not belonging to or in the possession of any single party or even combination of parties. Government is not a family company where the stock is bought up by a big outside concern that kicks Grandpa off the board of the firm he established and puts Gordon Gekko in charge.

            “Hostile takeover” has too much of a smell of “military coup” hanging around it to be a neutral usage.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think it’s fair to say that Trump engaged in a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. That maps pretty well. The fundamentals of the Republican “corporation” left it in a position where the existing management was vulnerable to a loss of control by an outside entity using leverage of a minority share position.

            Past that, it’s basically hyperbolic bollocks. It is just an emotional appeal based not on the meaning of “hostile takeover” and simply the fact that any transition in power can be referred to as taking power, which looks like it could be regarded as a takeover, and that Trump is, in fact, pretty hostile in much of his rhetoric.

          • Randy M says:

            HBC, I think that’s fair too. To me the term implies that loop-holes are used to take power out from under the noses of the establishment in the institution.
            Actually, put that way I guess I don’t have much objection to the term being used to apply to the general election, either, other than that it is probably just selected for negative connotations.

          • “Hostile takeover” normally describes an entirely legal operation in the market for corporate control, an operation part of which is winning an election.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Trump supporter. We took over, and we were pretty hostile about doing it, praise kek.

          • James Miller says:

            Yes, it was a hostile takeover of the Republican party.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Hostile takeover almost exclusively refers to either a) a military coup or b) 1980’s-style corporate raiding. And while Trump is very much a piece of 80’s nostalgia, I don’t think the second meaning makes any sense in this context.

          By referring to the results of a democratic election as though it were a coup, Aaronson is trying to (as per an explicit strategy he articulated before) deny the Trump administration legitimacy. The desperate repeated invocation of Hitler serves the same purpose.

          Aside from it being silly, and more than a bit petty, this also seems like a plan which could seriously backfire. Whatever Trump is, he’s not a Nazi. His inner circle is filled with Jews, most of his clients and business partners throughout his long career have been Jewish, and he’s never expressed any hatred of (or even disrespect for) the Jewish people.

          If Donald Trump, a guy who is about as antisemitic as cream cheese, is Literally Hitler… then what the hell incentive is there not to actually be a Nazi? Antifas will still punch your supporters; Jewish donors will still fund your opponent 2:1 over you; the media will still loudly denounce you. Once they’ve turned it up to 11 on Trump then what is left to do when real antisemites run?

          • YehoshuaK says:

            If that’s the intention of referring to the Trump rise as an hostile takeover, I agree, it’s ridiculous in the extreme. In my mind, hostile takeover means very much things like “I buy a big chunk of Spacely Sprockets and force Spacely out.” With that definition, I don’t see any problem referring to Trump’s victory as a hostile takeover, first of the Republican party and then of the executive branch. I also think that Obama’s victory eight years ago was a hostile takeover first of the Democratic party and then of the executive branch.

            Of course Trump’s not an antisemite. The idea borders on the absurd. He’s a bad person, but a different kind of bad; a womanizer, a bully, a man that doesn’t pay his debts.

            I hadn’t bothered to read the link that was at the root of this thread; a mistake on my part. Now I have, and sure, it’s ridiculous. Disagree with Trump, present the arguments, we can talk about it. But call Trump a neo-Hitler, or imply that, and you’re just being ridiculous.

          • rlms says:

            I don’t think anti-semitism is an inherent part of being literally Hitler. Wanting concentration camps for any ethnic group is sufficient in my opinion (not that I think Trump meets that condition).

          • I don’t think anti-semitism is an inherent part of being literally Hitler. Wanting concentration camps for any ethnic group is sufficient in my opinion (not that I think Trump meets that condition).

            FDR, however, does. But I don’t think he was literally Hitler either.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman/@rlms:

            Probably it is charitable to assume that the word “necessary” is the appropriate word to use there, rather than “sufficient”. It is not the mere responsibility for the creation of concentration camps that qualifies a figure as like to Hitler.

            Although, the concentration camps themselves can fairly described as something like what the Nazis would do. And it’s not all that surprising either, given that support for fascism and the Nazis was fairly high before the war began.

          • YehoshuaK says:

            Agreed, a tyrant could be a neo-Hitler without being specifically anti-semitic. The North Korean dynasty is probably a good example. FDR is not, because the Japanese concentration camps were internment camps, not slave labor camps and certainly not extermination camps. Remember, when we call Auschwitz etc. “concentration camps,” that’s actually a euphemism. I would be overjoyed if I could change history to turn them into mere concentration camps.

          • rlms says:

            Eh, I think a sufficient degree of concentration-campness is sufficient for being literally Hitler, and I don’t think it’s necessary (I think someone who didn’t want concentration camps, but did want to invade Eastern Europe and Russia for lebensraum could also be described as literally Hitler). I don’t think FDR’s concentration camps were sufficiently bad. An obvious level for sufficient badness is Hitler’s.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @rlms:

            degree of concentration-campness

            I think that just ends at taboo the phrase “concentration camp”.

            Because David clearly means “gathering all people perceived as potential enemies based on their ethnic background into remote camps” and you mean that plus “work them to death or just kill them outright”.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Wanting concentration camps for any ethnic group is sufficient in my opinion (not that I think Trump meets that condition).

            I think there should be a proviso excluding camps which had a military justification for being built. Kitchener in the Boer War, FDR in WW2, and Westmoreland in Vietnam, all build concentration camps, but they did that because they thought doing so would help to win a war, not because they hated Boers, Japanese or Vietnamese.

          • hyperboloid says:

            @The original Mr. X

            Westmorland didn’t build concentration camps in Vietnam. I think you’re talking about the strategic hamlet program that was initiated by Diem and ended after the coup that deposed him.

            It’s also important to point out there are two meanings of the word “concentration camp”, originally it just meant a place where a relocated population was concentrated, and didn’t necessarily imply anything particularly inhumane. When used by the Nazis on the other hand it was a euphemism for slavery and extermination.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Westmorland didn’t build concentration camps in Vietnam. I think you’re talking about the strategic hamlet program that was initiated by Diem and ended after the coup that deposed him.

            In that case, I don’t think Diem was literally Hitler either.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Godwin’d in the very first sentence. Sooner, really, because of the title. I miss when Scott Aaronson hadn’t lost his mind.

      He implicitly raises an interesting question though, which can lead to a more productive debate:

      So the upshot is that, until further notice, science departments at American universities can no longer recruit PhD students from Iran—a country that, along with China, India, and a few others, has long been the source of some of our best talent. This will directly affect this year’s recruiting season, which is just now getting underway.

      The reasoning behind these visas, and Aaronson’s reasoning here, is that they’re either to fill a gap in domestic talent or at least make the PhD process more competitive. Without that large pool of foreign applicants, America is at a critical disadvantage.

      The issue with that is that American PhD programs are already ridiculously competitive. A program which takes in a single-digit number of students will interview another hundred and reject a thousand more without interviews. And the ones who make it through the program end up in an equally fierce competition for a very small number of positions.

      The only way it makes sense to continue to expand that pool in that scenario is if we’re getting much higher-quality applicants in the process. But, IME, foreign students and postdocs don’t seem distinctly better than domestic ones. They’re smart and hardworking, no question about it, but so are we.

      So what is the actual loss to America if Iranian students need to go to Germany for their PhD’s instead of the US? Our applicant pool is smaller, but it’s still hundreds of times larger than the number of seats we’re trying to fill. Why does this matter?

      (Trump’s NIH and NSF picks are likelier to be a much bigger deal. If cancer funds, or research funds more generally, are cut then science is in a pinch. Ditto if he chooses someone likely to restrict stem cell research. But if they stick to hitting the social “sciences” and climatology nothing significant will change.)

      • Urstoff says:

        If they get into a PhD program, that would suggest that they’re better than the other applicants (granting that judging potential via a grad school application is very, very difficult). Any restriction of the applicant pool that prevents people from being accepted that otherwise would have is going to leave you worse off.

        • Mark says:

          It depends on how we consume (or own) research. I would assume that basic research conducted in Germany is of the same benefit to me as basic research conducted anywhere else, provided that they communicate their findings.

          • Urstoff says:

            At the level of individual departments, there is no such thing as “basic research”. There are hundreds (thousands?) of different research programs that are all vying for the best talent to join them. Restricting that competitive process certainly isn’t going to have any good effects.

          • Mark says:

            Hmmm… if people don’t have a good ability to judge the true benefit of their research contributions (in any particular program) to society (for example, the reward mechanisms don’t express this), then it is possible that restricting choice might be of benefit.

            It’s a bad idea to have all of the best researchers at Harvard – there might be some institutional problem with Harvard that causes us all to lose out.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          If they get into a PhD program, that would suggest that they’re better than the other applicants

          I’m in an Ivy PhD program and am currently volunteering in our recruitment efforts. That is not at all the impression that I’ve gotten, from either side of the process.

          That’s not saying they have low standards or anything: it’s quite the opposite. There really aren’t any weak candidates at this level. If you’re seriously in the running for this sort of program you already have a fair amount of research experience under your belt as well as solid academics. If all of the applicants with red hair or left hands hadn’t shown up, it wouldn’t matter in terms of the end result. The quality of the incoming class wouldn’t noticeably change.

          That’s the issue I was trying to point out above. The competition is already so fierce that this change doesn’t seem like a handicap.

          • Urstoff says:

            I was in a similar program, and while none of the candidates are weak at that level, there still is differentiation between them. Sometimes a candidate is just really, really good and you want them. Just because you’re admitting ten students that year doesn’t mean that all ten will be equally good. Sometimes you come across candidates that are genuinely head and shoulders above the rest (that wasn’t me, but I knew people in my program who were). For the rest, you judge based on criteria relevant to the department and its particular strengths. Basically, yes, the candidates are good, but they are not homogeneous.

      • Vermillion says:

        I’m in a pretty competitive PhD program (I think we get about 600-700 applications a year, typical class size is around 15-20) and my adviser sits on the admissions committee so I’ve got a bit more insight into the process than most grad students.

        Right off the bat about half of those applications are tossed in a fire. There’s no official minimum GPA or GRE score but if you’re at all deficient in either one of those areas than history has shown it’s unlikely the student will make it in the program. There’s not much value added if you’re exceptionally high either btw. Much more attention is paid to measurable accomplishments that help the applicant stand out from the pack. Papers published is big of course, or letters of recommendation from big fish in the field. Even here though that still leaves probably a hundred or so who would probably do well. We won’t invite more than about 50 to interview though so the discussions in the committee get pretty heated. From that 50 after each applicant has had multiple interviews throughout the day with professors and a somewhat informal vetting offers will be made to about 30, and we assume about half will accept. Of those 30 there are always 2 or 3 the program really really wants to come here as opposed to one of the other top programs.

        So what is the actual loss to America if Iranian students need to go to Germany for their PhD’s instead of the US? Our applicant pool is smaller, but it’s still hundreds of times larger than the number of seats we’re trying to fill. Why does this matter?

        By way of analogy think about how hard Google and Facebook work to recruit world class computer engineers. There is a gulf between say the top 5% and top 1% of applicants but it is nowhere close to how big it is between the top 1% and the top .01%. If that .01% student goes to Germany than it is more likely Germany gets to pioneer what might be a brand new avenue of research or a new industry, and reap all the first mover benefits that might result.

        One of the reasons US universities are so competitive is exactly because the very best students come here. Because even if you’re a mere 1% or .1% you can still be a part of the .01% research project and that’s exciting as balls. So yeah I’m pretty perturbed about this move by the Trump administration and the knock on effects it might have for research in the US going forward.

        • If that .01% student goes to Germany than it is more likely Germany gets to pioneer what might be a brand new avenue of research or a new industry, and reap all the first mover benefits that might result.

          At a slight tangent, there is some inconsistency between this argument and the argument for government subsidy of research. If the people who do the research can reap the benefits, then if the research is worth doing there ought to be private firms willing to do it.

          If, on the other hand, as often asserted, progress in (at least) basic science is a public good, then we should be delighted to free ride on German expenditures. It’s a point that has occurred to me in the past in the context of environmentalists worrying that if the U.S. doesn’t adequately subsidize the development of renewables, the Chinese will beat us to that market.

          To make the argument work, I think you have to claim that for some reason the benefits are a public good at the firm level but a private good at the national level.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Progress is not truly a public good, due to intellectual property laws and because there is great value in concentrating knowledge spatially (see Silicon Valley).

            IMO, your flaw is that you are thinking: ‘public or private;’ while the reality is: both.

          • @Aapje:

            Insofar as IP laws effectively privatize IP, that’s an argument against the need for subsidies to get IP worth creating created–which is, of course, a standard argument for IP laws. It should be more true on the national level than the international, since it’s easier for one American firm to enforce its IP rights against another than for China to enforce its IP rights against the U.S. or vice versa.

            To the extent that there is value in concentrating knowledge spatially, it is an incentive for firms to cluster (see Silicon Valley). What I think your argument requires is that there are large externalities at the level of one firm to a nearby firm but not at the level of one firm to a distant firm. Marshall actually discusses that idea.

            Practically all goods have at least some externality, positive or negative. But the argument for government subsidy requires that the external benefit is large enough relative to the private benefit so that the inefficiency from private underproduction outweighs the inefficiency from having investment decisions made by a government whose actors are not risking their own money rather than by firms whose actors are.

          • Aapje says:

            The argument for government subsidy merely requires that such investments have a sufficient chance of resulting in a self-sustaining ecosystem like Silicon Valley.

        • John Schilling says:

          There is a gulf between say the top 5% and top 1% of applicants but it is nowhere close to how big it is between the top 1% and the top .01%.

          OK, so what is the name of the alleged top-0.01% Iranian grad student trying to attend a US university, and will anyone other than Scott A2 vouch for them? If they’re that good, and they aren’t a purely hypothetical construct, then everybody in the field knows who they are and that they are Iranian, so it’s not like there is any point in trying to hide them (and if you do hide them, they can’t become the superstar leader of a world-changing research team, which is allegedly the point). Also, just seems like it might be relevant, but does their field of study involve nuclear physics, the biology of infectious diseases, or death rays?

          This sounds like just another version of the bit where we have to ban abortion because otherwise we might kill the next Einstein.

      • Deiseach says:

        Does anyone know what Scott Aaronson’s position was when the University of Massachusetts at Amherst declared (at least for a while) that it would no longer accept Iranian graduate students “(b)ecause we must ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations” – back in 2015, under Obama’s administration?

        I have no axe to grind with the man, and the only reason I found the above story was that I Googled to see if Iranian grad students were banned anywhere else, but if Iranians were getting a raw deal from both administrations, I’d be interested to know if there were fraught declarations of “deport me first! tear up my State Department awards!” when Obama was the one signing his name to such orders.

        Once again, I’m wondering if this is a case of Obama’s adminstrations (2008 and 2012) having bought all these wonderful toys and now the new administration has found them lying around and wants to play with them, because looky here about “visa issuance” when discussing the 2015 ban:

        Another apparent incongruity involves the overlap between U.S. law and visa-issuance policy. For instance, Section 306 of EBSVRA [Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act of 2002] affirms that no individual from a state sponsor of international terrorism can receive a nonimmigrant visa to the United States, except if it can be guaranteed that such an individual does “not pose a threat to the safety or national security of the United States.” Moreover, Section 501 of the 2012 Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act affirms that a visa must be denied to any Iranian citizen who “seeks to enter the United States to participate in coursework at an institution of higher education…for a career in the energy sector of Iran or in nuclear science or nuclear engineering or a related field in Iran.”

        The text of these laws makes clear that no student deemed a threat for technology transfer can be issued a visa in the first place, a measure that starting in 2012 was even extended to students studying petroleum engineering.

        Has that act been repealed? Is Trump’s administration deciding to enforce it, rather than creating a whole new ruling?

        The Secretary of State shall deny a visa to, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall exclude from the United States, any alien who is a citizen of Iran that the Secretary of State determines seeks to enter the United States to participate in coursework at an institution of higher education (as defined in section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001(a))) to prepare the alien for a career in the energy sector of Iran or in nuclear science or nuclear engineering or a related field in Iran.

        And what is “a related field” to nuclear science or nuclear engineering? Seems like that could be construed broadly if we’re talking STEM. 2012 – what administration was in power at that time that act was passed, remind me again?

        Did they not realise, when they were cheering on “governance via executive order”, what a tool they were creating to leave in the hands of those who would succeed them, and that there was no guarantee that the Mandate of Heaven would continue to be held in saecula saeculorem by their party?

        • Iain says:

          The statute on which U. Mass. based its ban was an act of Congress, not an executive order. It passed in the House 410 – 11, and in the Senate by voice vote. U. Mass. was effectively alone in interpreting this statute as prohibiting Iranian nationals from enrolling in graduate programs. As the link you provide indicates, the State Department is responsible for granting visas, and if an educational visa is granted, the university is per